Saturday, 10 April 2010

Play Snakes and Ladders? No thanks!

By creating the ‘Authonomy’ site, HarperCollins have provided an invaluable service for unpublished authors, giving them the opportunity to show-case their books on the site, to edit and re-edit their work on the site as often as they wish, and to read and comment on the work of others. I posted my novel on there some time ago, and am now in the process of re-drafting and re-editing the book-there’s nothing like seeing your work in public cyber-space for making you recognise your flaws!
So, I have no complaints about ‘Authonomy’, but I do have some misgivings about the way some of its users appear to be viewing the site, that is, not as an on-line creative writing class, offering support and constructive criticism, but as a literary version of the ‘X-Factor’ or as a ruthless game of snakes and ladders in which it’s perceived as essential to push your book up the ratings in order to reach the ‘Editor’s Desk’ (the Holy Grail of so many participants) by any means possible. Ploys used in this process include ‘backing’ the books of others in order to persuade them to return the compliment, or heaping unconditional praise on the work of others for the same purpose. All this, I have to say, gets in the way of meaningful work-sharing, and is a hollow exercise in self-promotion. Mutual support is one thing; sycophantic grovelling out of self- interest is quite another. (If you do reach the Editor’s Desk, you get a critique of your book, which may prove helpful, but won’t be the Golden Gate to publication. And why should it? )
Of course we all want to be published eventually; nothing wrong in that. But surely it’s just as important to learn to write well first, whether you’re aiming at the literary or the commercial market. I’ve now received about 170 comments on my book, and only about three of them have actually been helpful. The rest of them are just empty phrases of fulsome praise. Now, maybe some of those positive comments have come from people who’ve read the first three pages and dipped into the rest just to get a feel of the book (I wouldn’t expect anyone on Authonomy to waste valuable writing time reading my whole book!), in which case, many thanks. But it’s quite clear that most of these comments have been made by people who’ve only read the pitch and whose only concern seems to be to make me ‘back’ their book, whether I like it or not. One or two writers, mainly, I have to say from the U.S., have even stated this objective categorically in a pushy ‘how about it Buddy?’ tone. I haven’t asked anyone to back my book, and I won’t be doing so. I’d rather someone just stumbled on my work, and read it and offered me some practical criticism, even if it’s just pointing out a typo or two.
As I’ve said on the site, on my profile page:

“I'm here in order to hone my writing and test it out on other readers, who can perhaps suggest ways to improve it and make my work more marketable. I'm not here because I see this site as a route to publication, nor am I playing a snakes and ladders game to reach the editor's desk. In my view, the best way to achieve publication is to redraft and redraft your work, study your craft, pitch your work to agents, and, if you do want a professional assessment, pay a reputable literary consultancy, or join excellent organisations such as the RNA, who offer a wonderful New Writers Scheme.”

And there’s the rub. There’s no quick, magic way to publication. One or two authors have been published after their work has been seen on ‘Authonomy’, but that will be because their work was worth it. Literary success (and arguably any real, artistic success) is the result of 99 percent hard work, and maybe one percent luck.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sue,

    I couldn't agree more with everything you've said about Authonomy. When I first put my own novel up there, I received a lot of really helpful comments - by the time I took it down, I had over 300. There were some of course, that just said 'Backed. Please read mine.' Mostly I ignored those. But I did gain some actual fans along the way, people who emailed me asking for the ending. There is nothing quite so exciting as someone begging to read the end of something you've written. They gave me the confidence to carry on working on the book.

    But you're right, Authonomy isn't an 'in' into getting published, it's not an easy route or a back door - what it is, is an electronic slush pile.
    I think the people on the site have changed too. When it first started most people were enthusiastic unpublished writers, interested in honing their craft.

    But for some reason . . . I'm still there!

    Good luck Sue - I hope your review is fantastic.

    Berni xx