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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

SPFBO Author Interview Part II (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Here we are with part II of the SPFBO author interview (read part I here), wherein the authors talk about a certain Fantasy faction article with regards to self-publishing, their thoughts about SPFBO's future and more to come...

Q] I'm sure many of you have heard/read Marc Alpin's piece about self-publishing. What were your thoughts on it? Do you agree or disagree with his conclusions?

Dylan Moonfire: There is a curse to getting a book out these days. It takes very little effort to write something, give it a once over, slap a cover on it, and sell it. I feel that a lot of authors do that, but they could simply be better writers than me. I know somehow who thinks spending more than $20 on a cover is a waste or anything large than nine point font is a waste of space and increases the page count (and POD cost).

On the other hand, after I finished writing Sand and Blood, I spent a year saving up for editors and getting a professionally illustrated cover. I went through about twenty beta readers and a writing group. After I had a failure at Immerse or Die, I got yet again another editor to go through it one more time before I felt comfortable enough to submit to this. I also had to learn how to typeset (not a problem, I like doing it), formatting ebooks (again, I find that fun), advertising and marketing (I don't do that, I know that now), and every other little detail from checking the monthly reports or getting it out on various vendor sites.

I have blind spots when it came to this. One of the biggest is the type of covers I like typically don't sell well (well, at least the 70s). I had to get over that to even make something that could sell. I also probably picked the wrong topic for the cover. I also don't advertise or market well and no one reads my book. :) Can't do everything.

Even with all that, I felt that I was hitting the "diminishing returns" pretty hard. All the effort on my book wasn't going to make it any better.

Anyone can self-publish a book, but it is hard to do a good job at it. Was my effort worth it? I hope the reviews will answer that for me, but the difficulty to make it succeed continues to be a rather significant challenge.

In other words, I agree with him. Self-publishing isn't for everyone. What he said also resonated with Chuck Wendig's post "Slushy Glut Slog:Why The Self-Publishing Shit Volcano Is A Problem".

Matthew Colville: I think if you replace “self-published book” with “indie record” “or “independent film” you’d get a very different response from people. We learned quickly that independent music and film can not only be ‘better’ than the major label/studio stuff, we often expect it to be more vital!

For some reason, books are the last bastion of the snobbery of the Major Label. “If it doesn’t come from one of the Big Three, it’s crap.” People haven’t thought that way about music since the 80s, or film since the 70s. But it may be because books don’t have College DJs or a Sundance Film Festival. Tastemakers who make it a point to sift through the dross and promote the gems they find. We expect to find interesting, challenging stuff on local college radio, or at Sundance. What’s the fiction equivalent?

Well, it’s probably the SPFBO! This is the Sundance Film Festival of Fantasy Novels! Does anyone doubt that not only the winner, but also the semi-finalists will get a lot of attention out of this? And I bet the winner will be a really good book!

Now, that being said, his post was something of an eye-opener for me. I long ago learned you can’t edit your own shit. It just can’t be done, you’re blind to so much stuff. Mistakes you notice immediately in someone else’s work slip by without a blink in your own work.

So I always thought Priest needed the talents of a good Content Editor to become a commercial product. But I’m reluctant to go the route of a traditional publisher for a lot of reasons, mostly that finding an agent is a lot of work and I already have a job! Writing novels in my spare time is one thing, but getting an agent and a publishing deal is like a full time job on its own!

I was happy to let Priest be something I did in my spare time and hope it found an audience online who didn’t mind the absence of real editing, but reading Marc’s blog about self-publishing convinced me to hire a copy editor and spend some money to at the very least make the book the best it can be on my own.

In fact I think, I fear, that Priest made it into Fantasy Faction’s final three because it’s a good book, but will not be chosen as a finalist specifically because it lacks professional copy editing.

Matt Karlov: I think Marc's core concern in that piece was to do with the quality of the work being published. I understand and share that concern, which is why I make sure my fiction is professionally edited and presented before I publish it. But I think much of the piece was based on some incorrect assumptions, the key problem being that it compared the pinnacle of traditional publishing (Robin Hobb, George R. R. Martin, etc.) with something less than the pinnacle of self-publishing. The statistics I've heard suggest that perhaps 1% of submissions get picked up by a publisher, which means that for a meaningful analysis you'd have to compare all published novelists (not just bestsellers but also mid-list and those who publish a book or two and are then dropped) with the top 1% of self-published authors.

You'd also have to keep in mind that the next few percent on the traditional side are getting nothing at all -- perhaps going through that rejection / rewrite cycle to try and break into the 1%, which may never happen -- whereas on the self-publishing side those authors have a chance to start making sales and get wider feedback from readers while honing their craft on subsequent books.

It's true that self-publishing has challenges of its own. So far I've only made back a portion of the money I spent on things like editing and cover design. I struggle to find time to promote The Unbound Man as much as I should. If a major publisher thought they could make me the next Hobb or Martin, I'd almost certainly take the deal. But that's not the choice I have. The actual choice is between Self-Publishing Blackjack and Traditional Publishing Roulette, and at this early stage of my career I prefer the game that gives me a little more involvement in the outcome.

G. R. Matthews: Mihir, again really - this is my boss at FF we're talking about here :) However...

I read it, and all the comment below, and those on Facebook and Twitter. The latter was more of a bear pit, I suppose 140 characters doesn't leave room for much but the main idea. Some Traditionally Published (TP) authors were really supportive/realistic, some were a little more rude and dismissive - I am not saying they were wrong, just honest from their own point of view. Michael J Sullivan was fantastic, as a former and current SP author he had both sides of the coin to look from, in replying to every comment on the article itself.

