Tuesday, 24 March 2009

How To Make The Authonomy Top Five

Thanks to the customarily articulate Nathan Bransford for alerting me to this story.

As I’ve discussed in my previous reviews of HarperCollins' interactive writers' site Authonomy, the books which rise to the top of its rankings are not the best ones, necessarily, but the ones whose authors are the most successful at networking. And over this last weekend, this has proved to be true in quite a spectacular fashion.

Last Friday Vineet Bhalla (also known as Klazart), a newcomer to Authonomy, put his book Lesser Sins up for review there and it rose up the rankings spectacularly quickly. He avoided the usual Authonomy route of courting lots of other Authonomists and plugging his book on the message board there: instead, he recruited his 800 or more of his online gaming Facebook friends to join Authonomy and vote for his book. It quickly reached the number one position on the weekly charts: there followed an explosion of message board victory cries from his supporters, and accusations of cheating from some of Authonomy's more regular users.

The organisers of Authonomy have now stepped in and confirmed that he has broken no rules. Despite the continuing protests it now looks likely that the book will grab one of those coveted top five reviews from the HarperCollins editors at the end of the month. Meanwhile, many more regular Authonomists are not pleased, and some are even threatening to leave as a result of Bhalla's alleged manipulation of the charts: not only have the book charts been affected by this, the status of many of Authonomy's top talent spotters has also been affected as few of them reviewed this particular book. As a result, some of the renegade author's friends now have talent-spotting rankings way above people who have spent months cultivating their reputations by writing thoughtful, insightful reviews and backing books which they felt had a degree of literary merit.

I'm not surprised that someone has at last worked Authonomy's system in this way (although I am surprised that it's taken so long for this to happen). But this just proves my point about Authonomy, and the books which do well there. Does Bhalla's book have any literary merit at all? I have no idea; but literary merit clearly isn't a deciding factor when it comes to reaching the top of Authonomy's charts.

Edited to add: Authonomy has now discussed the fun and games on its own blog. The outrage continues in the comments thread.

27 comments:

Dorset Girl said...

Call me cynical but I don't really see the value of Authonomy in helping writers to get published. There are so many great blogs telling new writers about publishing (like this one!) Authonomy just seems a giant slush pile where those who network best rise to the top regardless of literary merit. (Is it just me or does their slogan 'flushing out the brightest talent' make you think of toilets flushing?)

I'm also suspicious of those who got publishing deals 'through' the website. Two of those writers already had agents who submitted to HC in the regular way - their work just happened to be up on the site. The third has a three book deal and was found online. BUT - she still has no agent and I worry about what kind of deal she got. Maybe I'm just a cynic. I should think about bunnies more. And flowers.

(I love your blog Jane!)

Jane Smith said...

Dorset, the crucial thing here is PINK FLUFFY KITTENS. If you think more about them, perhaps you won't think quite so much about whether Authonomy is of value or not.

That third author will have been given a basic contract. I'm sure of it. And basic contracts are always going to be in favour of the organisation which issues them. So if she's not negotiated it in any way then she's not done as well as she could have. I ALWAYS advise writers to use agents, they do so much, and are fabulous.

Anonymous said...

A salutary lesson, I would say, for all those proponents of ranking systems of this kind. 'They' call it democracy, but in fact, without some serious safeguards, the whole think is ripe for rigging.
I shall go and read the submisssion, but even if it's a cracker, it still shows the flaw in the system.
AliB
http://debutnovelist.wordpress.com

Elle Scott said...

This is an interesting post, especially as it follows on the heels of yesterday's, "Publishing Isn't Broken".

Yesterday, the idea was that agents and editors are the gatekeepers, so to speak, of the publishing world since they, in large part, determine what the public reads.

Mr. Bhalla found a way to work the system to his advantage by, well, storming those gates. Hats off to him.

