by R.C. Lewis
We're in the age of social media. (You all know that, because you're reading a blog right now.) Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+—there are plenty of options for connecting with people all over the world. While the sites I mentioned are general and can be used for just about any purpose, personal to professional, there are also sites that cater to more specialized groups.
There's no shortage of places for writers to connect online—AgentQuery Connect, QueryTracker, Absolute Write, just to name a few. There are also a few communities run by Big 6 publishers, which we'll look at here.
The first site is Authonomy, established in 2008 by HarperCollins (UK-based). Originally conceived as an online slushpile, books are "backed" by other users to move up the ranks, and at the end of each month, the top five books are pulled for review by an editor at HC. Authonomy is open to just about any genre or audience, from kid-lit to erotica (the latter explaining why you must be 18 or older to join). Users must upload a minimum of 10k words, though some choose to upload their entire manuscript.
The Authonomy forums can be rough-and-tumble at times, but a savvy user can avoid trouble ... usually. The site itself has changed relatively little over its three years, adding a few features such as weighting backings based on Talent Spotter Rating (TSR), using star ratings to rank separately from the backing system, and requiring a backing to last at least 24 hours to count. A few books from the site have been published by HC—all pulled long before they reached the top five.
Inkpop is also run by HarperCollins (US-based), but is more specialized. This is the place for writing by teens and for teens. Much of the site works the same as Authonomy, but a major difference is the ability to upload shorter works (poetry and short stories).
After remaining fairly constant after launching in 2009, Inkpop recently underwent a major facelift. Besides changing the look of the site, several features have been added. There are now separate Top Five categories for novels, short work, and poetry (so a total of fifteen works are pulled for review each month). Rather than upload chapters as separate files, a single file is uploaded and viewed using Scribd. Users are ranked not only as Trendsetters (similar to Authonomy's TSR), but also as Critics. And like many other sites (and games) these days, there are 25 different badges users can earn. They're also gearing up for the release of Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon, which made the Top Five last year and will be released by HarperTeen this fall. (Fun fact: I read several chapters of an early draft on Authonomy back in late 2009.)
Book Country, started up by Penguin. They specialize in genre fiction—in fact, take a look at their rather cool Genre Map. Book Country is a little different from the HarperCollins-run sites. The focus is more on reviewing and connecting with other writers, as well as sharing information about the industry.
Reviews are broken down into different areas—Overall Feedback, Point of View, and Pacing. Books are given a star-rating, and like Inkpop, various badges can be earned. Reviews can be marked by others as helpful or not. While there are Book Country Favorites and Buzz Books, there's no promise for a review by an editor.
An interesting note from their site: "Later this year, Book Country will offer a convenient and affordable way to self-publish eBooks and print books. With a variety of services available, we want you to be able to put your book on the map. As Book Country grows, we will continue to offer additional features and services we think you will appreciate." I'm curious to see how this shapes up.
There are many benefits to each of these sites. Connections on Authonomy have given birth to several independent publishing groups. I personally know several writers who've been contacted by literary agents and publishers based on their visibility on both Authonomy and Book Country (and I imagine it's happened on Inkpop, too). And of course, getting feedback on your work is always a plus.
Have you been involved in any of these sites? How have they benefited you? What works and what doesn't? What would you like to see from a publisher-based community?