Thursday, November 25, 2010

Some truths about being an Australian agent part deux

While I'm here I thought I'd balance the previous post somewhat and say what I really love about my job: the authors and their stories.

This week, for example, I've had a picture book author email me in great excitement telling me about the new idea they (intentional use of gender-neutral pronoun) came up with on the train this morning and then send me the story treatment and then call to talk about it, and the conversation meandered from the story itself to the broader scope of their career to how they're fitting in creativity with working life and family.

An hour later I was sending off final editorial notes for new draft of a second novel and the draft was so much tighter and funnier than the first one I saw that I almost flushed with delight at reading it. Then I cheekily suggested a new title to the author - who was looking for one - and got the tick of approval. At least until they go home and think about it.

Half an hour after that a publisher called with an offer for a novelist who has slogged really hard - to effect - to promote their own work in a crowded market, and who has been waiting a long time to hear whether or not the publisher would take the next one. To hear the relief and happiness in their voice when I called with the news made my day.

I also have three new manuscripts queued from clients, just waiting for me to finish helping another author shape a manuscript that has finally found just the right publisher after years of trying.

Sometimes I am the very first reader these manuscripts have, and that thrill of being the 'first eyeballs' never goes away. The thrill of telling an author about an offer never goes away. The fact that I get to read stories in developmental stages, that I have brief windows of time when only the author and I know about these characters, is tremendous. It's all that a former library monitor could ever have dreamed about. And that is the fundamental truth about this Australian agent.

Some truths about being an Australian agent

One of the commenters on this post talked about why s/he had progressed through several Australian agents - the implication being that Australian agents are unprofessional - and now had a US agent.

S/he said, 'What I do want is my emails replied to, say, within a week. And my mss read within two months. I want my agent to have some kind of idea when he/she should be following things up with my publisher (option clauses etc.) and actually give a rats about selling my rights on elsewhere when they become available.' And then went on to say that her US agent could do all those things brilliantly.

So I thought I'd clear up a little something about why agents in one territory may be behaving differently than those in another. The reason is money. Advances in Australia are smaller than those in the US, as a rule, simply because the volume of books sold here is smaller. With fiction, not drastically smaller for first novels, but significantly smaller for the successful authors. And the same is true for non-fiction. Australian agents are therefore not working with the same amount of cash per author, on average. So we have to take on more authors than our US/UK counterparts in order to pay the bills. And that means less time for each client overall. We are also less likely to be able to afford to have assistants or admin help of some kind. Less likely to have a slick office with the latest computer and database.

Australian agents usually also don't have the luxury of being able to specialise. In the US it's not uncommon for agents to specialise even down to one genre of fiction (e.g. romance). If we tried that in Australia we'd need to have a trust fund. It means that Australian agents are probably better versed about the whole market - fiction, non-fiction and children's - but, again, it means that our attention is somewhat scattered.

There's also the simple fact that most of our day-to-day job is taken up by administration, when admin is usually not what we're good at. We're good at finding stories that publishers want to publish, we may be good at giving our authors editorial feedback, we're good at understanding how the publishing game works. I think it's safe to say we didn't go into agenting to do administration. Yet because of the aforementioned cash squeeze, admin is what we spend a lot of the day doing. And, unfortunately, it's what most authors notice most - the email answered days late, the manuscript read late because of the time taken up in admin. Any deal that's done, any support that's given, could vanish in the haze of why-didn't-you-answer-the-three-emails-I-sent-two-days-ago. [Note to commenter: yes, I'm being hyperbolic, but I'm trying to illustrate an extreme case, not the usual case. And it's Friday and I'm excessively tired, so I am barely restraining my snark.]

Agents also spend a lot of time talking to publishers - again, work that is invisible to authors - and these days many of us spend time trying to keep on top of what's changing in the industry, specifically in digital publishing. Two years ago we spent a fair bit of time on the Productivity Commission business. Again, this work is invisible to our clients - until such time as we can use it to help them, and that time is still coming in respect of digital publishing.

As far as I can tell, yes, US agents will do a better job of answering the emails quickly and following up the clauses, because even if they're working on their own they tend to have fewer clients, and if they have fewer clients and have admin help, they are freed up considerably. Even having someone to send out your post and write letters can help enormously.

