Stephen King is right

I have never been much of a ‘joiner’. I lasted about two months in the cubs, much to my parents’ chagrin after having bought all the kit. A couple of months ago I joined HarperCollins Authonomy website and put one of my novels ‘Playpits Park’ up on it. It got some excellent reviews, and advanced from 6,000th place to 230th. The aim is to end up on the ‘Editors Desk’ but with no guarantee of getting published (fair enough – especially when you learn that the fastest way to get there is to spam other contributing authors). Rather like the cubs, it was not for me. Two days ago I zapped the lot.

With the cubs it was too much ‘dib-dib-dib’ and woggles. With Authonomy it was too much ‘I am close to the top, so if you back me then I’ll back you’. I also found that my writing output (my new novel and also this blog) dropped close to zero. Stephen King is right. In his 2002 book On Writing, which I have only just read – shame on me – I was reminded that I should be writing for myself, not writing for others. Leaving Autonomy reminds me of George Melly’s remark that it was like being unchained from a lunatic*.

Spending so many hours on the site reading budding authors’ works (a few good, some bad and some extremely bad) has made me sympathetic towards agents and publishing staff whose daily task is to plough their way through the slush pile. In the last couple of months I have read the first pages and chapters of several hundred novels and commented on many. In the end I simply switched off.

*Though he was talking about something entirely different, and apparently Sophocles said it first (I’m no classics scholar – I Googled the Melly quote, just as you are about to do…)


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10 responses to “Stephen King is right

  1. Nice post. This was my hesitation with Authonomy — not that it’s a bad idea, but that it’s a lot of work for (relatively) little gain. A more standard online critique group would be a better use of one’s time, I think.

  2. Indeed, I Googled it. As for Sophocles’ quote, I’m not yet ready to unchain myself from the lunatic. But I’m in a withdrawal phase from Authonomy. I’ll probably take down my novel from the site soon and try the traditional route–sending queries to agents, etc. I don’t regret doing Authonomy–I met some helpful people and some fine writers (along with some dreadful ones).

    • I am a member, but I don’t have time to contribute at all. Hell, I hardly have time to write my own things. Graduate school blows!

      However, even if I had the time, I am sure I wouldn’t contribute a lot. I join things all the time and never do anything.

  3. gigi

    if you are confident about your novel, and you had such a nice response from the chap at random house,
    why don’t you publish your book yourself – pod and e-book first, then if it picks up, a traditional publisher might run with it.

  4. Thanks for the comments. Gigi – yes, I think you are right. I even bought an ISBN number for it, just before I put it on Authonomy. I had to buy TEN! How about that for people selling you things you don’t need! To be honest, I am hoping to put it on Amazon as an ebook. Trouble is, I’m in the UK, and so far it seems that Amazon require authors to have a US bank account.

  5. I agree with you – the political atmosphere is what irked me about the site. I’m sure there are a lot of fabulous books to be found there, and probably some genuine reviewers, but I was barraged by requests for return reviews. The irony is that I would have checked out a lot of their books had they not asked me to.

  6. Very helpful post, and extremely similiar to my experience. Authonomy was the final evidence of an insane pursuit, and I’ll never forget the reply I recieved from one of the top five authors, who said he spends nearly three hours a day reading three chapters and commenting. Getting to the top had little to do with talent, and after reading his work, I saw it was true. A monster created by monsters. They should just have a steel cage match and call it a day.

  7. Almost two years after writing this blog post I have taken Gigi’s advice and published as a digital book HERE:

    At present it is available only for the KIndle but hopefully, if I can find a reliable print-on-demand printer, I’ll also get it up there as hardcopy.

    UPDATE – Playpits Park is available in hardcopy on Amazon here:

  8. Scot Hanson

    Thanks for the review of Authonomy. I saw your comment on Writer Beware. Jane Friedman wrote a post that recommend the HC site, but I’m glad I’ve tempered my excitement by reading some reviews from people who have actually tried using it. I appreciate you pioneering that route.

    Congratulations also on your e-publishing! That’s great news, even though I’m a bit jealous. It seemed a little ironic (or it may just be my jealousy talking): your offer for copy of the manuscript in exchange for a review on Amazon sounds vaguely like what some people were doing on Authonomy.

    I guess the difference is your candid acknowledgment that if the story doesn’t appeal to a reader, then you aren’t expecting anything. And that providing a sample is the only sort of back-scratching you’re going to do. That seems like a pretty good exchange.

    Again, thanks for walking the trail and leaving some guideposts for other hikers.

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