02 February 2009

The Authonomy Experience

I joined Harper Collins' Authonomy in September 2008, after I heard of this new initiative, an electronic slush pile, in another workshop. I am always up for something new, and I think a large part of the publishing industry is in urgent need of updating, although thankfully some agents are moving to paperless offices and E-submissions.

With about 4000 members Authonomy is a vibrant community, which allows members to upload 10,000 words or more of their book. Because agents look at the site, it gives a writer another way of exposure in addition to regular submissions. But the site's greatest value lies in the fact that other members comment on the book. In effect, this makes Authonomy like a writers group, and it’s probably best seen that way. In addition to that, the site has a voting system and Harper Collins promise to read the top 5 books every month.

I don’t think it took long for people to realise that reaching the top 5 meant you would receive a professional review, not an invitation to submit your book to an appropriate editor, but in the competitive world of trying to get a novel published, even a professional review is good.

I initially uploaded my three finished novels, and let the readers decide which one they enjoyed most. I then made the other two books private and concentrated on the remaining one. This was the soft-SF/crime novel Seeing Red.

I enjoyed the vibrancy of the site, and if you are willing to trawl the forums, you will see that I have often spoken out in favour of Authonomy. In November, I faced a dilemma: all of a sudden my book was in the top 10. I knew that Harper Collins doesn’t publish what I write, and in those same forums, you may find messages where I considered removing the book. But a professional review would be nice. I decided to go ahead, and I decided to do so without willy-nilly voting for other books in order to get those authors to vote for me. I ‘played’ the Authonomy system and I won. I would get my professional review.

First let me say what I expect when I say ‘professional review’ because I’ve had professional reviews from publishers in the past – a page or two of commentary on a novel, stating the strong points, the weak points, overall possibilities for improvement in no-nonsense but professional, dare I say impersonal, language.

I did not expect this (note, the HC review is immediately under the red banner if you scroll down the page), a review which starts off referring to my ‘popularity’ on the site, which, frankly, has nothing to do with the book, and comments about ‘being honest and grown-up’ make it sound like I’m a child. Those comments were belittling and unnecessary, especially in the light that he is an anonymous reviewer, and I have all my cards on the table in clear view of 4000 community members. This paragraph says to me: this book is only here because you are popular, and we don’t like that. That’s fine, but exactly whose system was I using to get where I was?

There are some comments about the book which are fair enough. He didn’t like it, although it was the subject matter and not the style, plotting or characters he had problems with. He made some comments. That’s all up to me to deal with.

But the reviewer then gives me a final kick in the guts in by stating that stating that no one will publish this book. First off: if I were an editor in a rival publishing house, I’d be offended if anyone spoke for me. I’d decide for myself what I’d take on, thank you very much. As for me, the author, what am I to make of this remark? Was it meant to make me run off and cry? If no one would publish the book, wouldn’t I find that out in due course as I submit?

I wrote a book I would buy. I wrote it, because I enjoyed it. I’m guessing about three hundred people voted for it. I sent out a number of whole-book manuscripts. It was (and still is) a popular book. I fully accept that a publisher has their own agenda, and that my book was not what they wanted. I accept the reasons. I have other books. I don’t like the way SF publishing is going, but that is a separate issue.

From Harper Collins, all I asked for was a professional crit, not to be lampooned, belittled and kicked in the guts when I was down.

A normal ‘thanks, but no thanks, because...’ would have done. I feel betrayed, saddened, vilified and angered, because none of this would have been necessary had the crit been more carefully worded, and maybe vetted by someone who deals with online communities. Yes, I have done much in the Authonomy community. I don’t think I’ll be doing much more.

Edited to add: Read what fellow Authonomite Alexander McNabb has to say about the review.


  1. the link to the review doesn't seem to be working.

  2. Sorry, my bad. Haven't quite worked out this site yet. Should be fixed now.

  3. Nice, Patty. I like the "whose system was I using" line. Brilliant point. Authonomy is here, the writers are up for it, the industry is up for it, obviously the Authonomy designers are up for it, but why do the anonymous HC editors sound like they'd rather it went away?

  4. the childish nature of the review, with it's schoolmarm approach... makes me wonder if indeed anything is actually being read by "Editors". Is this a con? Is the whole thing being farmed out to a panel of people who have no editorial experience, but have been selected to deal with the stuff on Authonomy just to keep the people quiet. Your review. Alexander's "Space" review... a couple of others... all veering wildly between bonkers and downright unprofessional.

    If it makes any difference Patty, I voted for your book because I liked the story and would buy the book.

  5. Hey Patty - all I got from that review was someone without a clue, picking holes in their own nest. If he doesn't like the system, why blame the people it attracts?

    The review is pretty worthless as he lays his cards on the table in the first paragraph. He doesn't like or respect you, because of his attitude to authonomy as a whole, so he's hardly likely to say anything nice about the book.

    So what?

    Smile, enjoy it for what it was and move on. You know you're better than that and I'm sure a publisher will agree with you soon enough. Or go the indie route and prove them wrong on your own - that'd be sweet. ;)

  6. What do publishers know? I had two of them tell me SF/Humour was a niche market which wasn't worth their time.

    The best thing about a kick in the guts is that once the shock wears off you can use the anger as motivation for years and years.

  7. Patty,
    So sorry. This sickens me. HC has proven Authonomy doesn't work themselves. A concept on the right track with no real backing from the publisher. Authonomy needs to be abandoned and restructured somewhere else without false pretense and kiss@ss ness. to succeed. Just a place for authors to expose their work where agents can go to read partials. You're a writer. Write. HC editors are obviously cowards who are pointing out their own faulty system i.e. the popularity contest.

  8. Sympathies. The tone of that review was utterly uncalled-for.

  9. I think you're all being rather unfair to the majority of editors who are posting reviews on the website. Some of them have given very good critiques in my opinion. I certainly agree that the review of Patty's work was harsh but it was a valid point-of-view and if you've ever been rejected before, you'll know that you do sometimes get responses like that. I think it's a bit rich condemning the whole system.

  10. I think it's a bit self-indulgent to cluck tongues at the "tone" of the review and ignore its content. In my opinion the first paragraph of the review, addressing Patty's popularity on the site, was not directed at Patty so much as at the people who voted for her book. The message there is, "even though Patty's a great person, this book she wrote isn't what we look for to publish."

    And that is certainly a valid point, since Patty's popularity is what drove the book to the top of the list. I don't think you can get a meaningful measure of a book's quality when you base it upon peer critiques.

    I'm not a fan of Authonomy for that very reason, but my sympathy is with the editor on this one.