Does this success mean that his book is any good? Not necessarily. But it does mean that the public has spoken (though it's highly doubtful whether all of his 800 FB 'friends' have read the thing).

I really applaud Harper Collins for sticking to their principles and giving this author his prize, regardless of how his popularity was accomplished. I do think, however, that the rules for Authonomy will probably be changed in the very near future.

Derek said...

I say good luck to him. I certainly went and looked at his book after I heard the buzz.

literary merit clearly isn't a deciding factor when it comes to reaching the top of Authonomy's charts.

I would say the same thing about book sales. They're not a reward for literary merit. They're a reward for writing a book people want to buy.

Jane Smith said...

Good catch, Derek--you're right, of course.

Just like you, I went and had a look at the book. I didn't read much (too pressed for time) but the opening had promise, I thought. And he's done well to get so many people talking about his book--which can only help IF it gets published.

Elle wrote,

Yesterday, the idea was that agents and editors are the gatekeepers, so to speak, of the publishing world since they, in large part, determine what the public reads.

Mr. Bhalla found a way to work the system to his advantage by, well, storming those gates. Hats off to him.


Not exactly: he's probably got to the top five at Authonomy, and if that's the case his work will be read by an HC editor. But he's not guaranteed publication, so he hasn't yet got past the gatekeepers.

I do join with you in applauding his approach, though: he's got noticed. Which is no bad thing.

script doc said...

I haven't spent much time on Authonomy lately, but my own effort did reach the top five at the beginning of this month. I removed the project a week or so later. I had a number of reasons to doing so, but one was definitely the feeling that the top five was no longer a reflection of what was good on the site.

Authonomy undoubtedly helped me to improve my manuscript - immeasureably so. I also made some friends on the site, and the speed at which my project rose up the rankings was hugely encouraging. But various ways of playing the system were beginning to be spotted and exploited, and they invariably left a bad taste in the mouth.

Things were rather different when I joined Authonomy early in December. Authonomy's success has, as I feared it would, been its own downfall. So many writers have joined that it is now a battle to get noticed. If a writer is prepared to use Authonomy as a kind of free editorial service and a means of measuring how well their idea and its execution is working, then they should still benefit from it enormously. But as a way of selecting the best manuscripts in the virtual slushpile, Authonomy is failing completely - partly because of a few writers who are so self-centred that they completely miss the point of the whole exercise and rather ruin it for everybody else.

Bob said...

"I ALWAYS advise writers to use agents, they do so much, and are fabulous" - a fair point Jane and well made but it's not always practical. I got a deal with a reputable publisher but still couldn't nab an agent on the strength of it. I did have Society of Authors help with the contract but, of necessity, had to do the brunt of the work on my own. By the same token I wasn't naive, I did go into it with both eyes wide open.
Would I have gotten a better deal with an agent? Absolutely, but I don't feel I got screwed over either.
My intention was - and still is -to use the published book (and a potential subsequent book deal) as a foundation for getting an agent second time around and see if anyone bites.

BuffySquirrel said...

Yes, the public have spoken, and they have said, "Who cares about the quality of the book, the author's our friend!". I doubt if that will translate into sales.

behlerblog said...

Good grief. There are always going to be phlegm bags who work to circumvent the system. At the end of the day, editors should accept works based on the writing. And that is why I think Authonomy is a joke. It has nothing to do with talent, but how popular you are. I do wish HC would simply get back to publishing books and not trying on every ridiculous idea that comes along.

behlerblog said...

Gosh, that sounded really cranky, didn't it?

Jane Smith said...

Script Doc: yes, yes and yes, particularly to your third para.

Bob: even though you couldn't get yourself an agent, you had the sense to approach the SoA which does a wonderful job with its contract advice service, so you've almost certainly got a better contract than if you'd just signed as soon as that dotted line was offered. And that's more than many writers do when a contract is waved in front of them: it must be something to do with the drugs which that Special Publishing Contract Paper is impregnated with.

