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October 1, 2013

Swoon Reads: New "Crowdsourced" Teen Romance Imprint

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

As reported by a number of sources, including USA Today, Macmillan is launching Swoon Reads, a new teen romance imprint, under its existing Feiwel and Friends imprint. It's looking for submissions of previously unpublished manuscripts.

The twist: Swoon Reads is a "crowdsourced" imprint, with readers commenting on and rating the posted manuscripts. Highly-ranked manuscripts will be considered by Swoon Reads' publishing board, and those selected for publication will be offered a standard Macmillan publishing contract plus a $15,000 advance. Books will be published in both print and electronic format.

Here's what Swoon Reads is looking for.

I don't find any major pitfalls on the website or in the Terms and Conditions (the Terms and Conditions for manuscript submission are separate from the general Terms and Conditions, and are available only to those who sign up for Swoon Reads). But there are some things that writers should carefully consider.

- You'll be making your FULL manuscript available online. Will this create difficulties if Swoon Reads doesn't select it and you want to submit it elsewhere? Personally, I think that's unlikely. The mss. are not publicly available (only members can access them), and they're not for sale. Still, it's something to be aware of.

As for copyright concerns, Swoon Reads addresses those in its FAQ:
Is my work protected?
We are doing our best to protect your work from theft and plagiarism. We will not allow cutting, pasting, or copying from any Swoon Reads submission. We also require all members of the Swoon Reads community to agree to a set of Terms and Conditions that legally prohibit anyone from stealing and reposting any content from Swoon Reads. And you must be a member of Swoon Reads to access any of the submissions.
- Your submission is exclusive for six months. This means that you can't submit it, or publish it, anywhere else during the six months following submission (with the exception of making excerpts available on your own website or blog). It also can't already be under consideration for sale by anyone else. Per the FAQ, you can be agented (though if you have a savvy agent, I doubt they'd be enthusiastic about tying your ms. up with a six-month exclusive submission).

- Swoon Reads may take user comments and ratings into account in considering submitted manuscripts for publication, but it doesn't have to. So the crowdsourcing aspect of Swoon Reads isn't the be-all and end-all. Lots of positive reviews and ratings won't necessarily make you a shoo-in.

- The contract, if offered, includes a grant of exclusive, worldwide rights in all languages, plus an option on your next work, and is likely not negotiable. According to the submission Terms and Conditions, "reasonable" changes in contract terms "may be requested," though Swoon Reads "shall not be obligated to agree to any such changes". The FAQ indicates even less flexibility: "the Swoon Reads contract terms are standard and not up for negotiation."

I'm presuming, since this is described as Macmillan's standard contract, that the grant is life-of-copyright, in which case all the cautions about reversion clauses apply. But I haven't seen a Macmillan contract recently, so I can't comment on the specific terms.

Last but not least, the problem (well, one of the problems) with crowdsourcing is people trying to game the system (i.e., creating multiple accounts to pad the rankings). I contacted Swoon Reads to ask what steps they're taking to keep this from happening. They told me,
It's very important to us that no one takes advantage of the ratings system and that all manuscripts uploaded to Swoon Reads are rated according to the quality of the manuscript. Every story should have a fair shot! We built provisions into the site usage rules and the site technology itself so that we're able to track if one person has opened multiple accounts or is in any way violating the terms of use. We also encourage any users who notice suspicious activity to use the 'Report this Manuscript' function to call attention to any strange ratings or other activity.


Pat Dilloway said...

Sounds like Harper Collins's Authonomy thing. Like American Idol and such I'm sure there are ways you could game the system to make a story seem more popular than it should be.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I recall the world rights and first dibs on your next book were on the Allen And Unwin contract when I first signed up with them years ago, but they were not too fussed if you wanted to scrap the first dibs thing, and they were good to me. It's probably not as bad as it sounds. And six months is about as long as most big publishers take to reply anyway. You work on something else while you wait.

Jenny said...

There is a very limited amount of stuff you can do to avoid people creating multiple identities--tracking IPs, setting cookies and flash cookies (which won't work on phones). But there are ways to get around all of these.

But the two biggest problems are a) people bringing in crowds of twitter/FB friends, or fellow gamers or everyone in their high school class and b) people making "I'll praise you if you praise me" bargains.

The latter two issues were what made Authonomy useless shortly after it launched. Several of us who were active on Authonomy did get mainstream published, but we did it going through traditional channels.

The feedback available on Authonomy was very useful--at least in its early days--but that faded out pretty fast. If this site doesn't provide that kind of critiquing it is probably a waste of time.

elenesallinger said...

I find it odd that they are requiring .doc and .docx formats only. Neither format can truly be protected from copying - even using the Restrict Editing - command. PDF can be restricted all together.

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