Monday, November 1, 2010

Authonomy me, Authonomy you

How much value is there in websites such as HarperCollins’ Authonomy, where authors post their work for critiquing by other amateurs? Works are promoted by the number of comments and recommendations they receive and HarperCollins promise to review the top five each month with a view to publication. Sounds good, but in practice it degenerates into a kind of black market, where authors trade kudos without even bothering to read the work in some cases.

WHAT?!? The internets degenerating into a rogue trading arena with scant regard for ethics and high regard for devalued content? Colour me shocked. (For those non-Australian, non-Canadian readers, that was sarcasm. Yes, it's the lowest form of wit. I've never claimed to aspire to higher forms of wit, because I'm incapable of producing them.)

Authonomy has had its doubters from the start, so I suggest you regard it as you would regard any other online community: engage in it if you want the experience, but don't expect that it will change your life. And then add this on top: it's a marketing exercise for HarperCollins, and a perfectly legitimate one that was kinda smart at the time it was launched. It's also a fabulous way for them to get free content (as it would be for any publisher who had this kind of website).

I don't know how successful Authonomy has been for the authors who have taken part i.e. if it's really translated into book publication and books that have reached a wider audience. I don't know because, actually, I haven't been interested. I'm too busy trying to keep up with my own submissions. I recall wondering what HarperCollins' publishing department would have thought of it, though - it just meant more work for them, reading yet more submissions when they didn't have time to read the submissions they receive via old-fashioned methods. And, probably, Authonomy's effectiveness is limited by this lack of time/resources to properly service it. Still, it gets a lot of eyeballs on a HarperCollins website (and in the future eyeballs will probably be a legitimate unit of measurement) so, from a commercial point of view, the site is there to benefit HarperCollins - they own the domain name. It's nice if it benefits authors as well, but there are plenty of online communities for writers. I'm not sure how this one would more beneficial than another, even if it is run by a publisher.

Of course, the publishing, bookselling and book-reading industry is changing so rapidly - more than many people who are working in it realise - that this is all going to be moot shortly. It's entirely possible that we are watching the dying days of empires, waiting to see which phoenix emerges. Somehow I don't think Authonomy has wings.

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