Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Scott Pack: Questions and Answers, revamps and publishing

Why don’t you publish more books from the Editor’s Desk? 

This is almost certainly the question I am asked most often. There is no one definitive answer so apologies if I ramble on a bit from this point. It is true that after some remarkable success stories in the early days of authonomy, with a number of authors getting publishing deals and going on to have Sunday Times bestselling books, the strike rate has slowed down. As the number of manuscripts on the site grew it became more difficult to identify those with the most potential.

In theory, of course, the books that make the Editor’s Desk each month should be the pick of the site but in the past couple of years this has not always been the case. Authors who were good at networking and drumming up backings were just as likely, if not more so, to hit the top five as those with the best manuscripts. We were duty bound to share these with the HarperCollins editors and, to be frank, they were presented with a lot of books that just were not viable publishing propositions and that early success rate slowed down as a result.

Don’t get me wrong, many great manuscripts do still make the Editor’s Desk, but we have been forced to look further afield as well, checking out books from all across the site but with over 10,000 books online here it is a big job.

My number one priority with the authonomy revamp is to fix the ratings and ranking system to ensure that the very best work rises to the top. Once we do this I am confident that HarperCollins will be publishing more and more books discovered on the site.

Also, when considering how much we do or do not publish bear in mind that not every manuscript on here is a finished work. Quite a number of books that make the Desk are not complete and we are, understandably, less likely to sign up one of these until there are finished. And there are some authors we have spoken to about possible book deals who have not chosen to take us up on the offer.

We are looking for books that we think stand a chance of being successful in what is already a crowded marketplace. We are prepared to put the editorial expertise and time into these books but we will not just routinely publish any book that makes the desk, however popular it may make us if we did.

I am sure many of you realise that this is the case but I also know that many are frustrated and want to see more books from authonomy being published by HarperCollins. This will happen if we can fix the way the site works.

Will authonomy users get any say in the new version of the site?

Of course you will, and you’ll all be invited to take part in a survey pretty soon. We’ve only just secured the funds for the revamp so now is the perfect time to get your ideas and suggestions. We read many of these every week anyway but it makes sense to consolidate them through a more formal survey. So watch this space...

26 comments:

Bob said...

Thanks Scott. Great information. I suspect that a lot of people are in my position. I have been editing and revising my Authonomy manuscript over the years, but I have not posted the results yet on Authonomy. Although I enjoy the interaction, and have benefited from comments, I just don't quite have the confidence in the site that I used to. If you can pull off the changes you mentioned in this post and the last, it will go a long way to restoring my confidence, and convincing me to post my latest, more polished work.

I have been on the site pretty much from the beginning,(dadoo) and have written five complete novels during that time, none of which I have posted there. Keep up the good work Scott, and you may see more of me.

Thanks again. You and Rachel (especially Rachel;-) have worked hard over the years. I have read enough good stuff on Authonomy to believe that it will really be worth your while to fix it.

Not to mention that if you really do get the correct combination of algorithms and user input that allows good books to get to the top, you will have found the holy grail of the digital publishing age, and created a new paradigm for our brave new self publishing world. I like ambition :-)

Bob

bardoftweedale said...

A ranking system less prone to being manipulated by networking and self-promotion and more reflective of a novel's qualities has to be a good thing from my point of view.

I do have one related question. I am aware that HC has many imprints each of which has a different niche within the market; however, my impression is that overall, HC’s primary interest is at the highly commercial end of the spectrum and that they are accordingly rather less likely to be interested in literary fiction and cross-genre fiction where the market is less defined. Is my impression correct and if so what advice do you have for those among us not writing for the popular market?

Five Go Glamping said...

I've noticed when I've gone to get images form The Harper Collins site for my blog that there are links to authonomy on book pages on the Harper Collins site- like this http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/Titles/47965/bring-up-the-bodies-hilary-mantel-9780007315093

But I did wonder if it would be possible to make these genre specific, so for example if someone is looking at a Lindsey Kelk book, ten it would link to chick lit. At the moment they just link to the newest books.

Would be great for everyone to get feedback from *actual* readers.
Though I don't know what incentive a reader would have to register with the site etc.

Oh and nice to see your face Bob!

Frankie said...

I think Five's suggestion is quite clever.

I also think it would be nice if Authonomy were a little more reader-friendly. I think it'd be nice if authors had the option of making their chapters downloadable to register readers--I think this would be especially useful to writers who are looking for critique on a WIP because it means the reader isn't chained to an LCD.

It would be nice if comments could be hidden by the reader (I hate spoilers on what I'm reading) and it would be nice if each chapter had a separate comments page.

It would also be nice if there was some kind of counter that told you when you were out of characters on message and comment boxes so you don't lose half your typing when you hit post.

And it would be great if it would remember what chapter I was on in a specific book.

And it would be nice if I got a notice in my feed when books on my shelf or watchlist had new chapters added. (Or, maybe if I could configure the level of alert, like any change, new chapter only, no alerts.)

