The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) Sampler!

Toby Frost

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A while ago, I entered my fantasy novel Up To The Throne in this year's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) competition. Sadly it fell at the first hurdle but Mr Jon Auerbach has put together a sampler of excerpts from the various entries (including my own), together with a forward from Mark Lawrence himself. If you're interested in good new fantasy, you could do much worse than take a look. And it's free!

https://dl.bookfunnel.com/ett75g3wn3


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.matthew.

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Part of me is always annoyed that the competition is open to professional authors as well as debuts. It should be like the Olympics :)

Should be about discovering emerging talent.

Edit: Possibly aimed directly at Toby, whose books I can already find on the shelf of my local Waterstones...
 

Toby Frost

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I take your point and I think it's a fair one. On the other hand, I think there is such a huge gulf between "published" and "successful" that there has to be an opportunity for people printed by small presses, or indeed anyone not published by the big outlets, to have a go. And, given the bad way that publishing currently works, that would include a lot of writers.

Strange as it may seem, I don't feel like a professional, or a success. I would feel professional if I wrote fiction as my job, and I would feel successful if I was making a decent amount of money from it - by which I mean about as much as you get for simple manual labour in a supermarket. That may or may not be fair on new and struggling writers, but there it is. Without doubt, I'm very happy with what I've achieved so far, but it doesn't feel like enough, fairly or not.

Also, I may be a successful published writer - depending on how you define it - but I am definitely not a successful self-published writer. There are people who have never been near an agent or a publisher who sell far more and make many times what I make (probably in my day job too) from self-publishing. I am a pre-internet person, I'm not into fandom and I don't like or have much affinity for promotion. I have probably made my money back from self-publishing, and that may be because I got a discount on the cover art. What being published traditionally has probably done is to enable me to tell people who liked the traditionally published books (which are very different indeed) that I'd written a fantasy novel. That's not to be frowned at - it's undoubtedly helped me, but not as much as being liked/hated/etc in geek circles would have done. Say someone from Critical Role self-publishes a fantasy novel. The traction they'll get from that would be hundreds of times more powerful than my previous efforts could ever do.

There was a case a while ago where quite a known author (within the genre, but not a household name) entered, and did okay, but not especially well. IIRC, there was a bit of muttering about whether this was reasonable, but it seemed to come down to (1) nobody had said that she couldn't, and (2) she hadn't published much for a while, and so it counted as a new venture for her.

I suppose what I'm saying boils down to the fact that being traditionally published in some form doesn't mean all that much in practical terms (although it meant and still means a lot psychologically to me - it was my chief ambition since the age of 12 or so). Thirty years ago, someone like me might well have had a small but steady career, putting out books steadily and making a reasonable amount to top up my usual earnings. Because the mid-list has disappeared, that doesn't happen now.

Ideally, there should be some sort of cut-off point, but I think it should be about earnings (say, no more than £10,000 pa from writing), which would be intrusive and basically impossible to enforce. Other than that, I'm not sure.
 

Stephen Palmer

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A lot of people count their "success" (I'm also going to put that word in quotes...) in terms of money. I can honestly say that even when being pro published by Orbit that's never once mattered to me. The money was nice, but felt very much like a bonus at the time. However, I do sympathise with Toby's 'imposter syndrome,' as I think it's known, and felt the same when I first joined Chrons a decade ago. But now I'm much more interested in the fans' reactions and their reviews.
The world of publishing is unrecognisable from when I started in 1996. I think that's more difficult than people realise to get across, especially to younger (post-internet) Chronners. It would be very interesting for @Brian G Turner to give us a breakdown of the Chrons members by age. That would allow us to compare attitude to self-publishing with age group - could be interesting data.
 

Toby Frost

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Goodness, is that what imposter syndrome is? I thought it was when you didn't think you were good enough to have achieved what you had done (I don't suffer from that). My argument on the money side of things isn't that I'm entitled to a vast mansion and several yachts, although if people want to give me them, I'm fine with that. It's that writing is work - doing anything to a high standard for sale is work - and it seems reasonable to expect some kind of remuneration for it. Unfortunately, for a low-to-midlist writer, that probably involves self-publishing, and self-publishing involves promotion, which is most definitely not my thing.
 

