HaperCollins has created a site called Authonomy.com for writers to display their novels. It's open to writers and published authors. Post whole or part of your book and let the readers read it and vote on it. It's fellow writers who read the books and vote. The top picks are then looked at by the editorial staff of HC for possible selection.

Last night it hit me in the head like a thrown brick! HC has done something absolutely brilliant! They've found a tool to do an end-run around literary agents! Let the readers decide what is a good book and run with it. Direct dealings with the writer! Reduce the cost of up front monies! Find potential mega hits by using writers to act as the slush-pile readers!

I love it. It's really frick'en brilliant. And hell yes, I've got stuff in there.

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Hmm. Worth checking out, I think.
Yikes! Thanks. That takes care of the "checking out."

How come they have the time? This is just a gigantic slushpile. Publishers turn those over to summer interns fresh out of highschool. Maybe this is in the hands of summer interns with web experience.
Is that really a criticism of it, though? It's a very interesting post. If the intention of Authonomy is to find manuscripts for HarperCollins to publish, then sure, it's not working. But as the writer of the post points out, there may be other benefits.

I know people are usually knee-jerk in their reactions to POD (often confusing it with self-publishing) but it seems that the biggest benefit of Authonomy is as a marketing tool - it's a place where thousands of writers can show each other their work, and it looks like maybe sell a few copies if people want to buy them. (as an aside I now think the only people who buy most books - certainly anything not on the bestseller list - are other writers).

It really seems like these days the big publishers are the ones trying hardest to make themselves obsolete.
I don't see how anyone can make a viable decision one way or the other, without thoroughly checking out the site. Bad things are said about all major publishing houses. Yet HC has spent time and effort, and now has a site which attracts hundreds of the very people who buy books to it. It doesn't make sense for them not to be serious in their offer.
Harper Collins gets some publicity out of this. The authors on the site may be entertained. The writer of the blog seemed to be. Not sure I'd find it fun. Apparently there's a disconnect between the readers' choices and Harper Collins follow-through. It is possibe, though, that the publisher may find an author in all of this.
By the way, a number of publishers run contests of the sort. Penguin does. So does St. Martin's Press. I've read for SMP's Private Eye contest. That, too, eliminates the slush pile readers by shuffling the work off on unpaid authors. In my case, SMP's editors overruled my choice, saying the story wasn't sufficiently "new." I don't know of a case where the chosen novel actually made it big.
I think Meredith Cole is doing well with her brand new one.

"The winner of the celebrated St. Martin’s Minotaur/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, Posed for Murder presents a snapshot of crime in a lasting and memorable story."

I have thoroughly checked out the Authonomy site because in theory what HC is doing could work. (It actually works better at another British-based site called YouWriteOn or YWO for short. There one can win detailed crits from industry insiders as well as brief reviews from British Random House and be considered for publication.) But HC's contest isn't a very good contest because of all the gamesmanship by the contestants. Fiction writing talent is conflated with marketing talent and effort as well as social networking skills and effort. That's why over the past year none of the top five each month who win editorial reviews have been published. The best work simply isn't rising to the top. Obviously, the site's no threat to agents, but in theory I can envision a really well designed system that might work as well as the agent system, possibly better.

I posted my first novel, the only one not repped by an agent, at Authonomy and got some of the lamest feedback I've ever obtained online, partly due to the gamesmanship I've mentioned, so I've taken the book down and now I visit there just to talk fiction writing and to learn more about publishing. Publishing biz talk is frequent there and I don't know enough about it or where it's all headed.
Authonomy is delivering on its aim of offering deals to writers who post there.

Back in January it announced the first three aspiring novelists who had attracted interest from HC editors and were offered book deals. I interviewed one of them, Miranda Dickinson, on Suite101.

She posted just to see what reaction she would get and hit the jackpot.
In all fairness the people Authonomy chose to publish were all in the triple digits of their ranking system. Thus they are admitting by diving so deep into the slush pile that the system isn't working.

I applaud the idea of the site, but it would be a shame if its poor design discouraged more such sites in the future.
It doesn't matter where they were in the rankng system. The fact is, they got into the system and were selected. And if you look at the depth and quality of writing you can find in there, HC would be absolute idiots to not sign many, many more who are waiting.
Frankly, I don't find the quality of the writing to be high. I suspect it's your typical slush pile, and I predict we won't see more than three people published next year too because of the slush pile-like quality.

And if the ranking system can't identify the best writing, then what good is it? I suspect the newness of this type of site will result in agents as well as HC editors roaming through the offerings until the newness wears off. But if the cream doesn't eventually rise to the top, if the system doesn't eventually work as well or better than the current agent as gatekeeper system, then it will die away as a mechanism for publication.


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