I am looking forward to your survey. :)

beegirl said...

Scott, How can you make a rating system that allows children and YA books to get noticed? The target audience is not allowed on authonomy! Who is ever going to vote for a book from one of those two genres without some promise of return.

Kim Velk said...

Youth wants to know (and others as well), are you all at HC looking around at this site at anything other than the top vote-getters? I have been active here for a month or so and figured out pretty quickly that the talent that really gets rewarded here is not great writing. In fact, most (though not all) of what I have seen there at the tippy top was pretty awful... The two best things I have found so far came through that random "pitch me" app (or whatever the term is) that appears on the bottom of the home page. The writers of those books seem to have little interest in log rolling, trading compliments etc. and so (despite my small efforts) they remain obscure here. Maybe you could have some kind of extra weighting for a cohort of vetted commentators who are not on the make for their own books when they single something out. Or maybe if HC editors are poking around and they see something they like, there could be some special recognition that would boost these talented, non self-promoting types.

Claire Riley said...

I'm finding it increasingly frustrating when searching for books to read/and or comment on to find a book and then realise that the user hasn't been active for 568 days and such. Surely they should be taken off after x amount of time? Or at least put into a seperate archives file where users can still go and find a book if they want.

They come up in the 'pitch-me' section also, which just seems unhelpful.
You have over 10'000 books on this site, but the number of active books is more than likely half of that number, which would therefore help you to find your 'golden egg' x

Scott Pack said...

Bob, I too hope the revamped site makes you want to post your work here.

Bard, don't let my colleagues at 4th Estate hear you say that! They publish Hilary Mantel (two Booker prizes, one Costa and counting), Chimamanda Adiche and so many others. They are probably the most literary imprint in the country.

Five, I have no idea but will look into it. That being said, I don't trust the genre listings on here anyway, so many authors pick multiple genres that they cease to make sense.

Frankie, all quite technical stuff but it would be useful if you could mention it if you take the survey.

Bee, it is a problem and can only really be fixed by allowing all ages onto the site, something I am not keen to do given some of the content! We do need to look at it though.

Kim, part of the point to this blog post was to make it clear that this is precisely what we are doing. So yes, we are searching the whole site.

Claire, we will not be deleting manuscripts or profiles at this stage.

Thanks everyone.

bardoftweedale said...

Aha!
"don't let my colleagues at 4th Estate hear you say that! They publish Hilary Mantel (two Booker prizes, one Costa and counting), Chimamanda Adiche and so many others. They are probably the most literary imprint in the country."

Thanks Scott, excellent news.
So if one of your reviewers were to find a title that would fit within 4th Estate's portfolio and was of publishable quality, what would they do next? Would they advise the author to approach 4th Estate or would they send the ms direct to 4th Estate?
Colin (BoT)

Ted Cross said...

I liked seeing your comment about unfinished works and the desk. It allows me to keep deluding myself that you haven't outright dismissed my book. It's in the top ten and I haven't spammed or sock armied or played the swapping game. I do think that HC is not really the house for my genre anyhow, since when I did an inventory of my home bookshelves, I had over six hundred books but only two were published by HC, leading me to believe that you just don't look for my kind of story. But the site is useful anyhow, for the rare but invaluable reader feedback that helps us better our books.

Scott Pack said...

Colin, if we or our reading panel thought a book was right for 4th Estate we'd definitely take it to them.

Mindy Haig said...

Hi Scott,
You mentioned that not all of the work that makes the desk is complete. Having 2 complete books on here, I have been advised a number if times that I should never have my complete work posted as publishers frown on that. What does HC want?

Pete said...

How about making reviews star rated for a book? Those who back a book that reaches the desk which gets a five star rating see a healthy boost to their TSR; those who back a dog see an equally unhealthy fall. That would mean that the real talent spotters would have more say in who reaches the top in the first place over time as their TSR increases markedly over the months.

Pete said...

... and maybe, along the same lines, cut the diplomacy in the reviews. Make it more professional. Hammer books which really ought never to have got to the top in the first place. As things stand people tend to read compliments with a few apologetic reservations along the way. The odd 'It amazes me enough people backed this rubbish to get it to the top in the first place' wouldn't go amiss. It may lead people to think twice before pushing for the desk if they read a few of those.

Colin Neville said...

The race to the top 5 creates the problems that we are all familiar with: false accounts, spamming, gratuitous and false praise of other's work to get their support. If the target was the top 100 this might ease the problem, although not eliminate them. Once a writer has reached the 100, a HC panel could scan these books and select those that are completed and show promise. This would reduce the often mindless and repetitive forum hopping and chum-building that has to go on. It cannot be very productive for writers to spend so much time on forums - albeit their choice - but it puts at a disadvantage those who cannot, or have no inclination to, devote 5+ hours a day on this activity

katjordan said...

It is good to see communication from Team Autho.

Best Wishes,
Kat

bardoftweedale said...

