The #SPFBO Has Returned!

spfbo covers

Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, in which my book Exile: The Book of Ever was a semi-finalist, was a great success.  It yielded exposure for a number of excellent self-published novels and created an engaging forum for writers, readers, and reviewers to discuss the changing industry of publishing.

As such, Mr. Lawrence has just announced that the SPFBO will continue, and submissions are now open for SPFBO2:

The question now is whether there is enough action/interest in the self-publishing world to make this something that happens every year, or if it was a one-off that relied on a build up of manuscripts for consideration.

I’m going to open the gates for SPFBO2.

If we get 250+ entries I’ll go ahead with proceedings. If we don’t … I won’t. It rather depends whether the self-publishers out there that can be reached have 250+ qualify manuscripts to hand. Submissions will be open for all of April.

He posted this announcement today and he’s already got 12 entries, so it doesn’t look like there will be a problem filling out that 250 book minimum.  That said, you’ve got a month to submit your self-published novel, so if you missed out the first time, now’s your chance.  The rules are simple:

i) No book that was entered in SPFBO1 can be entered into SPFBO2

ii) The book must be #1 in a series or a stand-alone.

iii) The book must actually be self-published, not something you’re considering self-publishing in future.

iv) It must be a fantasy book.

Mark goes on to explain the contest in more detail, which you can read about here.

I’m thrilled to see that the contest will continue.  It doesn’t look like I’ll have an eligible entry ready by the end of April, but if you’ve self-published a fantasy novel this is an incredible opportunity that you shouldn’t pass up.

Ros Barber Waxes Blithe on Self-Publishing in The Guardian

ros-barber_bw_19Novelist Ros Barber wrote a piece for The Guardian’s Books blog last week that tacitly pans self-publishing in favor of traditional publication.*  Entitled “For me, traditional publishing means poverty. But self-publish? No way,” the article is a list of points explaining why Ms. Barber won’t self-publish, and why you shouldn’t either.  Here’s my point by point rebuttal.

“You have to forget writing for a living.”

“If you self-publish your book, you are not going to be writing for a living. You are going to be marketing for a living. Self-published authors should expect to spend only 10% of their time writing and 90% of their time marketing.”

Barber’s first assertion, like all those that follow, is anecdotal at best and a blind assertion without any evidentiary support at worst.  The only explanation for the 90/10 percent ratio she cites is that a single self-published author who commented on her blog put the percentage of time he actually spent writing in the single digits.

This breakdown is contrary to my own experience and that of pretty much every self-published writer I’ve talked to, but, more importantly, it also ignores a fundamental truth of publishing in 2016: every author is also a marketer.

Ms. Barber’s article is very quaint, in that it makes references and draws allusions to a type of writing life that simply does not exist anymore, except perhaps for a very select few.  She impliedly invokes the image of a writer who focuses all of his time on the craft itself, “reveling” in the language of his creation, likely hunched over an Underwood putting words to the page with equal parts passion and torment.   The type of writer whose only obligation is the writing–the craft, oh, don’t we love to call it the Craft; the words, my friend!  Hemingway and Joyce!–who doesn’t have to leave his desk until his editor tells him its time to accept his Man Booker prize.

Continue reading

7 Out of 10 #SPFBO Bloggers Have a Positive Opinion of Self-Publishing

Fantasy Faction asked the other nine book bloggers participating in Mark Lawrence’s Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off whether the competition had changed their opinion on self-publishing, and the answers were somewhat surprising.

Seven out of the nine websites to whom Fantasy Faction’s G.R. Matthews (himself a competitor in the contest with his novel The Stone Road) posed the question said that their opinion had either changed for the positive or not changed at all, because they always appreciated self-published fiction.  The tenth participating website is Fantasy Faction itself, managed and edited by Marc Aplin, who has historically been skeptical of self-publishing.  In a blog post October 2, Aplin wrote that while self-published fiction did appear to have gotten better in the five years since he first read any, the field still seemed dominated by amateurish, unpolished work.  He left open the question of whether there was any self-published fantasy out there that could hold its own with the titans of the genre, one presumably to be answered by the final phase of the contest.

Of the other two bloggers whose conclusions about self-publishing were negative, one, Ria from Bibliotropic, took a stance similar to Fantasy Faction’s.  Ria explained that while she did find some decent work, the glut of poor work outweighed it, and she did not intend on seeking out more self-published work in the near future.

