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.