Thursday, 2 September 2010

Changes at Authonomy

I gave up on Authonomy a couple of months ago. The forum, completely unmoderated, had been taken over by bores and bullies, the charts were a nonsense (anyone prepared to spend months spamming, swapping shelves and voting for themselves via sock puppets could reach the top). The 'top talent spotters' achieved their status by backing each new book as it arrived before anyone else did, without even a glance at the synopsis. Harper Collins' editors couldn't be bothered to do the reviews for the top five punctually. And the site no longer even works very well; it's slow, often fails to bring up the page you want, and Reply With Quote on the forum works only occasionally.

When Authonomy started its slow downward spiral, about Christmas 2008, those of us who'd been there from beta days and loved the site made suggestions as to what could be done to remedy the situation. Long threads full of excellent ideas ran for months, all of which Harper Collins ignored. I blogged about it here and here.

Yesterday, Harper Collins announced on their blog that it was time for a change:

In recent months, we'll admit that the site has been suffering from a kind of 'vote inflation' where support was given (or traded) very freely and as a result the rank of all books has been somewhat cheapened... It is time to return to these original ideals, where your authonomy bookshelf holds the very best of the books that you have found on the site, where your five favourites grow virtually dusty on their perch until your head is turned by a new read and the decision to swap out a book becomes an agonising predicament. We want the charts to mirror more accurately a community consensus, and for the feat of reaching an editor to be based on something other than months of superhuman networking effort.

We listened to your comments on how to improve the site
[ha!]and took much of it on-board [double ha!]. We hope the changes we’ll be making will move authonomy in the right direction.

What they don't say is why they have waited so long to intervene. I have a theory. I think it's all about the bottom line. At first, the mayhem on the forum had the fascination of a multi-vehicle pile-up. People flocked to gawp, and got dragged in. It was busier than it had ever been. And with a corrupt chart, bad writers saw that a gold star was within their grasp, if they used the new ways to pimp their book. Authonomy was buzzing, so why would HC change anything?

Then it got to the stage where you needed 60-70 backings to move up one place; it took a year to struggle to the top five; no one ever got a contract for their efforts; a lot of people got sickened by the brawling on the forum. Members left.

In my opinion, HC is now bringing in some of the measures we begged for over a year ago because the site is in serious decline; falling numbers means falling revenue. It's all about money.

Will they do enough to turn the site around, and change the current bad ethos? I really hope so, but I'm not sure they grasp the scale of the problem, or will act with the necessary ruthlessness to put Authonomy back on track. It may be too little, too late.


  1. I thought it all started to go wrong when they went down the POD track.

    Anyway, I get more writing done since I left!

  2. Yes, there was a lot of disappointment when HC started to push POD, as we were all there in hopes of getting traditionally published - remember the banner, Publishing contract, anyone? that used to be on the home page?

    But the rot had started to set in long before. And you're right, it was a chronovore.

  3. My goodness! Why can't they just hold their hands up and close. They'll do everyone involved a huge favour!

    Take care

  4. Kitty, you may be right, but it was such a fabulous site when it launched. I grieved over its decline for ages before I gave it up.

  5. I read about this site a year ago in some other blogs and thought it sounded bad then. Now it sounds horrible. What's the attraction for HP? Do authors pay a fee to go on or what?

  6. I've come to the conclusion that there is no way to do what H/C said they were trying to do with authonomy. Creating a place where like minded folks can gather, trade ideas, encourage one another, develop a few closer ties perhaps and simply have a spot to commune with others sharing the peculiar affliction of having to write is, I think, achievable. But asking any group of essentially anonymous writers (which is always sure to include a generous helping of the lazy, mean, obviously untalented, and delusional along with a minority who are truly dedicated to the craft) to evaluate other peoples' work and create some sort of peer review process that works is an experiment that just keeps on failing.

    If H/C is really serious about keeping authonomy in any sort of form, they need to completely wipe out the current system and see if they can simply create a gathering spot for writers. No nonsense allowed, only serious need apply. Chances are they would find it a whole lot easier to pick out the writers they want to investigate further.

  7. Karen, there's now advertising on the site, and Harper Collins have got together with Createspace to offer POD self-publishing. Maybe initially Authonomy was supposed to offer a solution to the current state of affairs where publishers, HC among them, no longer accept submissions from authors. Perhaps they hoped to wrest some of the power back from agents.

    Alan, I think the site worked really well for the first few months, and could have continued to do so had HC nipped problems in the bud as they arose. If I look back at the early reviews on my books, they are thorough, critical and helpful. Generally (you and I will agree on this!) the better books got to the top.

  8. Well I seem to retain enough affection for what might have been to wander over to their blog and leave a note much like the one here. Good luck to them. I just don't see anything working without intense and somewhat ruthless participation on their part.

  9. Yes; I've said before, if I were running Authonomy I'd announce that no unscrupulous behaviour of any kind would be tolerated, and anyone I suspected of cheating would have all his book's shelves removed with no right of appeal.

    It would have been so much easier had they taken action eighteen months ago.

  10. I was on Authonomy from the day it went public, and at first it was fine. Then we got the sock puppeting, and ill-tempered people who didn't welcome criticism started moving in. HC did nothing, and just let it escalate till the site reached its present state. I gave up long ago; last time I looked in, I saw comments that read like something written to a mark by a stereotyped vanity publisher. I think it was an experiment on the part of people who didn't understand what they were doing and weren't willing to learn. It's a pity, because the expertise to sort it out was thre on the site from the word go.

  11. Robert, you were more sensible than I :o)

  12. Robert and Lexi I so agree with you...
    I tried the forums maybe once or twice and it was not even worth the effort.... you have to take the bad with the good. How else are you to grow as a writer.

