Saturday, 14 June 2008

Authonomy 2

The beta version of Authonomy is flourishing; nearly a thousand members, almost a quarter of whom have loaded books, or extracts of books. Some of the novels are very good indeed; so good I'm not sure why they're not in print already. Which got me thinking about how Harper Collins are going to use the site once it's fully up and running. Because there are two possibilities.

1. They can treat it like an online slush pile, with the better stuff conveniently shuffled to the top, and then use their normal methods of selection. Or,

2. They can use it as a way of finding slightly different novels from what they would otherwise choose; take a chance on books the site members love, but that an agent, with his specialized knowledge, would reject on various grounds.

I'd like them to go with 2, but think it unlikely. Which may turn out to be a missed opportunity. I read a fascinating article in the Bookseller by Alison Flood, Tops and Flops at the LBF. It's about how some of the books that got the most hyped London Book Fair deals have actually sold thus far. A few examples;

'The biggest d├ębut thriller deal of the year'; sales to date: 3,281 copies. Simon & Schuster secured the two books with a 'very high six-figure pre-emptive offer'.

Harper Collins paid seven figures for world English rights, excluding Canada, for a new novel set on a Canadian military base in the 1960s. Sales to date: 14,436

Orion bought Kate Mosse’s ‘Barbara Erskine-ish’ novel Labyrinth in a deal rumoured to total seven figures. Sales to date: 1,076,509

The point being that agents and publishers do not always get it right. One thinks of the first print run of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - 500.

Sometimes the public knows best. After all, it's the public who buy books. Or not.


  1. Hmm, those figures always make intersting reading, don't they! Just goes to show what an unpredictable industry of ours this is.


  2. There is a lot of ‘noise’ in the publishing world. 300,000 titles (includes self-published titles) go out each year. Of that 300,000, about 65,000 are published by traditional publishers, of the 65,000, bookstores put out 1000 a year (and a lot of those end up in the bargain bin).

    Of the 65,000 the publishing houses figure about two or three will take off, the rest will languish.

    See the Lighthouse Writing Tips blog for April 19, 2008 for more on the publishing world.

  3. My latest excuse to feel depressed is that even if I do manage to publish a book, there's a good chance it just won't sell, even if it's a good book! I hear that the book shops start taking 'em off the shelves after only a month to make room for what is selling. When I go to the book store and look at my genre's shelves, I recognize the names of at least half the authors. This is a tough biz to break into.

  4. Positive thinking required!

    The hurdles are many and high, but it's a challenge and an adventure to leap over them.

    If my writing got into print, I'd become a shameless blur of high-speed self-promotion. English reserve? No chance.

  5. Goodness, how are you keeping track of the population on Authonomy?

    My bet is that H/C is still trying to figure out the best way to make something profitable out this venture. I'm still not convinced that peer recommendations is reliable or that the readers that get attracted will be a whole lot more better. How they will sort through the dreck to get to the good stuff is anybody's guess.

    But that's just me being optimistic.

  6. I just went to the 'people' page - at the bottom it shows the numbers, and you can work backwards to the total. Ditto with the books.

    The charts will be compiled from what is loaded on members' bookshelves. It will be interesting to see how this works out. I think it will if they can attract enough objective readers to the site.

    I guess if it doesn't work they will come up with another system...

  7. Hi Lexi

    Really interesting post. Full disclosure: I'm one of developers of Authonomy, but I'm speaking in a personal capacity here. Hopefully I can shed some light.

    I think the honest answer is both 1 and 2.

    You know as much as anyone the constraints on UK publishers right now - the narrow range of stuff, piled high on the high street and in the Richard and Judy bookclub. And us publishers have to work within that marketplace and earn our crust with bestsellers. So sure, 1 is always an option. From a writer's point of view, it sure beats the odds of the slush pile.

    But what really gets me excited The Long Tail - all the wonderful, idiosyncratic, colourful pieces of creative writing that have a keen audience somewhere. Authonomy is a genuine attempt to celebrate the variety of writing talent and interest there, and to give people a stage. It's a bit boring to imagine a world for writers where the only measure of success is a big fat publishing contract and a big window display in Acme Books Ltd, isn't it?

    What about all the indedependent stores that stock local books? What about the cool new inde publishers like Salt? What about the local amateur writing group that meets for the sheer joy of putting words on a page and sharing them? What, indeed, about the exciting new guys on the block like lulu and blurb? I think there's an exciting future here and the bigger publishing houses' vision needs to include and celebrate them.

    These days everyone is a critic, right? So that's why we give everyone a bookshelf. If you've been following the site closely I think you'll gather by now that some form of ranking based on bookshelf recommendation is about to kick in. Ultimately at Authonomy the members will decide if it's a few blockbusters that get picked up for all the attention (1), or if there's a big celebration of the Long Tail - your scenario (2).

    You should post a comment on the authonomy forum thread about 'Bookshops: too little or too much choice'.

    sorry for the blog hog here, and thanks ...

    over and out

  8. Hi Kate, thanks for dropping by.

    ‘A world for writers where the only measure of success is a big fat publishing contract and a big window display in Acme Books Ltd’ – well, that’ll do me; I’ve had quite a lot of success and nice comments on Youwriteon, and that’s great, but it’s not the same. Ted who runs YWO is really pleased when one of us makes the breakthrough into print. Publication is what it’s all about for most writers, if only because of the huge amount of time and effort we put in.

    I think Authonomy has enormous potential, and I can’t wait to see how it works out.

    Thanks to Harper Collins for putting their resources into it.

  9. How very cool to have Kate stop by and give not only you but all of your readers, some additional insight into Authonomy.

    You do keep high-toned company, Lexi.