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

Dear Swoon Readers,

You gave us so many great manuscripts to choose from this season! Thank you for all of your reads, ratings, and comments which helped guide us to our Season 10 selected books. We’re excited to add four new authors to the Swoon Reads fold.

We’re often asked what goes into our decision for which manuscripts get chosen. You, our readers, are obviously a key ingredient, but there’s more to it. We don’t automatically select a manuscript just because it has the highest stats. We are looking for stories that resonate with readers on some unforgettable level. Once a manuscript catches our attention—whether through an interesting premise, a trending status, or a really in-depth comment from a reader—our editors, as well as an entire room of volunteers, review that manuscript internally to see if something sparkles. Sometimes we really do love something, but we aren’t sure that the problems with it can be fixed in that current draft. This could be because, despite the book’s obvious strengths and appeal, there’s one big problem that makes the whole project not work. Or, maybe there are just too many small- to medium-sized problems that add up. In those cases, we decide the author needs to take a second stab at it, try to clean up some of those issues and submit a revised draft. (By the way, we love it when you do that!)

So why didn’t some manuscripts get chosen this time? Below, I discuss some possible reasons. If your book wasn’t selected this time, don’t give up! It’s never too late to make your manuscript great, and our hope is that this open edit letter will help get you there. Take a look and, perhaps with the help of a trusted beta reader, go over your manuscript again with these factors in mind. You might just find some of these issues are lurking in your work.

Let’s do this!

♥ Kat

Not Enough Worldbuilding

Part of what makes reading the best thing ever is that it allows readers to immerse themselves completely in a new world, whether that means introducing them to a secretive boarding school or showing them around the North End of Boston. But in order to immerse the reader, you as the writer need to first build a world that feels dynamic and compelling. When the worldbuilding is half-baked—if we don’t know why the upper class is in charge or how the various secret rooms of the castle work—then the reader is automatically distanced from your story.

Rushed Endings

What if this blog post ended right now—in the second section? You as the reader would probably feel disappointed. Likewise, manuscripts that end in a rush leave the reader feeling let down. You’ve spent 60,000 or more words showing us the world, introducing us to the characters, creating conflict and action, and making us feel invested in the book’s outcome, so if you wrap up all of these threads in 10 pages, your poor reader is bound to experience a bad case of literary whiplash. Take your time and deliver a satisfying ending; your reader deserves it!

Distracting Side Characters

Let’s just be straight with each other. Side characters are really fun to write. The hunky chemistry teacher, who makes your protagonist’s heart do a little flip every day in 2nd Period. The chatty barista, who knows your love interest’s coffee order. Your protagonist’s aunt, who knows more puns than Phil Dunphy. But when these characters start to encroach on pages that you need to develop your protagonists, it’s time to put your side characters on the back burner. Maybe you’ll even give the side characters their own books someday, like Kate Evangelista did in No Holding Back and No Second Chances.

Plot Showing Up Too Late

We all know that books need plot. As much fun as it can be to read about compelling characters, stuff needs to happen to make a book a book! But it’s also important stuff happens early. Just as it’s important to have plot happening on page one (which I touch on in this post), it’s important to sustain that forward momentum of plot throughout the whole book. Make sure that even if you’re setting up for a big moment in the manuscript’s second half, there’s still stuff happening in the first half. Otherwise, your reader may never make it to the action-packed part.

Unsupported Plot Twists

Certain movie directors can get away with plot twists that come out of left field. In general, though, plot twists can feel a lot like getting a bucket of cold water thrown on you—that is to say, jarring and unexpected. Before you introduce a big plot twist, ask yourself: Have you scattered virtual breadcrumbs so that a super-observant reader could figure out what’s coming? If not, your plot twist may make the reader feel cheated out of an ending that fits with the rest of the book. For more on acing plot twists, check out Holly’s post here.

