Website logo

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 The website revolves around writers creating an account, uploading their unpublished novel, poetry, etc, with the ultimate goal of receiving  a publishing deal from Harper-Collins themselves.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

Advertisements

Writing Seminars and Why I Hate Them

We have all been invited to attend a writing seminar in some form or another. The glitzy brochure in the mailbox offers “secret” advice from Author experts, or “exclusive” consultation with an “award-winning author”, etc. Meanwhile, a quick Google search will reveal that these so-called experts have barely sold 1,000 copies of their self-help book, with no real experience to offer the attendees of their overly expensive conference in a cheap hotel.

So why do people shell out hundreds of dollars for this obvious con? Simply because they aren’t willing to do the hard work themselves. It’s much easier to have an “expert” stand on a stage and give you a step-by-step process to becoming a successful author, even if they’re sharing the most obvious of advice. But because you paid $125 for this ticket, you believe that it is exclusive.

False.

I’m not saying that every single writing seminar is a fraud, but what I am saying is that all the information you need is readily available for FREE. I hate Writing Seminar’s because they are a way for little known author’s to con desperate writers into giving them money in exchange for “wisdom”. I’ve been to several such seminars, and they all repeat the same basic information. But if a $150 seminar is what it takes to get you on your feet, then more power to you. In the meantime, here’s a few articles I’ve found extremely helpful on my journey to the Editor’s desk:

Ten ways to become a Successful Writer:

http://www.streetdirectory.com/travel_guide/16077/writing/ten_ways_to_become_a_successful_writer.html

Be a Happy and Successful Author:

http://www.squidoo.com/happyandsuccessfulauthor

15 Practical Author Tips:

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/a-guide-to-becoming-a-better-writer-15-practical-tips.html

Become an Author: http://www.ehow.com/how_2308324_become-author.html

Finding a Literary Agent: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/how-to-find-a-literary-agent/

There are many, many such articles with wonderful tips on becoming a best-selling author, writer, journalist, etc. The point is, avoid writing seminars at all costs. Save your money, put your research skills to work, and educate yourself on the world of literature.

Ten Tips for Twitter Beginners

Twitter is an amazing social media tool, and used correctly, can promote and advertise yourself to the world. But in order to be effective, you must understand how Twitter works. For one, you must realize that it is not Facebook, Myspace, or Google +. It’s entirely different, and therefore contains entirely different rules and guidelines that you must follow to use it properly. That being said,  I believe everyone should have a Twitter account, and if you do not, then hopefully this article will convince you to come out of the Dark Ages and into the future of communication.

Tip #1: Twitter only allows 140 characters per tweet. This is, in effect, a quick way of sharing something of relevance, or irrelevance, with the world.

Tip #2: There are no “friend requests” in Twitter. Twitter uses a very simple system of following someone who’s tweets you’re interested in reading. They will receive notification of your follow, and have the option of following you back. Their tweets will show up in your Twitter feed, and you can also receive tweets on your mobile device by subscribing to users that are important to you(friends, family, co-workers, etc).

Tip #3: Anyone in the world can read your tweets, unless you make them private, and likewise, you can tweet @ anyone with a Twitter account. This is an easy way of connecting with celebrities, business people, friends, musicians, etc. Most celebrities do not have a public Facebook account, simply because there’s a 5,000 friend limit, and there are many fake celebrity accounts. With Twitter, there is a system of verifying that the account does indeed belong to its celebrity user. Also, many celebrities will respond to tweets, because it is so simple.

Tip #4: If you want to gain followers, then follow complete strangers and friends alike. Many people will follow you back, and this practice will get your numbers up. This doesn’t mean you have to follow them forever, but be forewarned that some people, upon discovering that you’ve stopped following them, will do the same for you.

Tip #5: You will not sell your book, products, movie, pictures, etc through Twitter. It is not a sales tool, it is a marketing tool. Twitter is a way of expressing yourself and your work through short tweets. If you want to sell your product, purchase ad space on Facebook, Google Adwords, etc.

Tip #6: Hashtags. These are a critical part of Twitter’s success. Placing a hashtag in front of a word will highlight it in your tweet and make it a trending word(i.e. #amazing, #facebook, #subway), and once your tweet is posted, you can click on the word you’ve hashtagged and see what other users are saying about it.

Tip #7: Connect your Facebook and Twitter account for the most effective means of reaching your audience. This saves time, and is great if you use Twitter on a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet. Even regular, non-internet capable handsets can be used for Twitter. Just go into your Twitter settings > mobile > text messaging, and follow the instructions.

Tip #8: Be active with your account. If you want followers, you have to be somebody worth following. Share a funny quote, tweet something random, reply to followers tweets, and be as interesting as you can.

Tip #9: Don’t be “that guy” who always tweets about their book, or always asks for followers, or tweets every two seconds. People will shun you sooner than you can say “oops”.

Tip #10: Have fun with your account, and realize that it’s just another way of sharing what’s on your mind with the world. Grammar is not necessary, and you will have to commit grammar crimes regardless, since there’s a 140 character limit.

How to plan a Book Tour

For authors, a Book Tour is something we have only dreamed about. Going from bookstore to bookstore, travelling across the country or state with a pile of freshly printed novels in tow, and sending our creation out into the world. But not everyone has the luxury of their publishing company setting up the Tour for them. For many, the mere thought of planning such a Tour by themselves causes a headache, as they groan at the thought of spending money they don’t have, contacting people they don’t know, and wondering if it’s all even worth it. I hope to dispel these rumors with this post.

