Showing posts with label Authonomy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Authonomy. Show all posts

Monday, 14 September 2009

Manuscript Display Sites

The concept behind a manuscript display site is simple: provide writers with a forum in which to display their work, in the hopes that an editor or agent will come browsing and discover a literary gem hiding among the HTML. Over the years plenty of these sites have come and gone so that now, new versions are often referred to as a YADS: “yet another display site”.

Some display sites are just that: no frills, no extras, just a shop-window for manuscripts. Others have writers’ message-boards attached; some have review systems coupled with complicating rating systems. Authonomy comes to us courtesy of HarperCollins, and offers a manuscript display site, comment facility and message-board; while YouWriteOn offers vanity publishing in conjunction with Legend Press, which has put many people off what might otherwise be an excellent peer review facility.

These sites all have a couple of things in common.

The standard of writing on such sites ranges from good to poor, with that latter end making up the vast majority of the work on show. And despite what you might read online, I’ve only heard of a single book being published as a result of a browsing editor or agent spotting it in these electronic slush-piles: apart from that one title, the successes that have happened have all come about because the writers involved submitted their work in the usual way.

If you want to find out more about the history of manuscript display sites, then go to this post at Writer Beware's blog and make sure you read all the comments that have been made: there’s a fabulous discussion attached to it.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Writers' Message Boards And Online Communities

There are lots of places on the internet where writers gather: I've written some general posts about them here. Many writers' message boards include a discussion forum and an area where writers can receive feedback and criticism on their work, but some of them are far better than others: it all depends, I think, on what the writers who populate the place are like. If a writers' site has a good proportion of accomplished, well-published writers in its membership then the advice there is likely to be above average; if the members are all aspiring writers with little or no experience of publication, or there's a high proportion of vanity-published writers among the membership, then it's very likely that the advice that's on offer isn't going to be quite so good.

Here are a few of my favourites. I'd be grateful if you'd provide links to the places you like in the comments, and let me know what's so special about them.

AbsoluteWrite is probably the best writers' site on the internet. It's got a fabulous message board and it seems to me that the people who comment there have a higher-than-average level of intelligence and publishing expertise. It's American, and lots of the information it contains is restricted to that continent: but there's still an awful lot of good stuff there for anyone who is interested in writing, revising, and getting published. It's free to read, free to join, and free to take part in, and I love it.

Authonomy is HarperCollins UK's interractive writers' site. There's a sprawling message-board (which takes forever to load on my dial-up service), a large selection of work on view; and every month the five (I think) most well-received pieces of work get looked at by HarperCollins editors, and are commented on. This is not to be sniffed at: but do bear in mind that so far not one of any of the top five books has been published by HarperCollins, and only one book has been taken from the Authonomy slush-pile for publication.

Litopia has a good reputation, and several of my friends are members: however, I've never stuck with it long enough to gain access to its inner workings, and so cannot vouch for its quality (although I'm sure that a few of my readers will be able to advise).

WriteWords is a UK-based site which charges an annual membership fee but which does have a very high proportion of published and successful writers in its members: consequently, the advice that you'll find there is well above average, and very valuable. It's very writing-focussed, with an excellent peer-review system across lots of genres.

YouWriteOn. What can I say? It began with the excellent premise of providing writers with an online community and the chance for the best writers there to get a critique of their work from a professional editor or agent; but then in the autumn of 2008 it introduced a vanity publishing option which was neither well thought-out nor well-received. I really don't like its vanity publishing scheme; and from what I've seen, the standard of writing and advice on its boards are not nearly as high as you'll find on other boards.

Zoetrope has sections for novel-writing, short fiction, screenwriting, and all sorts. It has a slightly confusing system of public message boards with a subculture of private rooms, which any of its members can set up and invite people to join; it's well thought-of, and has a reputation for producing excellent writers through strong criticism and robust comment. I have taken part, but found the system of private rooms (where most of the action goes on) made it a little too scattered and time-consuming for my liking.

Further recommendations from our readers:

The Backspace Forum

Critter's Bar

The Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror has a mixture of published and yet-to-be published writers. Also the chance to have your work critiqued by well-known authors or editors.