There is no denying that writing, a book or a short story, is not easy. Writing a good one is bloody difficult. I studied Creative Writing at degree level, and taught it A Level (16 - 18 in the UK), but that doesn't make it any easier. If anything, more difficult and now having read a lot of SP books for the SPFBO and seen how high the bar can be it has become even more of a challenge. Publishing a book should not be approached lightly.

I think Marc's main point was about self-publishing your first book and because you had been turned down by every agent out there. He makes some valid points in this regard. That really is the wrong reason to self-publish. Like any 'business' even if it is a 'hobby-business' it has to be taken seriously. You have to know that your book is good enough, you have to have a belief in it and you have to have some understanding of the process of writing. And you have to read a lot of books. I have files full of half-written novels, short stories, outlines and ideas that will never see the light of day - they are just not good enough. It is important to realise, from the article, that he is not disagreeing with self-publishing in its entirety, just the reasons that some folks use to get into it.

From the article, and knowing how passionate Marc is about books, it is important to realise that he just wants books to be as good as they can possibly be, to be the best experience for the reader that they can possibly be. A small portion of the Self-Pubb'd books we read for the SPFBO should not have reached the light of day and I think that is where he is coming from. I happen to know that he likes some Self-Pub'd books and thinks they are good enough to have an agent / publisher - whether said agents or publishers thinks that is up for grabs.

Self-publishing is not something to be entered into lightly. I was lucky, I had a work colleague who was also considering Self-publishing to talk it over with, to support each other and discuss the pro's and con's of it all. The big TP companies will always be there, but maybe SP and small press are a rising force, eating into the pie that TP companies have kept to themselves for a long time. It happened in music, in games and in TV (Netflix etc), now is SP doing the same for books?

James Cormier: I'm a longtime Fantasy Faction reader, so getting my book sent to Marc's site was both extremely exciting and rather nerve-wracking, because even before he wrote that post I had the impression that he fell somewhere on the skeptical end of the spectrum when it came to opinions about self-publishing. It was nerve-wracking initially because I felt like being self-published already meant one strike against me, but exciting, too, because I knew that if I got a decent review from them I must have really earned it.

So I wasn't surprised to hear Mr. Aplin express his skepticism outright, but I was encouraged by the fact that he remains open-minded. 
I do disagree with many of his conclusions. Yes, there certainly is a winnowing process that necessarily occurs due to the way traditional publishing works, but honestly I think that's becoming less and less the case as time goes by. I've been an aspiring author for many years at this point, and I think I'm about as familiar with the industry as one can be without actually being in traditional publishing, and from what I've observed things just don't work the way they used to.

Is your average traditionally published novel going to be of higher quality than your average self-published novel? Maybe, if only because it went through a selection process that required several key people to be convinced of its quality before proceeding. With self-publishing, obviously, you don't have that: anyone at all can type out a Word document and upload it to KDP and put it out in the same market, in ebook form at least, as the books published by the Big Five. So there's that. You definitely do have to do a little more sifting with self-publishing to find the good stuff, particularly when you're looking for people serious about the craft.

But the image of the concerned agent and editor, painstakingly working through draft after draft of a novel to make it the absolute best it can be, with the result being a polished gem...that seems a bit idealistic to me. There was a time when this was truer: viz., Tolkien and Allen & Unwin; Terry Brooks and Lester Del Rey. From the accounts I've read, an editor's influence on a work accepted for publication at a traditional house tends to be somewhat minor these days. They've either read a manuscript that's good enough to be published with only minor editing, or they've read a manuscript they're passing on. The corporate culture absolutely plays a bigger role than it used to. The bottom line is of the utmost concern, in a way, I think, that would make the publishers of yesteryear blush. It's not paranoia to say that it matters that the major publishers are all owned by large corporations. It affects their ability to take chances and develop new talent.

The influence only lessens from there: it doesn't take a lot of research to discover that authors whose early work gets quickly remaindered don't tend to score big future deals. It also doesn't take a terribly keen eye to notice that the work of bestselling authors--and I'm talking the big ones, here--only gets less and less polished as time goes by. When you've already made millions of dollars for your publisher, you're work is going to get published, even if it's terrible. There's a lot of successful writers out there making big money whose work would be (sometimes rightfully) deemed unpublishable by an unknown author. None of which is to say that there's anything wrong with choosing traditional publishing. There are many legitimate reasons to do it, and at its best it still produces fine literature. I point these things out only to draw attention to the narrowing divide between the two methods. Consider the success many self published authors have had by hybridizing their work, and you see more clearly what I'm talking about.

I agree with Marc in principle, however: the end result of any publishing process ought to be the production of the highest quality storytelling possible.

T.O. Munro: I have read it and commented on it and it did generate a lot of heat. To be honest a number of equally correct but cross-purposed points were being made. Marc is right that self-publishing should not be the default response to an agent’s rejection of a first work. IT certainly adds to the noise signal and does little to develop an author. I have my own attic novels that I am glad have never seen the light of day.

However, self-published work gets a lot of bashing and people have a tendency to hear what they wanted you to say, rather than what is said. The risk in a piece like Marc’s is that it is appropriated as ammunition by those who take it out of context to say self-published is always crap. I will be honest, some of it is very poor – we all know that - and the worst of the self-published is way below the worst of the traditionally published. But there is also traditionally published work that is far surpassed in quality by the best of the self-published.

