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Swoon Reads: The Next Romance Bestseller, Selected By You

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The rise of self-publishing has already catapulted a few lucky writers to the top of bestseller lists. And major publishing houses often try to woo these stars into their fold. Swoon Reads, a new young adult romance publisher, is taking this dance a step further. It has added crowdsourcing to the mix, promising a contract to the writer whose book wins the hearts of a community of online readers.

On Friday — Valentine's Day — Swoon Reads announced the winner of that contract: Sandra Hall a teen librarian in Morristown, N.J., who wrote A Little Something Different, about two college students falling in love.

In Search Of A Better Bestseller

A couple of years ago publisher Jean Feiwel was checking out the USA Today bestseller list. It was at the beginning of the self-publishing boom so Feiwel was surprised to see a self-published book on the list.

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 bestsellers.

"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," she says.

Feiwel who is known for launching such hugely successful kids book series as "The Babysitters Club" and "Goosebumps," came up with the idea of 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.

"I'm kind of addicted to them," says Kara Skinner, a 17-year-old from Maine. "They're really sweet and they can be very sentimental sometimes. ... And until I got a boyfriend, like during the times I am single, it's nice to have something to daydream about."

Skinner, who loves to read, heard about Swoon Reads on a website for would-be novelists.

"I thought it was really interesting especially since I want to be a writer when I grow up," she says. "... So I checked it out and I started reading the books on there almost immediately."

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, Feiwel was afraid they wouldn't find a winner.

"Actually about two months ago I was fairly desperate," she admits. "I thought, are we going to find something? Because I don't think wishing makes it so. And I said to Jon Yaged, who's the president of our group: ... If we don't find anything, we're not going to do it. And he sort of looked at me like: Oh God, I hope that's not the case."

'I Had To Wait For My Hands To Stop Shaking'

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.

"I would check on my phone," she says. "Sometimes I would wake up and check. Like, I got a little obsessed. And I kept trying to squelch my enthusiasm, like, 'Don't get too excited, don't get too excited, this might not happen, this might not happen.'"

Then, on a cold, snowy Monday, Hall got the news that her manuscript had been chosen.

"I hadn't been checking my email," she says. "I had been running around doing other stuff. And I checked my email and it said 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: 'I am sorry it took me so long to get back on this but I had to wait for my hands to stop shaking.'"

Swoon Reads will be printing 100,000 copies of Hall's book.

"I couldn't have asked for a better candidate," Feiwel says. "It's fresh and we think it's original. And so we think she's kind of a diamond in the rough."

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.

Feiwel thinks this is a book people will want to read. "We think this is a big deal," she says. "We're pretty excited about this."

If all 100,000 copies of Hall's books sell, she'll be a bestseller — and, Feiwel says, that's the whole point. Making Hall a bestseller is "certainly our intention," she says.

Feiwel says Swoon Reads has already chosen two more books they want to publish. And 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.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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