In September 2008, I received a very significant email from my friend Tim Wright. Well-connected as he is, he had received a beta-phase invitation to a new site being built by HarperCollins. This site, called Authonomy, was a new concept in book publishing: a site where authors could display their work and readers could then read new material for free. Books (or parts of books) that they liked could then be put on a virtual shelf, giving book points for the texts and reader points for the readers.
The points would then affect the rankings of the book, as well as that of readers. If you found a book early and it went far in the rankings, you’d get better points than by following what books already had good rankings, thus encouraging people to hunt among the new books. Initially this worked quite well, as the folks who came to the site were primarily authors. We were always willing to consider books also with a development point of view and offered constructive feedback whenever possible.
The forums of Authonomy were a veritable beehive of activity, people pushing books by other people, asking for and giving advice on writing, sharing tips on agents, and generally having fun. I made a lot of friends there: Dan Holloway, Greta van der Rol, Susanne O’Leary, Pete Morin, Kimberly Menozzi, Malcolm Mendey, … the list is endless. In the forums, and especially the subforums not related to writing, it was possible to find Monty Python aficionados and other very funny people, and for a while it was a blast working the forums.
As for books, I listed Tulagi Hotel in the genres Popular Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction (!) and Romance. As the ranks were held for each genre as well as the overall grade, Tulagi topped all its genre ranks by June 2009, and in May that year it peaked at #15 on the general list. As its ID was 1726, which indicates the number of books at the time of joining, and the number of books in May was more than 8,500, I was very happy with the result.
By that time I had become acquainted with people who would go on to form a firm, Dragon International Independent Arts. SJ Hecksher and Ben Bennetts, with their US man Jason Horger, liked Tulagi well enough to take it on and publish it in their second set, April 2010. Needless to say, I was thrilled to go to London for the launch, but sadly, we failed to attract sufficient interest for the book to take off. When Diiarts folded, I was already friends with the inimitable Diane Nelson aka Nya Rawlyns, who was kind enough to lift Tulagi back onto Amazon via her PfoxChase Publishing.
About a year later Diane had to concentrate on editing and her own writing, and Tulagi was adrift again. I contacted a couple other small presses with no success, but then yet another Authonomy friend, Fred Nath, contacted me and told me of Fingerpress. I joined them in 2012 and it has been very nice to be among their authors. As you can see, my writing has been much influenced by all these kind people I met on that service of HarperCollins, and I wouldn’t be here without them.
However, the site began to go sour around Fall 2011, when the real players arrived. Gone were the fun discussions, careful constructive reviews, and other benefits of the site in its early days. The newcomers had no sense of the ethos of the place: it was just “Hey your book is great, back mine now!” and other elobow tactics all over the place. The final nail in the coffin for me was the arrival of a guy who had a fan base in the tens of thousands on Youtube, who wrote a book of sorts, and hey presto, with the outside fans joining in droves, he went to #1 in a month. He applied rugby tactics to tennis, you could say.
Another problem was that even though HarperCollins always gave a review for five books on the top of the list every month, I don’t think they bought more than one of the gold star books. They did pull up obscure books from the low 1500s at least once, and they pulled up Tulagi twice – once to send it off to 50 agents along with 11 other books to show what sort of stuff Authonomy has, and once to offer me 150£ for testing their self-print company, Blurb. It would have created more confidence, if they had really published a book from the top five every now and again.
But never mind – I got my seat in The Shed, and on Year Zero Writers, and a couple of other writer circles; I have my 100+ contacts from the site; I have a publisher still. I’m happy, and thank HarperCollins for a nice ride.