David Benem: Overall I think some good points were made. The self-pub market would be better off if some of the authors out there took time to polish and hone their craft rather than just throwing stuff against the wall to see if it sticks. There IS a prejudice against self-pubbed titles—the notion that the quality is sub-par—and anyone can find justification for that opinion by downloading a handful of self-dubbed titles and showing how many warts they have.

BUT there are countless exceptions, especially in a market that is ever-changing. There are plenty of authors who choose the self-publishing route and have taken the time to put out a quality product. The real trick is finding them amidst the dross, and the SPFBO is certainly a fine effort to do just that.

Only a small percentage of self-published authors see big sales, but just as few traditionally published authors are enjoying big paydays and quitting their day jobs upon signing book deals, particularly their first ones. Explanations of this and the opportunities presented by self-publishing were most articulately set forth in comments to the article by author Michael J. Sullivan. In this evolving market there are great opportunities for both self and traditional publishing, and the trick to succeeding in either seems to be the same: Write something worth reading.

Alex Ziebart: There are so many people self-publishing right now that I don't think it's fair to say no one should self-publish ever. Marc Alpin gets into this a little bit at the end -- some people are just doing it for fun as a vanity press. Some people are doing it just because they wrote something and don't want to go through the whole traditional publishing headache and just want their friends to be able to get to it. And yes, some people are doing it to make money. Some people are, some people aren't. Personally, I spent a little time agent hunting and decided it wasn't an enjoyable process. I didn't hunt very long. I didn't reach the point where I was convinced I'd never find an agent. I just didn't like the process.

There's an element of dehumanization involved. I'm not blaming agents for that, by the way. I run the hiring process at my day job. I know you can't give everyone personalized responses. I know the slush pile is inevitable. When agents are receiving potentially hundreds of queries per day, it can be no other way. I just wasn't in a place I wanted to deal with form letters. I started querying in October of 2014 and I received a form rejection last month. I published the book in February 2015. That's an extreme case, but I found it rather funny.

In my situation, I wrote something, I paid for an editor, and I wanted to give people a chance to read it. I didn't need to be the next GRRM. I didn't need to be a best seller. Hell, both of those things would be great, but I'm also in the Catch-22 where I need a day job to support my writing habits but I can't start a real career writing fiction while I have a day job. I decided I'll write when I can, make sure I'm happy with it, make sure I've put my work in the hands of an editor, and release new books when I'm able. I figured maybe a few hundred people would read Blood and Masks and hopefully get their money's worth out of it. A few hundred people have read it. Well, they bought it, I don't know how many actually read it, but I hope it's most of them. My user reviews have been mostly good. I'm happy with that. Is that a vanity press? I guess so. That's fine. I don't think that's something to be maligned. In that sense, I'd say I both agree and disagree with Alpin's piece. It all comes down to intentions. You must always consider whether self-publishing is the right thing for you.

That said, I'm a new media guy and the thought of saying no one should ever self-publish baffles me. It strikes me as saying no one should make YouTube videos, they should go into television instead. The reality is there's a whole lot of crap on YouTube but also a whole lot of people earning a good living making great content. And there are creators in the middle -- people who aren't making a living, but are making some money off of their passion. Some of that YouTube content is stuff you might find on TV. Some of that content is stuff that would never work on TV but people still truly enjoy it -- and gladly support those content creators. That's 2015. That's the age we're in. Anyone can create. That's wonderful and amazing. If it's good, people will find it. The statements about no self-publishing struck me as particularly strange from someone who reviews books on a blog. Why do that on a blog? There's lots of crap on the internet. Obviously you should only review books in a newspaper if you want to be a serious book reviewer. I don't say that to slam Marc Alpin; Fantasy-Faction is another one of my regular stops. The work there is great. Those statements had a strange sort of cognitive dissonance in them, though.

It's a great time to be an independent artist of any flavor. If you don't want to release your art through traditional methods (or can't for whatever reason), you have more control over your work now. Authors can put their work on Amazon. Musicians can put their work on SoundCloud or wherever else musicians put their music -- I don't really know, I'm not a musician. People can release videos on YouTube or be live entertainers on Twitch or Periscope. Platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Patreon allow fans to support content creators directly -- and create a space where artists who aren't shining stars on the level of George RR Martin can be supported. A few years ago, an independent illustrator would put their work on DeviantArt and pray to the high heavens they might get a commission out of it. Now, an independent illustrator can put themselves on Patreon and receive support just for doing awesome work. Are they going to get millions out of that arrangement? No. But if only 10 people are supporting them, that's 10 more people than they had in the previous environment. And the people who are truly good at what they do (but are still independent!) might get a livable wage. In the realm of games media, you have guys leaving major publications like IGN to crowdfund their independent work.

I'm currently the co-owner of a small business that operates on both crowdfunding and our own advertising sales. That came about because corporate wackiness unceremoniously shut down a site with strong performance and a passionate audience. The current climate for creators makes that possible. It wouldn't have been possible just a year or two ago. We would have been dead because people far, far above our heads decided to be silly. And in that corporate environment, there were restrictions on what we could do with our platform. We don't have that issue anymore.

By the way, I'd love to see more authors running episodic serials on Patreon. Seriously. There's a few, but there could be so many more -- and we should be promoting the people doing it well to encourage their success. From what I can tell, publishing is one of the few forms of media that are still dominated by the Old Ways with capital letters. I'm not sure telling people to stop self-publishing (or to stop reading self-published work ourselves) is the way to go. Rather we should be finding ways to bring exposure to the people who are doing it well and try to curate that. Kind of like this contest! At the same time, I'm not calling to dismantle the Old Ways. That would be ludicrous. I'm just saying we, whether we be creators or fans, should embrace these new platforms.