Scrawl: The Writers Asylum has a number of talented and helpful writers in several genres.

The Writer's Chronicle

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Guest Post: Voicing Concerns, by Dan Holloway

I've been wrestling with a couple of blog posts about voice: what it is, why it's important, and how to get a good one: and along comes the lovely Dan Holloway with this great post, especially for my blog's first birthday. Thank you Dan.

One of the commonest causes of “hands raised in horror” syndrome amongst members of the website Authonomy, is Harper Collins’ (who run the site) failure to publish any of the “beautifully-written” books that reach the site’s upper echelons (the Editor’s Desk). Yet, in the site’s forums, respected literary professionals endlessly repeat (and whenever I ask an “insider” the question, I get the same answer), what the industry looks for above anything else is “a fresh, original voice”.

It occurred to me that the continued prevalence of HRIH syndrome may actually be attributable to the belief that “beautifully written” – or its qualitative synonyms “tightly-plotted”, “exquisitely dialogued”, “masterfully characterised” – MEANS “fresh and original.” It doesn’t.

Let me explain.

After spending too many years studying there (10 – don’t ask), I spent a few more preparing students for Oxford interviews. It’s an infuriating truism that what Oxford looks for in would-be students is indefinable “but you know it when you see it.” I always thought “voice” was the same.

Which is why I was surprised to find it isn’t. I made the discovery whilst at a gig in Southampton a couple of weeks ago (we’d made the considerable journey to see our favourite band, The Boxer Rebellion). My regular readers will be rolling their collective eyeballs (“when he talks about marketing, it’s all music”, “social media and publishing – more music”, “even on sentence construction – it’s arpeggio this and cadenza that”), but music really is the perfect illustration of “voice.”

I’ve been to a good fistful of gigs in recent months. One of the delights of gigs (serendipity being my favourite word) is going to see a headline act and discovering some wonderful support bands (I met my Facebook novel’s “house band”, InLight, that way). It’s always interested me the way the first band comes on and the crowd thinks “great.” Enter main support and it’s “wahey, they’re fantastic!” But then the headline act comes on and everyone else vanishes.

Listening to the opening drums of The Boxer Rebellion’s “walk-on” number, Flashing Red Light Means Go, I realised why that was – and why it explained “voice.”

I’ve seen (checks his website to count links…) lots of support bands this year. They all perform excellently. The songwriting is uniformly exceptional. The frontmen have real charisma. But when you hear one song, then a second, you realise if you heard a third song, in a different context, you’d have a hard time saying whose it was. Any number of people could have written them.

On the other hand, every headline act I’ve seen writes songs that couldn’t have been written by anyone else. Within a bar (a note, even – just the tuning of their guitars is often enough; or if you prefer your music older and more German, think “Tristan chord”) you know exactly whose music you’re listening to.

And that, in a nutshell, is voice.

How do you write voice? Don’t ask me. I don’t have an original voice. Just a loud one.

Dan Holloway is a theologian by training. These days he pushes pens by day and writes by night. Author of several published short stories and two as yet unpublished novels, Dan writes literary fiction about life in modern Europe. Also an academic writer and presenter, on June 12 he will be speaking on "The Ghost at my Shoulder: Literary Reflections on Coming of Age in Post-Communist Hungary" at a conference hosted by the University of East London to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Dan is writing his current novel, The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's shoes, interactively on Facebook. He blogs regularly on literary futurology, is co-founder of the avant-garde collective Year Zero Writers, and is widely rumoured to have invented both time travel machines and bionic fingers in order to accommdate his schedule.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Manuscript Display Sites: What Are The Chances?

On Authonomy’s message-board a while ago, a writer commented that she thought that HarperCollins would probably find one manuscript on Authonomy each month that was good enough to publish.

One a year might be a more reasonable hope.

When I was an editor I’d have been thrilled to find one publishable submission a month. But the vast majority of submissions I received weren't even readable, let alone publishable. Perhaps 10% were coherently written and showed a reasonable understanding of spelling, grammar and punctuation: but we considered very little of that 10% for publication because most of it just wasn’t suitable for our lists. We published non-fiction but fiction made up about half of the submissions we received; and the non-fiction that was submitted rarely fitted into the genres we worked within.

