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The rise of self-publishing has already catapulted a few lucky writers onto the best-seller lists. And major publishing houses often try to woo these stars into their fold. Well, Swoon Reads, a new young adult romance publisher, took things a step further. It added crowdsourcing to the mix, promising a contract to the writer whose book won the hearts of a community of online readers. Well, that winner was announced today, and NPR's Lynn Neary reports.
LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: A couple of years ago, Swoon Reads publisher Jean Feiwel was checking out the USA Today best-seller list. It was at the beginning of the self-publishing boom, so Feiwel was surprised to see a self-published book on the list.
JEAN FEIWEL: And I thought, what is this?
NEARY: Feiwel read the book, liked it, and tried to sign up the author for her publishing house, Macmillan Children's Books. But the author wasn't interested. That frustrated Feiwel but it also got her thinking. Maybe there was another way to find potential best-sellers.
FEIWEL: I thought, why not do what the self-published authors are doing, which is to connect the readers and the writers directly and see what they come up with.
NEARY: Feiwel, who's known for launching such hugely successful kids' book series as "The Babysitters Club" and "Goosebumps," came up with the idea for Swoon Reads. The young adult imprint would solicit manuscripts from writers, post them on a website, and ask readers to rate them and comment on them. The author of the most popular manuscript would get the book contract. Feiwel decided to go with romance novels because they have such avid fans.
KARA SKINNER: I'm kind of addicted to them.
NEARY: Kara Skinner, a 17-year-old from Maine, loves romance novels.
SKINNER: They're really sweet and they can be very sentimental sometimes so, yeah. And until I got a boyfriend, like, so during the times I am single, it's kind of nice to, like, have something to daydream about.
NEARY: Skinner, who loves to read, heard about Swoon Reads on a website for would-be novelists.
SKINNER: And I thought it was really interesting, especially since I want to be a writer when I grow up. So I thought it was kind of cool. So I checked it out, and I started reading the books on there almost immediately.
NEARY: Skinner read 30 Swoon Reads manuscripts in six months. She'd give them one to five hearts - instead of stars - and contribute to the comment sections when she felt like it. She tended to like romances set in the dystopian future, but she says there were lots of really good entries. The Swoon Reads group was also eagerly looking at the books but for a while, Jean Feiwel was afraid they wouldn't find a winner.
FEIWEL: Actually about, you know, two months ago, I was fairly desperate and thought, are we going to find something? - because I don't think, you know, wishing makes it so. And I said to John Yaged, who's the president of our group, I said, you know, if I don't find it - if we don't find anything, if it's not there, we're not going to do it. And he sort of looked at me like, oh, God...
FEIWEL: I hope that's not the case.
NEARY: While all this reading and hand-wringing was going on, Sandy Hall, a teen librarian in Morristown, N.J., was writing. She sent her finished manuscript to the website and began waiting to hear some news.
SANDY HALL: I would check on my phone. Sometimes I would wake up and check, like...
HALL: I got a little obsessed. And I kept trying to, like, squelch my enthusiasm - like, don't get too excited. Don't get too excited. This might not happen. This might not happen.
NEARY: Then, on a cold winter day, Hall got the news that her manuscript had been chosen.
HALL: It was a snow day, Monday, and I got an email. I hadn't been checking my email. I was very, you know, like running around doing other stuff. And I checked my email and it said that I had good news coming from Swoon. And I was like, oh, my God. This is it. This is the moment. And I wrote them an email back and I said, you know, I'm sorry it took me so long to get back to this but I had to wait for my hands to stop shaking.
NEARY: And you're getting a printing of 100,000 copies, I understand.
HALL: Oh, is that what it is? I didn't know that number.
FEIWEL: I mean, I couldn't have asked for a better candidate.
NEARY: Jean Feiwel.
FEIWEL: It's fresh, and we think it's original. And so we think she's kind of a diamond in the rough.
NEARY: Hall's book, "A Little Something Different," is about two college students falling in love. The story is told from the perspective of a number of people watching from a distance as the romance begins to bloom. In this excerpt, a waitress reads from a napkin left behind after an awkward meeting between the two would-be lovers.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Reading) Things I should have said but didn't. One: How are you? Two: How is your winter break? Three: Are you still taking creative writing part two this semester? Four: I like girls, just for the record. Five: I'm kind of an idiot, and I don't know what to talk about. Six: Thank you for sitting with me. Seven: Thank you for playing hangman. Eight: We should do this again sometime. I could give you my number. And then next time you could text me or I could text you. We could text each other. And I would stop being so stupid and pathetic and actually talk to you.
NEARY: Jean Feiwel thinks this is a book people will want to read.
FEIWEL: We think this is a big deal.
HALL: We're pretty excited about this.
NEARY: Correct me if I'm wrong, but if you print 100,000 copies and they all sell, she's going to be a best-seller, isn't she?
FEIWEL: She is. She is. And that's certainly our intention.
NEARY: Feiwel says they've already chosen two more books they want to publish. Sandy Hall is now working with Swoon Reads editors on a final manuscript, and is daring to hope that this is the beginning of her life as a writer. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.