Like a phoenix from the ashes: an authonomy experience

When the website authonomy first emerged into the fringes of publishing, four and a half years ago, it seemed unlikely that anyone could have anticipated the way it would foreshadow the indie publishing movement. Designed by HarperCollins as an online companion to their slush pile, the site operated on the premise that unpublished and self-publishing authors could upload their novels for review by other writers and, using a ratings-based chart system, the best books would eventually rise up to sit on the Editor’s Desk. From there the top five each month would be given a critique by the HC editorial team, with the hope on all sides that books would be signed up and authors given contracts.

Indeed, many participants are still joining and participating with that hope in mind, but in the Forums even as far back as October 2009, some writers were already anticipating how things might change. Author JP Noel wrote “In this rapidly changing world it would seem that an author would be better served by taking his material online and publishing it directly to the readers using a website and a simple shopping cart program to down load a PDF file.” His avatar is now a hand holding a Kindle and the self-publishing thread on the forums is well-established.

Under another pseudonym in January 2009, allonymbooks put two books on site, Evie Woolmore’s Rising Up and another very different novel, of which more later. We were curious about how the read/review/rate process would work, and in terms of being a precursor to the Twitter follow-me-I’ll-follow-you cycle which was discussed in another recent blog, we were particularly interested in the extent to which people would review our book in exchange for a review of theirs. What emerged were essentially two key groups of people among the registrants: those who were reading and reviewing a lot, making them highly influential and powerful on the site; and those who were reading as many samples of other people’s books as possible, in order to get their books reviewed and rated and thus noticed on the editor’s desk.

We left our books on there for about five months. Relatively speaking, Rising Up made virtually no impact. A dozen comments from readers indicated not many more than that had read it. The other book had almost 100 readers but in the huge scale of the authonomy community, even that book made relatively little impact on the chart, reaching a ranking of about #100, and after watching it peak and then trough again we took both books down from the shelves and out of circulation on the site.

Roll on four years to last week and we log back onto the site once more, for curiosity’s sake. And to our considerable surprise we found 80 or so comments on the second novel, at least half of which we had never seen before, a sudden rush of reviews and comments late in the book’s posting, most of which were highly complementary and critically detailed. It defies explanation why these were not noticed first time around, but the point is this: if this novel garnered sufficient independent feedback of this sort of quality from readers who had read the entire book and not just the first chapter then, surely it was worth revisiting that book now.

And an even more interesting question is what has happened to those authors who reviewed the book? Are they still trying to get noticed by a print publisher or have they decided to publish their books independently? Over the next few weeks, we are going to try to find out. Having indie-published Rising Up, we are now going to indie-publish the other novel too under the allonymbooks label – news on that coming in the next couple of weeks. But we are also going to approach every single one of those authors and ask them to visit this site to chronicle what happened next to them and their publishing ambitions. Because the landscape of publishing has indeed changed since 2009. And if we had known then what we knew now, we would probably have seized the indie initiative much sooner.

If you were registered on the authonomy website with a novel in 2009 and would like to comment, please go to this page and leave a few lines explaining what impact participating in authonomy had on you, and what steps you have taken since to publish your book(s).

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