Based on what little I’ve read on Authonomy I’d say that a lot of the writing showcased there would come in the top 10%, so is already ahead of the game. But most of it is still a fair distance away from being publishable, as is perhaps evidenced by the fact that so far, just one book has been picked up for publication from the many that appear there.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

What Editors Want

A few days ago this thread was started on the Authonomy message-board. It eventually degenerated into a sodden late-night exchange, but the post which kicked it all off reinforces much of what I've written here and says it all far more clearly than I could manage: so here is that post in its entirety. I've bolded one line, but that's the only change I've made.

It's late at night, I have a job I'm procrastinating on and the wine is open, so I feel a fit of pomposity coming on. Read no further if you are offended by reminiscing and lecturing.

But here it comes.

An central idee fixee among emerging writers is: 'What do editors want?' Much thought is given to this question, particularly in gathering places like Authonomy. Eventually, when the discussion has built up a head of steam, some all-knowing, squelching person will come along and say "editors are looking for excuses to reject your book. Just one comma out of place and – bam! – book rejected". The conversation is thereby killed and the insecure author feels even more dejected.

This is all wrong. At least, it was in my case and still is false as far as editors I know go.

What editors want, more than ANYTHING else in the world, is for someone to delight them.

Most manuscripts that land on an editor's desk – even, believe it or not, the ones that comes through recommendations, agents, personal friends and authors with track records – range from the unfinished-need-lots-of-work to the outright boring. And that's only speaking of work that has been through the filter. Some of these will be picked up, just because the sausage factory has to keep churning stuff out, but they won't fill the editor with excitement about coming to work in the morning.

Publishing doesn't have many pluses. It's poorly paid, the glamorous lunches are few and far between, and the overseas trips heavily contested. The free books pall after a while (a) because you've soon read them all and (b) because they're probably not your genre anyway.

What makes it all worthwhile are the times when a luminous book pops through the post. A book that from the first masterful sentence transports the reader.

Such books are incredibly rare. But they're fun to work on, they're fun to publish, and they add lustre to an editor's career if they win an award or become a bestseller.

How do you know if you've written a masterpiece?

If you're asking the question, then you probably haven't. The more experienced and expert you are at anything – tennis, swimming, painting, computer programming – the more you instinctively know what works and what doesn't. And you certainly know when you have done something outstanding in your field, even if you don't know HOW outstanding it is. If you're still floundering, hoping for approval for your book, go back to the drawing board.

Because the sort of books that enthrall first the publisher and then the public are books written with verve and confidence, and that's something that comes from talent plus a finely honed craft.

And all that came from a bottle of Californian Zinfandel. Whew, that 16% alcohol is a killer.

My thanks to editor, writer and Authonomy member Osiander, for giving me permission to quote him at such length.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Authonomy, Blurb And Book Army

As I've discussed before, HarperCollins' manuscript display site, Authonomy, contacted a proportion of its members earlier this year to announce that it was adding a new service to its site: it had teamed up with, an American-based POD printer, in order to enable Authonomy members to download their books to Blurb directly from the Authonomy site and (the implication was) start selling copies of their book straight away.

Is this a good idea? Some people think not, and seem convinced that it's just a cynical ploy by HarperCollins to make money out of writers they have no intention of publishing. And when you link this idea to the worries I have about HarperCollins’ Book Army site you might begin to see the potential for problems here.

