Saturday, 15 October 2011

Harper Collins, Authonomy and ebooks

Harper Collins sent out an email this week about its new plans for Authonomy. The site will have a new look, there will be 'improvements to forum control' (better late than never, I suppose) and Scott Pack and a team of editors will be searching the site, selecting the best novels to be digitally published by Harper Collins, one a month starting in January 2012. Those novels that sell well will be produced in a print edition. You can read about it here.

Over the course of three years, HC has shown little faith in the writers on its site, or the ranking system it put in place. It has published only two novels from Authonomy authors, and those not from the top five, a big let-down for anyone who believed the hype when it launched. Years ago, members suggested that HC should bring out POD paperbacks of the top five each month, maybe have special stands in bookshops, promoting HC New Authors. Some books would be successful, thus financing the scheme. Possibly this idea was unrealistic.

Scott Pack's new scheme is a good one, if a year late, but then mainstream publishing moves slowly. Ebooks (in spite of publishers' protestations) are very cheap to produce; you need a cover, editing, proofreading and formatting, and you're good to go - from then on, it's all profit. The print versions of books that have proved their popularity will be risk-free.

I can see a couple of problems, though. One is that many of the best writers on Authonomy have left and self-published. Will HC want to publish books already available as ebooks? Probably not, which means they'll miss a lot of talent. The other problem, for authors,  is the contract they will be offered. Publishers rely on authors' desperate longing to be 'properly' published. I somehow doubt there will be any advances. No details have been given, but I think any contract is likely to be so weighted in HC's favour that you'd need to think very carefully before signing it.

Take a look at this clause concerning a Harper Collins short story contest - and note, it covered every entry, not just the winners:

Where you submit your entry to this such submission you grant UKTV and HarperCollins Publishers Limited each a perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide, sub-licensable right and license to use, reproduce and publish, distribute and make available to the public your entry in any media, now known or later developed, for the full term of any rights that may exist in such content.

On the other hand, any big publisher has a lot of clout and ability to promote. It'll be very interesting to see how this works out.


  1. I must admit that I like the man. Passion is an over-used word but that's exactly what Scott Pack has in abundance. I will also be watching with interest. There is too much cynicism in the industry..we need energy, fresh ideas....

  2. Authonomy used to be such a great site. I can remember when the chart actually worked, and exchanges on the forum were intelligent, informative and funny. But HC let cheats and yobs take over.

    Scott Pack will have his work cut out to pull it out of its current decline - but maybe he's the man to do it.

  3. I used to be a part of inkpop, which was basically authonomy aimed at Young Adult readers and writers. It's been around for two years and the first book was just published last week and another one due in the summer. They recently tried to "improve" it and it didn't work. The system is majorly flawed and lots of people have left.
    Hope they don't apply that stuff to authonomy.

  4. Lala, was Inkpop good before the 'improvements'? I only had a quick look at it a couple of times, not enough to tell how it was doing. My guess is Harper Collins only decided to change Authonomy because a lot of people left.

  5. I left Authonomy ages ago - and this deal doesn't tempt me back. But then I'm so far down the line I feel I don't need them now. And I so agree - there was a cohort of talented writers who were not nurtured by the site, and some great writing was lost.

    As for the competition details - I thought it was just small comps that effectively demand you give up copyright when you enter, but this is what they are asking for. It will be interesting to see if they get any quality submissions.

  6. Jo, you're so right about the talented writers on Authonomy HC let slip through their fingers.

    Myself, I'm prepared to consider any offers - though I somehow doubt HC would come up with a contract I'd want to sign. The last year has been an education one way and another :o)

  7. Lexi,

    With talented writers leaving authonomy, there will be new talented arriving. I think it's a great step forward, even when Scott has a big job ahead of him, it seems he's not too scared to take it on. It's also good they're not going to take on a book because of its ranking, but based on merit. Personally, I'm not sure if I'd go with HC if they offered me a contract. I doubt there'll be an advance. All they can give you is their marketing department and even then it's not really certain your book will sell.

    It's all down to the readers. If they don't like it you'll not become a best seller. Traditionally or self published.

