Authonomy: Approach with Caution

If there was ever a hive of scum and villainy in the literary world, it would be Authonomy (www.authonomy.com). As a writer searching for advice early on in the process, I looked high and low for a place to share my work and receive feedback from others, besides Facebook, blogging, etc. So I came upon Authonomy after being recommended from a friend in the publishing industry. That “friend” has since been placed on my blacklist, and shall receive a bundle of coal this Christmas.

Authonomy was both a blessing, and a tremendous burden that distracted from my writing more than anything else ever could, or ever will. Many sleepless nights were spent trying to extract a review from the users on the website, and it took some time before I realized that all of my tireless efforts were folly.

Before I continue any further, let me explain what Authonomy is. It is a project by Harper-Collins to get more people excited about writing. Obviously it has many more complexities beyond that, but the main idea is quite simple. The website revolves around writers creating an account, uploading their unpublished novel, poetry, etc, with the ultimate goal of receiving  a publishing deal from Harper-Collins themselves. But what they don’t tell you is that in the four years since the website’s launch, Harper-Collins has not accepted a single book for publishing.

Books are rated by both a 5-Star system, and by being placed on “Bookshelves”. Each user has a bookshelf with space for five books, their own not included. So in order for a writer to progress up the rating scale, they must spam other writers into “backing” their book (placing it on a bookshelf), and having their book rated and reviewed. Since there are a few thousand users on the website, with more being added daily, it takes quite awhile before you begin to see results.

Unfortunately, whether you have a great book or not really doesn’t matter on this site. Most of the writers employ cloak and dagger strategies to have their book travel up the rating scale, and onto the Top 5 Books of the Month list. These books are read and reviewed by the Harper-Collins staff, who then provide feedback and bid you “good luck” in the future while they turn you down.

I remember feeling that my experience with Authonomy was akin to something like a group of powerful men holding a delicious meal before the eyes of a thousand starving people, and telling them they must fight to the death in order to win the meal. Obviously that’s a rather morbid and exaggerated example of the website, but it isn’t quite far from the truth. I have seen many great books that have progressed nowhere, and many more books with total garbage inside that made it to the top five, because the writer spammed just everybody on the site with some sad story or another. There was this woman I recall, who’s book contained more typo’s than Spell Check could keep up with, not to mention a juvenile dialogue, non-existent plot, and grammatical errors out the wazoo. Yet, she convinced enough people that she had a terminal illness, and that she just wanted to have a book published before she died. Needless to say, she made it to the Top 5 list, and was granted a review by the Harper-Collins editorial staff.

Her book never accomplished anything further than that, but her lies propelled her above the “real” writers on the site. This is not the only case of a “sally sob story” being used to promote a book on the website. Nearly every other message I received asking for my support was by someone professing to have some sort of illness, or disability, you name it.

My point, before I extend this rant any longer, is that Authonomy is not to be trusted as a viable tool for authors. It’s much too unpredictable, and writers will say anything about your book if it means that you will give them a good review in turn. My book made it all the way to the Top 20 within a few weeks of uploading, but it came at a big sacrifice to my other writing projects. My arduous labor was for naught, it seemed, because for every legitimate review someone posted of my book, ten more were posted with something like “Good book! Please rate, review, and back my novel.” In all honesty, very few books were worthy of reaching the Top 5, but if you want good reviews, you must provide them, even if it means lying like there’s no tomorrow.

It was not a complete waste, however. I do admit that a few positive and constructive reviews were sent my way, but unfortunately not enough to merit a good experience overall. When I started spending 5-6 hours per day solely spamming writers into checking out my book, a sudden revelation hit me; this is madness. 

Each month I checked out the books that had made it to the Editor’s desk the previous month, and each one had been rejected. Several of them I felt were extremely well-written, and I began to question what Harper-Collins judged to be a “good book”. It was then that I decided to “throw in the towel”. That was over a year ago, and Harper-Collins still has yet to publish a book from Authonomy.

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10 thoughts on “Authonomy: Approach with Caution

  1. Harper Collins HAS published books from Authonomy. There are serious crit and help groups existing within the Authonmy site providing valuable resouses to those who wish to participate. Your unfortunate experiences do not define the site.

    • John,

      Thank you for your comment. Harper-Collins themselves have not published a book from Authonomy that has made it to the Editor’s desk, which is the ultimate goal of all the authors on the website. And of the thousands of books available on Authonomy, the fact that only three have been discovered on Authonomy and published(not by Harper-Collins, but by imprints of the company) is troubling, and suggests that winning the Lottery might be an easier task. On top of it all, the time wasted seeking reviews and backings doesn’t seem to justify the end result, which 99% of the time is rejection. Of course a few people have found success with other publishers and agencies, but for the vast majority, Authonomy is a headache.

  2. Harper Collins has published a book that made the desk. I don’t discredit your experience though. It’s a hit or miss place and of course it’s all subjective. I hope you find the writing site that is perfect for you. Have you tried scribophile? I admit I get more writing done now that I’m not on authonomy much, but at the same time I credit them for a lot of good things that have happened.

  3. This would be a fair analysis – is, indeed, on many levels – if you only didn’t take the place so seriously.

    Many, (perhaps most), regular Authonomy users have either discounted the Top Five as a target or don’t regard it as meaningful. They’re well aware that the games people play are responsible for the books that make it far more often than any measure of merit at all. Let’s face it, it’s impossible to set such a system up as a meritocracy, much as HarperCollins may wish they could.

    And that, of course, is one of the reasons that books tend to reach the Top Five to receive a lukewarm, polite review and no prospect of publication. The works that make it are largely a random selection.

    It’s also true that you’re not going to get a lot of feedback. Most members are writers themselves, far more concerned about getting feedback than giving it. Those who crit others’ work in dedicated fashion are the exception.

    However crits, if sporadic, do arrive and the forums are useful for the exchange of information and ideas or just kicking back and chatting with other writers.

    Authonomy most assuredly doesn’t do what it says on the tin. However once that’s understood, many people still get enough out of it in terms of networking, information and feedback to make their (let’s face it free) membership worth their time and effort.

    Of course Authonomy isn’t the free-for-use miracle all unpublished writers have been seeking. But then, nothing is and nothing ever can be. That’s writing.

  4. They have e-pubbed, ‘Qualities of wood’ by Mary Vensel White as well as others that didn’t make the desk before they were contracted. New writers are attracted to Authonomy by the promise that ‘you never know, you could be snapped up by Harper Collins.’ Anyone with any intelligence though, will quickly realise that this likelihood is remote, and that the site can be invaluable for other things. There are many accomplished writers on the site who are around to give you advice on just about anything from writing your query letter to formatting your book for self publishing. I have learned a lot in my two years on Authonomy and I’m certainly a better writer for it. I took off my rose tinted glasses long ago and now enjoy the site and its benefits for what it is.

    • Very true. At first it was quite exciting, but then it became a nuisance. Check out my latest post titled “Best Websites for Writer Feedback”. It showcases my favorite sites for receiving feedback on your novel, poetry, etc.

  5. Definitely very good advice, Zack. My experience with authonomy is that it’s dominated by a few who claim to “speak for the community”. Someone actually threatened to troll my novel as long as it remained there. Authonomy do nothing about the bullying on the site.

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