It is going to be easy for Authonomy authors to download their books to Blurb; hop over to Book Army and link their books to all sorts of other titles; and sit back and wait for sales to roll in (and your notice, here, more than a little touch of irony to my tone). Authonomy will, I'll bet, earn a commission on those sales, so what we have here is a grab at the Holy Grail of publishing: a way for a publisher to make money out of its slush pile. Funnily enough that doesn't outrage me as much as it does some: HarperCollins is a business, after all, and I have no problem with it making money in this way. What does trouble me is its choice of partner (because, as I've discussed elsewhere, Blurb isn't necessarily the best option for Authonomy authors planning to go POD), and its apparent endorsement of self-publishing as a realistic route into mainstream success. Because despite all the hype, sales of self-published books are notoriously low and very few ever make that leap into mainstream publication, let alone widespread mainstream success.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Tainted By Association

A little while ago I read a post on the Authonomy message board in which information was requested about a particular London-based publisher. Was it a legitimate publishing house? I did a little digging and realised I’d already checked out the same publisher for someone on the Absolute Write message board last summer.

On reading the publisher’s website I got the distinct impression that they were a pay-to-play publisher, although prices weren’t mentioned. Most of the site focussed on advising writers how to submit, and how to prepare their work for submission: but surely a publisher should focus on promoting the books they’ve already published? I emailed the publisher to find out more and their reply confirmed to me that they were, in fact, a vanity press. I posted this information at Absolute Write and thought no more of it until a few weeks later, when I received by email a threat of legal action against me. The person who made the threat worked for the publisher concerned, and was upset that I’d put his name up at Absolute Write.

I was happy to edit his name out of my original post: my objection wasn’t directed at him, but at the publishing company he worked for, which was charging writers to publish them; and I do prefer a quiet life. However, I did find it intriguing (and still do, hence this post) that while he asked me to edit his name out of my post, he didn’t make any objection at all to my identifying the company he worked for as a vanity press.

Now, why do you think that might have been?

Friday, 27 March 2009

Authonomy Signings: Another Update

Edited to add: I jumped quite firmly to the wrong conclusion here. Miranda Dickinson very kindly added her own comment to this piece and cleared up my confusion: I apologise to her for being so foolish, I freely admit to having screwed up, and I hope that she’ll forgive me.

I did think of just deleting this whole post but I've decided against it: instead, I'm going to leave this post up because I don’t like to pretend that I never make mistakes; and Miranda’s explanation was so very good-natured and courteous that she deserves for it to remain in place.

You might remember how Authonomy announced a couple of months ago that HarperCollins was going to publish three books which had spent time on Authonomy's shelves. When it was discovered that only one of the books had actually been discovered in the Authonomy slush-pile, and that the other two had been taken on via more usual routes, outcry ensued.

The single book which was reportedly discovered on Authonomy's shelves was Coffee at Kowalski's, by Miranda Dickinson. But in a post on the Authonomy blog today Dickinson writes,
Having said that, submitting my manuscript for the second time was ridiculously scarier than it was the first time. I think this is because when I sent Kowalski’s to Avon last year I honestly didn’t think that I would hear back from them – let alone anything else. This time, much more is relying on the structural edit being good enough – and I felt the weight of that responsibility resting heavily on my shoulders throughout the process, although this was entirely self-imposed!
Bolding mine. Avon is an imprint of HarperCollins. Draw your own conclusions.

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.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Authonomy and Blurb

When HarperCollins’s manuscript display site Authonomy announced last month that it was going to add a self-publishing option to its site, there were some people who were not pleased. Authonomy’s implication that self-publishing could be a stepping-stone to commercial success was seen by some as misleading because, while it's true that some writers have done well by self-publishing, the majority of self-published authors flounder in relative obscurity and fail to make any significant sales.

What wasn't picked up on was Authonomy's odd choice of bed-fellow: the POD provider Blurb.

Blurb first came to most people's attention when it teamed up with Chronicle Books in 2007. Chronicle is a well-regarded mainstream publishing company with exacting standards: I know, I've edited for it (and we all know how good I am, right?). I was astonished when I heard that Chronicle was directing some of the books it rejected towards Blurb, as this seemed to me to represent a direct conflict of interests.

Blurb was set up to produce heavily illustrated books: showcases for illustrators and photographers, collations of photojournalism, and personal collections. Its focus on quality is admirable: but combine that with its bias towards full colour printing and you end up with very high unit prices which, while only to be expected for full-colour books, are simply ridiculous when applied to novels and memoirs—which is what makes up the bulk of Authonomy's members’ books. And while it’s recently set up a text option for the books it produces, I’m still waiting to be convinced that it’s the best option for Authonomy’s many members.

