Authonomy: First Look

May 7, 2008


HarperCollins have just launched their online slushpile site,, in private beta. Authonomy allows budding authors to upload chapters of their work for the rest of the community to read and comment on.

There’s been a lot of speculation about how this would be implemented, and at first sight it looks pretty good – HC haven’t overreached themselves, they’ve simply created a site for people to join, upload their work, and read that of others’. Sounds simple, but many similar projects have failed thanks to scope creep.


Every user gets a profile where they can create a virtual bookshelf showing which other writers’ works they’re supporting – authors get the chance to create their own “cover” for a work too, a pointless but satisfying little feature which is sure to go down very well indeed.


The real challenge, of course, is to persuade wannabe writers to post their work at all – in my own personal experience, unpublished writers are terrified of their work being ‘stolen’, enough to be suspicious of publishers themselves, let alone your average web surfer. The Front List, a previous attempt at a “YouTube for books”/”crowdsourcing the slushfile”-type site, solved this by hiding everything from non-members; one approach certainly, but not one likely to bring in the crowds.

Authonomy’s FAQs wisely address many of these concerns, and they haven’t done too much to break the site in the implementation, short of disabling right-clicking on book text. As they put it, “if someone really wants to pass off your efforts as their own they’ll probably find a way” (Hint: turn off javascript). Their real attitude to the problem is more sensible: “here at authonomy, we believe that your talent is better displayed than kept hidden – and that the chances of good things happening are more likely the more hands your manuscript passes through, and the more people you enlist in your support.”

On the technical side, users upload books by chapter (as few or as many as they like) in Word or RTF formats, which are then displayed as is – imagine hitting ‘Output as web page’ in Word, if you’ve ever done such a thing. It doesn’t result in the prettiest pages, but it does mean the book appears on the site as the author made it, which is, quietly, quite a thing.


Authonomy has been a long time in the making, and in the wake of the disastrous relaunch of, we feared the worst. But Authonomy (still very much in Beta, which can’t claim to be) looks like a very good little set-up which is bound to get plenty of attention and users. Nice one, HC.


  1. I’ve used my beta invite and will eventually blog about whether it’s made a difference in the number of my readers. Unlike many – most? – of the other writers who are likely to use such a site, I’m not angling for a conventional publishing contract, nor particularly interested in free editorial advice. And when you put your work online, i.e. when it’s not in print, everyone seems to assume it’s a work-in-progress.

    Comment by Lee — May 8, 2008 @ 2:31 pm

  2. I was one of the first seven to load my novels, and I like the way it’s going so far. (By the way, I wouldn’t agree that the ‘load a cover’ feature is ‘pointless’ – it’s a useful feature to attract readers to your book, which is what the site is all about).

    It seems to me that the key to Authonomy’s success will be the ranking system’s effectiveness. Youwriteon has managed this; the best books are nearer the top of the charts, the worst nearer the bottom. It remains to be seen whether Authonomy’s quite different approach can do this.

    Comment by Lexi Revellian — May 9, 2008 @ 2:33 pm

  3. @Lexi: You’re very right about the ranking – I noticed that this seemed to be totally absent, but also assumed it was something HC would work in as the amount of content grew.

    I still think covers are pointless – yes, they still function as icons for the book, but it’s very extraneous to the business of writing, and strangely anachronistic for a future-looking site. Still, I know how much people enjoy making them!

    @Lee – while I understand your point, Authonomy is very much a site for work in progress and in search of a publisher, so you shouldn’t be surprised if yours is treated this way…

    Comment by James Bridle — May 9, 2008 @ 2:54 pm

  4. Hey, I just wanted to say thanks for picking out my Authonomy page. The pic I used is about 35 years old, but it was the only one I could find that had me looking even slightly authorial. I am sorry that you took that snapshot before my very tasteful new cover was designed and posted. I like covers.

    It certainly does remain to be seen just what sort of noise, if any, Authonomy will make in the publishing world. So far the entries are dominated by works in progress, which may or may not be an enticement for conventional publishers and agents who from what I understand make it a practice to consider only completed works of fiction. The work I posted, titled “Boomerang” is a completed work, although as any writer will tell you, it is always possible to tweak it a little more. Always.

    Any ranking system is bound to be attacked by those who feel it is not working to their advantage. We’ll see what Authonomy comes up with.

    But all in all, I think Harper Collins should be congratulated for taking a brave leap into the Partially Known.

    Comment by Alan — May 9, 2008 @ 3:42 pm

  5. Hi James! Treat away, I’ve had worse treatment…

    My cover, BTW, is a real one. I’ve made a POD edition available for the readers who have asked.

    Comment by Lee — May 9, 2008 @ 3:53 pm

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  7. Well to address the issue of the copy being stolen I did disable the right click menu to stop people copying and pasting the text which is one way of doing things. However during the process of development I came up with a brainwave to make life much harder for people to casually steal your work.

    Next time you are on Authonomy reading a book if you click the Page Menu and use the View Source option. Then scroll down through the source and see if you can find an intelligable piece of chapter text on that page!!!! Now I may be blowing my own trumpet here but i thaught that it was pretty trick.

    Also in the Quote from the FAQ you have managed to hit the core of the ranking system on the head. I left before It could be implemented but the basic aidea behind it is that the more bookshelves your book inhabits then the higher it will be ranked.

    As I say I’m no longer working on the project or for the company but Authonomy will always have a part of my soul and creativity in it.

    Comment by Tom — June 2, 2008 @ 9:26 pm

  8. Tom,

    I had seen this (for those who haven’t, all book texts are encoded as HTML entities), but it’s essentially the same as the no-right-click: a slight annoyance that inhibits easy sharing and quoting, but does nothing to prevent those genuinely intent on stealing – a quick copy and paste into another file, and the data is there.

    It’s not a big thing, but I am constantly surprised by the lengths people will go to (attempt to) block normal behaviours which have nothing to do with the perceived problem at hand.

    Comment by James Bridle — June 3, 2008 @ 10:08 am

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