  13. Yvonne, these days mind-bogglingly bad books on Authonomy receive almost unanimous praise. This is doing new writers no favours; the rare honest and helpful crit is so outnumbered it's easy to ignore.

  14. A great and topical post, Lexi. As you know, I share your frustrations with authonomy, although I still can't quite shake it off. I'm delighted that they've decided to have another look at the rankings system. When I first joined, it always felt to me that what was originally intended for the book shelf idea was not what it ended up being. I initially thought that if you removed the book from a shelf, you lost the backing - once I realised that the shelf could be used as a conveyor belt to mass backings, I quickly realised the amount of time required to get a editor review would be far better spent writing.

    I would add one other possible reason to authonomy's decision to shape up - back in the day, there was only youwriteon alongside authonomy, but there's a lot of new kids on the block now, doing more exiting stuff and attracting a lot of interest and traffic (e.g. webook) - can't help but feel that must also be a factor in authonomy trying to pull its socks up - pun intended.

  15. I hadn't come across webook, James - it looks interesting. I think you have a good point about increased competition. Authonomy's big selling point was that it was Harper Collins' site, with HC editors committed to critique the top books. But in two years, not a single top five book has been published by HC, which means that actually they offer no more than any other writers' site - and there are now better ones.

  16. Webook is not as good as it looks.

    It's great for the community and the way you can write and edit actually on the site. You can also query agents through Webook (only U.S. ones though)

    The Downsides are worse than Autho IMO - To enter the "Publishing" Competition (Page to Fame) you have to pay for each stage you get to...

    Your work can be googled on Webook as well and for a lot of agents / publishers / editors, that counts as being published.

    O'course, it's the same on Autho, but as you said, Autho is HC - one of the big publishers. Webook is on par with a tiny independent.

    I came to Autho from Webook. I made lots of friends at both places. I am still on Webook. I may go back to Autho - I haven't decided yet.

    I just don't hold out much hope for being snapped up by HC, an agent or any other publisher through either site.

  17. Like, Authonomy had the Visigoths come in and sack everything.

    I gave up. I wanted thoughtful feedback and got "this stinks" from authors whose egos far exceeded their talent.

    The anonymity of YouWriteOn and Authonomy allowed dysfunction to flourish; ultimately boorish behavior became the norm.

  18. Anon, you've put me off Webook! Mark you, I've given up on agents and am self-publishing; I've published Remix as an ebook on Kindles and Smashwords, and the paperback from Lightning Source will be available soon.

    Norm, I remember the golden days of YouWriteOn, too, when the forum was only open a few hours a day. It was such fun, with so many witty and amusing people, I used to sit roaring with laughter at my computer.

  19. Youwriteon's far from perfect - what isn't - but it's done my writing a world of good. I'm staying there until I stop getting useful reviews, though I do think the quality's gone down. There are still around the same proportion of people who do really good reviews, but I'm getting silly comments of a type I never saw a couple of years ago. It's a question of using your judgement, and ignoring the rankings since there's a large random element in there.

  20. YouWriteOn was where I learned to write - I also made some really good writing friends there.

    I think it didn't benefit from an influx of Authonomy people who couldn't believe they were expected to read 10,000 words (now reduced to 6,000) and then leave at least 100 words of comment. There's always been a random element, but my impression is it's larger than it used to be.

  21. I think you're right, and like you I suspect the problem at YWO is an influx of Authonomites who don't understand what's expected. If so, some will adapt and others will leave. I'm getting very unpredictable scores - there was one the other week who gave me a positive review coupled with 2's and 3's - and a couple have been so silly I got Ted to remove them. but there are still the people who may give me lower scores than I'd like, but couple it with good criticism, so it's still worthwhile.

  22. I loaded my WIP on YouWriteOn, but stopped before it got to the chart. Out of seven reviews, one from Mo Fanning was very useful, and made me change things, so it was worth it.

    Of course, it would have been nice to receive seven insightful reviews...

  23. One in seven is probably about average, though there are more that make the odd useful comment, and those are also worthwhile. I leave mine till I've made significant changes, then upload a new version. It's got to the point where I might just about scrape into the top ten if I get a series of good reviews, but I'm not sure that's worth much.

  24. Did you get the Authonomy email offering prizes for attendance?

    * one-to-one time with a HarperCollins editor
    * free ticket to an authonomy workshop
    * a collection of some of the books to have been discovered on Authonomy so far - by HarperCollins and others

    All you have to do to be in with a chance is to be on authonomy, using the site, at some point this month. Each week, we'll randomly generate a winner from everybody who's been online.

    Kind of reinforces my theory about HC worrying about falling numbers on the site...

  25. What do they think I'm going to do, shelve them?

  26. Robert, let's see if they will swap shelves.

  27. There is always Litopia...much better site than Authonomy.

    Seriously - I hope Authonomy does get it together - I'd like to plug my book there. (LOL)

  28. Ms Kitty, you will have to do better than that - what you should have said was, "I hope Authonomy does get it together - I'd like to plug my book *insert name of book* there." You are but a novice in the art of self-promotion :o)

  29. What they should do is insist that every agent who sells a book to Harper Collins has to review 10 books on Authonomy and write at least 100 words. Anyone simply writing "This is not for me" has to review 50 before they can sell to HC again.
    Well I can dream can't I.
    Like you I have gone for Smashwords and Kindle and Apple Ibooks. I have actually sold some for actual money, though now and then I change the price to free, which usually sends the numbers up.

  30. Imagine how literary agents would moan if HC tried that!

    They seem to consider filtering the slushpile a terrible chore, even though it's an essential part of how they earn their living. (The owners of diamond mines don't grouse about having to shift tons of rock to get to what they are after.)