The other negative response came from Steve from Elitist Book Reviews, who said that his initial impression of self-published books–that they were “made up in large part by garbage”–was only confirmed by the SPFBO.

I found two things surprisingly encouraging about these responses.  First and foremost: more than two-thirds of the participating reviewers either already appreciated or came to appreciate the place of self-published fiction in the book market because of the SPFBO.  That’s a big number.  In Congress, that’s called a supermajority.  That’s most of the people involved.

Second, of the three websites that were negative (overall) on self-publishing, only one (Elitist Book Reviews) was outright dismissive of it.  Both Bibliotropic and Fantasy Faction felt that while self-published fiction was mostly bad, there were decent books to be found and that the ratio of good to bad may be changing.

It’s also important to note that all three of the bloggers whose reaction was negative on the whole said that they expected to find some good work out there, which is an encouraging thought.

Thanks to G.R. Matthews for putting this poll together, and to all the hard-working bloggers for their time and participation.

Correction: An earlier version of this article identified Fantasy Faction founder Marc Aplin as the author of the article in question, “Has the SPFBO Changed Your Opinion of Self-Pubbed Books.”  The article was in fact written by G.R. Matthews, author of The Stone Road and contributor at Fantasy Faction.

Part 2 of the Fantasy Book Critic Interview Is Up

Fantasy Book critic posted the second half of their interview with a dozen #SPFBO authors this morning.  Here’s a sample from one of my answers:

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, your 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.

ICYMI: here’s the first half of the interview and the short post I wrote about it.

The #SPFBO Enters Its Final Round

510zQwueCNL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_Mark Lawrence’s Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off is entering its final round, with the last of the ten finalists due to be announced tomorrow morning at the latest.

Matthew Colville’s Priest narrowly beat out James Islington’s The Shadow of What Was Lost and my own Exile to be Fantasy Faction’s SPFBO finalist.  So first and foremost, congratulations Mr. Colville!

I had thought I would be far more disappointed than I am, but the honest truth is I had a wonderful time throughout this whole contest and look forward to seeing who wins.  I made several friends, got my work reviewed by a major fantasy website, interacted with a lot of wonderful people, and learned a lot about what it’s like to be a writer.  My heartfelt thanks go out to Mark Lawrence and all of the wonderful bloggers and authors who participated.  My dearest hope is that we will see the SPFBO become a regular event!

22860215Once the list of the top ten finalists is complete, each of the bloggers participating in the contest will read and review all of the top ten on their sites.  They will have another six months (if I remember correctly) to accomplish this.  When all of the finalists have been reviewed (and presumably given a score out of 10), the novel with the highest score will be announced the champion.

You can find a chart of the top ten finalists and their respective scores here.

Exile AMZN-EPUBAlso be sure to check out D. Moonfire’s excellent online database of all of the SPFBO entries.

I’ll keep reporting on the status of the SPFBO as the contest moves forward.  I’ve also participated in a couple of interviews, one with Fantasy Faction and one with Fantasy Book Critic, so stay tuned for links to those when they are posted.

Congratulations to all of the top ten finalists and best of luck moving forward!  You have my sword, and Islington’s bow (I’m sure), and Colville’s axe (undoubtedly), and…well you get the picture.

‘Exile’ Is Free for Kindle Tuesday through Thursday

I’m doing a free promotion for Amazon Kindle starting this Tuesday (tomorrow), August 18th and continuing through Thursday, August 20th.

Now’s your chance to start the The Book of Ever for the low, low price of absolutely free.

Exile is currently in the running for Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (#SPFBO).  Fantasy-Faction called it “well thought out and well executed,” and “extremely cool.”

Exile AMZN-EPUBCenturies after the Fall, the United States has been wiped away. The crumbling remains of the great American empire are home now only to savage, lawless tribes and packs of ravening Damned—the twisted children of the apocalypse. Most of those few who survived humanity’s destruction spend their short lives in a violent struggle for survival. But some light still flickers in the darkness: the Blessed of Bountiful live in seclusion, relying on walls both physical and spiritual to protect them from the Desolation that their world has become. Among them are the Saints, those few men and women born with superhuman abilities that the Blessed see as gifts from God.

The violent apostate tribes of the Northeast Kingdom have always been a danger, but up until recently its small size and the vigilance of its people have made Bountiful an unappealing target. As attacks on the community grow harsher and more frequent, however, even the steadfast Blessed are forced to start preparing for the worst.

