I attended the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, OR this past weekend, and Authonomy was the new buzzword among aspiring novelists. I, myself, heard about it on Literary Agent Nathan Bransford’s popular blog.
First off, what is Authonomy? Well, it depends on who you talk to.
Harpercollins UK bills it as a way to “flush out the brightest, freshest new literature around.”
Those looking to win the game, i.e., get a review from HC either admit it’s a rat race that’s sucking all the time out of their writing days or they stay away from the forums while quickly and quietly moving up the ranks by critiquing and backing as many books as they can.
Those who are anxious for feedback on their WIPs and don’t wish to play the game usually find excellent advice and critiques from veterans of the site.
Because there is a loophole in the Authonomy algorithm (even if one’s book is less than stellar, a good spammer can rise to the top quickly by backing every book in sight), most veteran Authonomites don’t get in a tizz over the rules of the game. We understand Authonomy’s limitations and either choose to “game” or not. Having been a member of Authonomy since January 31, 2009, I have learned many tricks about how to make the most of the Autho-Community.
Here is my Ultimate Survivor’s Guide to Authonomy:
TO PLAY OR NOT TO PLAY?
Decide from the outset how you want to use Authonomy. Do you want to and can you invest the time to make it to the Editor’s Desk? It could require upwards of 500 critiques to make it that far. Sure, you can ask for read-swaps and comment on each one: “Loved it. Shelved!” But the recipient of such pointless praise may or may not back you and you won’t win too many friends among the community-at-large.
GAMING THE SYSTEM
Here’s the problem with this shot-gun approach. You miss a golden opportunity to receive some seriously good editing/critiquing from some seriously fine writers. If you are patient, you’ll get your book into stellar form before you make it to the Editor’s Desk. You’ll have a better chance of catching the attention of HC if your prose is clean, your hook is clear, and your language is stellar. Many Authonomites are at the top of their game in terms of storycrafting. Some are already published, and if they aren’t they should be. Learn what you can from them. I don’t say this lightly: Many of these members have written some of the finest fiction I have ever read.
THE DESK IS A LONELY PLACE
Here’s another problem with this approach. Since Authonomy’s inception, not one book that has made it to the Desk has been purchased by Harpercollins UK. However, three books that were nowhere near the top five have been picked up by HC for publication this year. In addition, various agents and some other publishers have browsed Authonomy and queried members for pages. So being in the ranking range of 6 to 500 is statistically more advantageous in actuality.
BUT Authonomites still need to be actively critiquing to remain in those slots. Also, bear in mind that once you make it to the Desk, your book drops out of the ranking and you drop out of the race. In one sense, it is a lonely place to be. Unless of course you’ve written book II…
DO YOU WANNA CHAT?
Don’t forgo the forums in favor of steady critiquing. The forums are a strange beast. Here you can unwind, discuss craft, pick a fight, or be silly. There is always a drama going on in one forum thread or another. You can either steer clear or join in the fray, as you prefer. I personally enjoy chatting with a great group of friends who have both mentored and encouraged me in my journey, asking pointed questions about craft, and helping other Authonomites with their myriad questions about Authonomy, fiction writing, and editing/revising.
Use Authonomy to help you hone your book marketing skills. Authonomy is a microcosm of what your actual reader-base might look like out in the real world. The forums and message feeds are how Authonomites get the message out about their books to other members. You can either spam everybody (send out a non-personal message that essentially says, “Read my book!” to everyone you can find) or contact people individually with a personal message.
Here’s the problem with spamming. Many of Authonomy’s veterans and best critiquers don’t respond to spams (myself included). So you alienate writers who could potentially be some of your best mentors or advocates. If you take the time to get to know the people you message for read-swaps, you practice a skill that will carry over into your query letter writing. We all prefer personalized messages, including agents and editors. Which author would you be inclined to respond to?
1. “Wanna read-swap?”
2. “I saw your post in the forum about how to deepen characterization. You had some great ideas about that. I popped over to your page, and saw that your book is right up my alley. I love historcals, so I’ll watchlist it. If you have the time or the inkling, feel free to check out my offering. It’s a romance with a paranormal twist.”
There are so many more tips and tricks I can share, but if you are considering joining Authonomy and have more questions, feel free to post in the comments section and I’d be happy to give you my take on it. All in all, Authonomy is all these things: maddening, addicting, amazing, thought-provoking, and most importantly, worth it! Remember, you never know who’ll find you on there. It could be your next editor or agent.
