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Why Wasn’t I Chosen?: An Open Edit Letter (Part I)

Dear Swoon Reads Writers,

Thank you so much for sharing your manuscripts with us. There were over 200 (!!!) novels under consideration for our third list and our community has many, many talented writers! In our search, I found wonderful characters, interesting formats, unique plot points, and swoonworthy love scenes – and lots and lots of manuscripts that had so much potential, but weren’t quite there yet. If possible, I would LOVE to be able to work with each of you individually and give specific suggestions and advice. Unfortunately, there are over 200 of you, and only one of me. (Also, I think there are legal issues.) So, in lieu of that, I decided to put together my attempt at a group edit letter.

Here is a list of some issues we came across during our selection process that caused us to decide that a given manuscript, despite its potential, was not quite ready for publication. Hopefully it will be helpful to you. My hope is that you or a trusted beta reader could go through the list and see if any of them apply to your work. Then, ideally, you could revise and resubmit!

Here we go:

• The first three chapters are promising, but your manuscript didn’t have enough traction on the site for us to read more. While Swoon Reads is not a popularity contest, we are a crowdsourced imprint, so we do need some indication that the crowd approves of your manuscript before we can invest the time to really read and consider your work. Unless we have in-house readers who stumble upon your book and completely fall in love with it so that they become advocates here (which has happened), we rely on the comments and ratings on site to tell us what we need to be focusing on. So, if your manuscript hasn’t gotten any comments or ratings, then you might want to look at your cover and copy to make sure they are as appealing and compelling as possible, and do some promoting both on the site and on your social media channels to see if you can draw in some readers, so that in the next round we will have a reason to give it a closer look!

I’ve read 50 pages and there’s no sign of a plot. Maybe it’s the time we live in or the fact that I had so many other fabulous manuscripts to look at, but my attention span has grown shorter and shorter, as have readers’. So, no matter how appealing your characters are, if I don’t have some kind of hook or mystery or goal or reason to care about what happens next, then I don’t have any reason not to give up and move on to the next manuscript.

A plot has been introduced, but then only shows back up in the last 50 pages. Jean and I see this a lot. An author envisions their work as a series and saves all the best parts of the plot for later books. The problem with this is that if the first book of a series is not a satisfying read – with a solid beginning, middle, and climax – filled with action, excitement, and emotion, there’s no reason for a reader to assume the next installment will be better. The goal is to hook your readers as close to Page 1 as possible and never let them go.

Your book is a sequel. It’s very, very, very rare for any publisher to publish the second book in a series. As a publisher, we want to grow you as an author and a brand, and to do that we need to start with a clean slate and a new series. (Unless you have a really, really, really fabulous sales track.)

You have a great concept or hook, but you aren’t thoroughly exploring it. Let’s say you have a fabulous title, your short description was eye-catching, and your first chapter sets up this incredibly interesting hook. But then it all goes away after Chapter 5, leaving you with nothing to talk about for the rest of the book, or leaving you with no choice but to write a different book altogether. As a reader, I feel incredibly cheated, and I move on. Make sure that if you are making a promise to the reader about a certain theme in your book, that the story itself delivers on that.

You excel at creating cute individual scenes and moments, but there’s no flow from one to the next. It’s not enough to be able to create a perfect moment. It’s not even enough to create a series of perfect moments. You have to transition smoothly from one perfect moment to the next. Think about it like this: Your story should feel like a movie, not a series of photographs. Every scene should be connected to the ones before and after. Don’t leave your characters jumping around through time and space. (Not even if they actually are jumping around through time and space.) As readers, we need a logical sequence of events – rhyme, reason, and continuity.

Your book isn’t young adult or new adult. This is something we see fairly often. Part of it might be that young adult, and new adult especially, are relatively recent categories, and many people still aren’t sure whether or not their manuscript fits in. If your character is older than their early 20s, if they are looking back at their youth in a moment of nostalgia, or if they are dealing with very adult themes and issues, like marriage and career choices, then your book may not qualify as young adult or new adult. We also see books that skew a little too young that would be more appropriate for a middle grade audience. If your main character is younger than 14 or 15, and is dealing with issues like a first crush instead of their first real love, then this might apply to you. This blog post might be helpful for more information.

To Be Continued…

—♥—

Author spotlight

Holly West

Senior Editor at Swoon Reads and Feiwel & Friends. Giant geek. Dedicated fangirl. Half-Elven Rogue Cleric. Also answers to That-Girl-Who-Reads-A-Lot.

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