Buffy: you're chanelling me again. Stop it, or everyone will start thinking we're the same person and you don't want that.

Mrs Price: yes, it sounded cranky but we all know what to expect from you. Ha!

Sally Zigmond said...

I like cranky, especially when it's absolutely and clearly 100%right. And no, I'm not just sucking up to Ms Price because I want to try a chocolate martini. Recipe please? What type of chocolate? They don't make them in rural Yorkshire. Unless it's sheep fodder.)

Word ver. ganties. Underwear for big girls.

Jane Smith said...

Zigmond: I might not have the recipe for a chocolate margarita, but I DID have a nice cold spritzer ready to hand until you posted that underwear comment.

Now my spritzer is splurted all over my keyboard, my monitor and my undercover attack-cat (who is not one bit impressed). Come on, girl, we're meant to be behaving like professionals here!

catdownunder said...

Something was telling me not to bother putting anything up on Authonomy. Now what in the heck do I do?
This cat is now chasing her tail, around and around - useless, pointless, meaningless exercise. Did you say it keeps me fit?

Cathie said...

My sense is that without an army of attack cats to take on World of Warcraft and the like, Authonomy is going to be open to abuse. In every system, it helps to know someone (or thousands of someones), be there at the right time and, most of all, be tremendously lucky.

Perhaps it might worth dipping fluffy kittens in chocolate, then lobbing them all over net as a warning that the Ganties are coming and will not be taken down easily. Oh! Er...oops, runs away...

behlerblog said...

Something was telling me not to bother putting anything up on Authonomy. Now what in the heck do I do?

Catdownunder: if it's good, solid crits you're after, there are many wonderful private sites you can join and post your work.

Ziggie: never fear, dear. I'll post a choccie martini recipe that'll knock your senses back into the fifteenth century.

Word verification: "chent" Sounds like something an author did before speaking at his first seminar and was achingly nervous...

Jane Smith said...

Cat, there are a few crit sites on my front page: Absolute Write, Zoetrope, Write Words and Litopia are all considered good, if you want to have a look at them.

Just so you know, Authonomy has written about the fun and games today, over on its own blog: I'll go and edit in a link to it, if you want to have a look. There's nothing much new added, they've just reaffirmed their position.

BuffySquirrel said...

I tried Litopia for a while, but it didn't work out for me. Still, that's me. I'm a squirrel.

catdownunder said...

Thankyou Jane - it's a matter of getting up the courage (timid miaou here)and telling myself I am not too old to pounce on the pedals of publishing. I've met too many authors in my lifetime - and most of them seem to be caterwauling with confidence about their own work.

Mockingbird said...

First of all. Absolutely nothing to do with Facebook. Klazart is a Starcraft commentator who posts on You Tube, where he has 8716 subscribers. He posted a short video telling his followers how to back his book. 1300 or so promptly did. To differentiate between Facebook and You Tube, Facebook, you send a friend request and you are accepted or denied, it's a personal thing. You Tube, anyone can subscribe to anything providing they meet the age requirements. Beyond the posting of his videos, he doesn't have personal interaction with his followers as he would on Facebook.

There is no value whatsoever to Authonomy as a way to get published. It's pretty much a writers' support group. The standard of crits for the ED picks are laughable. One recent crit was a two paragraph summary of the story with No at the end. There was no element of critique offered. But that said, I have made some fantastic friends in there, people who I am very glad to have met. I have got some good advice, and some helpful pointers, so it hasn't been all bad. Unfortunately, Klazart's rush to the top only points out the futility of the system, and his own misunderstanding of what an ED gold star crit will do for him.

There is the side to this that no one has examined, which is what is being said on Starcraft forums about it. Where some freely admit that they went to back his book without having read a word of it just to annoy us stuffy old people who don't understand how the internet works. The fact that he has three times the shelves to the comments on his work, and around fifty percent of the comments are either defensive of him personally, or one or two words which say nothing about the content of the book, pretty much say it all. And he openly admits that he couldn't be bothered to really participate in the site. Well. There you have it.

maxdunbar said...

