Swoon Author Karole Cozzo: From Tragedy to Happily Ever After
Swoon Reads is looking for “new young adult love stories.” Romance. Ya know, all things warm and fuzzy, and unicorns, and rainbows. In fact, one of the defining features of a romance story is a happily ever after ending, or at the very least, a happy-for-now ending.
For the record, my relationship with Swoon Reads hasn’t always been a romantic one. It goes a little something like this…
Girl, a.k.a. Aspiring Author, a.k.a. me, receives email announcing the launch of Swoon Reads. Girl bounces up and down in her seat with excitement over the idea and promise of it all. The very first day Swoon Reads starts beta testing, girl submits a story that is incredibly close to her heart. Girl proceeds to virtually stalk Swoon Reads website for ratings, comments, and the appearance of her story in the “Being Read Now” column. As one of the first stories posted, Girl’s manuscript secures a spot in the “Swoonworthy” recommendations and stays there, hovering near the top of the list, and receives lots of positive feedback. As the end of the first round approaches, Girl allows herself to hope and dream. She envisions herself opening that box of her books and hugging one to her chest. She mentally pens the dedication.
Never mind the fact that the story is a trilogy, which Girl has come to learn is not the surest or easiest way to launch a writing career. Never mind that the feedback points out several weaknesses that likely render publication unfeasible. Until the very last day, Girl holds fast to a secret optimism that “the call” could be coming any day, even while publicly acknowledging it is highly unlikely her story will be selected.
The call does not come. The post goes up that all selected authors have been contacted. Girl feels sad, and defeated, and frustrated. Maybe a little bit silly for hoping in the first place. The romantic hero has been defeated, and in a cruel twist, the story has turned into a tragedy. There are no happily-ever-afters to be found at Swoon Reads. There is no hope.
When you’re an aspiring author, it’s easy to put a really personal, negative spin on feedback and internalize it. They don’t want me. I’m not good enough. I’m wasting my time. My efforts are laughable. Self-doubt is a powerful weapon, and I was as quick to turn it on myself as Romeo was his dagger.
And certainly, the story of my relationship with Swoon Reads could have ended as a tragedy, too. If I hadn’t chosen to rewrite it.
With the support of some fellow writing buddies, Girl stops boo-hoo’ing over the rejection and perceived ‘defeat’ of not being selected for the first list. Girl decides to stop running full force into a brick wall by doing what she’s always done, and considers a new approach. Girl is finally ready to listen, actually listen, to feedback she’s received about her writing. She gives a lot of thought to concept. She decides to play by the rules in terms of word count, age-appropriateness, and romantic journeys that can be wrapped up nice and tidy in stand-alone books. She writes what she knows. Girl challenges herself to break old patterns and habits.
She finishes a new YA manuscript in about three months. And then she considers…
There were lots of avenues I considered at the time. Starting the query process again. Self-publication. Reworking that first story I was so devoted to. As I attempted to navigate the confusing and overwhelming landscape many aspiring authors find themselves lost in, I found myself returning to Swoon Reads, and decided to post my latest manuscript. There were five big factors that impacted this decision.
Swoon Reads is fun.
The Swoon Reads site is fun. And pretty. And routinely makes me laugh. Even between submitting my first story and my second one, when I was “on a break” with Swoon and not sure about our future together, I kept finding myself coming back to the site. There were the really useful and practical blog posts I benefited from reading. And there were the ones that just made me smile (you go, Claire T., for keeping the FNL love alive!). There were the updates from Sandy — the ones that reminded me she was a real-life human being living just a few states away — and that hope was alive.
Some story-sharing sites are dry. Some are huge and hard to navigate or find footing within. The Swoon Reads site itself is appealing and engaging, and every time I thought I’d stopped clicking that particular bookmark on my laptop… I found out I’d thought wrong.
Swoon Reads is a community.
I’ve been involved with other sites before. Some were incredibly competitive. These sites seemed to draw people who thrived on anonymity and loved to trash people from behind their usernames. A lot of members had a quantity over quality mentality, a quid-pro-quo approach when it came to reading stories only to get ratings in return.
In my experience, the community that formed at Swoon Reads has been very different. People are tactful and supportive. There are members that agonize over the wording of their comments, wanting to be honest, but also wanting to be fair and kind. I’ve made legitimate friendships on this site, friendships that have resulted in 92-exchange long email chains with people who have moved on from the site, but not the friends they made there.
There’s an awesome group of readers and writers keeping Swoon Reads alive. I’m proud and thankful to be a part of it.