.matthew.

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Oh I completely acknowledge everything you've said there and wouldn't be against this sort of competition for 'published' authors, it'd just prefer to see those who haven't had the chance of exposure to get a little.

Ideally, the whole thing could be split in two, one for debuts, one for everyone else.

I do get your dilemma, I gave my copy of the first of your Captain Smith books to a friend who then went and bought the rest, but nobody else I know has even heard of you (except for one who asked if you did 40k fiction). Promotion in this day and age is saturated.
 

Stephen Palmer

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Goodness, is that what imposter syndrome is? I thought it was when you didn't think you were good enough to have achieved what you had done (I don't suffer from that). My argument on the money side of things isn't that I'm entitled to a vast mansion and several yachts, although if people want to give me them, I'm fine with that. It's that writing is work - doing anything to a high standard for sale is work - and it seems reasonable to expect some kind of remuneration for it. Unfortunately, for a low-to-midlist writer, that probably involves self-publishing, and self-publishing involves promotion, which is most definitely not my thing.
Oops, maybe I conflated two things I shouldn't have.
I'm certain you are good enough!
I thought imposter syndrome was more a feeling of unease than direct negativity.
Perhaps that makes me an imposter here...? :D
Agree about promotion. I tell new writers: writing a novel is easy. Promoting and marketing... that's difficult.
 

Montero

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Part of me is always annoyed that the competition is open to professional authors as well as debuts. It should be like the Olympics :)

Should be about discovering emerging talent.
:). I think the arguments about new projects for trad pub authors have some weight - and having "names" in the competition may draw in a wider readership. Yonks ago, several trad publishers used to put a novella by a new author as a freebie in the back of an existing author's book, to help get them known. Similar effect.
 

.matthew.

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:). I think the arguments about new projects for trad pub authors have some weight - and having "names" in the competition may draw in a wider readership. Yonks ago, several trad publishers used to put a novella by a new author as a freebie in the back of an existing author's book, to help get them known. Similar effect.
I thought it was judged by a committee of sorts? That wouldn't be a wider readership. Besides, it was started by Mark Lawrence so that's your name right there. Looking at it another way though, if the voter reads something by an author they already admire, that is guaranteed to skew the results somewhat.

I think I'm settled on the idea of having it open to everyone but having it in 2 categories (debut + everyone else). Best of both worlds.
 

Montero

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I thought it was judged by a committee of sorts? That wouldn't be a wider readership. Besides, it was started by Mark Lawrence so that's your name right there. Looking at it another way though, if the voter reads something by an author they already admire, that is guaranteed to skew the results somewhat.

I think I'm settled on the idea of having it open to everyone but having it in 2 categories (debut + everyone else). Best of both worlds.
Mmm, I think you've not looked in detail at how the competition runs. The condition for entry is not being a debut author, but that the book is self-published, is either stand-alone or the first of a series, fits the genres and has not previously been entered. It could have been published years previously. You can see all the stages on the website. The entries are divided into sub-groups and those lists are handed off to the judges. So the first round is one judge per group, or one set of judges - the judges are generally book bloggers (some of the blog sites have multiple bloggers some just one) and they review each entry on their blog and comment on why they are rejecting it or putting it through to the next round. So there is ongoing involvement of a wider readership from the start. I also do think that having known names taking part will bring in more readers, as some followers of a known author may go to see how "their" author is doing - the kind of readers who follow "their" author's blogs where the author is likely to be announcing their entry.
 

.matthew.

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@Montero I think you've missed the posts above that one :)

So it is judged by a committee of judges, not a wider readership. That's what I said, and I've never said it is only open to debuts, only that I think that there should be a separate category for them. If you consider the debut author far less practiced than the competition they're at a pretty big disadvantage (we're always told to write, write, write and every author I know seems to think their early works are a mess compared to the latter).