With her home’s very existence threatened, seventeen year old Ever Oaks, a Saint with the power to heal, is forced to make a difficult choice, one that may come to define her people’s future…

The Bottom of the Iceberg

Mark Lawrence recently wrote a blog post for Bookworm Blues on worldbuilding in fantasy, an aspect of writing fantasy that I think he’s quite good at.  He uses the metaphor of the iceberg to discuss the topic, referring to the wealth of backstory, culture, and history that goes into creating the worlds of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.  Both of these authors are well known for having created reams of information about their respective worlds, most of which never sees the light of day in their actual novels (or doesn’t until, whether due to death or superstardom or both, this content becomes desired and profitable).  But Lawrence takes a step further, asking the question of whether the bottom of the iceberg actually needs to exist, or whether it’s enough that it seems to exist:

But … is the rest of the iceberg there? Does it need to be?

Perhaps GRRM takes 5 years to write his books because for each of them there’s an unseen bulk of background material, floating there in the depths. Maybe one day there will be a ‘Game of Thrones’ Silmarillion. Or perhaps there’s just a scaffold, a skeletal support propping up the edifice, just as when you step behind the stage sets for the TV series there’s a mess of struts, plywood, paint tins, and four Irish workmen sitting down to a pot of tea.

The important question is really – does it matter if the rest of the iceberg’s down there? I would suggest the answer is ‘no’. We want to feel as if it’s there, but if the writer has the skill to give the impression of all that hidden detail … it’s fine with me if it’s not really there.

Mr. Lawrence is particularly adept at this type of world-building: giving the reader the impression of depth and history and backstory, without actually having to start by writing that all down.

It’s all a question of process, really.  Maybe you’re a writer for whom it’s helpful and inspiring to draw up genealogies and write world history, or maybe you’re one who, like Mr. Lawrence, sits down and starts writing.  I fall somewhere in between, myself.  I have copious notes about my worlds, but they’re not terribly organized.  I don’t know the specific backstory of every character I write about, or their family histories or power levels or the origin of every minor artifact.  As Mr. Martin has been quoted as saying, when I need that information, I’ll make it up.

What about you?  What’s your worldbuilding process like?  How much of it do you know beforehand?  Does the bottom of your iceberg exist yet?

Fantasy-Faction Reviews ‘Exile: The Book of Ever’

Exile AMZN-EPUBThe award-winning fantasy website Fantasy-Faction reviewed Exile: The Book of Ever Part 1 and liked it!  The review was part of Mark Lawrence’s Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (#SPFBO), an ongoing tournament-style competition where a number of well-known genre websites review and choose the best of a long list of self-published fantasy novels.  Sonia Grace of Fantasy-Faction gave Exile 3.5 out of 5 stars, and had this, among other things, to say:

James Cormier’s Exile pleasantly surprised me…Cormier’s story grabbed my attention right away, and within a chapter I realized that I’d be reading the whole thing without putting it down.

The writing was solid and the characters had distinct voices and personalities. I loved the post-apocalyptic setting in particular; it was well thought out and well executed. I hope that in future books we learn more about the history of what actually caused the collapse of the world, because the bits of knowledge we got were extremely cool.

Read the full review at Fantasy-Faction.com.

You can find Exile on Amazon in ebook and paperback formats.  It’s also available free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

You can find Mark Lawrence’s work anywhere books are sold.  Follow the hashtag #SPFBO on Twitter for up-to-the-moment information on the contest and the front-runners.

Poetry and Potatoes

It’s hard to talk about liking poetry without coming off as an affected douchebag.  Unless, that is, you hang out at the type of parties I don’t get invited to.  But the truth is, there’s not a lot of love for poetry in the modern United States, an assertion I feel comfortable making given the evidence that it’s next to impossible to support yourself as a working poet.  Ask your average person what poetry is and you’ll likely get an answer lying somewhere on a spectrum between dirty limericks and the one Shakespearean sonnet their English teacher made them read in high school.

Mark Lawrence had some interesting things to say recently about the allegation (from a fan) that his writing was not poetic:

A well-known blogger who liked Prince of Thorns very much told me that he didn’t think my prose was at all poetic. It turns out that to him poetic prose is prose with lots of curls and twiddles, prose with endless description, flowers and clouds a la Wordsworth’s famous daffodils.

I do write poetic prose. No question about it. But I’m more of the Philip Larkin school. I also write actual poetry, but poetic prose is a different beast, it’s poetry diluted to taste.

Poetic prose, done right, is about wringing more out of a single line.

