Sunday, 28 February 2010

Blood on the forum (and I'm not talking Julius Caesar)

Ah, another end of the month on Authonomy, and it's one of those musical chairs months when six people are in contention for the top five places and a gold star. And it's sometimes vitriolic on the forum.

I remember in the early days of the site, during a particularly bad month, a Harper Collins spokesman came on the site expressing wonder at the fury and mayhem. 'We're not offering a holiday in the sun,' he said, 'just an editor's critique.'

But of course it's NOT just that; each top fiver secretly hopes in his innermost heart that his book will be the first to wow an HC editor so much that he'll be offered a contract. Even though it's never happened. To date, eighty-eight writers have won a gold star on Authonomy, and not one of them has been offered a publishing deal. The handful of books HC has published from the site were picked up while they were much lower in the charts.

So why do people bother? Why do they spend hours each day for up to a year reading or pretending to read others' books and writing gushing comments; why do they do the spamming and the the swap-shelving, the touting for support on the forum (because that's what it takes these days)? I really don't know. I do know that some truly excellent reads get nowhere near the top of the charts, as their authors have too much sense to get involved in the frightful struggle.

And I'm quite certain that Harper Collins needs to adjust the system, to make it fairer and a lot less like a dance marathon.


  1. Hi

    Good grief - I've tried again to understand Authonomy. I've just got back from wandering around the forum bit and one of the HC threads points to a blog to checkout writers who were offered publishing deals via authonomy but no links to said blog! Mind you everyone in this thread seems to know where the blog is! LOL!

    Maybe the trick here is not to stop playing the authonomy game and just leave your ms on the site - cos it looks like HC editors pick-up what they want to publish rather than what's the most "popular"?

    It's all a bit bizarre. Hopefully, the good reads who don't play the game anymore might get picked up or find alternative ways of getting noticed! What about that new site "Slush pile reader"? how's that going?

    Take care

  2. Kitty, you'll find a link to the Authonomy blog tucked discreetly bottom right of the page.

    The problem with just leaving your ms on the site is the huge number of books on there now. Editors searching in a genre are likely to start at the top, and may never get to a low-ranked book.

    I like Slush Pile Reader, but it needs to attract more members. It's a bit quiet. I hope it will succeed - it's early days yet.

  3. Lexi, I think it's because hard targets are generally non-existent for the writer who wants to get published. There are no water-tight rules, no systematic pathway to success - you can write the best novel you're capable of writing but you're still dependent on a subjective response from an industry professional - not to mention the marketing and sales complications. Writing a novel is not like solving a mathmatical or scientific problem - eventually you can find the right answer and be lauded as a genius - there is no 'right answer' for creative writing. Authonomy offers the illusion that there is a systematic pathway to success (lots of reading and backing and 'improving' based on feedback), and gives a transparency to that 'success' that traditional pathways to publication never had i.e. you can see yourself rising through the ranks. This is what I believe seduces writers, and this is why I believe it gets vitriolic at the top - people have spent a lot of time getting there and as a consequence the thing worked hard for becomes very important - this combined with the illusion of definable success makes it all seem more important than it actually is.

    I fell for it a little too - it can become all encompassing - but I now believe that if a book is genuinely worth publishing, it will get published well before it hits the top 5 on authonomy. I strongly believe that the time required to get to the top five is time better spent on writing/rewriting/editing and querying/blogging.

    Authonomy is a good tool, and definitely one I'd recommend using, but it's one tool of many for a writer. A high ranking on Authonomy will probably buy a little leverage with agents, but no more than that.

    People who believe getting to the top 5 is going to get them published are sorely mistaken - a quick look at the hard numbers you've outlined in your post demonstrate this, so you need to be getting something else out of Authonomy. For me, feedback was more hard-hitting and useful from YWO - one thing I will say about Authonomy though, it's an excellent place to meet serious writers and share knowledge, and for that alone I'm thankful I got involved.

  4. Thanks, James, for that thoughtful comment.

    You're right about the advantages of Authonomy - and I have to say that in spite of the frequent rows, I haven't managed to find another writers' forum as lively, amusing and informative.

    It's tantalizing, though, to know that HC could, if they wished, make it so much better.

  5. Well, James has some good points, but I think Anon really hits the nail right on the head.

    I had been off Authonomy too, but just a few minutes ago a new member shelved The Baer Boys so now I think the place is an absolute treasure.

    Or a minefield.

  6. Hello. And Bye.

  7. Hello to you too.

    Nice of you to drop by, little spambot.

  8. Must be tough, going through life incognito. Although I must say that some of my favorite pieces of music have been composed by Anon's ancestors.

    Back to Authonomy. I agree that it would be wonderful if H/C could figure out a way to actually make it work. But I have no suggestions. As soon as the gates are open to anything like this the barbarians pour in and trod all over the place. But hey, who knows, maybe it is working out to H/C's satisfaction and they just don't pay much attention to the circus out front.

  9. I've concluded that HC don't need Authonomy to work better - in fact, if it really got the best books to the top, it would benefit prowling agents more than HC.

    I now believe editors at Harper Collins meet round a table, and decide the sort of book they think is hot; genre, subject, style etc.. Then they go on Authonomy and see if there's a book that fits the bill. It may need work, but they can do that; possibly a new title; then they package it with a snazzy cover designed to appeal to the market they've identified, and promote the hell out of it.

    I don't think they are looking for excellent reads on the site at all.

  10. Well of course they aren't. Otherwise you and I would have signed sweet contracts with them ages ago. Poor fools.

  11. How true that is, Alan.

    One day, perhaps, HC may live to regret not snapping us up while we were young, naive and eager to sign anything.

  12. Are you very active on Authonomy, Lexi? I signed up ages ago but I've never done anything about it. I don't know what it is with these chart positions; same thing happens on YWO and people get themselves into such a tizz about it. Is it a competitive streak? Or do people really believe there is a short cut and it's all about contacts and luck?

  13. I was the fifth person to join Authonomy, and absolutely loved it. I used to be very active, but am now spending less time there.

    People get caught up in it, I think, and forget it's not the real world. Success on YWO and Authonomy for most of us has no connection with getting our books published.

  14. I'm beginning to think most of these sites are a bit of a waste of time. I like YWO because I've had some great advice there, but otherwise...better to spend the time writing?

  15. True, Justine, writing's the thing.

    I too learned a lot on YWO as a new writer, and it's handy to have a writers' forum to go to for information about what's going on. That's the main reason I still frequent Authonomy.