Saturday, 14 February 2009


In the spring of 2008, HarperCollins opened the doors to Authonomy, its new online manuscript display site. I was one of the first people to test it.

Authonomy allows writers to post their writing, and to comment on each other’s work. It’s possible to post anything from a single paragraph to a complete book, although extracts of under 10,000 words remain invisible to everyone but their authors.

I’m curious why HarperCollins started Authonomy, and in this form. HarperCollins has made a big investment in the design and development of the site; and by hiding all extracts under 10,000 words they’ve made certain that the site is going to be large and flabby. As it stands they’re making no money from Authonomy: might they introduce a joining fee in the future? Or is HarperCollins treating Authonomy as its own personal electronic slush-pile? If so, I can see a few problems.

While HarperCollins claims that the best of the work posted will rise, cream like, to the surface, I’ve seen little evidence of that happening. While some of the work there is good, the work which is the most commented-upon is the work from the most active writers, regardless of its quality.

I’m not sure that it’s a good thing for writers, as the only way to get your work noticed there is to spend a great deal of time networking and promoting yourself there: and for most aspiring writers, that’s going to cut into their writing time quite hard.

There’s also the problem with its size: with new work being added to the site daily, Authonomy is soon going to start staggering under its own weight. It’s already slow, and makes for cumbersome browsing for people like me, who live in an area without broadband access.

Good old-fashioned slush-piles can be monsters, but at least they are subjected to periodic culls as work is rejected. Is HarperCollins planning on ever culling any of the work on Authonomy? Or does it intend to let Authonomy lumber on unchecked, eating up bandwidth until it collapses under its own weight?


Anonymous said...

'the only way to get your work noticed there is to spend a great deal of time networking and promoting yourself there'
This is the nub of the matter. I have previously tangled with both You Write On and the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. The latter in particular became mainly an exercise in selfpromotion. And it is a worrying trend. There are a number of US comps which rely on reader votes to decide who gets published. I don't know what Harper's plan was here, but your point about culling is a good one. I haven't ruled out sending in my WIP when it comes to fruition, but any thoughts or experiences from your (growing!) readership would be greatly appreciated. AliB

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I understand how this works. If I upload a 5,000 word chapter, no one but I will be able to see it? How does that help me?

Maybe I'm misunderstanding

Jane Smith said...

Ali, I've always preferred to spend my time writing and let my agent sell my work: it seems far more efficient than gambling on the whims of other writers, which is what happens with sites like these.

And Paul, you're right: how does it help? I can only assume that HC wanted to encourage everyone to post such large chunks of text so that if they were interested in anything they'd be able to read enough of it to be sure the writer could sustain the piece. Mind you, with most submissions you can tell if you're going to reject it after the first page, to be honest.

none said...

I joined Authonomy out of curiosity, but I confess I haven't really used it. They keep emailing me about book deals, though, so maybe I should. But in popularity contests I usually lose, lol.

Jane Smith said...

Graham Storrs wrote:

Hi Jane, I had a book up on Authonomy but gave up because of the enormous amount of time it was consuming. I also grew increasingly edgy about all the work I was doing for Harper Collins (reading and reviewing their slush pile) with no reward other than a vague possibility that one of their editors might review my MS.

Like you, I think that getting an agent to promote one's work to publishers is a far better way to go. Unlike you, I don't have an agent and can't get one - which is why I tried Authonomy in the first place!

Jane Smith said...

Graham, first off, I hope you and yours are doing OK during this terrible time (you live in the Australian bush, don't you?): we've been watching the incredible news footage here with much sadness and anxiety. It's been an awful time, and I wish there was something we could do to help.

Right, onto business. I agree with your first paragraph, but your second prompts me to ask: was there any reason for your struggle to find an agent, do you think? Was it a problem with your writing, or with your genre? Or with the market in general?

Sally Zigmond said...

Publishers these days are trying to show they're not dinosaurs, working with an outdated, unwieldy system--as detractors are always suggesting that publishing is old-fashioned and slow. Authonomy is HC's attempt to show they're cool, democratic and state of the art.

It won't last because there are still too many writers seeking publication (most of whom shouldn't be writing for publication at all)and not enough resources to publish millions of books--or the general readers to buy them.

I think it will slowly fade away when the novelty wears off; when writers find they're doing the work for no reward and HC discover that the old way works better.

The old ways are usually the best because they've been refined over the decades. Getting an agent is still the best way forward--even when it's hard work and heart-breaking for the writer.

But since when did anything worthwhile come easy?

Anonymous said...

You said: "the only way to get your work noticed there is to spend a great deal of time networking and promoting yourself there and for most aspiring writers, that’s going to cut into their writing time quite hard."

It does get in the way of proper writing, and it's incredibly time consuming, so is there anywhere that analyses which is the most effecive way of online networking?

I've been looking but haven't found a site yet that explains it in detail
Jenny Woolf. ...

Jane Smith said...

Apologies for the comment-spam which appeared here just now: I've deleted it, and have switched on the comment moderation feature in an attempt to stop it happening again.