Given that this sounds a bit like whinging, I shall anticipate the question, 'Why are you an agent then?' I'm an agent because I get up every day believing in stories and authors and publishers, and every day I hope that I'll be able to get through the admin more efficiently and read the client manuscripts I need to, and then maybe at the end of the week I'll get to submissions. It can be a frustrating game - and, as anyone in the industry can tell you, it's been a demoralising year - but I'm in it because I love reading, fundamentally, and I love what the act of reading brings to me and to the world. It just doesn't make me any faster at wading through my inbox. But it does help me find publishers for authors.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

No more query letters

I've now received more than enough query letters for the critique thingy - thank you to those who have sent and I'll post them soon (with critique). If you were planning to send one and had allowed yourself time to work on it before my initial 30 November deadline, please still send it in and I'll keep it in reserve for the next round. Which may take place over the Christmas break.

The future of publishing

This is a very interesting interview with John Thompson, author of Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-first Century. The link is also here:

I find his last answer interesting - Thompson talks about books not going away because people are 'love the ideas that are expressed in books; they love the stories that are told through books and all of it'.

Yes, well, ideas and stories aren't peculiar to the artefact that is books: they can exist in the digital and ebook space just as readily. So, again, there's a confounding of 'book' with 'story' or 'content' and they're actually different things. Stories/content aren't going anywhere, but books may well be. Not now; not in five years' time. But once today's ten-year-olds have hit their peak culture-absorbing age, we'll be seeing a lot more digital and a lot less print.

My earlier posts on this topic:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Breaking up is hard to do

Someone I know has an agent she is unhappy with but is reluctant to make the break in case she cannot find a replacement. She has been told it is not acceptable to look for another agent before she parts company with the present one. It made me wonder just what is the correct way to deal with this situation.

I've had an author fire me because - despite lots of attention and support - I hadn't realised their latest draft of a manuscript was the one ready to go out. This was after two years of drafting and me giving feedback and advice. So two weeks after the manuscript was sent in, I hadn't sent it out because I didn't think it was the final, and I was fired. Was I cross? Yes, mainly because there was no warning and no chance for me to fix it. I just got fired. But, truthfully, nothing would have been good enough for that author. Still, I would have liked a warning.

Authors tend to fire their agents without ever flagging that they're unhappy in the first place, which is not really fair on the agent, to be honest. It's a business relationship, but in the termination phase it becomes clear that the author often doesn't see it that way, so they break off the business relationship the way they would a personal relationship: the agent simply gets dumped with the whole 'It's not you, it's me' line.

Author/agent relationships can go wrong for all sorts of reasons. Often the personalities don't fit and you don't find out until you're already enmeshed. Sometimes the agent can't get the author published, feels bad about it and lets contact peter out, not wanting to fire the client but at a loss as to what else to do. Sometimes the author becomes successful and doesn't think they need an agent any more, forgetting the role the agent played in that success. Australian authors have been known to fire local agents in pursuit of overseas representation.

So my advice to your friend is this: let the agent know that there's a problem. A simple email saying, 'I have the feeling that perhaps this relationship isn't working out for us' or actually nominating what the problem is could result in a better relationship. The agent may be able to fix the problem and, with renewed vigour, improve things overall. Then your friend wouldn't have to find a new agent. Agenting is partly customer service - if the customer makes a complaint, then endeavours are usually made to remedy the problem.

If she has tried this and it's still not working out, she can of course leave without having another agent, but she's obviously taking the risk that she won't find one.

And one last thing ... While the agent-author relationship is a business one, agents are people too. We succumb to normal stresses and the push and pull of working. I'd love to get to my to-do list in a timely fashion but I can be mid-task when the phone rings and it's a publisher who then talks for half an hour, then I may have to go to a meeting or I have to read something quickly and that task I was doing goes unfinished till tomorrow. Or the next day. Authors - clients and submitting authors - don't see all of that; they just see the unfinished task. And cranky authors
and unfinished tasks can build up to the point where the agent wants to just not talk to anyone or answer any emails.