The idea that the adjective “poetic,” when referring to prose, might be meant as a criticism is enough to cork most English professors’ merlot.  But in the aforementioned blogger’s defense, that’s probably a common enough viewpoint these days.

I think the discord comes not from a genuine dislike of poetry, but from a popular misunderstanding of what good poetry is.  (Here’s where the affected douchebag bit comes in; as if I know better, right?)  I’m no expert, but speaking as someone who does occasionally read and write poetry, I feel like the major disconnect is due to the fact that those who don’t read or strongly dislike poetry think of poetry in terms of the worst Romantic frippery.  If you think of poetry in terms of Wordsworth and Shelley, it’s understandable why you’d think of “poetic prose” as being something purple and overdone.  You might not think of the sparseness of Hemingway or the bold economy of words in a Mark Lawrence novel as being poetic, but they are–in the best way.

One of my favorite poems is The Simple Truth by Philip Levine, written in 1995:

I bought a dollar and a half’s worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets
and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.
Then I walked through the dried fields
on the edge of town. In middle June the light
hung on in the dark furrows at my feet,
and in the mountain oaks overhead the birds
were gathering for the night, the jays and mockers
squawking back and forth, the finches still darting
into the dusty light. The woman who sold me
the potatoes was from Poland; she was someone
out of my childhood in a pink spangled sweater and sunglasses
praising the perfection of all her fruits and vegetables
at the road-side stand and urging me to taste
even the pale, raw sweet corn trucked all the way,
she swore, from New Jersey. “Eat, eat” she said,
“Even if you don’t I’ll say you did.”
Some things
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.
My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965
before I went away, before he began to kill himself,
and the two of us to betray our love. Can you taste
what I’m saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.

The irony is that the simple way of saying things has become poetry over the last century.  Upon first reading, a poem like the above might irk you–its simplicity is blatant, like an abstract expressionist painting.  But the power of the words and the story it tells, the feelings it evokes, stay with you.  That’s what art is, isn’t it?  Something that produces an emotional response?  If Levine had used flowery language and ornate metaphor, the impact would have been lost.  As it is we have a simple truth: beauty lies most often in restraint.

‘A Locking Door’ Shortlisted for ‘The Liar’s Key’ Writing Contest

22852698ThatThornGuy.com, Mark Lawrence’s “unofficial” website, is hosting a writing contest to promote The Liar’s Key, the second book of his The Red Queen’s War trilogy.

The contest rules were simple: write a piece of flash fiction no longer than 300 words including both the words “liar” and “key.”  No other parameters specified.  (This is the second iteration of this contest, the first being for The Prince of Fools.)  The fiction would be judged by authors T. Frohock, Myke Cole, T.O. Munro, David Jackson, Fantasy Faction Overlord Marc Aplin, and Mark Lawrence himself.  The prize would be a signed ARC of The Liar’s Key, graciously provided by ACE Books.

I submitted a piece titled “A Locking Door,” which, to my delighted surprise, was selected for the top ten out of 105 entries.  Here it is:

A Locking Door
By James Cormier

Chloe checked the door again, the knob warm in her hand, careful not to jostle it. She’d never seen doors like these before they moved, heavy things with glass knobs and worn brass plates, each with its own tarnished skeleton key. Old keys, like Chloe’s, that squealed in dry locks that drove heavy old bolts into neat slots cut into the heavy wooden jambs.

Her mother had pressed it into her small hand after she’d told her, her mouth firm. Chloe was a good girl, and almost a young woman, now. Good girls locked their doors at night and didn’t talk about those things. Good girls were quiet as mice.

Chloe listened through the storybook keyhole and heard the TV downstairs, along with the clatter of dishes under the running faucet and the clink of his glass on the table. If you told anyone, he’d said, after the first time, they’d just think you were making it up. You don’t want people to think you’re a liar, do you? You know what God does to liars. He only said it that once. She chewed at a fingernail, peeling off a half-moon shred and hissing when it bled.

She’d locked the door during a loud commercial, when he’d gone to the bathroom, flinching at every squeak from the lock. It would be worse if he caught her doing it. Chloe waited another minute, just to be sure, then got into bed with her jeans on. She listened to the hissing, clanking radiator and squeezed her key until it hurt. She opened her hand and felt the key-shaped mark in her palm. When she started to nod off, she slipped the key into its spot under her mattress to keep it safe and waited for morning.

My heartfelt thanks to Mr. Lawrence, Agnes of ThatThornGuy.com, and all of the judges and participants.