Ask The Editor

November 19, 2008

Harper-Collins’ online “slush pile”

Filed under: Commentary,The Publishing Biz — editorialconsultant @ 4:35 pm

Book publishing giant Harper-Collins has created a community where authors may upload their manuscripts and self-published books (both fiction and non-fiction), and other community members get to read them and vote on them.

The promise is that Harper-Collins editors will troll through this slush pile and, perhaps, discover an unknown talent (sort of the way starlets were said to have been discovered in the 1940s, sipping sodas at a Hollywood drug store counter).

authonomy invites unpublished and self published authors to post their manuscripts for visitors to read online. Authors create their own personal page on the site to host their project – and must make at least 10,000 words available for the public to read.

Visitors to authonomy can comment on these submissions – and can personally recommend their favourites to the community. authonomy counts the number of recommendations each book receives, and uses it to rank the books on the site. It also spots which visitors consistently recommend the best books – and uses that info to rank the most influential trend spotters.

We hope the authonomy community will guide publishers straight to the freshest writing talent – and will give passionate and thoughtful readers a real chance to influence what’s on our shelves.

Call me a cynic but I’m not convinced that Harper-Collins’ editors are furiously sorting through the unagented manuscripts of would-be authors, hoping to find the next blockbuster. They already get hundreds of submissions each week via literary agents. Most editors have their days filled — along with some weekends and evenings — reading those.

So why create the online slush pile?

My guess is that Harper-Collins expects to benefit in less direct ways by creating a social network comprised of readers and authors. First, it can market its current offerings to both. Also, by engaging readers who rank manuscripts, it forms an ongoing focus group that lets the company discover what broad factors “sell” a book, absent promotion and advertising. So, it will be able to better predict what will attract a large audience (and, perhaps, avoid throwing seven-figure advances to duds destined for remainder tables).

And maybe, just maybe, if one manuscript gets recommended by so many readers that it forces someone in acquisitions to take notice, we’ll see some lucky undiscovered author offered a contract. Stay tuned.


  1. Discovery in a giant slush pile seems pretty unlikely. Are there any hot topics that seem to be catching the eye of publishers these days? Given the economic downturn are they more focused on feel-good subjects?

    Comment by Melanie McMinn — November 19, 2008 @ 6:04 pm | Reply

  2. That’s a great question, Melanie. In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting interviews with agents, as well as published fiction authors and acquisitions editors. I’ll put that in my interview questions folder so I can bring you answers from the front lines.

    Comment by editorialconsultant — November 19, 2008 @ 6:14 pm | Reply

  3. I’ve been on the site for a few months now and the problem of getting noticed is a real issue. Not so for one author, Robert N Stephenson. He left the site and removed his book soon after I joined, and he was almost on the editor’s desk. But people are still talking about Uttuku, the book and the writer. Not in a good way mind you but it is still amazing how this person made such a huge impact on the site. So much so that people are confessing they are really this person so others will read their books. I have been tempted, but when a reader see that my book isn’t Uttuku then the games up. So, if you want to get noticed fast on what is a very unwieldy site, maybe have a log in that mentions Uttuku – you will get attention very quickly. One person, who others thought was Mr Stephenson, received 4000 hits in 24 hours. I won’t mention my book, as that is frowned upon by the members on Authonomy, and Uttuku is no longer there (a very good book mind you), so I feel I can say a little bit with relative safety.

    Comment by Trish — November 28, 2008 @ 9:38 pm | Reply

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