Unrealistic Dialogue

As a writer, dialogue gives you a great opportunity to show the reader what your characters are thinking about, what they’re feeling, and how they express themselves. At the same time, it’s really hard to write dialogue that feels realistic and natural coming out of the mouths of your teenage characters. Look at things like word choice, sentence length, and grammar. Do they feel teen? We’re always looking for dialogue that feels natural because that dialogue is what draws us to characters and makes us feel like we really know them. For more on writing great dialogue, check out my post here.

Low Stakes

In every book, your main character needs to want something. That “something” can vary widely, from kissing the quarterback to helping a friend beat an illness to saving the whole freaking world. No matter what your character wants, it’s key that the stakes are high. It’s easy to see how “saving the whole freaking world” is high stakes, but what’s at stake if your protagonist doesn’t kiss the quarterback, or ace her finals, or beat his best friend at chess? Even if you’re writing light, contemporary romance, make sure the stakes are high so that we care as much as the character does about their success.

Too Many Characters

Don’t get me wrong, Game of Thrones is totally awesome. But here’s the thing… If you inundate your reader with too many characters with all their different backstories, personalities, and goals for the book, they’re likely to get lost. As a reader, I’m not going to know who I’m supposed to care about, or I’m going to get names confused, or I’m going to forget who someone is the next time they pop up. So, don’t bite off more than your readers can chew. Think of it this way: There’s a very, very good reason why Marvel had five (FIVE!!!) whole standalone movies before they brought everyone together in The Avengers. All of these complex characters needed space to be introduced to new fans while also keeping all the great hallmarks that please old fans. And even then, Marvel had the advantage of most of their audience already having a basic knowledge of the characters from the many, many previous decades of comic books and earlier films. If you try to go the Avengers route off the bat in Book 1 of a completely unknown series, you run the risk of the plot getting clogged with all the setup needed to introduce everyone. And then suddenly you’re 200 pages in and it feels like nobody’s actually done anything.

We hope that this gives you lots of ideas for how to tackle your next revision. We can’t WAIT to see what you have for us in Season 11!

And before you go, be sure to check out our previous open edit letters if you haven’t already. Issues we’ve previously addressed can still crop up in new submissions, so we might have already talked about a reason why your manuscript wasn’t selected in one of our previous letters.

Earlier Open Edit Letters can be found through the following links:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII

About the author - Kat Brzozowski

After seven years of editing both books for teens and adults at Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, I’ve taken the ...

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18 comments on "Why Wasn't I Chosen?: An Open Edit Letter (Part VIII)"

J. E. Warren on April 29, 2017, 9:13 a.m. said:

J. E. Warren

Thank you for this post and for clearing up some lingering questions I've had about the Swoon Reads submission/approval processes.

I've been really pleasantly surprised by the last few rounds of manuscripts selected (many that I've personally loved) and think that you guys know what you're doing - however, I suppose it's a little disheartening for those who have lots of great ratings, comments, etc and for those whose works are still quite hidden on this site, maybe don't have the push of say, Wattpad support or an already established reader base.

In any case, I think that my one criticism would be that there is a lot of American authors chosen whose voices represent a US perspective on e.g school/college etc and everyone else (Hello UK SR readers!) is left out. Your FAQ's say anyone can submit - I'd just really love to see a bit of variation in the voices - be that British or not.

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Vivyan Lynne on April 28, 2017, 12:46 p.m. said:

Vivyan Lynne

This information on how the process works is contrary. The site advertises itself as "Reader Approved" but according to this, only one reader need approve regardless of what a majority thinks. In the end, only certain genres are chosen. It might be worth noting to prospective authors that stories featuring female characters are more sought after.

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Karah Rachelle on April 28, 2017, 1:42 p.m. said:

Karah Rachelle

I understand the balance though. I've seen manuscripts on here get tons of attention as soon as they are posted because they had a huge following on Wattpad first, whereas other great manuscripts maybe don't have that same advantage. They've always said it's not a popularity contest, but I also assumed they wouldn't really look at manuscripts that had low number of views and ratings, which is why I worked so hard to bring in readers.