Also, you'd be surprised how rarely we hear the words 'thank you' and, in an industry that's not highly paid and long hours are worked, those two words can mean a lot (when they're merited, of course). In the middle of a task-failing, phone-ringing, editorial-report-writing day, they mean a lot. It's a small courtesy but it greases the wheels of social - and business - exchange. Most business relationships that fall apart can be remedied by something that simple (seriously) if people can put aside their pride and sense of outrage or entitlement. So perhaps your friend should first check to see how the relationship has been run from her side, and then work out where it's going wrong before she pulls the plug. She should also give the agent a chance to say 'thank you' back - thank you for your writing, thank you for being my author. But if neither wants to say it, it's time to end it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Query letter critique update

I've had a good response to the critique thingy so I'll have to revise the deadline and say it's 30 November unless I receive 20 before then, in which case I'll let y'all know.

I'll accept letters for all genres of novel, for non-fiction and for children's books.

Again, to submit it's call [dot] sydney [at] gmail [dot] com.

PS: I only just realised that I said '31 November' in the initial post. Hmmm. Shall amend now.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Send me your query letter

I have a few spare minutes each night at about 11.03 p.m. I've decided to use them to reviewing your query letters for publication on this blog, since in this past this appeared to go well.

A couple of readers sent me non-fiction query letters a little while ago and I haven't yet put them up, so they're automatically in. If you are not one of those two authors and would like to send me your query letter for any type of project - fiction, non-fiction, children's - and are prepared for me to give advice on the blog, then you can email the query letter to me at:

call [dot] sydney [at] gmail [dot] com

with the subject line 'Query letter'.

If you're not sure what goes into a query letter, I've written about the things plenty of times - examples here - and the internets are lousy with tips.

If I receive more than twenty, I'll probably have to cut it off at twenty. I actually have no idea how many I'll receive ...

Closing date: 30 November 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Querying across the world

I'm looking for advice - admittedly rather prematurely - on the best course of action to take as an aspiring published author . . . from New Zealand.

To say our market is on the small side would be an understatement and while we do have some practising literary agents in the country, I can't help but to wonder if I wouldn't be better served by querying (when the time is right) abroad. I've been unable to locate much information specific to those in my situation, other than to see some passing references to the fact that agents have seen queries from international sources. Whether there are additional difficulties that come from doing so, I don't know.

So my question for you is are there any difficulties in querying internationally? Even if not, is it a course you would recommend, or are there benefits I'm equally unaware of in keeping myself limited to agents within the country? Beyond the obvious of shared time zones to facilitate easier communication, I suppose.

As mentioned at the beginning though; this isn't a pressing matter in the sense that I'm ready to GO GO GO query right now. It's moreso that simply not knowing in advance has been weighing on my mind somewhat. I've been doing the research on the agent/publishing domains and the right and wrong (insofar as they exist) means of communicating with them and going about the more business orientated aspects for a little while now and feel reasonably comfortable with it all except this one niggle. I still have a little more to do on my MS for the content editing phase, then who knows how long it's going to take to get through the line edits; but the end is at least in sight.

New Zealand does indeed have a small number of agents - very small. And from what I understand they are regularly closed to submissions. So, yes, you should submit overseas (does Australia still count as 'overseas'? I believe we're due to annex you lot any day now - we just need a really big winch to draw you a bit closer). The Internets make relationships overseas easier to maintain, and unless your work is really NZ-centric there's no reason why an overseas agent or publisher would dismiss it simply because you're in NZ. There are Australian authors who have a UK or US agent and no Australian agent, because we're a small market too and we don't cater for everything well.

Time zones aren't that much of an obstacle. Quite often writers in my own time zone aren't that accessible all the time because they have office jobs and school pick-ups and shiftwork. A shared time zone is no guarantee of easy access. But you don't need to talk to each other every hour of every day, so you'll work it out.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Guidelines from the Paseolithic period

I’m an editor and my friend is a writer. She believes that the rules of this: are necessary for submitting manuscripts.

Apart from when I volunteered at a small press, everything I’ve seen as an editor was first cleared by an agent, but almost none of the manuscripts followed these exact rules. Do all these rules really matter in an electronic world? Is it more important when sending to an agent?

Of course, I’m NOT advocating the use of extravagant fonts that aren’t default, but I haven’t seen anything in Courier. Of course, publishers and agents need an idea of the word count, but they don’t need some special formula of ‘the amount of space a story will take up when typeset’ because the MS will go through many changes and the total word count will be totally different. And using spaces or tabs instead of alignment will most likely irk the layout people, but does it have to be exactly double spaced when first submitting?

