A week or so ago I finally signed up at Authonomy.com, the experimental Web site run by HarperCollins that is supposed to let the writing community help bring the best talent to the surface, where it is then evaluated by the editors at HarperCollins. I've resisted for a long time, but after reading a couple articles about it in the past few weeks, I broke down and did it.
It's an interesting site. Writers post at least 10,000 words of their work, then other writers read and evaluate it. If they like it, they put it on their bookshelves. Every Authonomy member gets a bookshelf that holds five books and a watch list that can contain an unlimited number of books. Books are ranked according to the number of bookshelves, watch lists, and comments they get, at least that's how it looks to me. I haven't read all the info about how it works. As far as I'm concerned, any feedback is good feedback, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.
There's only one problem: it's basically a specialized social networking site where, to rise to the top, you have to play the game. You have to spend a lot of time trading reads with other writers. This is not a bad thing, but it does tend to encourage comments that are more positive than helpful. I've examined several books that had what I consider serious writing issues, but most of the comments were about how beautifully written they are. The idea is, of course, that if I say somebody else's book is great, they're more likely to look at mine and tell me how great it is, and that helps my ranking. If I do enough of that, I might rise high enough to catch the interest of the HarperCollins editors, or one of the other editors and agents who reportedly troll the site.
OK, that sounds like a negative review. It's not all that bad. It's interesting to see the kind of work that is competing with yours in the slush piles, and some of the manuscripts are really fun to read. Plus, there's a definite jolt every time you get a positive comment or book is put on somebody's shelf, and it's fun to see your ranking go up. Mine rose fairly quickly the first few days, but because I don't have time to play the Authonomy game right now, I seem to have stalled just above 1200 (out of 4,000 or so).
Should you do it? The answer is a resounding "maybe." Writer's Digest seems to think it's a good idea, and I must like it because I find myself checking the site at least two or three times a day. I have received a couple of helpful comments and a handful of others that are highly encouraging, such as this one:
"This is great, really great, I think boys would eat this up and it would appeal to adults as well. Desmond and Banjo make a great team--one's cautious, the other reckless. Who wouldn't be tempted to try on a magic ring, I ask you? I don't blame the kid for checking it out. What fun! The two friends play off of each other, making for humorous moments, and conversation that goes on at a nice clip. I like when one of them declares, "I don't think we're in Svenson's attic anymore, Toto." This is the kind of adventure story that has mass appeal, where modern day people can imagine what it would be like to live in another time, pure fantasy, and I've always loved stories about Vikings. It doesn't hurt that your prose are clean, smooth and flow creamy smooth."
The one that points out some writing mistakes is more helpful, but this one helps keep my interest in this manuscript going while I work on another one. It's also the first time I've seen "prose" as a plural.
So join if you want. It doesn't hurt, and it's really kind of fun. The encouraging words are always helpful, and some of the comments are actually useful. Just be aware that, as soon as you join, you'll get a bunch of requests for read swaps, and maybe a couple more that say something like "read swaps are lame." But then the real comments will start, and you'll discover some stuff you want to read, as well as some books you really want to like but the writing's just not good enough. That gives you a bit of a feel for what agents must go through. It's good to get that kind of a view into the process.
Just don't forget to put my book on your shelf. Maybe we can even swap reads.