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?

Friday, 23 January 2009

Authonomy Signing Update

Two days ago, I blogged about the three Authonomy authors who have been signed to HarperCollins. One of the books signed was represented by Andrew Lownie (for whom I have a very soft spot--he's a wonderful agent) and I wrote,'s probable that they were picked up following Lownie's submission of their book to HarperCollins, rather than through the Authonomy site.

The ever-vigilant Sally Zigmond has this morning spotted this comment from the man himself over on Galleycat:
My agency submitted Never Say Die by Melanie Davies and ghosted by Lynne Barrett-Lee in the normal way. The fact the authors had put it on Authonomy may have helped in Collins's decision but the editor was only aware of the script being on Authonomy after the submission. Andrew Lownie
God, I'm good.

(Now, if Sally could just find out for me if the authors of the other two books are represented, I'd be very grateful indeed.)

ETA: Here's a news story which explains how HarperCollins made its offer for the book in December, nearly a month before Authonomy announced the sale.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Authonomy Authors Sign With HarperCollins

In a move perfectly timed to complement my blog post from earlier today, Authonomy has just announced that HarperCollins has signed three of its authors.

Steven Dunne, who had previously self-published his detective thriller, The Reaper, gets a two-book deal; Miranda Dickinson, author of a romantic comedy called Coffee At Kowalski's, has a three-book deal; and Melanie Davies and Lynne Barratt-Lee have signed up their co-written memoir Never Say Die.

It's not made clear on the Authonomy blog if these signings came as a direct result of the authors' presence on Authonomy: mention is made of Davies' and Barratt-Lee's representation by literary agent extraordinaire Andrew Lownie, so it's probable that they were picked up following Lownie's submission of their book to HarperCollins, rather than through the Authonomy site. But I'm sure that full details will emerge over the coming weeks.

I wish all four writers the best of success with their books, and will be watching their progress closely.

Manuscript Display Sites

There are all sorts of manuscripts display sites available on the internet, like the infamous YouWriteOn, and HarperCollins’ Authonomy. Anyone can register with these sites and download a chunk of their work which might then be reviewed by other members; in return, you review their work and everyone gets a little feedback.

Both YouWriteOn and Authonomy run a rankings scheme whereby each month the ten most highly-scored pieces of work are read by editors and/or agents, and offered criticisms. This is an opportunity not to be sniffed at: I’ve read several of the professional critiques alongside the displayed work and they all offered good, solid advice which the writers would be wise to act on.

There is a downside, though. In order to attract enough reader-attention to make it to the top ten, Authonomy writers have to network their socks off—and that’s very time-consuming: frankly, I’d rather spend that time writing and have my agent work on getting it seen by the right editors; while over at YouWriteOn there have been accusations of vote-rigging, and some writers claim not to have received the editorial reports that they were promised.

Never mind, say the members: there’s still a chance that the books will get seen by an agent or an editor trawling the site, looking for talent. After all, the review process ensures that the work is of a much higher standard than most of the slush-pile, so they’re bound to be looking.

Well—no. The review process does improve the work but there are several limiting factors working here. The only people offering advice to the majority of the members are the other members who, while perfectly literate, tend not to be very experienced writers and so some of the advice that they offer is of limited value. In many cases, the criticism they offer doesn’t get beyond the level of pointing out errors in punctuation, grammar or spelling; and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of the stringent structural work that most books require. Structural editing is made almost impossible by the medium in which the work is displayed: it’s incredibly difficult as an editor to have a good impact on a full manuscript if you’re only considering a short extract from it.

But the biggest reason that agents and editors are unlikely to plough through the work that is on offer at such manuscript display sites is that these people already have far too much slush of their own. Every day, new submissions drop on their desks in far greater quantities than can ever be published. Reading through their own slush is bad enough: why would they want to go and read through everyone else’s?

Writer Beware has blogged about Authonomy, and this particular post provides a very useful history of manuscript display sites (make sure you read the comments to get the full value).