What’s all this mean in the world of the agent?

Your friend has, perhaps, not seen the little copyright notice on that web page - it reads '1997'. A lot has changed since then, mainly the fact that a lot of submissions happen electronically - if not by author to agent, then by agent to publisher.

Personally, the only font I can't stand is Courier, and if a manuscript comes in with Courier then I usually change it - because I don't expect the author to intuit that I hate Courier, and also because Microsoft Word lets me. That's the wonder of the new-fangled age: we have options. When submitting manuscripts to publishers I will usually send them in the font they came in - unless it's Courier - and I'll only reformat the line spacing if it's single (1.5 or 2 line space is nicer on the eye when reading electronically). Not a single publisher has ever protested that they didn't like the formatting or font because they probably do what I do and change it if they don't like it.

The only formatting guidelines that matter are the ones set by the agent or publisher to whom the author submits a manuscript. If there are no guidelines that you can find, presume that there are no guidelines and do what you want. The agent cannot then say 'but I wanted it in Courier'. If there are guidelines, they should be followed. It's annoying that we all don't have uniform guidelines, but there's nothing to be done about it - everyone has different tastes (such as 'I hate Courier'). And if you want to know why I really believe that authors get hung up on formatting, read this post.

Concern from a reader plus an actual question

Are you ok? I’ve come back to reading your blog after a few years and immediately noticed how much angrier you’ve become. Your posts have gone from telling non-fiction writers their chances are “excellent” to ranting about capitals in query letters (although, admittedly, the Winnie the Pooh-style use of caps did make me wince). Is being an agent wearing you down?

That aside, I could use your advice on my situation. I’m setting aside a few months from full-time copywriting to start researching and writing a non-fiction book. The book will be about our the current fascination with turning mega-popular novels into blockbuster movies, and how audiences feel about seeing their treasured tomes represented onscreen. It’s something I covered in undergrad studies and I’ve already started researching and writing. However, because I can only really spare a few months of full-time writing, would you suggest I focus on getting an intro and a few chapters polished, or should I try to get the whole thing written before submitting to an agent or publisher? Have you any other tips for when I hit the pitching stage?

I had to take a deep breath before answering this one - then I used that breath to let out a little scream. Not because I'm angry, as my correspondent suggests - just because I felt like it. Similarly, I occasionally use a snarky tone in this blog because I feel like it. 'Agent Sydney' is a persona - there's a reason why I don't use my real name - and accordingly it frees me up to have a bit of fun. Agent Sydney isn't the 'real me' - especially as some of you think AS is male - but she's an aspect of me, for sure. It's the aspect that would like to be blunt each time I give talks to writers or give feedback to writers who have sent submissions. I'm not blunt in real life because my mother brought me up to be a polite young lady; also because there's no point being blunt in an industry that primarily deals in dreams. Dreamers will just keep dreaming, and gods know we need them to, even if it means they don't usually listen to concrete advice.

That aside, I'm confident most agents feel worn down from time to time, and we're especially worn down at the moment. After spending many months on parallel imports, the real elephant in the room - digital publishing - is throwing everyone into a loop, and that's off the back of an uncertain economy. (Every time the RBA blinks, bookshops stand empty.) So it's probably the toughest time any of us has known. I saw with interest that blogging US agent and author Nathan Bransford has decamped for the online world; most likely several will follow. For all I know, I'll be one of them. We just don't know what's going to happen over the next year or so, and uncertainty is hard to work with; it's not a powerful motivator either.

Now, to your question. I don't know if you're in the US or Australia. If the latter, publishers are increasingly wanting full manuscripts for non-fiction, particularly if you're a first-time author. But you're doing this on your own time and your own dime, so just do as much as you can as well as you can in the time. It would be better to have five fantastic chapters than twelve that really aren't ready and that you'll have to fix in your spare time. If you do submit a partial manuscript, though, be ready to indicate how much longer you'll need to finish it, and also be aware that if you find a publisher you'll have a deadline. That's the trouble with getting a contract on a partial manuscript - you have to finish writing it on the publisher's terms.

If you're in the US, from what I understand you can still submit on a partial for non-fiction.

