where the writers are

Well, the cat's out so I figured I'd opine.

Some months ago, during a routine submission to HARPER COLLINS, I discovered the beta test for their recently unveiled AUTHONOMY website. In a nutshell the site is a virtual slush pile, inviting writers of any level to submit works for an extremely broad peer review.  The notion is the slush pile will vett itself, promoting books to the top five every month for "official" critique by a rotating pool of Harper Collins editors and, just possibly, a contract for publication.

So far there have been 24 such critiques. In addition several writers have been approached by smaller presses for publication, agents for representation and even Harper Collins imprints regardless of their reaching the coveted top-five slot.

Predictably, since the site was announced, doom criers and naysayers have popped up all over the 'net decrying the "American Idol-ness" of the site on one hand ("How can a bunch of amatuers and hacks be qualified to judge a stellar work?") and the basic intrinsic stupidity of corporate editors ("These are the folks who give contracts to celebs and their moms. How can they fairly judge a groundbreaking work?") on the other.

Never mind that the crappy books do NOT rise to the top of the pile. Never mind that the webmasters and mistreses of the site have taken pains to prevent people stuffing the virtual ballot box with the votes of friends and family. never mind that only three contracts have been awarded to books from the site, officially, and NONE of those were top-five winners. In other words, never mind the empirical evidence when a conspiracy theory or simple sour grapes will hold you in better stead? 

The web is a marvelous place in some ways but it does breed a certain sense of superiority and entitlement in some people that real life tends to pound out in relatively short order.  That sense of entitlement or, rather, when that sense bumps up against a virtual reality that, like the real stuff, won't go along, engenders a lot of whining and whinging on the parts of those who think life owes them something.

To me such behavior is just infantile and should be embarassing to those who indulge. However, this is the web; embarassment and self-awareness are often in short supply. 

 So, in an effort to counter the idiocy already floating around about the site, here's my two cents on the whole thing:

AUTHONOMY works as it was designed. yes, people do attempt to game the system (welcome to the real world, folks). Yes, like-minded posters gravitate to each other in the ubiquitous FORUM area. Yes, out of the thousands of books and partial books posted, a near infinitismal number have gotten the proverbial nod.   Yes, these facts have bolstered somewhat the ubiquitous conspiracy theorists and generic web-grumblers in their campaigns to knock the site and  those who participate.

 Yes, yes, yes.

However, and this is important so get close, none of those things obviate the basic function of the site which is, as I said, to be a sort of open slush pile that reads itself. Anyone who's been in the traditional version of slush and, especially, anyone who has survived it to publication knows that, aside from the participation of the other penitents, this is PRECISELY how the slush works.

Editorial "caprice" is the nature of the beast if you're going for mainstream publishing (IOW: not doing it yourself). Books you find to be sub par are chosen over those you've deemed to be stellar, including one's own.  Yes, yes, yes. Again, this is the real world, kids. Not all books and not all editors are created equal. There's no crying in publishing, to borrow a phrase from the movies.

I think the detractors fall, essentially, into one of two camps: naive egotists who don't understand what professional writing actually is or professionals who, for whatever reason, have not set the world on fire with their work and feel the web should bring their genius to the fore who become upset when sites like Authonomy do not validate their opinions of themselves.

Maybe it's because I came to writing relatively late in life after careers in other branches of the Arts that I have no problem with any of the inherent flaws in something like Authonomy. Maybe it's because I subscribe to the gladiator's view of commercial Art (and anyone who charges for access to their work is a commercial artist, no matter what their pretensions). We are, we scribblers, very much like morituri or, if you prefer, professional athletes, competing for a very limited number of wreaths. Most of us will not win. Most us will not place. Most of us will not show. That's the nature of the game. If one can't embrace all that, one needs to take up a single player sport like Sudoku.

I see the Harper Collins experiment as transparent, "fair" and working according to its own very publicly stated goals.

CAN YOU BEAT THE SLUSH? is written on every page. 

As with any blind submission, there's only one way to find out. 

2 Comment count
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Maybe the way to go

I think it's easy to forget that we write for readers, not critics. American Idol, despite the endless parade of talentless hacks who have, for their entire formative years, been cruelly mislead into believing they have actual talent, produces a GENUINE star every season.
Except for a few very rare instances, the slush pile has been every writer's salvation. It is the ONLY place where a writer a possibility of being recognized solely for one's merits, and not for one's connections.
The only alternative to the slush pile is to write what an editor thinks everyone wants to read, otherwise known as selling your soul.

Slush on!


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meet the new world, same as the old world

The thing about "leveling the field" is that it means anyone can bring whatever skills they've got to bear on solving a given problem. It also means that some 18 year old in Dirt Scratch South Dakota can out write a seasoned pro with stacks of credits under her or his belt. Both of these rub some kinds of people the wrong way. Hence, whinging galore.

There are nearly 4k MSs up on the site either partial or complete. Sounds like a slush pile to me.