Sunday, 31 May 2009
Authonomy: multiple backing...
...is 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
Posted by Lexi at Sunday, May 31, 2009