Ian Drury - Sheil Land Associates Ltd. - 52 Doughty Street - London WC1N 2LS

Monday, 15 February 2010


A year ago, my old computer got a Trojan or Spybot or whatever you call the things. The timing was a nightmare. My first book, Commanding Youth (the one about Arthur), was in the top ten on Authonomy. If I failed to get it into the top five for February, i.e. because my computer wasn't working, I'd have to spend another month reading, flirting, plugging, begging and going Authonomad.

But then, two publishers had already asked to see the proposal for Commanding Youth, so being in the Authonomy top five (which guarantees you an editor's critique from HarperCollins) seemed slightly irrelevant. I made it into the top five at the beginning of March ... and then took my book off Authonomy. The nice part of me said it was to give another writer a chance. The nasty part said, I can't bear to spend another minute on Authonomy.

So what's Authonomy? It's a website. HarperCollins publishers couldn't really be bothered to wade through their 'slush-pile' of unsolicited manuscripts so they created Authonomy. Writers upload some of their unpublished book(s) on Authonomy. Other writers read a bit, or a lot, and give them feedback. You can support a book by pretending to pop it up on your virtual bookshelf. Add some complicated algorithms, some rather large egos, plenty of gamesmanship and some 6,000 authors from all corners of the globe, and that's about it: Authonomy (

Now, Authonomy was great for me. A lot of the feedback you get is neither here nor there (some people just want you to read and back theirs), but a great deal was extremely useful. Editors cost money, but on Authonomy you could rack up a couple of hundred comments, some of them detailed, and figure out what you needed to do with your manuscript next. There was help, advice and sympathy online at any time.

I completely rewrote my opening chapters for Commanding Youth while I was on there, and put the first three chapters of Will's Treason (my Shakespeare project) up there last summer - the latter to find out if what I'd written was working. It was, and that gave me the confidence to go back to publishers and to get a new agent.

But that's the thing - I think I've outgrown Authonomy, now. I'm still doing rewrites, but I can't see myself uploading those onto the site because of the sheer amount of time, energy and commitment required to make sure that enough people read it so that I'll know what its strengths and weaknesses are.

And there are just far, far too many books on Authonomy. Too many people scrabbling to reach that coveted Ed's Desk (the monthly top five). Authonomy's been going for a year and a half now, or thereabouts. HarperCollins have just announced the publication of the fourth book to be picked up from Authonomy.

There are some FABULOUS writers on Authonomy, and some EXCELLENT books. I seldom read fiction because I tend to hate it. 99.99% of Authonomy is fiction, much of it YA ('Young Adult') sci-fi/fantasy and chick-lit, none of which I would usually go anywhere near. But I read loads and loads of great stuff on the site.

None of the four books acquired by HC publishers (so far) made it into the site's top five, which suggests that, unless a so-so critique from a HarperCollins editor is your main goal in life, you should forget trying to get to the top of the rankings. I saw too many weirdos preening themselves on Authonomy, and the risk with a popularity contest is that the best books will not make the Ed's Desk (almost inevitable, considering that getting into the top five is a full-time job in its own right).

Authonomy gives a writer something to do with his or her manuscript. The feedback will have much to tell the writer about their title, pitch and chapters. If the writer is prepared to listen, do some revision, listen again, edit, try again, and so on, and so on, their manuscript is likely to get better. If they're not prepared to listen, then they're not a real writer.

Thanks to Authonomy, I got my two projects up to a reasonably good standard. The problem I now have is that I have to go beyond that. And I'm not sure that Authonomy will be much help any more.

Basically, you can write, or you can be on Authonomy. It's a rare bird that can do both.

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