As I write this, I am hours away from a scheduled Book Signing on my first Book Tour. I organized it myself, contacted the stores I needed to, and set the dates I wanted. It wasn’t easy, nor was it completed on one day. I was met with rejection, and most stores required that I send them a copy of my book before they’d even hold another second of conversation with me. This was difficult, because at the time of the Tour planning, my book was still a few weeks away from being available for purchase.

I’ve learned a lot about organizing, and the following tips are some of the tactics I feel have been the most helpful along the way.

Tip #1: Start with the stores closest to you. Don’t look out of state right away; try and keep it close to home and then expand from there. The reason is, it’s more cost-effective, plus you’ll receive a better showing from people who know you, rather than a store several hours away in a city you’ve never heard of.

Tip #2: Before you call any stores, write a quick dialogue to use as notes during the conversation. Think up a nice intro(ex. “Hello, my name is _______, I’m an author, and I’m interested in setting up a Book Signing at your store.”) Keep it simple and professional. Have your book with you to use as a reference in case they ask for the ISBN number, back cover text, etc.

Tip #3: If your book isn’t available yet, offer to send the store a PDF copy of your manuscript. You should have this, since you wrote the book. If for some reason you do not, ask your publishing company to email it to you. Most stores will accept this, and be sure to attach the file of the book’s cover photo, if you can.

Tip #4: Don’t just look for stores to visit; contact Universities, Library’s, and other places relevant to your book’s topic.

Tip #5: Once your Tour is completely scheduled, send promotional material(posters, bookmarks, stickers, etc) at least 2-3 weeks before your signing. Advertise on the local radio station, newspaper, Library, etc. If haven’t done so already, create a Facebook page for your book, and promote yourself on Twitter, Facebook, Google +, etc. The more ways you can spread the word, the more efficient your ad campaign will be.

Have fun with this, and don’t stress yourself out. Always schedule your Tour 2-3 months from the moment you begin contacting stores. This will give them time to prepare and find an open day for you to visit. Plan for a weekend signing, and ask the store what hours they receive the most traffic, and schedule the signing during that time frame.

For new authors, don’t forget to check out my posts for beginning writers, and follow this blog for more tips and advice!

Finding the Inspiration to Write

Sometimes the hardest part of starting a novel, short story, script, etc, is the very first page. Even the beginning sentence is a challenge for many, as it can be difficult to come up with something that will instantly grab your reader’s attention. So how do you stop the procrastination and channel the creativity? There are several methods that have proven helpful to writers worldwide, myself included.

A big first step in the process is to shut out all the distractions. A noise-free, clean environment with all the comforts you need is an absolute must. No one can tune out the sound of children running through the house, or the obnoxious drivel of commercials on the television, or the barking dog next door. Finding a spot in your house, the Library, the park, etc, should be the first step in finding natural inspiration. Once you’re relieved of the stress that comes with unwanted distractions, you can begin writing your novel.

The next thing you’ll want to do is get off Facebook. Don’t even keep a tab open, “just in case” somebody opens a chat with you. They can wait, and I’m sure they’ll understand once you’re an accomplished writer. Turn off the cellphone if that becomes too much of a temptation. You know yourself better than anyone else, therefore you know your weaknesses as well. Whatever you feel might be detrimental to your writing progress should be cancelled out.

Once you’re free of distractions and sitting in an environment you feel comfortable with, the writing can finally begin. Now comes the hard part. You know what you want to write about, but how do you begin your masterpiece? One word: Imagination. Channel your inner child, because no matter how deep, dramatic, serious, etc, your book is, the mind of a child is constantly brimming with creativity. There’s a part inside all of us where that creativity is waiting to be extracted. “How do I find it?”, you might ask. The answer is to have fun with your book. Don’t take anything too seriously, or you’ll end up frustrated and facing dead ends. Let the book flow, and don’t force the words to appear, or they never will.

Enjoy the experience of writing a book, and don’t let it become a chore. If you feel that your book is burning you out, take a few days from writing and just relax. Even if you need a couple of weeks respite from the book, it will be worth it in the end. Be proud of the story you are creating, and let it become something you yearn to write every day. Some authors have even booked a night or two in a hotel, simply so they can finish those last few pages of their novel. That’s a little on the extreme side of finding a peaceful area to write, but if it becomes necessary, then by all means, go for it.

The best inspiration comes from your friends and family. Share your experience with them, and if it’s encouragement you need, they’re the best source for it. Another way to seek motivation is to find things related to your story, and use them as a creativity stimulant. If you’re writing a science-fiction novel, watch a few alien films, read your favorite extraterrestrial books, etc. For a crime-thriller, do some research into the field, consult an expert(i.e. a detective, crime scene investigator, judge, etc), or tune into a police scanner. Whatever it is you’re writing, you’ll want it to be as authentic as possible. People enjoy reading books that they feel could have real life connotations.

All in all, have fun with your story, don’t be afraid to mess up, and take all the time you need. It’s doubtful that somebody else is writing the same book you are, so don’t feel rushed. Even if you have a deadline, pace yourself, and enjoy the process. Being an author does have its stressful moments, but the composing of the story shouldn’t be one. If you follow this advice, then you’ll be well on your way to a good book writing experience.