thinking outside the tank

Authonomy – valuable feedback or a distraction from writing?

with 5 comments

After only five days using HarperCollins’ Authonomy website I’m reviewing whether or not I should continue. The site allows authors, editors, publishers, and people who simply like to read, to view and comment on the books that have been uploaded. There is a system of ranking both the books and the commentators. Books that are backed by others move up the rankings; books that climb the rankings improve the Talent Spotter ranking of those who backed them.

There are many games to play on Authonomy to get your book backed. The first task is to get people even to look at it – as with everything online getting eyes looking at your stuff is vital. 

  • You can send messages to other members inviting them to read your book, often with the promise of reading their book, the so-called ‘swap read’.
  • You can find books, read all or part of them, and then write comments to the author, hopefully constructive ones, in the hope you will prick their conscience into looking at your work.
  • You can be an active forum participant. Eventually people will click on  your profile to find out more about you and from there they will see your book.
  • You can write the most brilliant, beautifully crafted story and rely on its intrinsic quality to get unequivocal support from the Authonomy community (I haven’t tried this one yet).
  • You can blatantly offer to swap ‘backings’ without even reading the other person’s book.

And all for what? At the end of each month, the top five books go before a HarperCollins editorial review board. Beyond that is the hope that after much rework your book might actually be published.

What I have against Authonomy is its addictive nature and the amount of effort required to progress up the rankings. If you take it seriously you would need to read many books per day and throw yourself into the social networking side of the site to build your support. I think this is a waste of time for a number of reasons:

  • Time spent reading and commenting on others’ work (some of it dire) is time not spent writing. If you have any talent at all you should spend every available moment writing.
  • Most books will not reach the top five, so all that effort building support is another waste of time.
  • Yes, your book will be seen by people who know something about writing, people who wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. However, there are many other ways to get your writing seen. You’re reading one of those ways now. Serialising your novel on a blog might be a valid way to reach readers. Print-on-demand sites like Lulu and eBook sites like Mobipocket are other options. In other words, the rewards of being an active Authonomist might not justify the effort.
  • The publishing industry is undergoing upheaval. eBooks are on the rise and print is threatened. If you don’t believe me look at digital photography and music downloads. Why dash about Authonomy trying to get your book on to paper when the consumers are moving to iPhones and digital readers?

I’m reading Jeff Jarvis’s book What Would Google Do? (ironically from HarperCollins). I think Authonomy is a genuine attempt to adapt to the new business landscape which is taking shape as the internet matures. The publishing value chain comprises the selection, preparation, and distribution of content. Authonomy is a community of writers tackling, free of charge, the selection of content. Preparation of content comprises copy-editing, cover design, proof-reading, marketing etc. Authors typically don’t have the skills to complete these tasks and readers certainly need to be protected from raw drafts, so there will continue to be a demand for these services.

I recently posted the following thread in the Authonomy forum; it will mean nothing to those who wouldn’t know an allegory if it crawled out of an Everglades swamp and bit them on the bottom:

Last night I dreamt I was in goldfish bowl. In the deeper waters there were bottom-dwelling detritus-feeders and, lurking in the shadows, the ugliest fish you can imagine with bulging eyes and gaping jaws filled with razor-sharp triangular teeth. I started swimming up through the crowded waters catching glimpses of beautiful fish on the way; fish with delicate fins and gently swaying tails; fish with brightly coloured luminescent stripes.

All the fish were asking each other, for fish can speak in a dream: ‘What kind of fish am I? Am I an ugly brute or a delicate angel?’ As we all struggled upwards I noticed that some very attractive fish were slowly sinking, clearly exhausted by the effort. Closer to the surface there were reef sharks and barracuda swimming in predatory circles. I asked a neighbouring fish what we were all doing, and the reply came that occasionally a few flakes of food were thrown into the bowl and the fish at the top got it.

Suddenly, in an out-of-fish experience, I was outside the bowl. It stood on a table in a room. The room was in a house with the letters HC carved in the massive sandstone above the grand entrance. I saw that the house stood in a street of similar houses. At the end of the street was a sign that read: ‘Marked for demolition’, and the powerful engine of a bright yellow bulldozer revved up. There was a small sticker on the bulldozer that read: ‘Powered by Googlejuice’.

Phew! Have I decided while writing this to leap out of the Authonomy goldfish bowl? If so, then this is your last chance to read Mus musicus before I digitally shred it.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2009


5 Responses

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  1. The rule about writing and the internet is this: The internet is always a distraction from the writing, even if you’re on a writing site.


    November 21, 2009 at 12:52 pm

  2. The Authonomy concept is brilliant. The implementation leaves much to be desired. What rises to the top is not necessarily the cream. It’s like the early days of Google. People quickly learned how to manipulate the system to rank high in Google search results. Google caught on and now sites that manipulate the system are penalized. I suspect Authonomy will catch on, though I’m surprised it’s taking so long. Then again, as all the Authonomics keep an eye on ranking numbers, the HC may be keeping an eye on entirely different parameters.


    November 21, 2009 at 6:09 pm

  3. mrrasputin,
    Yes it would be interesting to know the range of reports that Authonomy pulls out of the website. Also, I bet most Authonomists imagine that there are hidden talent scouts who will recognise the quality of their writing, independently of the ranking system, and sign them up. I’m not one of those.
    I think I might have been rather harsh in this post, though. For people who enjoy web-based social interaction there are loads of interesting and intelligent people to meet on Authonomy (see how flattery becomes second nature when you join in the Authonomy games:)


    November 22, 2009 at 10:47 am

  4. sevvy,
    How true; I could have titled the post: Authonomy – valuable feedback or a distraction from X?
    where X is almost any more useful activity than surfing (no disrespect to the real wave chasers).


    November 22, 2009 at 10:50 am

  5. Just joined Authonomy yesterday but already got spammed by people who five-starred my book before even reading it, asking me to do the same for them.

    One guy said he’s been on there for a year getting support. At the moment it looks like the early adopters were probably the lucky ones.

    I’m not one to network heavily as I prefer writing, strangely enough, being a writer 🙂 I’m wondering if HC is taking those top five novels seriously?

    Ryan Peter

    November 12, 2010 at 2:29 pm

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