Hahaha! So glad I got out when I did. Farcical.

Anonymous said...

Whether or not you think what Klazart did was ethical or not its interesting to see that a huge chunk of the same authonomy members who have been crying foul are the same ones who have been participating in blatant bribery:

Dear Harper Collins,

I would like to bring your attention to the illegal and unethical activities of one of Authonomy's members: Username "Stef Nalton".

As you have stated in your official statements, Klazart was within the rules of the site and has done nothing wrong. Mr. Nalton on the other hand has capitalized on his high TSR ranking and spent the last few days artificially inflating the rankings of the top 5 books in order to keep "Lesser Sins" at #6.

Mr. Nalton has spammed every Authonomy user with a proposal to back their book if they will back any of the top 5 books. This is an example of the type of message he has been leaving:

"Hi Sherry, due to the blitzkrieg on the site by over a thousand fans of the #6 book author, i was garnering support for two of the books on the Ed's desk to help nullify the effect they were having. This has been successful but has now demoted "The Shadows Map" (which is on my shelf - click on my usename to access it) If you haven't read it, and do so now, let me know if you back it and I shall give your book a boost with my #2 TSR vote. No probs if you're not interested. All the best, stef nalton."

His messages to users are generally a variation of this:

"Let me know if you backed these books and I shall support you in return (I'm the Number 1 talent spotter so my vote would help your book's position somewhat)."

This underhanded bribery of other users in order to manipulate the ranking system is clearly unethical and a violation of Authonomy's terms of service and in my humble opinion, he should be banned from the site.

Incidentally, if you are wondering how his proposals have been received this is the reply from Ms. Sherry:

"Hey, I'm really new to this game. You need to explain to me what you want me to do. And to quite frank, I'll be happy to screw up that other guys ratings, just like he did to everyone else. I have a question, if I back a book, then remove it does this affect it's ratings? Or do they stay the same?"

Another example of Mr. Nalton's manipulation of the ranking system:

"Hi David, thanks for the support. I seem to have demoted "The Shadows Map" to number 4 (on my shelf) during this campaign, and would be eternally grateful if you would remove the book you already backed and replace it with Shadows Map. I shall back yours later when i return from work. All the best, stef


Is this how the Authonomy community really operates? Its also quite interesting that Mr. Nalton instead of being chastised for his unethical and dishonest behavior is actually being praised in the forums! Even if they honestly believed what Klazart did was wrong, to follow up their lectures on moral integrity and honor with bribery and a dishonest manipulation of the rankings is INCREDIBLY hypocritical.

Jane Smith said...

So much for the three books which were supposedly discovered on Authonomy and taken on for publication: it was discovered quite early that two were submitted by the more usual routes. But today it's been let slip that the third one was, too. Brilliant.

David Dittell said...

Jane,

This doesn't surprise me either. This is no more illegitimate than networking (or advertising) according to their rules. It's a problem inherent in the system, and those who didn't spot that ahead of time must have been deluding themselves.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I don't see what the problem is. Everyone seems to think that only the best books should get published, or even better, only the ones that earned it. Listen, here's a secret. None of that means crap. You know what gets published? Whats POPULAR. Not whats good. That's what sells books. In the end the only thing important to a publisher is how much its going to sell. If your interested in literary perfection, go back to college and be a lit major.

So calm down and smell the coffee. This isn't chess, the best doesn't win, if you got the right people backing you, then you got a shot, end of story.

Shuab Parvez said...

An interesting post, but these things happen. I've just joined Authonomy recently actually and I'm thinking of self-publishing. You can read my book here http://www.authonomy.com/ViewBook.aspx?bookid=12010
I also have a blog which I use to showcase pages from my novel.
http://shuabparvez.wordpress.com/
Shuab