  8. But Stella, the voting system on Authonomy is supposed to get the best books to the top - if it doesn't, then that is because HC failed to stop people gaming the system. I remember the indignation among members over the first sock puppets, and over Vineet Bhalla's thousands of fans joining the site to back a book they hadn't read. Those of us who complained were rapped over the knuckles, not the people who'd cheated. Go back far enough on this blog and you can read all about it.

    HC could have maintained the integrity of the chart, but for reasons I don't understand, they chose not to.

  9. I think I've just entered a competition run by HC! LOL!! Oh well - that will teach me to read the small print in future!

    Take care

  10. Kitty, I hope you win :o)

    There is often a devious reason for titchy size print. Mark you, I never read those endless online agreements you have to tick a box to say you have read. Anything could be in there, and I bet no one ever reads them.

  11. Cynic that I am, I don't have a lot of time for display sites such as Authonomy. And the behaviour of HarperCollins thus far suggests that they don't, either. Two books published in three years? What does that tell you? Was there really nothing else worth bothering with? How many novels were submitted in that time? How many gallons of sweat and tears were expended on reviews by those who thought HC were serious?

    Well, Scott Pack may change everything, but still I wouldn't bother. If I were starting out today as an unconnected nobody, I'd establish a high-profile online presence and go straight to epublishing. If that worked out, I'd produce my own print-on-demand book. And if that sold well, then I might think of approaching a regular publisher, or even commissioning my own print run.

    I've nothing against Scott Pack -- he was once very complimentary about something I'd written, so he's got to be a good guy -- but he's come to this party awfully late.

  12. Nail hit on head, Iain.

    I wonder what will happen to those books taken on by HC that fail to sell well enough to earn a print run? Will HC give back the rights so the author can try again elsewhere? I have a nasty suspicion they will hang on to them, just in case the writer has a hit with another book.

  13. Hi Lexi,

    I don't know if you can fully protect a site such as Authonomy from cheats. To keep working towards a fair system is about all they can do. As for my offer of publication, I can only say that I'm well pleased (ecstatic, really), and I base that on other contracts and offers I've read and been offered and not out of any sense of desperation :-). And by the husband's an attorney so I'm well informed! They're offering a great opportunity for writers and working towards improvements on the site. Yes, some writers and excellent books have been missed but there's nothing they can do about that, not really. As for the popularity aspect ... in my experience, getting to the ED was much, much easier than garnering attention for my book from agents/publishers but guess what? After I got there and shared my review, many wanted a look at it. It's a shame that writers have to be involved in promotion but it's the world most of us live in. The site is there for whatever you want to make of it. Even before I was offered publication, I had met so many talented writers and received invaluable feedback and references to many other sites, etc. So come back to the fold! Send me a "spam" message and I'll be sure to take a look at your book. :-)


  14. Mary, many congratulations on your book being the first choice for publication under the new Authonomy management! You have beaten odds of 40,000:1.

    Naturally, you will have a rosier view of the site than I do :o) I don't agree that there is nothing much Harper Collins can do about missing good books (isn't that their job, after all?) and I know, because I was there, that they did none of the things they could have done to eliminate cheating. Members suggested perfectly viable ideas that were ignored.

    I've got two novels to the top on Authonomy - Torbrek was the first number one, in the only truly honest chart they ever had. And having self-published, I know a bit about self-promotion, but I prefer to aim for book sales rather than climb that greasy pole on Authonomy.

  15. Hi Lexi,

    I never really got into Authonomy, so I don't know much about that.

    But I wanted to ask you about that awful clause in that short story contest. Have you got a link to it? That is one awful rights grab. And you can bet that if it wasn't being run by HC, organisations like Writer Beware would be all over it.


  16. Dave, you can read about the contest, a joint one with UKTV here: is the contest page, but the link to the Terms and Conditions no longer works. It was over a year ago.

  17. I'd never heard of Authonomy before the 'Great Invasion' days. I'm one of the ones who heard about the fuss and came to look.

    I find it difficult to get excited about a publishing contract that involves my e-book rights.

    However, I'm very fond of Authonomy, as it was my gateway into the Wild and Wacky World of publishing. I learned a tremendous amount there.

    I wish Scott all the best. He's got his work cut out for him.

  18. Ebooks are the future, Kitty, or at any rate a big part of it. Sales constantly outstrip predictions.

    The worth of the contract depends on how much marketing HC will do, and whether authors can get their rights back if it doesn't work for them..