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Industry news — The next new thing: crowdsourced publishing

October 5, 2013

Imagine a publishing model based on the same concept that drives American Idol. It was just a matter of time. If they can do it with dancers, singers, and that guy who serially abused himself on America’s Got Talent, they can do it for publishing, too. And it’s happening as we speak.

Macmillan has announced a new teen romance imprint called Swoon Reads. As you might expect, the imprint is looking for swoon-worthy stories aimed at its target audience, teen romance readers. In order to make sure they get the right titles, they’re taking a page out of any number of reality shows.

It’s called crowdsourcing, and it’s a relatively simple process. You submit your manuscript to Swoon Reads and then readers read it and rate it. The highest-rated manuscripts are then reviewed by the “Swoon Reads publishing board.” If they dig it, the author gets a standard Macmillan publishing contract with a $15,000 advance. As part of the deal, the book will be published in both e-book or hard copy format, with book design and editing included, along with marketing and sales.

The publisher is looking for “irresistible, unforgettable love stories for readers ages 14 and up.” If you submit, you should strive to make your submission exclusive for the period of time it appears online, but they say that’s not a hard-and-fast requirement. However, the Writer Beware website says your book is exclusive to Swoon Reads for six months. Your work can be agented, but Writer Beware suspects agents wouldn’t be big fans of the exclusivity clause.

To submit, you need a 50,000 to 70,000-word novel (no novellas or short stories), along with a short and long description (100 and 800 characters, respectively) and a cover image. Once it’s posted, readers will check your work out and rate it’s swoon-worthiness and it’s overall appeal (rating of 1 to 5 hearts). The highest scores will get the attention of the Swoon Reads board. And then you’ll get a standard Macmillan contract that might not be the most writer-friendly deal ever inked.

What this means to you: In some ways, this is a more formal approach to the process that unleashed 50 Shades of Gray. The book wasn’t crowdsourced, but it did show its legs in a “minor league” setting before getting promoted to the Bigs. Except in that case, the author made money on the way as the book sold in the smaller presses.

From the publisher’s standpoint, the idea makes a lot of sense. They get other readers to act as their slushpile filter and only check out the highest-rated books. And unlike the reality shows, they don’t have to take anyone on. If the highest rated books don’t meet their standards, they pass until they find something they want.

From a reader’s standpoint, it makes sense, too. It’s free to sign up and read and review manuscripts. If you like teen romance and you don’t mind wading through some substandard work on your way to find a gem, it’s definitely for you.

There are, however, some problems. Swoon Reads has made it clear they’re trying to make sure your work isn’t pirated. And all readers are required to agree to terms and conditions that respect your ownership of the material you post. But at the end of the day, they can’t assure that no one will pirate your work. (Though if you posted it, you’d have a pretty good case against anyone who stole it.)

The terms seem less than friendly, though, and if your book’s good, it’ll find a place. Although it’s a neat idea that will probably see copiers, it’s probably not a great first place to start for your story.

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