Category Archives: Swoon Reads

8 Lessons Learned From Subbing to Swoon Reads

 This is a reposting of an article I wrote for the YA Buccaneers, a blog run by a group of wonderful YA authors — one that has since dropped anchor because those authors have become all sorts of busy with authorly things. Since the Buccaneers are no more, I wanted to save this material and keep it available, as I think it’s helpful to those who are considering submitting their manuscripts to Swoon Reads (my publisher). I’m reposting as is, with only a few supplemental additions, which I’ve marked with asterisks.

First, some background information on Swoon Reads, borrowed from the Swoon Reads “FAQ” page:

“Swoon Reads publishes young adult and new adult romance novels. Writers can submit their original, unpublished manuscript to the Swoon Reads website, and readers who sign up can rate and comment on manuscripts to help us [editors] choose which titles we want to publish. Swoon Reads is an imprint of Macmillan publishing under Feiwel & Friends and was founded by Jean Feiwel.”

I submitted my contemporary YA romance, Kissing Max Holden, to Swoon Reads in early October (*2015). Here’s what I’ve learned so far…

1. Submit for the right reasons.

I spent months exploring Swoon Reads and thinking about whether I wanted to upload my swooniest manuscript, Kissing Max Holden, to the site. Factors that led me to believe Swoon Reads is an opportunity worth pursuing:

  • The untraditional path to publication Swoon Reads offers is very cool. They get readers involved and consider their opinions when deciding whether to acquire stories. (*Though, Swoon Reads is not a popularity contest. The Swoon Team is looking for quality manuscripts that fit in among their list. While ratings and comments are important, they aren’t all that matters.)
  • Swoon Reads members leave reflective comments on submitted manuscripts, Swoon Reads authors, editors, and publicists blog about the writing and publication processes, and readers share the stories they love via social media. All of this fosters a community that is helpful, warm, and enthusiastic. (*I continue to experience this sense of encouraging community, more than eighteen months after selling Kissing Max Holden!)
  • I’ve read a few Swoon Reads stories and they’re wonderful. Unique concepts, lovely prose, compelling relationships, and characters who leap off the page. The quality is extraordinary.
  • I truly believe my story is a great fit for Swoon Reads. I’m a romance girl through and through (Kissing Max Holden is proof!), and I’m all for an imprint that celebrates swoon.

2. Submitting to Swoon Reads is fairly simple.

You’ll need an original YA or NA manuscript of at least 45,000 words, formatted to the Swoon Reads specifications. Swoon Reads focuses on romance of all sorts, so bring on the swoon no matter what genre you write. (*Now, Swoon Reads focuses on all YA, whether it includes romance or not! If you write fantasy, mystery, sci-fi, etc, keep Swoon Reads in mind.)

3. Entice Swoon Reads members/potential readers with an appealing cover.

It’s okay to use the default cover provided by Swoon Reads, but I recommend creating a cover image that captures the tone of your story. I made Kissing Max Holden’s cover using a free stock image and the photo editing site Pic Monkey.

Cover(*This homemade cover will always hold a special place in my heart, but I love the final cover designed by Swoon Reads so much more!)

4. It’s important to nail down your manuscript’s genre.

Swoon Reads categorizes stories so it’s easy for readers to find what they’re interested in. Once you’ve chosen a genre (contemporary, adventure, historical, paranormal, etc.) you can get even more specific. For example, under the “Contemporary” heading, you’ll find these subtopics: Beach/Summer, Holiday, School, Family, Issue, Friendship, Mystery.

5. Snag readers with irresistible story descriptions.

If you submit to Swoon Reads, you’ll need a short pitch, as well as longer query-like summary. For me, this was the hardest part of the submission process! I tend to be wordy, and it was a challenge to pare my pitch and summary down while ensuring they grabbed the attention of potential readers.

