If anyone should know how to write a teen romance novel, you would think it should be Sandra Hall, young adult librarian for the Morristown & Township Library.
A lot of teens think so, too, and so does Swoon Reads. Heeding votes of online readers, the new Macmillan imprint has chosen Sandy’s debut novel, A Little Something Different, as its very first title. Publication is scheduled for August.
“Everyone likes a good love story. It warms you up,” said Sandy, 33, on a frosty February afternoon with snow on the way.
The fledgling author’s toughest challenge, it seems, was keeping the book deal secret until the official announcement on Valentine’s Day. Steaming along at 1,000 words per day, Sandy banged out the novel in about a month, including an intense week’s vacation last fall.
Her inspiration was two-fold: Swoon’s call for online manuscripts, which she saw on the Huffington Post, and the novel Eleanor & Park by her favorite romance writer, Rainbow Rowell. The great ones always make it look easy, don’t they?
“She writes impressive characters in tight stories,” Sandy observed. “I said, ‘I should really do this.’”
A Little Something Different was among the top vote-getters –online readers awarded hearts instead of stars–from about 180 submissions, Sandy said.
Swoon Reads plans to print 100,000 copies. Publisher Jean Feiwel told NPR that she is confident in her choice.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better candidate,” Jean said. “It’s fresh and we think it’s original. And so we think she’s kind of a diamond in the rough.”
The novel tells the story of Lea and Gabe, students in the same creative writing class at a university that looks a lot like Sandy’s alma mater, Rutgers. The college setting is…something different for teen romances, Sandy said. And so is the the point-of-view: The tale is told by everyone around the couple, as they all pull for the pair to get together.
Sandy, who is single and lives in Passaic County, said she finds the teen romance genre a comforting alternative to all the dystopian fiction on bookshelves.
“So many stories take place in a far-off, terrible future. It’s nice to come back and see it’s not so bad, there are no zombies or plagues,” she said.
Colleagues at the library, where Sandy has worked for four years, celebrated her good news with cake and flowers.
“It’s a pretty remarkable thing,” said Arlene Sprague, head of the children’s department. “You hear about people struggling for years and years to get published.”
Sandy is looking forward to a book tour, including the Romantic Times Booklover Convention in New Orleans in May. But first, there is more work to do. Her editor wants 23 voices pruned to 14. And two more manuscripts are in the pipeline.
If the public purchases all 100,000 copies of A Little Something Different, Sandy will vault onto bestseller lists. After a lifetime of never winning anything, she’s suddenly feeling pretty optimistic.
“I’ve had a lot of luck since this happened. I’m getting good parking spots, and just catching trains,” she said with a laugh.
Does the Morristown & Township Library have room on its shelves for A Little Something Different?
“For signed copies,” Sandy’s boss, Arlene, said with a twinkle. “If they’re not signed, you can forget about it!”