Curious about the female slant though. I hadn't noticed that before. I have noticed that the site seems to draw more female writers though, so I wonder if now that the focus has shifted from romance to all genres, this will change over time.

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Vivyan Lynne on April 28, 2017, 5:58 p.m. said:

Vivyan Lynne

I wonder but am not certain, as there have been gay romances on here for a while but the LGBT fiction chosen still only featured females. So this site features females

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Tara Tsai on April 28, 2017, 12:17 p.m. said:

Tara Tsai

Thanks for the clarification. To sum up what you said, there just needs to be at least one compelling piece on a submission to get the staff to notice a novel: a fantastic comment, a trending status and/or a gripping description. After it's noticed, it's then up to the staff to pick their favorites from there. So there is no minimum number of comments or ratings needed for Swoon to take notice. It just needs one (or all!) of the items above to be considered.

So for instance, even though a few of the manuscripts that were chosen this season didn't have many ratings/comments, they had some other quality that made the staff go "WHOA".

As always, thanks for the excellent editing advice. I know my latest submission needs work, so I'll keep moving forward with it and other manuscripts :)

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Lisa Buscemi Reiss on April 28, 2017, 1:11 p.m. said:

Lisa Buscemi Reiss

So in other words, it's the same as submitting your work to any other publishing house? If the staff loves it, it gets picked up?

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Grace Prince on April 28, 2017, 11:51 a.m. said:

Grace Prince

Hello, writers <3 I just wanted to say, as you read this blog and some of the others, to please be gentle with yourselves as you evaluate what you may or may not have done wrong. I have been a frequenter of SR as both a writer and reader for some years now, and I wanted to share that from what I have seen, it really seems to be about what the market is saying. I have seen some near perfect books that go without being selected, and some books that need a lot of help or major changes that do get selected by SR. And this is not to say that the blog posts don't have great advice on how to write a book, it's just that you may already have a very beautiful book on your hands just as it is, despite it not being selected. <3

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Kim Vale on April 28, 2017, 11:42 a.m. said:

Kim Vale

Thank you for taking the time to explain the process further, especially the list of whys. After reading through, many reminded me of issues in my own book that need to be fixed in order to be better. Mission accepted.
However, the rating system still confuses me. I understand not picking the top rated books automatically although there were some really promising ones that were passed up. An abundance of swoonworthy comments (pun intended) from the community showed how much the books resonated with readers. A few that I was just absolutely positive would make the list based on this didn't. It wasn't just because they had a lot of hearts, but because of the amount of joy that readers expressed when reading those books.
What is even more confusing to new people who come to the site and haven't been through previous seasons is the premise of the site. In the site FAQ it states: "The submissions with the largest number of high heart ratings will be considered for publication by the Swoon Reads Staff." I think this is why so many people are left feeling discouraged and confused.
Thank you for clearing up that that is not the case. And again, thank you for taking the time to explain when you didn't have to. I truly hope that my reply doesn't hurt my chances in the future because I'm just trying to explain what members of the community are feeling. Allowing questions and you guys answering them when there are many of us that are clueless about the publishing world is what I really enjoy about your blog.

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Vivyan Lynne on April 28, 2017, 12:42 p.m. said:

Vivyan Lynne

I agree, I think this information is misleading and contrary to what has been previously said on the site.

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Katie Kaleski on April 28, 2017, 11:08 a.m. said:

Katie Kaleski

You guys saying that about the selection process, is probably a relief to many because you guys picked a book that had only four ratings (great for the author, that’s awesome). So now we know we don’t have to worry about visibility and that we don’t have to scramble and find people to rate. All we need is one good comment. So essentially, we can just stick our story up and hope for the best. I bet you’ve given plenty of people hope for future seasons. Also, thanks for the tips. And you have a bit of a typo in the blog post there- We all knows… :)

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