6. Promote, promote, promote.

Swoon Reads is all about reader feedback, which means you’ve got to attract, you know, readers. After I submitted Kissing Max Holden, I had to get brave and spread the word. (Why is it SO scary to share our work with the world?!) Here’s what’s worked for me in the way of promotion:

  • I’ve posted my story’s cover on all of my social media platforms, and I’ve shared about how Swoon Reads works, which has people excited. Even those who don’t normally read YA romance seem to be eager to be part of the publishing process; lots of my family members and friends have created Swoon Reads accounts because they want to help give writers a shot at a book deal.
  • I’ve created graphics with Kissing Max Holden teasers to post on Instagram and Twitter and, since my story’s main character is an aspiring pastry chef, I’ve shared photos of my own baked goods along with the story’s link.
  • I’ve talked about the Swoon Reads process on my blog, and I’ve shared the story’s first chapter with an accompanying link, so those who’d like to read more can.
  • For me, the biggest help in spreading the word about Kissing Max Holden has been the people who’ve read and enjoyed the story. I feel so lucky to have had readers and fellow writers recommend Kissing Max Holden to their friends and followers via social media.

7. Engaging with readers can be fun.

I think we’ve all heard some version of this very important publishing advice: Don’t respond to reviews! Except at Swoon Reads, writers are encouraged to reply to the comments left on their stories. This, at first, made me very nervous. (What if someone hated my story and listed all the reasons why they thought it was terrible? I’d have to come up with a gracious response while simultaneously sobbing and eating a gallon of ice cream.) But here’s the thing: Swoon Reads members are awesome, and they love stories, and they want to help writers improve. Have all the comments my story’s received been glowing accolades? Not exactly. But every single one has been thoughtful and kind and enthusiastic, and it’s a pleasure to respond with my heartfelt thanks.

8. Enjoy the process.

There’s no guarantee that any one book submitted to Swoon Reads will be published by the imprint. Kissing Max Holden might catch the team’s collective eye, or it could be passed over. No matter the outcome, I’m so glad I posted my story on the site. I’ve fallen in love with its characters all over again, I’ve interacted with some incredible readers, and I’ve learned so much. So far, the experience has been amazing. (*My experience continues to be amazing. I’m so proud to be a Swoon Reads author!)

Upperman - Kissing Max Holden HI RES

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Go read DANGEROUS PLAY!

Guys, my longtime critique partner and friend, Alison Miller, uploaded her story, Dangerous Play, to Swoon Reads

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Here’s the official summary…

Best friends and soccer all-stars Jesse, Ashton, and JD are on opposite sides of a prank text that leaves Jesse girlfriend-less and spirals into a vicious social war. Their friendship teeters on a misunderstanding and secrets they’ve been downplaying—Jesse’s temptation to cheat for a classmate, JD’s sexual identity, and Ashton’s harbored feelings for Jesse’s girl—look to blow wide open. When a common rival pits them against each other, threatening to destroy their friendship and futures, they must take him down—together.

And my thoughts…

I love this book so much! Its concept is unique, its characters are complex and unforgettable, and its voice is spot-on YA — funny, insightful, and vibrant. Jesse, JD, and Ashton are such an awesome group of friends — it’s fascinating to witness their close bond, and heartbreaking to watch the unveiling of secrets that threaten to rip their friendship apart. I love Mags, too; she’s relatable and fresh and fun, and she brings out the best in each of the boys (though she’s also a catalyst for big upheavals). The prank war is equal parts hilarious and cringeworthy, and all of the different problems that arise for each character are so compelling. I’d buy this book in a heartbeat!

Read Dangerous Play now, free, on Swoon Reads!

(And don’t forget to rate and comment. One of the most amazing things about Swoon Reads is that YOU can help this extraordinary book get noticed by the Swoon Team, giving it a shot at possible publication!)

KISSING MAX HOLDEN has a cover!

Guys, Kissing Max Holden has a finalized cover, and I could not love it more!

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Let’s talk about the pretty, shall we?

The colors: I liked the grayscale of the winning cover direction, but I LOVE how this new image looks: sharp and crisp, with plenty of contrast. And then there’s the gradient pink of the title; pink is my favorite, and I’m so happy to see it featured on Kissing Max Holden‘s cover. It feels fresh and fun and romantic.

The cover models: I mean, I couldn’t have handpicked a more perfect Jilly and Max. She’s beautiful but approachable, and he’s got dark, wild hair and a jaw that won’t quit. Together? They’re adorable.