Marc Aplin is probably right that people who have aspirations of being New York Times bestsellers and want to get movie deals and all of that jazz shouldn't self-publish. At least, they shouldn't do it without full knowledge of the baggage that comes along with self-publishing. They need to be prepared to overcome those hurdles with hard, hard work. He's wrong that no one should self-publish. People have varying goals. That's fine. And if he doesn't want to read self-published work, that's fine, too. That's his choice to make.

Boy, that was a rant. My bad. Now my other answers being so short is going to seem silly.

J. P. Ashman: I agree with Marc, in parts. I know it was taken badly by some, but it swiftly became clear to me where he was coming from.

I originally read about it on twitter and instantly disliked where the 'discussion' was going. There was a lot of mud slinging on both sides of the argument. If I'm honest, I lost respect for a well known author who I'd recently added to my 'to read' list. He'd decided to tar all self published authors with the same brush, something I dislike, a lot. Many of us have been called geeks or worse in our time, stereotyped and thrown into a 'group' as if we weren't individuals. I can't abide that, so when people do that regarding self published authors, it also gets my goat (Peter Newman nod. He loves goats). That being said, it wasn't how Marc Aplin was putting it. He was generalising, yes, but not saying 'all' self published authors.

Should people who get knocked back by agents use self pubbing as a way around it? Nope, not in Marc's opinion and not in mine. Do all self published authors get into it because of knock backs? Nope, I didn't and I can't believe I'm the only one. Will I send in submissions in the future? Yes, I do now, just not Black Cross. I submit short stories and will likely submit an intended series in the future, but Black Cross wasn't meant for that. Will I tell a huge publishing house where to go if they come knocking on my door? Of course not, I'm not stupid, but again, that's not what I set out for with Black Cross.

There's a lot of rough out there in the self published world. There's also a lot in the traditionally published world. I've given up on and put down several traditionally published books I paid good money for, that were apparently chosen from the slush pile by a professional, which is said to mean it must be worthy of greatness. There's good and bad on both sides of the coin, there's also a myriad of authors with varying backgrounds and reasons for why they write and how they write and, indeed, how they publish. Let us remember that.

Let us also understand what Marc was (I think) saying: Self publishing isn't an easy option. It's how to do it if it's what you want to do, if it's the way you want to do it, but if you do, don't cut corners. You may have started that way, out of naivety maybe – like I did without an editor – but cotton on quick and get yourself a proper editor and artist, because that's what's letting a lot of self-published novels down, let's be honest. Work hard at it and submit, or work hard at it and self-publish, but whichever you choose, choose it wisely and work like a Viking oarsman to do it right.

Shawn Wickersheim: Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. I chose to self-publish because I felt that was the right path for me at the time. I'm happy with my decision. I'm open to changing my mind at some later date, but right now, I'm still happy with the path I've chosen. I decided to let the readers be the gatekeepers to other readers. If readers love my books, their positive reviews will hopefully encourage other readers to read and enjoy my books. I don't look down on self-published indie authors just as I don't look down on indie musicians or indie movie-makers. People have to do what they think is right for them.

That said, I think some authors should realize they shouldn't immediately publish their first drafts or their first books just because they can. My early books are sitting in drawers waiting for the day when I decide to look at them again. I spent many years and thousands of hours working on each of the novels I decided to publish with multiple rewrites and input from many beta readers. I researched agents and publishers and talked to traditionally published authors unhappy with how they or their books were treated and eventually decided I'd rather just follow the indie route because it felt like the right thing to do...for me.

Christopher Ruz: Personally, I'm 50/50. I have to admit, I was quick to self-publish my early works because I felt slighted by agent rejection, but self-publishing didn't help me improve as an author - rather, it coddled me and reinforced bad habits. It was only after I returned to traditional submissions - and started selling stories to publications like Andromeda Spaceways and Apollo's Daughters - that I understood the value of professional rejection. Every author needs a harsh, uncompromising critic, whether in the form of agent rejections or an honest group of test-readers.

Blair MacGregor: Some of my thoughts can be found in the comments under the article.

From later discussion, I got the impression Marc thought the majority of the controversy was fueled by folks who didn't understand and/or missed that he was referring solely to "first novels." Eh, not really. Rather than look at things point by point, which really doesn't serve anyone (nor is it what most writers are interested in), I'll just say this:

Self-publishing writers have built, and continue to build, resources and information centers. Professional writing organizations include them in their membership. So when trade-focused folks are asked about self-publishing as a career choice rather than a side project, they'd best serve the new writer by directing them to experienced sources so the writer can make an informed decision based on current opportunities and resources. That's what we do for folks asking about query letters and agents and editors, yes?

Q] How has this SPFBO event affected your sales (if any)? Has it lead to more talk about your book say on Goodreads or other social sites?

My trend of being obscure continues. I've gotten only one additional review (besides Elitist Book Reviews's) out of it from Goodreads when I got an honorable mention. Probably about 5-7 sales, but since I only made 20 or so sales in the entire year before, it was a significant percentage of improvement.

There has been no other comments, discussion, feedback, or additional reviews that came out so far. More followers on Twitter though.

MC: As far as I can tell, it hasn’t affected my readership at all, but I assume that’s because no one at Fantasy Faction has said anything about Priest one way or the other. If they review it, even if it isn’t their selection, I assume I’d see a bump in sales.

