Wednesday, November 2, 2011

R & R - Rehab and Recovery - for Riters= the 3Rs

I'm Jean Gill and I think I might have an addictive personality. Unfortunately this doesn't mean what grammatically it ought to i.e. that other people just can't get enough of me. Instead it means that I get hooked. When my brain then informs the rest of me about the amount of time I've spent doing X or the amount of damage X is likely to do to my life, I take the same measures most addicts take - I replace one addiction with another. You know Xactly what I mean because you have your own X. I love the description of someone as 'unbalanced' because I think we all are.

Blogging seems an obvious activity for a writer but it's actually work avoidance (you're not writing your novel) and addictive (you're writing) ; the perfect replacement for my last addiction.

I'm not the first romantic to dream of the perfect mate, a life-time together, a happy-ever-after. There are millions of us, writers, all seeking the perfect Editor, who loves everything we write, a life-time partnership based on mutual respect and a generous contract (to the author) and of course earning us shedfuls of dosh. Embittered by doses of real-life publishing, we are lured to

I wish I could pretend I was under-cover, investigating this strange reality show run by Harper Collins but no, I spent 2 months of my life in the company of thousands of other writer wannabes in a desperate and time-consuming bid to move my latest novel up the ranks on the site. You will still find it there dropping down from its peak at 334 since I stopped playing the game.

Authonomy is 'a community of writers' and I found that to be the case. I read some outstanding books, met fellow-writers for whom I have great respect and made friendly contacts that are likely to last. I can't think of any other way I would have had constructive criticism on my book by a fellow-novelist specialising in the 12th century - the period of my novel. His input beat anything I've known from a professional Editor. And of course the fact that he and others liked the book was all very encouraging.

But that's not the main aim of the site from Harper Collins' point of view. Very few publishers these days read manuscripts unless they come from Literary agents. Very few Literary Agents read manuscripts unless they're from successful authors/famous people/those on some kind of funny handshake/party network that I'm not in on (* You will note writer's paranoia creeping in sometimes - that's because They are out to avoid getting me) Most writers can't get their manuscripts to someone who'll read them. So Harper Collins offers the big prize; if you get to the top 5 in rank, your book will be read and reviewed by a Harper Collins Editor. You have the right to quote from the review in any subsequent publicity and if you're lucky, your book will actually be published by Harper Collins.

How do you get to the top 5? That could be a book in itself! Basically you go up the ranks by reviewing and rating other people's books, and by the performance of your choice of 5 books, placed on your bookshelf. It quickly becomes like a presidential campaign, with people promoting each other's books to improve their own status, attracting attention by 'friending' others and of course spamming. I learned a lot about how to write spam that sounds like it isn't, as well as suffering offers from dubious Asian girls who thought they could pleasure me. I sometimes responded to the former but not to the latter.

On the positive side, publishers DO trawl authonomy for manuscripts and I personally know one writer who found a very good, independent publisher after a year on authonomy (lucky bugger). It is a great place to learn from your fellow-writers - there is always someone there who knows exactly what you want to find out. It can sharpen up your writing or drop your confidence to zero, depending on what comments you attract and how well you can cope with them, bearing in mind that the comments can be as much gamesmanship as everything else on the site. One technique is to rave about every book so people will think how nice you are and rate your book.

What I found deeply depressing was the prize. I've now read about 8 reviews from Harper Collins Editors. These were pretentious critiques, reviews that looked to find fault and show off the Reviewers' degrees in Literature (got one of them, meself). Every time, the book was damned by faint praise and never ready for publication. I keep wondering how the writers feel, after a year or more clawing their way up the ranks, reviewing books until they can't read more than 3 chapters of any book and the constructively criticising it in their heads (I got to that stage), acclaimed by their fellow-writers, top 5 out of thousands of books - and they received a couple of drab paragraphs in response.

Competition brings out the worst in people and you'll see plenty of that on authonomy. The competition itself takes over and reason disappears, especially as books get nearer the precious 'Editor's Shelf'. I know a writer whose book reached number 7 and he was then harried off the site. I know of another whose book was under 50 after a year and he realised how crazy it was getting and withdrew the book. I can't blame Harper Collins for this but I can blame them - and other publishers - for a situation where writers are so desperate just for someone to read the beginning of their book BEFORE rejecting it. I am also very irritated that I found so many books I want to carry on reading but they're not being published. More about my idea for that, in another blog.

I started self-publishing because I write so many varied things that even when I found a publisher, it wasn't right for the next book and the Editor wasn't interested. We all know that the publishing world has changed, also I've got better at self-publishing and I'm no longer desperate. I used authonomy to help me improve my book, to mix with other writers and to contribute to their books. I've run Writers' groups for years and I've learned a little about what works and what doesn't. I managed to turn my back on the competition. I can't stop the pangs when I notice my book falling down the ranks - 883 today - but I never wrote one spam mail, nor one book review unless I'd read three chapters of the book and thought about it.

If I feel a relapse coming on, I'll write another blog! I'd be very interested in your reactions to anything I've said here. My final verdict on authonomy? Great place to mix with other writers but be strong, know what you want from it and record very carefully how much time you spend each day doing something you feel you ought to rather than that you want to. I told my friends there that I'd keep dropping in and would still review books 'from time to time'. It was suggested to me that 'no longer than 2-3 weeks between reviews would be appreciated'. Sorry but this addict is setting her own timescale on authonomy visits.

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