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.