MK: In truth, the direct sales effect has been pretty minor. I did get a small bump when the review was published, along with a brief spike of interest on Goodreads, but that's been about it. But there's also a secondary effect to events like this which is impossible to quantify. Thanks to the SPFBO, I have another great review which I can use to promote The Unbound Man. The book's visibility is a bit higher than it was before. Over time, these and other benefits will hopefully add up to something larger.

GRM: Direct impact of SPFBO is hard to measure. I noticed a little increase when the review came out, but that was it. If I'd won, who knows?

What it did do, and more important, was give me more confidence in the book - and good tag line to put in the Amazon advert. I was happier to run Goodreads Giveaways, to market the book, to get involved in Reddit and not be afraid to say - 'actually this is a good book'. It was kick to get to started and be proud (and loud) of what I had achieved. When Sarah said it was good, confidence rose and it continues to rise as more and more good feedback comes in. Like any book there will be a lot of folks who like it and a hopefully smaller number who find it is not for them. In that, it is no different to a Traditionally Published book.

JC: I've definitely seen a noticeable uptick in sales and exposure because of the SPFBO. It's also exposed me to a great group of authors and reviewers who I might not have interacted with otherwise, so it turned out to be a great networking opportunity as well.

TOM: My involvement in the SPFBO to date has been somewhat low profile. The name of my book has appeared on some lists and so the sales impact has been zero. Alongside that work has been very busy so my own opportunities for marketing have been zilch. So, after a pleasing peak in rankings back around Christmas, in the words of a soldier on the western front, “it’s quiet, too damn quiet.”

DB: When my book "What Remains Of Heroes" was named a finalist Mark Lawrence was kind enough to tweet a Goodreads link and then set up a thread on Reddit. The result was a big spike in people adding the book to their "to be read" lists, and that seems to have resulted in an upswing in sales.

AZ: I haven't seen much of an impact, but given I didn't make the cut as a finalist, that isn't surprising to me. The point of this contest is to find a good self-published author. If someone gets cut, people will likely take that as a sign the book isn't any good. When you put a bunch of products in a row to find the best one, the consumer's interpretation will be the best one is the only good one and the rest of them are trash. Honestly, I'm the same way. I wait to see the outcome and I check out the one with the accolades, not the ones that got pushed off the table. That's the double-edged sword of this contest, I think. Entering the contest can expose our work to a brand new audience, but it can also scare them away from it.

I won't go as far as to say I didn't get any sales from this because I don't know if that's true. I do know I didn't see any unusual spikes in my sales that were timed with any new link or mention of Blood and Masks in the context of the contest. If there were sales, there were only a handful and they stumbled across it at some point rather than seeing a new blog post and rushing off to Amazon. I'd guess the story would change drastically depending on how far someone advanced. The finalists will do better than those who were cut outright. The winner will see the most sales. Makes sense. Social media is about the same -- I haven't seen any spike in activity I could definitively attribute to the contest.

JPA: Absolutely. Seriously! People respect and listen to you guys. They want to know someone they trust has read a book, especially a self published one. It's hard to sift through sometimes, the market is saturated, Marc Aplin wasn't lying or being mean there, it's a fact. It's also why Mark Lawrence wanted a way of sifting out some of the diamonds he suspected might be in the rough.

My 'added' and 'marked to read' numbers on Goodreads have gone up more notably than sales, although they did peak after Sarah's review. Social media talk about Black Cross has increased too, as has my friendships with other authors. We were all in the same scary boat. What's also great is Sarah's quotable review, it's not easy to get one of those as a self-published author. Needless to say, the exposure has been great for a lot of us. Look at this right here, this interview, it's still going on and I was a group finalist, not a competition finalist. It's going to be even greater for those ten authors. And who knows, I may even get another review, you know, out of Mihir himself? *winks* You don't know if you don't ask. I'm not afraid to push when needed. Mark Lawrence inspires me with his hilariously in your face self-promoting tweets and Facebook posts. He doesn't spam, no one likes that, but shouting about what you do once in a while, because you're confident about your story, well, there's nothing wrong with that!

SW: Primarily, the SPFBO event has allowed me to meet other self-published authors I might not have met otherwise and introduced me to review blogging sites I didn't know existed. I've read and enjoyed David Benem's "What Remains of Heroes", Michael McClung's "The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble's Braids" and I'm about 2/3 done with J.P. Ashman's "Black Cross". All are quite good and I'm happy to help promote their works to other readers. Some of the SPFBO authors have read, or intend to read "The Penitent Assassin" and have helped promote my work as well. To them, I want to express my thanks.

CR: I saw a brief spike of sales on Amazon when Century of Sand made it into FBCs shortlist - the most I'd sold in months, actually - but those tapered off quite quickly. I hope the finalists are seeing a massive boost, though.

BMG: Eh, I got a tiny boost when Bob at Beauty In Ruins first reviewed Sand of Bone, but not so much as I'd received from past write-ups, and not nearly as much as when the novel was included in StoryBundle. Perhaps the novel simply didn't appeal to the majority of SPFBO readers. Perhaps it's because the other pieces were stand-alone reviews rather than part of a competitive series seeking one winner. Perhaps it's because I've gone too long between releasing novels.

But from a business perspective, I didn't expect much of a bump anyway. Writers with more marketing savvy and are more adept at leveraging this sort of thing likely had better results. I certainly hope someone did! :)

Q] In conclusion, what is your take on this experiment so far and what do you think we can do to improve it in its future iterations? 