It's also known psychology that people will give more consideration and leeway to someone they're a fan of (writers, actors, musicians, etc) even if it's not their best creation - they are being judged on past works as well (however subconsciously). Hell, just look at how many people defend sports stars when they're caught doing something flat out nasty...
 

Montero

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Er, no, I didn't miss the posts. Yes, I got it wrong that I thought that you thought it was currently only open to debuts. However, the rest of my post regarding the rules is entirely correct - as is the part that a wider readership sees all stages of the competition, and the publicity isn't just for the winner - your earlier posts gave the impression you were unaware of that.
Yes, people probably do give more leeway to someone they're a fan of - do you have any evidence that any of the existing judges did that?
Regarding debut novels - just because a novel is the first one someone has published, it doesn't mean it is the first one they have written. A lot of writers will write several novels before they reach a point where they think they have something worth self-publishing, or submitting to trad pub. (Sadly there are writers who don't, and do try running the first novel written and it is not yet up to standard - but that's another argument.)
And finally, the competition is designed and run by Mark Lawrence - and he is the one putting in a ton of work plus of course the bloggers who do the judging. I'm actually a bit irritated, and it's probably showing in my post, that you are armchair critiquing him. If you want a self-pub competition with two categories, organise one.
 

.matthew.

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I am armchair critiquing the format, not the man, he's done a great job making it work at all. However, it was started to get exposure for self published authors, and yes, I know not just debut authors, yet those who already have books published either through traditional or self means already have that exposure. Maybe they don't get the exposure they deserve, but it can be argued that one of the biggest hurdles of the self publishing industry is getting multiple works under your belt to build momentum. Using the example of Toby Frost from this forum, if you looked at his newest series, you'd also see very good reviews for previous books, which despite being a different genre will help him achieve more sales (even though he's self confessed bad at marketing). People are much more skeptical of debut authors, and in an industry that has so much choice, it's the debuts that get hurt the most, potentially putting them off writing anything further.

I'm not saying this needs to happen, or that he should change it to benefit the people most in need of the exposure, but that I'd like to have seen it that way in the first place.
 

Montero

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yet those who already have books published either through traditional or self means already have that exposure.
Not necessarily. Some self-pub authors can have written an excellent book, but due to it being a little bit different it is hard to get an audience - you have to find your audience one person at a time. Cozy witch mysteries tend to sell easily (not knocking them) but something like say Gail Ann Gibbs "They Called Me Dragon" has sadly very few reviews.
I'm also aware of how many authors I only notice years after they've started publishing, usually though someone online mentioning them, or seeing one of their books in the library. Getting an audience can be crazy hard even when you've written multiple books in a series.
 

Luiglin

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Oops, maybe I conflated two things I shouldn't have.
I'm certain you are good enough!
I thought imposter syndrome was more a feeling of unease than direct negativity.
Perhaps that makes me an imposter here...? :D
Agree about promotion. I tell new writers: writing a novel is easy. Promoting and marketing... that's difficult.
Imposter Syndrove is a feeling that at any point in time and whatever you are doing that you are going to be found out to be a fake, a chancer, an imposter. That whatever success you have, it's down to pure chance and not hard work or skill. It's a state of mind where you constantly self doubt, self criticise and refuse to acknowledge any praise.

I can honestly say it's not a nice place to be.
 

CTRandall

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On a lighter note, I'm getting an idea for a short story here:

Setting: corridor of a space ship. Two identical copies of a young William Shatner stare each other down with phasers levelled at each other.

Shatner 1 shouts, "I'm an imposter. Shoot me!"

Shatner 2 shouts, "No, I'm the imposter. Shoot ME!"

Shatner 1: "You're no imposter. I'm the only fake here. I'm a danger to the whole ship so, dammit, Jim, just shoot me!"

Shatner 2: "I'm not fooling anyone. It's obvious I'm the real imposter. So stop pretending to be a fraud and just shoot me!"

Shatner 1....

...oh, you get the idea
 
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