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I promised a post about Authonomy and here it is. It’s hard to describe this website in a few words, but, at its simplest, it is a place for writers to freely share their work and for others to read and comment upon it. I put The Roman and the Runaway up there in February this year. It is a bit nerve-wracking at first, having your work open to criticism, but generally the mood is supportive and a lot of the comments I received were extremely helpful and have resulted in significant edits to the text.

It is genuinely fascinating to read other people’s works-in-progress and to be able to ‘talk’ to other writers who are in a similar position to yourself. Some of the books are excellent: have a look at Little Krisna and the Bihar Boys or Jabin as a YA example. Pinpoint was pretty good, too. It’s hard to stop now I’ve started recommending things. Go and have a look and you’ll see what I mean. If this site is an online example of a typical slush pile, then it seems clear to me that publishers are missing some real gems.

Of course, not everything is wonderful, or even good, and there are several big drawbacks to this site. The original plan seemed to be that books which had garnered the most ‘backings’ (i.e. recommendations) from the Authonomy community would rise to the top of the chart (the ‘Editor’s Desk’) and be looked at by staff at HarperCollins, who run the site. However, human nature being what it is, it became fairly easy to game this system by blanket-bombing other members of the site and begging them to back your book. So ‘success’ becomes a question of how much time you have to spare to undertake this activity.

Not everyone is honest in their criticism, either. Or perhaps they are and I’m unduly critical, myself. Helpful, constructive criticism is rare, but very valuable. Often people seem more worried about being backed in return than they do about helping to improve their co-writers’ work, which is a shame. As a consequence, there are a lot of comments dripping with (in my opinion) insincere praise, which makes it hard to identify genuinely positive feedback.

I’ve stayed away from the forum on the site. Again, for me, it’s a time issue. I can see that it would be all too easy to get sucked into the message boards, but at the moment I don’t think it is worth the investment in time. I’ve also noticed a degree of unpleasantness on there that I don’t want to get involved with. Too many creative egos in one place, perhaps.

On balance, it’s a useful site and an interesting place to find new writers and see what other people are doing. Some of the books are complete, so it’s another way of reading books for free (always a good thing!). I would caution against believing everything that people say about your work: some comments are going to be too positive to be believable, while other commenters have clearly read no further than your back-of-the-book pitch. Others damn you with faint praise. My favourite, so far, in this latter category, is this one:

Clearly this wasn’t written for me to identify with but, I am sure it would appeal to it’s [sic] target audience. More than happy to back it if you’ll have a look at my effort. It’s in the way of adult fiction.

Authonomy is a site I would definitely recommend to emerging writers. I’m not clear on the business model for it, from HarperCollins’s point of view, but it’s an interesting place to spend time. My advice would be not to get too sucked into it. Unless you’ve got hours and hours to spare. And if you have, shouldn’t you be writing instead? 😉

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