Looking for Complete Authonomy

Most writers spend their entire passion scratching, scribbling, and fighting for the ultimate confirmation of their writing genius, the book deal. It is an elusive creature that lurks in the shadows of all the major publishing houses in New York. To capture it, is at least temporary confirmation that we haven’t been wasting our time tapping out letters, numbers, and spaces on computer screens morning, noon, and night. We’ve all pictured the moment. There are minor difference depending on the dreamer, but by-in-large, it consists of an office space overlooking the Manhattan skyline, a huge mahogany desk, and a pleasant editor holding out an expensive Montblanc pen for you to sign the contract laid out on the desk in front of you. Your smiling agent places her hand on your shoulder and winks. You take a deep breath, and sign the contract. When you try to hand the pen back, the editor insists you keep it. “You’re part of the publishing elite now,” he explains. “No more Bics for you, and that parking ticket… taken care of.”

Okay, so maybe everyone’s dream of that moment isn’t as specific and twisted as mine, but you get the point. I want a book deal not so much for the fame and fortune. In fact, you can keep the fame, and give me a very tiny part of the fortune. I mainly want the acknowledgment that I belong. Is it ego? Is it insecurity? Is it a desperate cry for attention? Yes, to all three. I’m a writer which means I have serious self-esteem issues. Comes with the territory.

Turns out this is a bad year to be pursuing that first contract with one of the major publishers. They are struggling to keep their lights in some cases, and signing untested talent is not high on their priority list. True, I’ve been tested somewhat with my self-published offerings. I have a track record that includes fairly significant sales, awards, decent reviews, and a tiny bit of marketing acumen. Still, to them, I’m a small fish picking off scraps in a big ocean. They are looking for whales that bring their own gigantic current. Whoa… I carried that ocean themed analogy way too far. I apologize.

Here’s the point, I was perfectly happy facing the sea (technically it’s a different theme) of traditional publishing discontent this year. I know the publishing industry because that’s my job. I knew coming into 2009 that the obstacles had increased exponentially this year because of the economy. And then, thanks to a Facebook friend, I stumbled across Authonomy.com, and hope reared its ugly head again.

What is Authonomy.com? It’s a community created by HarperCollins made up of writers and readers. Writers submit their masterpieces chapter by chapter. Readers read the undiscovered tomes and rate them using their own set of criteria. The books that end up in the top 5 for the month, move over to the Editor’s desk where real, honest to goodness editors from HarperCollins read them and determine whether they are good enough to risk offering a publishing deal. Not only are the writers rated, but the readers are rated for the ability to spot talent. It’s really a marvel of online ingenuity. HarperCollins is using the power of Web 2.0 to minimize the risk of discovering talent. I admire and hate them for it. I find myself helplessly drifting back to that dream of the Montblanc pen again. How dare they make me think I have a chance at traditional publishing happiness!

Now, it’s not as simple as uploading your manuscript and waiting for the praise to rain down on you. You have to participate in the community, and make connections just like with any pursuit of art and business. But the opportunity is there, and it feels more proactive than the strategy of submitting the old fashioned way and finding my way onto the slush pile. Thankfully, I have an agent who does that for me now, but still if I can backdoor this thing with a deal through Authonomy.com, she may yet be able to put her hand on my shoulder and give me that wink.