This is the first in a series of interviews with people involved in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO). For any of you who haven't heard of it, you can read more here but essentially, self-published fantasy writers submitted their book to the blog-off. Ten book bloggers acted as literary agents, working through a slush pile and selecting their favourite. The ten finalists were then read and graded by each blogger until one was selected as a winner. The winning book received reviews on all ten blogs. As an indie reviewer with BFS, I have come across some excellent self-published work (as well as excellent books published by small presses) and this competition fascinated me. I love the idea behind it and the recognition that self-published does not mean a book is not worth reading. I was really excited when Mark Lawrence agreed to be interviewed about setting up and co-ordinating the SPFBO.
1) What inspired you to organise the Self-Published Fantasy Blog off?
I think it’s probably my particular manifestation of impostor syndrome (itself a variant of survivor guilt). I’ve always felt that a lot of luck was involved in getting me where I am in terms of selling books. When I see other authors say that hard work and skill guarantees success I find myself disagreeing. The SPFBO is a mechanism to explore those issues.
2) Obviously, you see merit in self-published works – why do you think there is still so much snobbery around them?
I find the suspicion of self-published work is entirely understandable. Anyone can do it. Having spent a lot of time on writing groups I know that there are many people who want to write and are really not very good at it. We see the same thing on shows like X-Factor or American Idol. There are many people who want to sing, who believe they can sing … and simply can’t. With self-publishing there is no filter, so you are bound to get some books that are wholly unreadable.
The flip side of that is that some readers believe that anything worth reading will get a traditional publishing deal. And that’s untrue.
And in the middle you get readers who accept that there are great self-published books but feel that the chance of any particular self-published book being great is not so high as it is with any particular traditionally published book.
The only part of this that is snobbery is the certainty that all worthwhile work will get a publishing deal.
3) Would you ever consider self-publishing if/when your contract comes to an end?
It would be based on a judgement of which route would generate most income. I have bills to pay. Self-publishers have to sell far fewer books to put the same number of dollars in their bank account.
5) What was your favourite thing about SPFBO?
I like lots of things about it. It’s good to see the enthusiasm and excitement of the writers. It’s fun to read the reviews. I take a nerdy satisfaction in seeing the finalist’s table fill with scores. But also the contest has introduced me to one of my favourite authors ever.
6) Anything you didn’t enjoy about it?
By definition in any contest there will be a lot of “losers”. It is sad that for every finalist 29 authors have their hopes of making the final dashed. But this is the nature of the beast. The vast majority of them take it well, but there are some who react badly, and that’s not enjoyable.
7) Do you anticipate running this every year?
I’m not a planner so I can’t really say. Also I don’t know how much demand there is out there. The 300 entries include books written years ago. Is the process draining the pool of eligible books? Are there hundreds more waiting their chance? I think I will give it another go and proceed if we get another 300 entries.
8) Do you think it will continue to get as much attention as it has?
If I knew with certainty what would grab people’s attention I would be a far more successful writer!
9) How would you like to see the competition develop?
I think the model is pretty good as is. We didn’t turn many titles away so I don’t think there’s a need to up the intake or number of bloggers. If good suggestions come in then I’m sure they can be taken aboard.
10) Any other thoughts you’d like to share with us?
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