DM: This has been a fantastic and wonderful experience. For relatively little effort, I got a bit more exposure and that doesn't really have a price tag associated with it. It was a wonderful charity for me and I cherish it as such.

I had a chance to connect with fellow authors. And since I'm a strong believer in "we are in this together," it has been great for networking.  I've already gotten exposure and I love that. For me, at least, it was a success.

I can't find the words to thank Mark and the reviewers for what they did. They didn't have to, none of them did, but they did and it has helped so many people.

I felt that the reviewers had too many books to go through. I would like to keep it roughly the same amount of books (around 260) but double the number of reviewers so each one has 12-15 books each. That would help with the reviewing fatigue. That would cause the second round to have more books, but they would hopefully be higher quality and more engaging to the reviewers.

Having a more consistent status updates would be nice. I can easily imagine that many authors were chomping on the bit to get something and a little feedback would be nice. It would be nice if more than a few people would volunteer to help with record keeping and maybe do a "guest post" with the status if that would help the reviewers.

Many books were rejected without reason. It would be great if the authors could get at least a reason for the rejection, even if it is a single sentence. Again, having a volunteer to write them up would be nice. Because, having feedback of why it failed may help them write better in the future.

I would like to see a formal category of "honorable mentions". Even though they can only pick one to be a finalist, the exposure of being an "honorable mention" would also help and may not require much more effort on the reviewers. Many of them had an honorable mention that I could infer from their reviews. Having it done formally (say 5 honorable and 1 finalist) would make this a lot easier.

It would also be nice if there was a unified list of the entrants. When I did the SPFBO website, it was to create a list of honorable mentions (actually I expanded it to all of the entries) to give them a bit more exposure. I want to include all the other sites along with links, reviews, and blurbs. Getting those in a Google Forms or survey entered by the author would make it a *lot* easier and give a bit more structure for finding out about these authors. And asking Mark, me, or anyone else to hunt down and find the data is overwhelming.

Might be cool if there was a "author of the day" blog that lets entrants have a bit more time in the sun by writing about their book. Probably too much for Mark to do by himself, but just thinking it would help build a community around this. If every author is too much, then limit it to the honorable mentions, finalists, and winner.

Finally, having this as an annual thing would be awesome even if it had a less epic scale. One thing about self-publishing is that we don't have gatekeepers. Reviews and contests like this are, in effect, a gatekeeper to help those better stories rise to the top.

MC: To my earlier point, I think the best thing for the SPFBO is to look at film and music festivals, Sundance, Cannes, SXSW, and see what they do. They have lots of categories, they invite a lot of participation from the content creators. Getting 10 bloggers to each read 25 books in five months is probably unrealistic if they want to do it every year, but it’s clear to me there’s enough demand and enough infrastructure there in the form of blogs and twitter and reddit to create a fertile Independent Fantasy landscape centered around some kind of award structure.

In other words, this is the beginning of a sea change in the genre.

MK: I'm glad to have been involved in the SPFBO, and I'm grateful to Mark for organising it and to all the reviewers for taking part. I'll be watching the next stage of the contest with interest. As for potential improvements, my somewhat biased answer is that I'd love to see a way of recognising quality books that just fall short of becoming finalists. Most blogs have already made mention of their runners-up, so in large part this is already happening, but it would be nice to see an official 'Honorable Mention' level of award that could be given to those titles.

You know, it has been good for me. I've enjoyed it, from both sides and I have learned a lot from it. And, as I have already said, it was a chance, an opportunity that could not be overlooked... as long as you keep an eye out for those potential banana skins.

If it happens again? Good grief, that's a lot to think about. Probably the best thing to do is reduce the number of books being entered. 250 is a lot, even for 10 blogs to look at. Bring the number down and give each a review? Or treat it just like an agent dry-run... first three chapters only for round one. Round 2 the blogs call in the full book for their own top 3 and review those. I know that would knock a lot of good books out straight away, but first impressions count, and keeping the work load down with the quality of feedback high might be the way to go.

Self-Publish and small presses are on the rise, it makes sense to have some system of sorting them, scouring through the noise and letting the sweeter notes be heard more clearly.

JC: I've absolutely loved it, and I feel privileged to have been a part of it. I dearly hope there will be future iterations, and I plan on entering again as soon as I'm able!

I'd like to thank Mark Lawrence and all of the fantastic bloggers, readers, and fellow authors who took part in the SPFBO for making it a fantastic experience.

TOM: To be honest I had not thought of an SPFBO version 2, rebooted, son of, the second or whatever until I saw this question. Making it an annual event would be exciting. But my head is now spinning with X-factor, the Voice, Britain’s Got Talent kind of ways of developing it in some systematic way. I think it would be good to do it again but you may find an even larger collection of authors flinging their books towards it so be prepared for some filtering.

I think bloggers should be free to approach their 25 in whatever way suits them, but always being open and explicit about how the mechanism for picking their individual winner was kept fair.

Above all, let us avoid silence, let’s feel the noise, hear the noise of the SPFBO, a different kind of vibe a positive noise for SPFBO to set against the white noise signal Mark mentioned just over a year ago in London.

DB: I'm thrilled to be participating. The contest has been an excellent opportunity and there really isn't much I'd change for future iterations. Mark Lawrence and the bloggers have been quite generous with their time, and self-pubbed titles are garnering attention.

