Crack for the Unpublished

Why no recent posts? Why no emails to my friends? Why am I losing weight and why does my husband say he feels like he’s living with a ghost? The answer my friends, is Authonomy — crack for the unpublished novelist.

Authonomy was created by Harper-Collins UK in order to eliminate their slush pile. The deal is they won’t read anything unsolicited or unagented, but writers can post excerpts or entire manuscripts on this “social networking site.” None of the stigma of being self-published since you’re only “previewing” your work. Meantime you can upload a cover, work on your pitch, write your bio and do all of the stuff real writers do. You even get reviews from the other chumps on the site. When one of the top ranked authors gave me a glowing review the first day up, I was hooked. Soon, however, I came to understand the dark side.

Every member of Authonomy gets a bookshelf with space for 5 books. If you put a book you like on your shelf, then all your friends on the site will see it there and may decide to read it. If you “back” an up and coming book, then your “trend setting rank” will rise. This means that when you back a book the book’s ranking will rise more than if it was backed by a mere mortal.

Why is the book’s ranking important? Because every month the HC-overlords review the 5 top ranked books. This doesn’t mean that they will publish any of them, and some of their reviews have been painful to read, but it does mean that people believe that they have a shot if they can just get high enough in the rankings. (HC has also given contracts to some novels that they spotted on the site which didn’t rise to the top.) So between the personal trend-setter rank and the book ranks, there’s a lot of politicking going on with people swapping reads. You’re somehow ethically bound not to put books on your shelf unless you really “believe” in them, and yet…

I had a meteoric rise my first week, but this involved reading and commenting on many other books, accepting offers of “friendship” in return for reading swaps, soliciting the top ranked — who weren’t all that interested as they get tons of offers to swap and besides a newbie’s ranking isn’t going to help their books rise. Some of the books I read were better than a lot of what’s on non-virtual shelves, some not so much. But I often felt obliged to shelf those who shelved me. I began to wonder if I was getting a reputation for being “easy” — an Authonomy-whore. I began to question the sincerity of the reviews I received, even the decisions by others to put my book on the shelf. And yet seeing my virtual book with it’s virtual cover rising on the weekly “what’s hot” list, reaching number 6 in literary fiction after only 5 days on the site, kept me coming back for more.

I have become convinced that HC isn’t really involved in this at all. It’s all a Milgramesque experiment set up by deranged social scientists (Is there any other kind?) designed to show the level of depravity to which the desperate will sink when they have their eyes on the prize.

But still I cannot stop myself ….

And now that my book has reached the top 200, I’m seeing less “bump” (score change) each time I get shelved. The first few days, I moved hundreds of points within hours. Now nada. Like heroin you build a tolerance and need more just to get through.

So if I disappear, if you don’t see any new blogs, you’ll know where I am. Sweet Jesus, won’t someone save me?

4 thoughts on “Crack for the Unpublished

  1. How true this post is. But at least you have in Loisaida an excellent book which should, with a bit of promoting, get to the top of the chart, where we know agents prowl…


    A Fellow Addict

  2. As an almost-veteran Authonomite (since last September when the site became public), I feel your pain. But I’ll probably keep plugging until I hit the top five. And after receiving my terrible HC review, I might be able to stop.

    But there’s a terrific upside to it. I’ve had so much valuable feedback from other crackheads. I made lots of friends, mostly virtual, but four of them physical who live near me (in Madrid, of all places). We’re looking forward to a visit from an American Authonomite next month.

    It’s far from perfect, and it can be a time-sink if you let it, but it has made me feel connected to other writing nuts, I feel supported, and, sometimes, admired. My writing has improved significantly since joining the site. So I think the upside far outweighs the downside.

  3. Marion,

    Recently a couple of books have risen pretty much on their own, attracting interest without a lot of activity on the part of their authors. My Kind of Crazy, Messiah of Green Street, and to a slightly lesser extent, Falcons on the Floor, have all had a meteoric rise despite their authors not playing the Authonomy game you describe. Tough as it is to admit to ourselves, each of these authors has written a book, that even on Authonomy, has risen because people are interested in what the authors have to say.

  4. Hi Marion,

    Thank you for leading me to your post. I think Authonomy is interesting for lots of reasons, not least the way people will abandon principles to advance themselves… but then what’s new in the world! I happen to think that the whole Authonomy thing is a bit sinister. Even though I got some good feedback (and a great deal of entertainment from some of the insane stuff I saw on there), I made a decision to come off it at last.

    Your post has prompted me to update my own readers about my Authonomy experience:—or-automatons/

    All the best

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