Other tips: make sure you can clearly identify who your potential reader is, and also think of some ways to reach them. You're writing a book for a film audience, not a book audience, and you can't assume that the film audience frequents bookshops (especially not these days).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The price of e-books

For those of you wondering why e-books aren't a dollar each, this is a post worth reading:

Friday, November 5, 2010

The author, the book and the new frontier

(This is not really 'part two', but does flow from yesterday's post about digital publishing.)

I've recently started giving authors some advice about how they may use their stories/content in future to best effect. The advice is pretty simple, and goes like this:

1. What are you prepared to give away for free?
2. What do you want to make available digitally for a small price?
3. What do you want to make available digitally for a less-small price?
4. What are you want to keep for a book?

Many authors are writing blogs, tweeting and so on, and this is all giving away content for free. This is a good idea, but only if it's content that you're prepared to give away for free. As tempting as it is to give away parts of your novel for free - or for feedback - think first about whether or not you want someone to eventually give you money for that story. If you've already trained readers to expect to get that particular story for free, they may not pay money for it later on. This has been the great folly of newspapers around the world - they started giving it away for free years ago and now no one wants to pay for it, and they're acting surprised.

(Actually, I think people would pay for it - they just don't want to have to login or feel that there's some sort of impediment to accessing the content they want. If someone can work out a way to charge everything back to our ISPs each time we click, we'd probably be prepared to pay 1 or 2 cents a page - and that would add up over time.)

It's also important for authors who may make short stories, novellas, novels and non-fiction fragments or stories available exclusively for sale digitally to still keep the book in mind. Books aren't going to disappear. If anything, they're going to become more valuable - but only if authors and publishers treat them as such.

Those of us who work in publishing all love books. They are quasi-fetishised objects for a lot of us. We collect them, we drool over them, we stroke their covers. I believe that books will become even more objects-of-adoration than they are now. If we start to value the book more highly - if we treat a book like a precious object - then it will be worth having. And that depends on us learning to classify content differently, and the author - as the originator of the content - making that differentiation first.

The same reader can behave very differently towards literary novels, non-fiction and genre fiction. That one reader may be happy to dispose of her romance novels - and thus happy to buy them for $2.99 a pop as e-books - but wants to keep her illustrated cookbooks forever. So those forever books need to be gorgeous, but the disposable stories don't even need to (and won't) look like books. She'll happily buy an elaborate enhanced e-book of a children's picture book but would rather pay per chapter or page or even paragraph to access non-fiction content. These are classifications that publishers need to get their heads around, and authors too. In fact, it's the authors who probably have to drive this change on the publishing side, because it's change that has already happened on the reader side.

So, as with yesterday's post, I have identified that there is increasing control and influence for authors. And isn't that as it should be?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The emperor has no clothes

I've been thinking about writing this post for a while. It's not going to contain anything I don't say to other people in the industry but quite often I'm shy about saying 'yes, this is the way things are' because, well, who am I to say? But, emboldened by Mike Shatzkin, Richard Nash and others, I'm just going to say what I've been thinking about digital publishing - what's happening now, what I think may happen. These are theories and observations - I'm not saying I'm right. And I'm interested in your thoughts on the matter.

First, let me say that I believe that what's changing in the industry is going to be very good for authors, as a whole, and obviously better for some authors than others. It will be great for authors who understand that they need to connect to their readers, whether they do it through social media, live readings, open dialogue. This is, in a way, a return to the original forms of storytelling: in a cave, perhaps, or around a fire, with your audience right there in front of you. It's going to suit some authors very well, and others not so much. But it was ever thus.

Second, a lot of the intra-industry thinking (and I'm only talking about the Australian industry, because that's what I know best) about how to wrestle with the changing digital landscape is, I believe, wrongly framed. Publishers are still focusing on books, but we're so far past that now. Books contain stories and content. Stories and content are what we all work in, not books. Yet the production processes and supply chain are all about books. So I can understand why there's a reluctance to think differently - once we're no longer talking about books, all those processes have to change. But it's better to make the change than have the change forced upon you, which is what's happening right now.

