Monday, January 11, 2010

Authonomy: The Game

In November I uploaded the bulk of my novel, Things Done and Left Undone, onto the HarperCollins Authonomy website. Authonomy's motto is "Beat the Slush." The idea is to supplement the "slush pile" editors, who sift through the thousands of unsolicited manuscripts HarperCollins receives, with what amounts to volunteers. I suspect that's reader reviews were the inspiration for it.
The publisher has apparently found some gems among the slush. And I've read some fine writing. I've also read some writing that needs a team of editors to work overtime to get the writing in shape. One such book, which has a very interesting storyline, has potential. It's a Black Mask-style detective novel set in 1945 New York. But the author is British or Australian and uses terms that would be foreign to an American. I've made some comments on the book, explaining, for instance, that "suspenders" in American means "braces" in British. The term he needed was "garter belts." He uses British/Australian terms such as "whilst" and "walkabout" and puts in a lot of anachronisms, such as a reference to the New York Mets in 1945. I'm afraid this author will get his book to the Editor's Desk before it's ready for the editors. Maybe I'm wrong. In any case, he's extremely good at playing the game.
The object of the game, of course, is to get published, and a big step toward getting published is to reach the Editor's Desk, where a real, professional team of HarperCollins editors will review your book. Every month the top five books are sent to the Editor's Desk. But getting a manuscript to the Editor's Desk has less to do with writing than with horse trading. I haven't been playing the game very well. Each book has a ranking, based on the number of people who have recommended it by placing it on their bookshelves. You can back up to five books at a time. I wasn't sure how it worked, until another writer let me know:
"A good tip--you can back any number of books and if you take one off your shelf to save space it loses no points."
I thanked him for the tip and got a further explanation:
"I'm afraid it's a bit of a game on site here, the more books you look at, the more people are likely to look at your book. The better ranked a person is that backs your book the more points you get."
I replied that I thought the point of looking at books is to provide constructive criticism. His reply:
"HC would love you to read whole books and make weighty comments. But I'd only get through 2 or 3 books per week. And that's not going to compete with someone who's apparently reviewing twenty books a day. I usually judge on one chapter plus the pitch. I honestly think that's enough."
I backed his book, even though it's not the type of book I'd normally read. It was well-written.
So it's back to Authonomy, to rewrite my pitch and start judging books one one chapter plus the pitch.


Charles Gramlich said...

I know a couple of folks who were on Authonmy for a while. It certainly is a game, but not much different from the regular publishing game. Who who know and who you interact with and support play major rolls.

Elizabeth said...

Good luck with this, Steve. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you.

In the meantime, I just finished an amazing little book by a British writer named Patrick Hamilton. It's called Hangover Square and was written in the 1930s. A very creepy story and incredibly well written. I had never heard of this author but an esoteric bookstore owner I know recommended it. Have you read it?

steve on the slow train said...

Charles--you've got a point.

Elizabeth--Thank you. U've nenver read Hangover Square or even heard of it. I'll chedk it out.

Anonymous said...

Good luck. Your novel sounds like something I would enjoy, and you know I'm a fan of your writing style.


(blogger doesn't like me today.)