Hi Scott

There's a deal of speculation on the http://authonomy.com/forums/threads/108794/scott-pack-questions-and-answers/ thread surrounding whether or not anyone at HC regularly checks out newly uploaded work for its publishing potential. Personally, I think you have better things to do than go through a slush pile or you wouldn't have built this site, but I wonder if you could confirm either way.
Colin

Lesa Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lesa Clarke said...

I agree with what some of the others have said, getting rid of the top 5 as a goal would remove a lot of the spamming and popularity contests that get certain books to the top. Perhaps a different way of selecting books to be reviewed would work better, although I have no idea where you start with that.

I know you've said you don't have much faith in the genre listings on Autho but I do have one question and I raised it with Rachel before. Could we please have women's fiction added as a genre? Chick-lit is the closest some of us can get but it's an aspect of women's fiction and doesn't encompass the whole genre. Chick-lit is a tag that can deter potential readers.

Scott Pack said...

Mindy, I suspect publishers are more interested in finding quality writing then whether or not it has appeared in its entirety on a writing community.

Pete, we are looking all all aspects of ratings, rankings etc. as part of the new revamp. As for reviews, we are introducing a new template for these so that they prove more useful to the writers.

Bard, we do not routinely read the newly updated books but it is one place we, and I, look for titles outside of the topped ranked ones.

Lesa, all the genres will be reviewed, yes.

Thanks everyone.

Jack Wracker said...

Can you do anything at all about the desk being rigged by those who can bring in sock armies for one friend after another? You can actually watch it happen. It's annoying, it's like a bunch of prefects in a sixth form common room manipulating life to their choosing.

Pete said...

I think the TSR is the key, making it work so that the effect of backing a book is tied in with whether or not the backer has previously supported a good book that reached the desk, biased against those who have supported rubbish to the desk. Just as the charts aren't meritocratic, so TSR has nothing to do with talent spotting.

Everyone starts off with a TSR 100. Anyone backing a book that reaches the desk has their TSR adjusted as follows in accordance with reviews.

5* +100
4* +50
3* no change
2* -50
1* -100


Everyone would know exactly how their TSR operates and it wouldn't be affected by anything else. Moreover, with a star-rating the reviewers would be forced to be honest and that may discourage some from pushing a work they know is substandard, even if only in need of editing, because they know they're not going to get an automatic pat on the back.

People with TSR 0 or negative have no impact upon the rise of a book they back - they're only backing in the hope that their books would reach the desk and raise their TSR so they wouldn't back a dog.

Every 50 points on TSR counts as a plus for a book backed. 50 points, +1. 100 points, +2.

It would force people to think about what they're backing if they're not to be rendered useless as backers.

The only thing I can see mitigating against this is that a 'glee club' is less popular than a site for the professionally-minded. The question is whether Authonomy wants to attract a professional attitude in terms of its membership or whether it wants traffic. If the goal is traffic - and I don't see how you can have both - then any measures taken to make the charts meritocratic are going to impact upon the number of people using the site.

Pete said...

Apologies, typo in the above.

... a 'glee club' is MORE popular than a site for the professionally-minded

Mitch Kelly said...

Personally I think it would be great to have a top 5 in each genre (which would take the overall top for a month closer to 100, which others have mentioned). If those lists are scanned and vetted by an editor before going to a reading panel, I think we would have some better outcomes.
It would be good if the results of the scan should be made the top comment of the MS. There could be several comments available - "On the editor's desk", "Needs a lot of work before an editor could review", "Not a commercially viable plot".

I understand that a focus is reducing the spamming and insincere backing, and I really hope that can be achieved. As Bob said, it would give me a reason to try and overhaul my work and see where it could go. As I mentioned though, I do think that what happens at the top should also be tweaked. Others have asked for bad books to be hammered, and while I agree to an extent, I think the method outlined above may be a little more practical and lead to less tension.

If I somehow managed to get near the top in a new ranking system, it would be great to get feedback from HC. Even if that feedback is a general comment to revise a little more before actually getting a proper ED review.

Alternatively you could do away with the scan and just review the top place in each genre for that month - but that may increase the load on the Editor's desk (unless genres are alternated so that the number of genre's per month is manageable).

I think by having ratings within a genre, those that feel the genre does not get enough attention should be more satisfied.

Now genres themselves - Scott you made mention that people have selected more than one and it makes things confusing. I think that is due to the options available. Where is action-adventure, or just action? I know they are popular genres (Clive Cussler, Matthew Reilly, James Rollins are my favourite authors, and just a little popular I believe).
Please revise the genre list. Preferable to a major genre and then sub-genre.
One of the options is fiction - while I get non-fiction as a genre since there are not too many - does fiction really tell us anything?

JD Revene said...

It's a great site, and it's wonderful to see the occasional work - like Ramadan Nights - being published from the site. In all honestly, it's probably unrealistic to expect large numbers ever to be published. But we can dream.

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