HarperCollins recently introduced a new way for prospective authors to get their books noticed, and it’s way Web 2.0.

Authonomy.com lets you upload your manuscript (or partial manuscript – at least 10,000 words must be uploaded), where it’s available to be read by editors, publishers, agents, and your writing peers – as well as anyone else who feels like checking out the site.

Visitors to the site then rank their favourites, and once a month the top 5 books get sent to a team of HarperCollins commissioning editors for consideration.

The idea is to “beat the slush pile,” but reaction to the initiative has been mixed.

Written Road thinks Authonomy represents an exciting opportunity:

Your uploaded travel book or books will be sitting on the doorstep of one the world’s largest publishers. Your work is also ripe for discovery by talent scouting agents, not to mention other publishing houses that may dip into the site from time to time spotting the next best thing for their list before HarperCollins themselves get to it.

The Guardian’s books blog, on the other hand, takes a more cynical view:

I remain unsure whether this really provides a great service for writers or whether it will level the playing field. I imagine that the hearts of those behind Authonomy are in the right place, but it’s hard to ignore the suspicion that what they are really doing is outsourcing the unlovely task of sluicing through the slush pile. Of course, outsourcing is totally within publishers’ (and agents’) rights. Reading and responding to the slush pile doesn’t generally make them any money, with the cost of the time spent most likely outweighing any profit made from finding a very, very occasional diamond amongst all the rough.

Being realistic, I think Authonomy may end up being a nice polite way for the publishers to say that they’re not accepting unsolicited submissions anymore. If the launch goes well, I’d wager that anyone asking about submissions will be directed to hit the site, keeping editors’ (and editorial assistants’) desks clear for them to get on with the books agents have sent them, the ones they are genuinely interested in.

As for me, of course I love the idea of being able to cut straight through the hassle and have my (imaginary) book manuscript voted right on to an editor’s desk.

But I’ve also always figured that if you’ve got the skills and the right idea, you’ll be able to find yourself an agent – and that agent will find you a publisher.

The thing is, short-cuts rarely work, especially when the voting public is involved.

How many American Idols have managed to put together award-winning, lasting music careers? How many Top Model winners have actually become, well, top models?

And, I wonder, how many Authonomy.com manuscripts are ever going to hit the New York Times bestseller list, or even get published?

Call me jaded, but this strikes me as more false hope than legit opportunity.

That being said, I’ll be thrilled for the lucky writer who proves me wrong.

What do you think?

Photo by gadl (Creative Commons)