The composition: The way he’s coming over the fence for her? Yes. They way she’s touching his face? There’s a history there. The way he’s holding her wrist? Clearly, he wants her. The almost-kiss? Perfect, perfect, perfect.

Also, bonus: My name! At the top! My name — on a book!

Good news! Kissing Max Holden is available for preorder at Amazon! Also, you can mark it To Read on Goodreads.

Head over to Swoon Reads to learn more about the process of designing and executing Kissing Max Holden‘s cover — so much fun!

And the winning cover direction is…

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I’m so excited to share the winning cover direction for Kissing Max Holden!

This fence concept stood out to me from the very beginning. There’s something about its tones, its symbolism, and its couple—their position and their clear affection for one another other—that, for me, truly captures the feeling of Kissing Max Holden. I’m so glad it’s the cover direction that scored the most votes!

To read more about my thoughts on the cover direction selection process, head over to Swoon Reads to check out my most recent post.

Thanks so much to all who voted!  ❤

Cover voting is live!

One of my favorite things about the Swoon Reads experience is the amount of involvement members of the site get to have. From rating and commenting on submitted stories to voting on cover directions for selected manuscripts, Swoon Readers get a big say in many aspects of the books published by Swoon Reads.

Now’s one of those times when Swoon Reads needs your help — let’s select the cover direction for my debut, Kissing Max Holden!

Guys, I can’t tell you how long I’ve anticipated seeing my name on an actual book cover, and now it’s on FOUR. Four lovely covers that all capture different aspects of Jill and Max’s story in really beautiful ways…

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Above, you’ll find a piece of each of the four options. Remember — these are cover directions, not necessarily final products. The winner will likely undergo adjustments and fine-tunings, but it’ll be the cover you help select!

Head over to the Swoon Blog to see the full cover concept images and vote for your very favorite(s). Can’t wait to see which you choose…

The winner will be announced soon!

July Reading Wrap-Up

July reviews are short and sweet, friends. In case you missed it, I’ve got an adorable foster kiddo in my care, plus I’m drafting a new novel and working on edits for two others. Frankly, I’m pretty proud of the fact that I managed to do any reading at all, but I did, and I’m eager to chat about these fantastic books…
{As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.}

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston – This novel about a girl who is raped at cheer camp is smart and nuanced and, in a way, refreshing. While E.K. Johnston realistically portrays the trauma of sexual assault and the viciousness of teenagers in the wake of a “scandal” like the one featured in this book, main character Hermione never reads as weak. She’s sad and confused and angry and afraid, but she’s so resilient, too, and that comes in large part from her caring parents and supportive friends. Of course Hermione struggles through the aftermath of her attack, but she never lets what happened at camp bury her, and I love that. I also love how cheerleading is depicted — as a legitimate, kick-ass sport. Hermione and her friends aren’t vapid pom-pom shakers; they’re loyal athletes who rally around their own. Big, big recommend.

Noggin by John Corey Whaley – Long story short: Cancer was killing teen Travis’s body, so he had his head removed and frozen until doctors could attach it to a healthy donor body, allowing Travis to live on, only five years in the future. Of course everything’s changed and Travis is having a hard time letting go of the life he knew, particularly his then-girlfriend Cate, who’s now an engaged adult. While the premise of this novel is bizarre, it allows for some interesting dialogue regarding who we are and who we can choose to be, as well as the ethical and moral quandaries that might stem from a procedure like the one Travis receives. More than that, though, this novel is deeply entertaining and a lot of fun. Travis’s voice rocks, and his friendships are awesome. Loved it!

South of Sunshine by Dana Elmendorf – The setting of South of Sunshine made it for me. Main character Kaycee and her friends live in Sunshine, TN, and Dana Elmendorf does an amazing job portraying not only the rich landscape and small-town energy, but the mostly close-minded population, too. I enjoyed Kaycee and love interest Bren, but it’s Van who I adored most. He supports Kaycee, while at the same time challenging her and giving her room to grow. I also love how Dana Elmendorf conveys emotion. Kaycee’s kind of all over the place — grappling with her conservative upbringing and oft judgmental classmates while learning to accept her sexuality and herself, as well as navigate her new relationship with Bren. Pick this one up if you’re into contemporary YA romance, particularly LGBT romance.

