After the first flush of reading – and enthusing – about Authonomy, I’m ready to calm down, put on my serious glasses and give it a long, hard stare. Since first consciously deciding to Be A Writer at age twelve, I’ve maintained a cynical wariness about putting any novel-in-progress online, due largely to paranoid fears of plagiarism or concept-theft. Though I’ve posted dozens of poems and the occasional short story on various sites since then, I’ve always remained firm on the Magnum Opus rule. Good thinking! I tell my younger self, and through the veil of years she grins wearily back at me, slugging her way through pages of dross, half-oblivious to the few sweet embers strewn within. She’s like that.
As an unpublished writer, news from a publisher – any news – is like a kick to the heart. It doesn’t matter how old you are. The impenetrability of the publishing industry is there for a reason, we know; and yet the act of pounding desperately on theose heavy doors can’t help but instil the conviction of being wrongfully locked out; as though some lofty guardian need only peer over the ramparts, gasp, and let us through at once, a kinsman found. The unreality of this scenario does nothing to diminish its potency – more often, in fact, the reverse is true, with each successive rejection only increasing the perceived likelihood that next time, doors will open. So imagine, then, the collective heart-kick generated by hundreds of authors hearing about Authonomy! Small wonder they were gripped.
And yet now, it seems, even as published works are being announced, that old enemy of amateur authors, Print On Demand, has reared its head – at least according to one Authonomy member. HarperCollins have been swift to point out that POD will become a voluntary feature of the site, and not their primary mode of publication for Authonomy members; nonetheless, feathers have been ruffled. That kick to the heart is a traitor, methinks: the tug of hope over experience.
Still, the venture remains far from solely negative. Authonomy represents the efforts of a major publishing house to embrace the digital age and do something different for unpublished authors. If there’s a complaint to be levelled, it should be at the ‘greasy pole’ approach of rewarding the most-read books with an editorial glance. Realistically, this was never going to be more than a dangling carrot: apart from the fact that any editor can peruse the site at whim and select a worthwhile morsel off their own bat, the participants themselves have actively diluted the system. In fairness, it was easy to dilute, but it’s a simple thing to acknowledge that a you-back-my-book, I’ll-back-yours approach has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with networking – exactly the kind of scenario that most members, at least on the surface, purport to loathe. Small wonder, then, that HarperCollins hasn’t asked for more.
To this effect, there’s been ongoing debate between contributors, interested parties, and those being published as to Authonomy’s real agenda. (Ironically, in this particular instance, the forum is the Authonomy blog, arguably one of the concept’s most pleasing features.) With the rosy lenses still on, I’d even considered submitting my own manuscript, assuming it gets rejected again; but in a more sobering light, I’m inclined to believe that my adolescent self had the right idea. We unpublished authors might not like it, but the great filtration mechanisms of the publishing industry – selective submission, literary agents, slushpiles – are set in place to keep bad writing out. Peer-to-peer review is undoubtably good, but it’s not a useful arbiter of what is or isn’t publishable, while the egotism requried to continually get back on the horse is frequently ill-suited for objective self-assessment.
I still maintain that the Authonomy interface is a positive step forward, particulary if adapted by smaller houses or used as a means to promote genre publishing and less mainstream titles. Similarly, as an avenue for critical feedback, no matter how flawed, it beats having no such avenue at all. That doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t be improved upon – and at this juncture, it might behoove the collective interwebnological consciousness to remember that, as fast as things move in cyberspace, Authonomy is firmly rooted in the real world, weighted down by the terrible Slow Zone gravity of an actual corporation. It’s still a new venture. Give it a break.
And HarperCollins? The bloggers are watching you. Kick softly.