Can Publishers Crowdsource Their Way to Bestselling Romances?

Can publishers ride the wisdom of the crowds to the bestseller lists? One YA imprint is trying.

The New York Times profiles Swoon Reads, a teen-romance experiment by Macmillan. Anybody can submit a manuscript to the imprint's website, and then 10,000 members can review and rate it. ("This is like 'X Factor' or 'American Idol' meets publishing," one exec insisted.) The really promising stuff gets acquired—six novels so far, each with a $15,000 advance. Among them: A Little Something Different, about a pair of college students, which has an initial print run of 100,000 copies. That's a lot!

Finding shit that's actually going to sell is, of course, the eternal struggle of the publishing business. Traditionally, editors have relied on some combo of comp titles and gut instinct. But technology has shaken things up. Fifty Shades of Grey and After are partly examples of the Internet operating as the ultimate slush-pile reader, and partly word-of-mouth success stories. These distributed platforms allow publishers to farm out the work of finding the gems, and then the hype gals are built right into the process.

"The fans and the readers are more in touch with what can sell," said Swoon Reads' publisher Jean Feiwel, adding that, "They're more at the pulse of these things than any of us can be." This is perhaps especially true for #teens, who're all sitting online watching YouTube celebs you've never heard of, anyway.

But they've got a lot to prove. There's a big difference between opportunistically seizing on something that bubbles up from the depths of GoodReads and depending on the wisdom of the crowds to fill your quota of titles, season in and season out. Plus, Swoon Reads isn't the first such experiment—Avon Romance tried something similar, a site for newbie writers seeking feedback, but it hasn't paid off:

A handful of editors comb through the site every week to evaluate the manuscripts that are getting the most "loves" — the equivalent of Facebook "likes." So far, 500 works have been posted, but none have been acquired for publication.

Erika Tsang, the editorial director of Avon, said she was a bit skeptical of the rating system. "Honestly, a lot of the time it's the writers' relatives who are 'loving,' " she said.

GOD, MOM.

Image via Swoon Reads