When all we focus on is books-as-objects, a very important element of the whole process is overlooked: the author. If sales reps are selling books, they mainly need to focus on the book. If they have no book to sell - if you take away that object - they're left with stories/content created by the author. An author is quite a different sales proposition to a book. An author is a person, for one thing, and comes loaded with all the person complications - like a personality. A book is easier. A book is less messy. Sometimes it's easy to forget that the book came from an author originally. But it did. The author is not a necessary evil; the author is the reason the story exists.

We also need to realise that bookshops as we know them are disappearing and will continue to disappear, particularly if the independents can't get access to e-books (this is a separate and involved issue that I'm not qualified to properly explicate). So there will no longer be the same number of channels for books to be distributed to consumers, and publishers will be forced to become business-to-consumer operations, not business-to-business operations. That also requires a big adjustment in their thinking. So that makes two fundamental changes for publishers.

The other fundamental change is the adjustment to producing content for screens. Screens have been around for a while - the first e-books were read on computers - but until recently no one's really had to think about how you make a novel look pretty - or even functional - on a screen. We don't do screens, see - we do books. The music industry didn't have to make such a radical adjustment - an iPod is an outgrowth of a Walkman, and buying single songs on iTunes is not a radically different concept to buying a 45" single. The movie and TV industry have always been in the business of screens, and that won't change. But those of us who are in the 'book business' don't know about screens. Well, now we have to.

There are several people in the local industry who have already thought about these things, and there are some who have wanted to think about them but have been hamstrung by having to wait for the trickle-down from the head offices overseas. But there's really no time left, now. This is cultural change of an extraordinary kind, and it has to happen or there's going to be a mess. Correction: there already is a mess. Booksellers are increasingly concerned about what's going on and wondering how they can simply maintain their businesses, let alone thrive. For some publishing companies the change will come too late. So I do think times will be gloomy for some.

But not for authors. I do not think many authors need to make the same changes in their thinking because I've found that many of them are highly adaptable. The driver for many of them is getting their stories out into the great beyond, and if that takes the form of a no-advance, profit-sharing, digital-only publisher who can provide editorial and marketing/publicity support, they'll seriously consider it. I've actually been surprised by how many authors I've spoken to who have not really batted even one eyelash at the prospect of one day not having a book with their name on it printed. The story is everything, you see - the story is what they want to see released into the wild. And, really, that's the position we all need to come to if this publishing thing is going to survive.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Dude, where's your punctuation?

I have written 12 novels of fiction and have around six still to be put into manuscript form I have bought the writer and artist year book 2004 throuhg to 2010 and been through every agent and publisher from A to Z and never had a good result from any of them the list must be by now 600 to 700 maybe more.

I have sent comedy, romance, crime, and never had one good answer from any of them.
so i thought maybe my books are rubbish so gave them to friends workmates gave them to women and men and got back a great rapport from every one of them.

I nearly had two novels published in 2003 but just before printing he had to close down, I had two novels critiqued by a company on the US with rave results.

The question is do I give up or keep trying, I once sent a letters asking if they were taking on any new clients and the email came back we dont think your project is suitable for our company, can they see a project from asking them if they are taking on any new clients or is it just that being unknown gives us no chace of every publishing or getting an agent.

I have been through web pages, book companies, and many differant avenues to get some one to read just one of my novels and I dont know how they can tell from 3 pages or a synopsis, I have read many books all the way through and never really got the story yet read the first page of some book and it really grabbed me.

I have published this email almost entirely as it was sent to me, except I took out the name of a publishing company and the person who sent me the email, and I also inserted some paragraph breaks. And I'm making this point because the email gives a clue as to why my correspondent is not having any luck with his query letters and submissions. The letter lacks punctuation - commas, capital letters and full stops - in some critical locations and it was hard for me to follow it, especially when it came through in one block. If the query letters were the same, it would be hard for an agent or publisher to follow them too.

So, dear correspondent, presuming that your manuscripts are not suffering the same punctuation omissions - that you have polished them and redrafted them and checked them for spelling and punctuation errors - why not take the same care with your letters? The query letter is the first thing the agent/publisher sees. If the letter seems sloppy, then we make the same presumption about the manuscript, and we start reading it in that frame of mind - if we get to read it at all.

Also, here's a tip: never, ever say 'novels of fiction' or 'fiction novel' or 'non-fiction novel' (I've seen all three, as I'm sure all agents have). A novel is fiction.

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.