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 The website revolves around writers creating an account, uploading their unpublished novel, poetry, etc, with the ultimate goal of receiving a publishing deal from Harper-Collins themselves.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.