Sunday, 31 May 2009

Authonomy: multiple backing... the new friends and relatives.*

Today is the last day of the month, when, on the stroke of midnight, the top five books in the Authonomy chart get their gold star and entitlement to a critique by a Harper Collins editor. As often happens, six books are in contention for the top five places.

You may think the six authors will be sitting back at this stage, accepting that 'the wisdom of crowds' will decide the issue; that the most popular books will win.

Not a bit of it.

Imagine, if you will, you are a participant in a Britain's Got Talent where only the contestants can vote, and they can vote for as many acts as they like. What would you do? Vote for no one, so as not to help rival entrants? Vote for the acts you think are really good? Or swap votes - go to as many performers as possible and offer to vote for them, if they will vote for you, in order to amass the maximum number of votes?

It's the latter that is happening on Authonomy right now. You can see the comments a person has made on his page; how many, and whether he has backed the book he's commenting on. (Because the final sentence is invariably 'Shelved/On my shelf/Backed'.) The top six writers have backed between 40 and 120 books each in the last week alone, and the numbers are going up even as I type.

Now there are some amazingly good books on Authonomy; books I can't believe are still in search of a publisher. But, as with any slush pile, there is a lot of dross as well. It's plain that the frantic amount of swap reading/swap backing that is going on has nothing to do with the quality of the books, and everything to do with the scrabble to get to the top.

This has been going on for months. My own novel, Catch a Falling Star, was pushed out of the top five in January and February by multi-backers (I reviewed one book a day, like homework; to do more struck me as a) dubious and b) not a sensible use of my time.) It only got its gold star in March, I believe, because of an anti-Klazart backlash.

The inevitable result is that the best books are not making it to the top. Does this matter? We know that Harper Collins looks at more than the top five - in fact, by the time your book has got there, it has almost certainly been appraised and rejected. Harper Collins has only plucked one book from Authonomy so far; Coffee at Kowalski's, by Miranda Dickinson, and that was nowhere near the top of the chart. But the real benefit of the site has been agents trawling it; we know that quite a few people have been approached, and got themselves representation.

Will agents continue to watch the site if the quality of the books at the top diminishes?

It's hard to write a good book. It's easy, if tedious, to praise ten extracts a day to buy yourself ten votes, and carry on doing this for a couple of months.

Fixes have been suggested to Harper Collins. My favourite is to make a book stick to your shelf for two days once you have backed it, thus limiting votes. But, for reasons they have not explained, HC seem happy that multiple backing is now the only way to reach the top of the Authonomy chart.

* See Authonomy and the sock puppets


  1. I think it's easy to get excited about the potential of a site like Authonomy, but I just don't see how any place that has absolutely no Entrance Exam or other way of sorting prospective participants, can ever be much more than a mob scene. For the early arrivals it is possible to find like-minded individuals and form smaller connections that can mean something. But the rabble (and I use that word with all respect for those who choose to be part of it) that just keeps forming and bubbling and making all sorts of noises, is, as far as I can see, mostly a place for the loud to feel good about themselves for a while and the quiet to get trampled.

    There does have to be a better way than the current publishing model. So far I don't think Authonomy is much of am improvement. More of a diversion.

  2. The tantalizing thing is that Authonomy could so easily be as good as we all hoped it would be.

    It has such a lot going for it - enthusiastic members, many quality books, a nice site design, a great techie, Rik - I just don't like to see the chart not working properly.

  3. Hi Lexi, Now and then I read your blog, mostly when taking a break from writing. Having only baddled briefly on Authonomy, where I read quite a bit of Catch a falling star, I agree with what you say. I have no idea what the answer is. I've gone for the more traditional route of trying to find people who might know what they are doing and innevitably paying them money. I found the Cornerstones group pretty good, the course they ran acrtually did what it said on the tin, so I've sent them my book to comment on and we'll see what happens. I did also get a few copies made using and got people in our local writing group to read it. That allowed me to get anogh comments to produce a second major revision, which is what Cornerstones have now. Is it possible to buy Catch a falling star - I'd like to see how it comes out. I've enjoyed reading your stuff, for free so if I could buy a book it would make me feel good.
    I keep wondering whether it makes sense to blog. On balance how do you rate the activity?

  4. Hi Rod,

    Do let me know what you think of Cornerstones' report when you get it. I've read good things about them.

    I've put a note at the end of the extract of Catch a Falling Star on Authonomy, offering to email the whole typescript to anyone who wants to read on. I figure if they've read the 36,000 words I've posted they're probably quite keen!

    Eleven people have taken me up on it since the end of March - which is a lot, considering you get very few reads once you have a gold star. I'm hoping to get it published, so won't POD it at this stage.

    Blogging - I started with the idea that once I got into print it would be useful to have an established blog for promotional purposes. I enjoy it, and once you've set it up it doesn't take long to write a post once a week or so. I'm a great fan of Blogger - free and easy to use. So I'd say give it a go!