I used to have a book on Authonomy but have taken it down. Everything you say is correct but I don’t totally agree with your observations on feedback. In my experience 1% of the comments I received were useful. Almost all were completely generic and made no specific reference to my book, story, or characters. So anyone who thinks they are going to improve their book is going to be disappointed. Worse, I have seen appallingly bad writing praised effusively, which of course sends the wrong message. I also stopped giving critiques because even a suggestion for improvement is considered excessively negative and causes hurt feelings. Over the past few months there has been a steady decline in the quality of the books on the site and standards continue to decline for some of the reasons you mention.
While much of what you say is true, some is questionable, based on my experience. i give and get some good crit.
Dai–The commentary shows how different individual experiences can be. I never got a crit from MMBennetts, Paul House or you, nor did I read any of your books, so we may have been travelling in different circles. However, that could also be circumstantial evidence that people read the books of people who have read theirs?
Thanks so much for commenting! I appreciate your thoughts. There are a great many on Auhonomy who are there to play the game. They are the ones who give generic praise, etc. These folks, however, are incredibly easy to spot.
I can name about twenty Authonomites off the top of my head who are outstanding critiquers. I would be happy to mention them to anyone who would like to know. Some of them are freelance editors, published writers, publishing veterans. It’s these critiques I seek and pay attention to.
I, myself, do very serious critiques/edits on first chapters there. I am in the business of helping writers succeed. If I can help anyone get one step further in their writing, I will. And many on Authonomy feel the same way.
Oh, but I have to respectfully disagree about the quality of writing on Authonomy. Books by M.M. Bennetts, Paul House, Kristin Yates, etc. are some of the finest writing I’ve seen anywhere, published or unpublished.
Goodness, did we chat in the forum, Jim? Hagen sounds very familiar. Thanks again for your thoughts!
I can’t argue with what you say (you’re right, it does sound like we are in a forum!). It’s a case of looking at the glass as half empty or half full. It all comes down to whether an individual feels that the benefits are worth the time invested. Yes, I think we had a chat once about your pitch or something. Your blog is great! Best of luck. –Jim
This is the most accurate, objective assessment of Authonomy I have seen anywhere. Yes, it has its warts, its loopholes, its ugly moments… but it can also be a place to connect with fellow writers, find a mentor and glean information about the craft of writing and the business of publishing. When I joined in October of ’08, I had no illusions of reaching the lofty Editor’s Desk. For a time I became wrapped up in my book’s rising rank, reaching #69, but with the increasing number of books on the site I realized climbing the ranks would become even harder. I decided to return my focus to writing and since then have struck a balance.
Authonomy is what you make of it, as you have so astutely pointed out. For me, it is a place to display my work, receive and give feedback, discover promising authors and mostly form friendships with talented writers with whom I hope I will keep in contact for many years to come. Nobody but other writers, yearning to break through, can understand the constant struggle that it is and the need to be read.
You bring up an excellent point, Gemi. Many writers, including many Authonomites, will never get the chance at publication. It’s a statistical fact. So this may be one of their few opportunities to show their work on a worldwide stage, to get feedback, to get read.
Sometimes, that is enough.
I think it’s also fair to say Authonomy has changed since it began last year. And that’s been both good and bad. I notice fewer of the writerly intellectual discussions these days. Last autumn, there were many discussions about literature…those seem to have been replaced with a great many forum threads about what are you wearing and things like that. Which is a shame. Because talking to other writers about what they did and didn’t like about books like War and Peace or anything by Dickens really helped many of us look more perceptively at what we ourselves were wanting to achieve.
But I also believe that Authonomy’s world-wide reach has transformed the way writers perceive themselves.
And it has done something even greater than that–put writers in direct touch with their audience: Before I posted May 1812, I had been told by several agents/publishers/booksellers that there was NO market for historical fiction. Full stop. End of discussion.
But obviously that proved not to be the case with readers–it was shelved all the way to the Editor’s Desk in January–and this was well before any of the big-time spamming, and certainly I didn’t spam–mainly because I still haven’t figured out how you do it…
And the mountains of feedback I’ve had as well as the dozens of requests to read the end of the book have more than convinced me that there’s a very ready market for top end historical fiction. And that has been utterly brilliant.
Cheri, you make some valid observations and as MM said, the site has changed. Indeed, I would say that it changes all the time according to the new people who join, which is a constant process. However, like MM, I would prefer to see more serious discussions about writing than there are at present but I suspect that this, too, will change in time.