Swoon Reads is more convenient.
I’d be lying if I said the fact that Swoon Reads removes a few hurdles from the course wasn’t a huge part of the appeal for me. The reality is, as a full-time working mom of two young kids, I was hard pressed to find the time for the query process. One agent wanted a two-page synopsis, double-spaced with .5” margins. Another agent wanted a single-paragraph synopsis coupled with a five-page double-spaced in-depth synopsis embedded in an email. And the next one on the list wanted a two-page synopsis, single-spaced, sent through snail mail on eco-friendly printer paper with a SASE. I may have had the ability to keep it all straight, but I certainly didn’t have the time. All the while knowing that even if I did manage to clear this first hurdle and make enough of an impression to have an agent request a partial or full manuscript… it could end up meaning diddly-squat and I’d be back to square one.
Swoon Reads provides the opportunity to have the target audience and an editorial, sales, and design team access your complete manuscript from the get-go. And the devoted team at Swoon Reads has made a commitment to reviewing at least the first 3 chapters of every manuscript posted to make sure they’re not accidentally overlooking any great story out there that the readers may have.
You can spend months begging someone to pull your letter out of a pile and give the first five pages of your book a cursory glance. Or you can reach an entire community of readers and professionals willing to read your entire story. For those of us pursuing this dream while managing real-life personal, financial, and professional obligations, this is a huge benefit to involving yourself with Swoon, one that almost seems too good to be true.
Swoon Reads offers a unique opportunity for unique feedback.
Swoon Reads provides the opportunity to seek feedback from a varied group of people — industry people, fellow authors, and readers that represent various demographics. Swoon Reads is also unique in the type of feedback that’s available. If someone only has time for a quick rating, they can certainly choose to do that. However, the Swoon Index adds a unique element for readers to share what aspect of a story really shined. (The Swoon Index is also fun — see above!). The other cool thing about reader feedback on Swoon is the opportunity to open a line of communication with the reader. Authors can chat back and forth with their readers, and even follow-up with private email conversations off-site by following links from the Swoon site.
This particular mix of feedback made Swoon Reads a standout to me. Also, it became very clear that Swoon was paying attention to the feedback. Swoon Reads is more than a popularity contest — my story certainly didn’t have the most readings or ratings, but it had some comments that counted, which illustrated to me exactly how powerful the feedback element of Swoon Reads can be.
Swoon Reads is accessible.
Swoon Reads promised “a little something different” and definitely delivered on it. Another aspect of Swoon Reads that made me want to come back was how… accessible the whole thing felt. The people behind the site, including the primary big cheeses, Jean and Holly, take the time to blog, tweet, and comment on what’s going on on the site. The site has maintained its promise to pull back the curtains on the publication process, and after I removed my first story from Swoon, my curiosity continued to get the better of me, and I found myself logging in to weigh in on cover options, read about Sandy, Jenny, and Katie’s experiences, and hear from them in their own words. This level of accessibility made something about the prospect of publication seem much more realistic. Swoon Reads doesn’t try to shroud itself in mystery, and the editors and selected authors aren’t hiding out in some literary ivory tower where we can’t reach them. This concept constantly reminded me that living, breathing people were the driving force behind this site and the books. The divide between “them” and “me” didn’t seem so great… and the goal of becoming a part of the team didn’t seem so entirely out of reach. And as it turns out… it wasn’t.
Girl tries again, though unsure. After posting second manuscript, Girl tries new methods of seeking thoughtful and relevant reviewers, and incorporates feedback into revised versions. And then… the call comes. About eight months later than she’d originally hoped, but the call comes. It is one of the best days of Girl’s life.
Since I’ve been lucky enough to become a part of the Swoon Reads team (actually, family’s a better word), I’ve had a lot more “best days” (including a visit to Swoon HQ) and discovered a bunch more reasons to be happy, proud, and grateful about being involved with this group, including the friendly, approachable, and enthusiastic people behind the site, the amazingly supportive author network that has developed, the level of author involvement that is encouraged, and the ongoing support for future projects of Swoon authors.
Sure, me and Swoon were on-again/off-again for a while there, and our chances for happily-ever-after seemed very much up in the air. But by putting aside some initial feelings of disappointment and rejection, I was able to give Swoon another go. If you’ve posted on the site but are considering moving on, I’d advise you to reconsider. There’s no shame in sticking out the rough patches and trying again or starting over. After all, even the strongest relationships have their ups and downs. They require reevaluation and hard work to move forward and become even stronger. And in real life and romance novels alike, happy endings are much more satisfying that way.