Escaping Perfect by Emma Harrison – While I liked this contemporary YA’s setting and supporting characters, I had a hard time relating to MC Cecelia/Lia. The situation she finds herself in is serious (she’s run away from her high-profile family to hide out in a small Tennessee town), and while she does find a job and try to make a life for herself, she’s mostly just focused on wooing a guy who I didn’t find charming. Like, at all. I didn’t love this book’s ending, either. It’s going to have a sequel so I suspect we’ll get some closure eventually, but the major cliffhanger didn’t feel like enough of a payoff for me. Still, check it out if you like small town dynamics and contemps with a heavy focus on romance.

No Love Allowed by Kate Evangelista – The perfect poolside read! This YA romance’s plot and mood reminded me of Gossip Girl which, hello — yes please! Despite their dramatic circumstances, Caleb, a rich boy who needs a fake girlfriend, and Didi, a girl with mental health challenges who needs cash, feel very real. So does their chemistry; Kate Evangelista writes some steamy kisses, and some fantastic banter, too. She handles Didi’s health issues in a way that reads as authentic, giving her traits and interests that go beyond the “girl with mental illness” we sometimes see in fiction. And Caleb, who could’ve very easily come off as a privileged and entitled jerk, was really quite adorable. So looking forward to seeing what Kate Evangelista writes next!

What’s Broken Between Us by Alexis Bass – I loved this story so much. Author Alexis Bass writes some of the most realistic high school experiences in YA, and I think her books deserve far more hype than they appear to get — they’re so good. MC Amanda, while closed off and full of grief, is incredibly relatable. Her big brother, Jonathan, has just finished a year-long prison sentence after killing his friend and seriously injuring his girlfriend while driving drunk. Jonathan is very complex, as is his relationship with Amanda. Every time they shared the page, I could feel myself literally tensing up. Amanda’s (non?) relationship with one-time flame Henry is equally complicated. This whole book, guys… The character arcs are so steep and the writing is so affecting. My heart hurt through the better part of it, but at the same time, there’s a thread of hopefulness running through its pages. Definitely give What’s Broken Between Us a read, and check out Alexis Bass’s debut, Love and Other Theories, too!

Tell me: What’s the best book you read in July?

May Reading Wrap-Up

Seven books read in May. Thirty-two books read in 2016.
As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.

How to Say I love You Out Loud by Karole Cozzo – I was charmed by this story of family and first love and fitting in. Main character Jordyn is so complex. Her home life is tricky because her younger brother, Phillip, falls at the severe end of the Autism spectrum, and her parents spend most of their time and energy accommodating him. Jordyn often feels left out and overlooked, and as a result, she’s not Phillip’s biggest fan. At times, Jordyn’s hard to like, but that’s because she’s real. She’s not always kind to her brother, and she experiences moments of selfishness and resentment, but don’t worry — her arc is steep. I love that Jordyn has to learn how to say eff it, and I love that she discovers ways to appreciate her brother for who he is, and I especially love the way her romance with adorable and altruistic Alex pans out. Karole Cozzo’s prose is simultaneously concise and emotive, and she writes amazing kissing scenes. I recommend How to Say I Love You Out Loud for fans of family-focused and romantic contemporary YA.

The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin – Another contemporary YA with a main character who’s so authentic and so flawed, she often comes across as prickly. Throughout the course of this story, Harper makes some big mistakes, and I found myself cringing more than once. Author Emily Martin’s done an interesting thing here, gender swapping the Good Girl/Bad Boy trope. Harper drinks and hooks up and acts out when she’s feeling overwhelmed, while her first love and current ex, Declan (who I’m smitten with), is careful and considerate and responsible — until he’s not. I think this is a unique take on contemporary YA romance, and the flip definitely kept me engaged. My favorite thing about The Year We Fell Apart (aside from its incredible romantic tension) is Harper and Declan’s friend group, Cory in particular. He’s so constant and loyal — exactly the sort of buddy Harper needs to temper the upheaval in her life. I love, too, that climactic scene in the parking lot. My heart was literally pounding. Read this one if you’re into romances full of conflict and angst.

The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdeih – A reread, this time I listened to the (outstanding) audiobook. The glowing review I wrote last summer is HERE.

The Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh – A satisfying end to an incredible duology. As much as I wanted to rush through this book so I could learn the fates of Shazi and Khalid and Tariq and Despina and all of the other characters I’ve come to love, I made myself savor each page because Renee Ahdieh pens some of the most beautiful prose I’ve read. Her descriptions are lush, and she has this way of relating her characters’ emotions that’s just so powerful. I’m a fan of this concluding book for a lot of reasons, most of which have to do with Shahrzad and how utterly badass she is. She never falters in her convictions, though she’s not opposed to experimenting with new tactics and accepting help from an eccentric bunch of secondary characters. While I loved every moment she spent with Khalid (that first scene they shared… <3), I was particularly fascinated by her evolving relationships with Tariq and her younger sister, Irsa (who’s a badass in her own quiet way). The Rose & the Dagger is full of fantasy (magic carpets, fire manipulators, magic spells, flying serpents) and some stunning twists, but it never gets lost in sensationalism. Its characters are layered and authentic, its relationships are real and often imperfect, and it’s grounded in feminism — a most excellent spin on The Arabian Nights: Tales From 1,001 Nights.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume – Honest moment: If this book hadn’t been written by Judy Blume, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. It’s historical fiction set in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a town where three planes crashed in the space of 58 days in late 1951 and early 1952 (that actually happened). Not subject matter that would normally pique my interest, but I’m so glad I gave this book a read — I thought it was wonderful. Its cast is huge, but a great deal of the story is told through fifteen-year-old Miri’s eyes, and she’s awesome — a lot like the winsome girls of Judy Blume’s earlier MG and YA novels. Miri comes of age during the winter of the plane crashes, partly because of the crashes, and partly because she’s dealing with all sorts of normal teenage issues: family strife, first love, and failing friendship. She responds to it all with such genuine sentiment; she feels absolutely real. I love how the fates of the fictional citizens of Elizabeth are woven together, and how each of their paths alters in the wake of the plane crashes. I also love how the early 1950s come to life within the pages of this novel. It’s all about the human experience, and it’s full of heart. I loved it.

You Don’t Know My Name by Kristen Orlando (January, 2017) – I went into this book expecting a fun spy story, but by the novel’s end I was tense and torn and totally heartbroken. Seventeen-year-old MC Reagan’s parents are Black Angels — super secret spies who go out on dangerous missions and change their identities at a moment’s notice. That means Reagan, too, has to pick up and move, often in the middle of the night, leaving her fledging friendships — not to mention a piece of herself– behind. Thanks to a childhood spent training in martial arts and weaponry and foreign languages, Reagan’s expected to become a Black Angel herself, but she’s questioning her presumed future thanks to her most recent group of friends — cute JROTC cadet Luke, in particular. But when Reagan gets tangled up in one of her parents’ missions and is forced to put her training to use, her life changes irrevocably. Author Kristen Orlando does such an amazing job capturing the many facets of Reagan’s life, including the sweet romance she and Luke are developing, the anxiety she experiences thanks to her intense lifestyle, her complicated relationship with her parents, and the tragic rescue-mission-gone-wrong in Columbia. Definitely pick You Don’t Know My Name up of you’re into unflinching novels that’ll set your heart racing.

Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar – THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD! I mean, it’s written by an Aussie author so its quality comes as no surprise, but even so, Summer Skin far exceeded my sky-high expectations. It’s a college-set story about friendship and love, about learning and growing and changing for the better — even when that’s really, really hard. Jess is such an extraordinary MC. She’s driven and super smart, she’s all sorts of fun, and she takes zero shit. She’s comfortable in her skin, but that doesn’t mean she’s not sometimes awkward and uncertain, She makes mistakes just like the rest of us did in college, which is a big part of why she’s so relatable and endearing. Summer Skin is a sexy book in all the obvious ways, but it’s the chemistry between Jess and trying-to-reform womanizer Mitch that makes this story sizzle. Between the angst and the humor and the swoon, I found Summer Skin to be unputdownable. Just a note, it’s not available in the US, so if you’re interested in reading (and you should totally be interested in reading) find it at The Book Depository.

So… What’s the best book you read in May?