AZ: I'll support all movements to curate self-published work. I feel that's the thing missing from the self-published landscape. Self-published authors have to do their own marketing and I don't disagree with that aspect of the business, but what's missing is curated shelf space. You walk into a physical book store, you can peruse and see what people are buying. On digital retailers, it's far more difficult to find the book you'll really love. In that sense, this contest is a great start and I feel both authors and readers would benefit from more curation initiatives.

As for improvements, I can't think of many that don't come with problems of their own. For example, the sheer number of books and authors involved in this seemed to put a lot of strain on some of the bloggers. That's a lot of books to get through when they're also trying to keep up with the latest releases and all of the other content they provide. Setting a cap on the number of entries might be beneficial for the bloggers, but not for the hopeful authors who might get locked out by that limitation. Maybe fewer entries would mean a faster turnover to run these more often, but that brings us back to the problem of overwhelming the bloggers, making the whole thing moot.

I suspect this contest wouldn't have such an overwhelming number of entries if more book reviewers were open to self-published works at other times. Some reviewers just won't read or review self-published books. Some reviewers won't even respond to emails about self-published books. I'm not saying reviewers are obligated to read every single thing that ends up in their inbox, but I get the impression self-published works are just plain off-limits in most cases. Self-published books carry that stigma. Mark Lawrence supporting this initiative is what got some of the bloggers on board, I think. Look at Marc Aplin, for example. Fantasy Faction is participating in this contest while Aplin says, at the same time, he won't touch self-published novels. Nearly three hundred entries in this contest is, I feel, a result of many self-published authors seeing this as their only chance for a review. If more reviewers were open to self-published works, or covered self-published works on a slightly more regular basis, we might not see such an overwhelming scramble to get that one piece of the pie.

Though I say these things, I'll also say I'm aware most book reviewers do it as a hobby. They have better things to do than dig through Amazon epub to find something readable. If they don't want to do that, that's totally okay. I write about elves. I'm in no position to make judgments on how people spend their free time. From the perspective of the self-published author, though, I'm aware marketing my book is 100% the responsibility of the author. When reviewers won't touch self-published novels, that completely eliminates that promotional avenue and makes the marketing that much more difficult. Opening up to self-published works would, I think, enrich this contest as something of an awards ceremony rather than a collective mad dash to get that sole shot at a review.

Or I could be wrong. What the hell do I know? I've published one book. Not exactly an industry expert here.

Overall I think it's a success. There were huge variations in how each blogger dealt with their groups, but this is uncharted territory, there were bound to be teething problems.

I imagine all of the bloggers have learnt from the competition, I know Sarah has, she said so herself. They'll likely do it different next time round.

Those authors that didn't do as well as they'd hoped likely learnt from it too, they should have done, although that learning would be easier for those who were given feedback as to why they didn't go through. Those of us that did do well, and the finalists especially, have gotten amazing exposure, reviews and, I hope, some trust thrown our way from potential readers and reviewers alike.

The best thing is, it's still happening. There's the finals and more. There's this, this right here, an interview that's come my way from another blogger that I wouldn't have had the chance to chat and waffle on to if I hadn't entered the competition. I've loved it, I'm still loving it and I sincerely hope there's another in 2016. Let's make this a thing, shall we? Let's improve self publishing together.

A huge thanks to all involved, especially Mark Lawrence and Sarah Chorn from a personal level, and Mihir for asking me questions that had me staring at my laptop worse than when I'm starting a new scene.

It's been a pleasure, but I must repair to the nursery. Freya's insisting, through the medium of cries, that I attend to her. Tarra for now,

SW: I think this is a wonderful experiment and I want to thank Mark Lawrence for creating it and the bloggers for all their time and hard work. As for ways to improve on future iterations, I think I've made enough suggestions in my answers above.

CR: I've loved the SPFBO. It's been a great opportunity to have my work seen, but also to connect with other talented authors of all stripes. My reading list is packed out with all the finalists, and I wish them the very best of luck. If I have another novel ready for the next iteration of SPFBO, I know I'll be entering!

BMG: I'm conflicted. Some writers certainly benefited, and some reviewers seemed to have discovered new voices they enjoyed. I've found new writers to connect with whose work I enjoy and work ethics I respect. On the other hand, relegating self-published writers to a once-a year competition for a review seems... well.

I'd much rather see us create a reviewer-friendly process to connect with self-published works that might be of interest. Perhaps it's too soon to propose that to some reviewers--just today, I saw yet another review site specifically rule out self-published works completely--but self-published works are an increasing segment of the market.


Official Author Website
Order Sand And Blood HERE

Dylan Moonfire  is the remarkable result of the intersection of a computer nerd, a scientist, and polymath. Instead of focusing on a single genre, he writes stories and novels in many different settings ranging from fantasy to science fiction. He also throws in the occasional romance or forensics murder mystery to mix things up.

In addition to having a borderline unhealthy obsession with the written word, he is also a developer who loves to code as much as he loves writing. He lives near Cedar Rapids, Iowa with his wife, numerous pet computers, and a pair of highly mobile things of the male variety.

You can see more work by D. Moonfire at his website and get more information about his entry, Sand and Blood over here.

Official Author Website
Order Priest HERE

Matthew Colville is a writer and designer in the video game business. He creates the setting and writes all the dialog for Turtle Rock Studio’s science fiction FPS Evolve. This is maybe the best job in video games and he can’t shake the feeling he’s secretly getting away with something. He lives in beautiful, downtown Buena Park with three cats one of whom made it into his first book and refuses to come out.

