When HarperCollins launched their slush pile site, Authonomy, in beta, I signed up and received an invitation. I wanted to have the full and genuine authonomy (small 'a') experience, so I dug out of my old files the beginnings of a sf novel (login probably required) that I'd been writing at varsity (you know, instead of sleeping and stuff) and uploaded it. This addition of my own writing enabled me to do more than just poke around the site - I could see how well their conversion engine processed my pages, what happened to the font and hyphenation etc. (nothing horrible), and that the text was genuinely protected from being copied and pasted into someone else's novel (although if they did, I'm not sure they should have bothered).
This was all done very well - no glitches, no crashes, no errors. The next step was to participate in the community a bit - this I did half-heartedly, and it shows, I'm sure. Some people were good enough to bother reading my six chapters, and leave a comment (9, including my replies). Some added me to their showcase (3), and their watchlist (2). I read and commented in return... and then left it there.
The launch of discussion forums brought me back for another quick poke around the site, and occasionally a new comment in my RSS feed brought me back into the site. But otherwise, all was quiet. Discussion forums... big deal! I thought.
And then... and then they changed the game. Two additions: ranking of the manuscripts, based on representation (showcase, watchlist) and comments, and possibly general activity and frequency of login too; and a stopwatch was started. Suddenly, there's a red 'down' arrow indicating my book's lack of popularity! Now, I have 10 days and counting to get my manuscript into the top five positions in order to be skimmed off the top and passed to the HarperCollins editorial department to be read.
Something of an adrenalin rush if you care, even just a bit, about what you've written.
And this experience of being inside Authonomy is most interesting to me because I have a Big Question that I am constantly thinking about and it is: what brings people to a publisher's website? Now Authonomy is not really the kind of publisher's website I have in mind for this question - usually I'm thinking of the catalogue and marketing site - but it presents such a clear answer. You come to Authonomy because you want to get published. And now, the mechanism for achieving that (or having a good stab at it) is in place.
I think the user group / market segment that Authonomy is serving is a bit different too - just as the site is - to the group relevant to my Big Question; this is, in my mind, the middle ground: folks who are more than just readers (ain't nothing wrong with being just a reader!) but not quite writers yet (in the sense of being published, especially within the publishing establishment).
More on the Big Question another day. For now, congratulations to the Authonomy team on changing the game a bit!