The lesson of Authonomy? Good writing has great value

Does anyone remember Authonomy? The site launched by HarperCollins back in 2008 was supposed to revolutionise and democratise how new writers were discovered. I try and keep track of new talent entering the writing field, and it occurred to me recently that I couldn’t think of a single writer to come out of Authonomy and become an established author. Maybe I’m missing something, but after some time researching, I still can’t find any true Authonomy success stories.


Let me suggest that Authonomy is based on a profoundly inaccurate assumption. It’s an assumption that the publishing industry has good reason to believe, and that aspiring writers are happy to buy in to as well. The assumption is this – that there is far more good writing than can be published. Picture a world crowded with talented writers, either naturally gifted or rolling off the production lines of MFA courses and the like, but with far too few opportunities to publish to go around.

Well. If this assumption was true, wouldn’t Authonomy, and many other web sites and publishers claiming to promote new talent, have actually turned some up by now?

Here is an alternative possibility. Good writing is rare. In fact, so rare that there is far LESS of it than the publishing industry needs to thrive. In fact much of what the publishing industry does is find ways to promote and make money from not-so-good writing in the periods between the rare bits of good writing turning up. And because it is rare, when good writing does show up, it has value.

Which is really the point. Too many writers proceed on the assumption that their work is good enough, but valueless. The healthier and more productive position to take is that your writing is not good enough, that you need to keep improving, but that when you do make good writing, it does have great value. The difference between these two poles is often the difference between success and failure as a professional writer.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

7 thoughts on “The lesson of Authonomy? Good writing has great value

    1. Ah! I suspected there were some. And interesting you say “despite” the site, as it’s my guess a writer producing good work is only taking a longer path entering to this kind of talent contest.


      1. I think there was only Miranda Dickinson who found her agent through having her work up on Authonomy, IIRC. The rest of the ones I know (me, Jen Williams, Natasha Solomons, Margaret Skea, Judith Kinghorn, Jenny Brown, Richard Pierce) went the submission route, I believe, rather than pinning our hopes on being plucked from Authonomy’s depths.


  1. I was on Authonomy much later than you, Elspeth, when Miranda was Authonomy’s (only) example of an author published from the site. Like every writer on the planet, my confidence in my ability to write is the size of a small, small thing whimpering in the back of my brain, but I remember going the trad route because I reckoned the agents and publishers would be looking for something worth publishing, not reaching the top of a talent contest. When, as you say, Damien, I’ve improved to the point I have something worth publishing, it will have a value.


  2. I meant it turned into a talent contest when I was on there, it sounded like a genuinely useful showcase for passing agents from comments of (the few) original contributors I met later on. I haven’t delved into the motives for setting it up, found it was, yes, the long way round.


  3. I suppose it depends on what you mean by success.

    Would 6 Sunday Times bestsellers count?

    Over half a million books sold by HarperCollins authors found on Authonomy, does that do the job?

    That’s not including authors that have been picked up by other publishers from the site.

    We recognised that Authonomy was in need of a revamp as we wanted to get our strike rate up. The site had been going for quite a while by then so a rejig was long overdue. The new look has been given a soft launch now and we’ll be pushing it with gusto in the new year.

    Sites like these need to evolve and certainly need to deliver great books to stay useful and relevant and I believe we can and are doing that.

    Scott Pack


    1. Maaaybe if you told me who the authors are. There are about twenty bazillion bestselling author so by itself, no, it means nothing. 500,000 books between how many writers? The same six? 12? 100?

      Which is all just a build up to the key point that you have UTTERLY MISSED THE POINT OF MY POST. Which is that good writing has value, it’s also rare and IN DEMAND. Authonomy proceeds on entirely the opposite assumption it seems. You’re welcome to adress the actual point, certainly, and I’ll happily discuss it.

      Liked by 1 person


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