Official Author Website
Order The Unbound Man HERE

Like every child, Matt Karlov was raised on stories of the impossible, from the good parts of Sesame Street, to The Hobbit, to Watership Down and beyond. As Matt grew older, he had the good fortune to retain his taste for the fantastic, which soon developed into a deep love of speculative fiction in its many guises. He has been struggling to make room on his shelves for new books ever since.

Matt has been a software designer, a web developer, and a business analyst. He lives in Sydney, Australia. The Unbound Man is his first novel.

Official Author Website
Order The Stone Road HERE

Geoff Matthews (G R Matthews) began reading in the cot. His mother, at her wits end with the constant noise and unceasing activity, would plop him down on the soft mattress with an encyclopaedia full of pictures then quietly slip from the room. His father, ever the pragmatist, declared, that they should, “throw the noisy bugger out of the window.” Happily this event never came to pass (or if it did Geoff bounced well). Growing up, he spent Sunday afternoons on the sofa watching westerns and Bond movies with the self-same parent who had once wished to defenestrate him. When not watching the six-gun heroes or spies being out-acted by their own eyebrows he devoured books like a hungry wolf in the dead of winter.

Beginning with Patrick Moore and Arthur C Clarke he soon moved on to Isaac Asimov. However, one wet afternoon in a book shop in his home town, not far from the standing stones of Avebury, he came across a book by David Eddings – and soon Sci-Fi gave way to Fantasy. Many years later, Geoff finally realised a dream and published his own fantasy novel, The Stone Road, in the hopes that other hungry wolves out there would find a hearty meal. You can follow him on twitter @G_R_Matthews or visit his website.

Official Author Website
Order Exile: The Book Of Ever #1 HERE

James Cormier went to law school and spent years as a practicing attorney before realizing that what he really wanted to do with his life was sit around and write stories about imaginary places. Which is why you're reading this now. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, his son, and the requisite two cats that every writer of fantasy and science fiction is presented with upon the publication of their first novel.

Official Author Website
Order Lady Of The Realm HERE

T.O.Munro works in education and relocated from Kent to Belfast in 2014. He started writing naval novels in the Hornblower tradition when he was 13 and has graduated through murder mysteries to writing epic fantasy. Having completed his bloodline trilogy he is now working on a two volume extended epilogue in a more sword and sorcery vein. He once helped catch two bank robbers in a London street but hasn’t yet worked out how to work that experience into a fantasy novel.

Official Author Website
Order What Remains Of Heroes HERE

David Benem resides in St. Louis, Missouri, where in his free time he pursues his passion of writing fantasy fiction. What Remains of Heroes is his first novel, and he is presently hard at work on its sequel.

Official Author Website
Order Blood And Masks HERE

Alex Ziebart is a native of Milwaukee, WI and a veteran of online publishing for nearly ten years. He makes a living getting mad about elves and dragons. Thanks to the internet, that's a real job. It's harder than you'd think.

Official Author Website
Order Black Cross HERE

Born Lancashire, England, J. P. Ashman is a Northern lad through and through. His parents love wildlife, history, fantasy and science fiction, and passed their passion on to him. They read to him from an early age and encouraged his imagination at every turn. His career may be in optics, as a manager/technician, but he loves to make time for writing and reading every day. Now living rurally in the Cotswolds with Wifey and their little Norse Goddess Freya, He's inspired daily by the views they have and the things they see, from the deer in the fields to the buzzards circling overhead.

Writing is a huge part of his life and the medieval re-enactment background and tabletop gaming lend to it; when he's not writing the genre, he's either reading or playing it. He plans to keep writing, both within his current series, and those to come, whether short stories or epic tomes

Official Author Website
Order The Penitent Assassin HERE

Shawn Wickersheim lives in historic Woodstock Illinois with his wife and children. He is currently hard at work, allegedly, on his next fantasy novel, a stand-alone sequel of sorts to both The Penitent Assassin and The Rush of Betrayal books. While he does have a blog: he sadly doesn't keep it as updated as he should. If you'd like to interact with him, you'd have better luck finding him on twitter @stwick or on Goodreads.

Official Author Website
Order Century Of Sand HERE

Christopher Ruz is an Australian author, teacher and part-time stuntman raised on Moorcock, Zelazny and King. He writes across genres, self publishing the fantasy trilogy Century of Sand, the small-town horror serial Rust, and the Olesia Anderson spy thriller series under the pseudonym D.D. Marks.

Ruz has been published in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Weaponizer, Birdville Magazine and Apollo's Daughters. He is currently seeking agent representation for a new cyberpunk space opera, God Factory.

Official Author Website
Order Sand Of Bone HERE

Blair MacGregor writes fantasy—adventurous, epic, and dark. Her debut novel Sword and Chant was included in the first Indie Fantasy Bundle through StoryBundle, and her more recent novel Sand of Bone was included in the 2015 Fantasy Bundle. Her short fiction has appeared in Cicada and Writers of the Future. She is a graduate of Viable Paradise and a member of SFWA.

She also teaches and speaks on a variety of topics—education, wellness, failure and resilience—for audiences ranging from a double-handful to a couple thousand. In years past, she acted and worked in thirteen Shakespearean productions, spent a dozen years teaching martial arts while homeschooling her son, and once learned how to drive a combine from an Amish man who couldn't drive it himself. In between all that, Blair hikes and camps, grows organic produce, and indulges in the occasional ziplining excursion. She loves traveling to places both wild and domesticated. She currently lives in Colorado with her one son and two goofy dogs.

NOTE: Marc Aplin picture courtesy of Peter V. Brett. All Author pictures courtesy of the authors themselves.



 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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