As for feedback from other authonomites, that is a thorny issue because there is no doubt that the temptation for the majority is to praise rather than criticise. This is partly because not everyone has the skills to assess a MS and make useful comments on how something is written. But it is also because too many are afraid that if they give what is perceived as negative feedback, they will receive likewise in return. The impetus is still to get to the ed’s desk which needs lots of support.
However, I do think it is essential for everyone who joins the site to consider seriously what they want from the site and why they have joined. Participation should be tailored accordingly.
One of the big assets of this site is the potential for real support from those who share a passion for writing and who may also become our friends as a result. A lot of fun can be had in the forums but equally there is the potential to learn as well. Learning is as much about being open-minded to new ideas and different opinions as it is about formalised lessons.
Authonomy is not a perfect site and it is certainly no open door to publication but serious writers who cooperate and work together raise the positive profile of the site and coming together in a free environment can be life affirming when writing is such a solitary business.
Hi Cheri, ironically it was whilst in the process of ‘spamming’ to reach the ‘desk’ on Authonomy that I stumbled across some of the fine critiquers (and even finer people) on the site. By virtue of their incisive feedback (most asked for my e-mail address and sent me detailed comments and advice that way) I am now re-working and editing my MS, cheerfully ignoring my books ranking, (I couldn’t even tell you where it is right now) and focussing on making it the best that it can be. The change in my attitude brings with it relief at not having to spend all those hours away from my true passion, writing. I believe that’s called epiphany x
You pretty much summed it up. It’s been a great place for me… I found you there, right?
I’ve been a member of Authonomy for a short time, but it helped me immensely thus far. I don’t think I would be able to form my first novel without the comments and feedback other members have given me. I will usually only “back” a book if I like it; if I REALLY enjoy it, it will be featured in my book blog.
The whole Editor’s Desk thing isn’t a priority of mine; the idea that I am being read and getting ideas to improve my work are much more important. Authonomy has met those standards and then some.
Thanks everyone for your great (and varied!) comments.
MM, I do wish I had been around in the earlier days, when discussions leaned more toward literary topics. But I still see those. Think of the Autho Masters of Characterization and Autho Masters of Dialogue threads. And there are many threads devoted to particular genres. I know I often start threads to discuss issues of mechanics–grammar and punctuation, etc. I suppose if we want those discussions to continue we have to start them.
Anthony, you bring up some excellent points. But I’m not sure I buy this idea that some reviewers don’t know how to properly critique. Part of the learning process of any writer is practicing the art of critique. In fact, I’m not sure that a writer can get to the next level of their craft without that vital step. We cannot see the errors in our own writing until we study (deeply) the writing of others. If Authonomites want to progress (i.e., get published), they’ve got to give good crit. It’s only in their own best interest to do so. Not to mention, they are elevating the work of others, which serves to elevate the collective craft of the industry as a whole.
Dai, Toby is one of my editing clients, so that’s what she means. =) And besides, I’ve already read her whole book–which, incidentally, is quite a gripping read.
Drew, I think your experience sums up the epiphanies that a lot of Authonomites have gone through. I certainly started out trying for the EdsDesk, but somewhere along the way I realized I cared more about the giving and receiving of feedback. So that’s been my focus. I might still make a run for the Desk at some point, but not for awhile yet.
Thanks for popping by Lori! I agree with your sentiments exactly.
Here’s another thought. If an Authonomite gives good and honest crit, but gets a negative response from the writer, that Authonomite owes it to him/herself to continue a dialogue with that writer so they understand exactly what you mean. Hurt feelings continue unless they are addressed. But usually a writer should sit on a comment for at least a day. Initial reactions come from the gut and shouldn’t necessarily be listened. I always advise my clients to take several days before they begin to act on my edits of their work. Objectivity comes only with time.
Cheri–one’s objectives can change in response to what is happening on the site. When “The Marriage Counselor” was shooting up the charts I got caught up in the thrill of the ride. I quit writing and played Authonomy (not very skillfully)accumulating a humongous backlog of reading obligations. But now that TMC is slipping on the charts I feel a sense of relief, and a blessed detachment. I spent today outlining the next two chapters, almost writing in fact, something I haven’t done in a couple of months. Still, the feedback has been positive, and what is more important, encouraging. I have a sense that some good writers, whom I respect, have looked at TMC and made a judgment that it is worth continuing. That, alone, justifies the site, for me–as imperfect as it may be.
Authonomy? Been there, done that…