Feb 27, 2009

Authonomy shoots self in self's foot

So, this site Authonomy. I've only been a member for a couple weeks, but it's a pretty cool thing. It's a site for authors to share their work and critique each other, and there's a lot of good stuff available.

Its gimmick is that it's run by HarperCollins (or is it just Harper now?), and there's this ranking system for all the books. And every month, the top five books in the rankings are read and critiqued by real live HC editors.

What seems to have developed is a very reciprocal system - a perfectly transparent "You read my book and I'll read yours" exchange that everyone involved is expected to participate in. I feel like a bit of an anomaly, actually, because I'm reading a few books and I don't expect anything in return. I mean, the idea is certainly floating around in my head that a lot of these people are probably going to self-publish and need a good editor who they're not going to have to mortgage their house to pay for... but I'm really viewing my participation in the site as more a recreational activity and low-key networking attempt than as an actual, aggressive advertising adventure (see what I did there? With the alliteration?).

Anyway. The result of this reciprocal, social-network-based system is that you have to put a LOT of time into the site to make your book climb the charts. Granted, it helps if your book is good. These people are authors, after all, many of them experienced and published, and though your book can go a long way on self-promoting forum activities, quality does play a role. So that's good. But really, if your book is in the top 5, you are putting hours and hours into reading and reviewing other peoples' books, chatting with them, thanking every single person for their support if you get it, and so on. All with the hope of attracting the attention of an agent, and possibly getting the sweet reward of a fair read by an HC editor.

So today (or yesterday in England, where most of this is happening), the magnanimous editors have handed down their views of the lucky top five. All of the reviews ended with "Unfortunately...at this time...not marketable...difficult period in publishing...sorry, no." But that's okay. The problem was that, while four of the reviews were in-depth commentary with a lot of honest, helpful advice (though they do seem quite prone to telling fantasy books to be more realistic and realism books to be more fantastic), one of the feedback posts was, well, a synopsis. Paragraph after paragraph just happily describing the plot of the novel. And then two lines at the bottom saying the "sorry, no" thing.

This must have been so disappointing for the author, after putting all that time in to win the prize, writing a book that people liked, and then just getting nothing. A lot of the more cynical forum-participators are saying that he's got to just move on, maybe they really just didn't have anything to say, and there's no guarantee anywhere that they're actually going to provide helpful feedback.

All of this may be true, but if HarperCollins wants to keep this site afloat, they're not going to do it if people feel like there's a chance that they're going to get such pathetic feedback. They may not have written something that will get published, but at least they want their book to be better because of it, and there's no point in HC even being involved in the site if they're going to make such a weak effort.

That is all.

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