A first for a writer from Northern Ireland.

I'm sure your remember reading last month about Gerry McCullough who was at Number 5 on the 28th April on the HarperCollins (publishers) website: authonomy.com The top 5 books on that list at midnight 2 days later were to be read by HarperCollins, with the possibility of a publishing deal for the authors. I kept checking and kept my fingers crossed hoping  that Gerry would have that opportunity and I'm glad to say she did. I asked her to tell me just what it was like for her...

The Authonomy Experience.
by Gerry McCullough

At midnight on 30 April, I became the first writer from Northern Ireland to reach the top five on www.authonomy.com and have my book, Belfast Girls, selected for reading by Harper Collins, the major publisher.

I won’t hear what they think of it for several months, yet. Meantime, I’m still floating on air!

“Tell us about it - what was it like? How did you know about it?” people ask me.

I first heard of Authonomy last October, through my literary agent, Bill Jeffrey, of the Wordsmith’s Forge. The name means ‘author autonomy’, i.e. freedom for the author to be judged by his peers. Harper Collins set it up to sift through the thousands of unsolicited manuscripts they get every year. Up until now, these manuscripts have been dumped in the ‘slush pile,’ where they wait for years before anyone has time to read them. Now, instead, other writers read the book online, comment, and, if they decide to, ‘back’ the book; that is, vote for it. As the book accumulates votes, it moves up the rankings. At the end of each month, Harper Collins reads the current top five books, gives an in-depth critique, and possibly offers a publishing deal.

Bill Jeffrey’s contact at Harper Collins said this was the best way for a relatively new agent to bring an unknown writer to the publisher’s attention. It sounded like a great idea.

So, enthusiastically expecting that the whole thing could be done in a couple of months, I uploaded my book, Belfast Girls, on 21 October 2009, and was ranked six thousand and something, the very bottom of the list.

In less than two weeks, Belfast Girls had worked its way up to the top thousand, and by the time I’d been on site for exactly a month, I was at 143. Bill and I optimistically expected that I’d be in the top five by January.

However, enlightenment was to come.

As competition gets fierce at the top end of the rankings, movement gets slower and slower. By January I was in the top twenty. It took until the first day of April to get into the crucial top five.

To start with, I was getting between five and seven backings a day, and moving fast. But by March, even getting fifteen backings a day wasn’t enough to move me up a place, if the book above mine happened to get sixteen backings!

Backings can come from other writers, or from supporters who register on the site just to back one particular book. This is fine, and is encouraged by Authonomy. So naturally, I tried to rope in all the support I could.

On my last day, I got an amazing eighty-five backings, many of them from people who heard about the book either on this blog or on the Gerry Anderson show. So thanks a million, everyone!

My six months' hard work, reading and commenting on other books so that they would return the favour, was quick progress by Authonomy’s standards. Many people have been on site for over a year before getting to the top. Many give up in discouragement when their progress slows down dramatically. So, was it worth it, and if I’d known how long it would take, would I still have done it?

The answers are yes, and yes. How else would I get Harper Collins to read my book? As a bonus, the comments of other writers have often been useful (although not always!) and I’ve made some changes to Belfast Girls in the light of these, which I think have improved it.

So what does the future hold for Belfast Girls?

Like someone who has sat an exam, done their best, and finished their paper, there’s nothing more I can do now, except try to forget it until the time when the results are due out.

I just have to wait and see.

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