The #SPFBO Has Returned!

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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.

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‘Exile: The Book of Ever’ Is Coming To Wattpad

Exile AMZN-EPUB

Starting Friday, January 29, 2016, I will begin posting my first novel, Exile: The Book of Ever (#1) to Wattpad.  Over the course of about a month, I will post a chapter every day.  This means you can either follow along serially or wait a month and read the whole thing all at once.

Exile will still be for sale as an ebook and a paperback in the same places you’ve always been able to find it, but this means it will also be entirely free to read for those who want to.

Why am I doing this?  Two reasons.  First and foremost, Exile is a YA novel, and Wattpad has a lot of young readers.  Second, and relatedly, I want to see if I can develop a wider audience.  Exile has been well reviewed, but hasn’t seen as much commercial success as I’d like: I’m hoping bringing it to Wattpad will get it into the hands of readers who might otherwise not find it.

Exile is a post-apocalyptic fantasy with dystopian and sci-fi elements.  I’ve often described it (and heard it described) as X-Men meets The Walking Dead.  Here’s the blurb:

Centuries 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…

I have high hopes for Exile over the long term.  It’s a gripping, entertaining story, but one that also challenges the reader in unexpected ways.  And it’s got a kickass female protagonist who I think young women might like.  If you haven’t taken a look yet, you’ll have the chance to read along on January 29th.  Mark your calendars!

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.

Interviewed by Fantasy Book Critic

Mihir Wanchoo of Fantasy Book Critic interviewed me and several other SPFBO participants recently.  Click here to read part one of the interview.

Here’s a snippet:

Q] What were your expectations going into it and now that the first round is nearly over, what are your thoughts?

JC: My expectations for how well my own book would do weren’t terribly high, mostly because of what I perceived at the time as potential conflicts of taste–even after I decided that it was definitely fantasy, and that it therefore was eligible to be part of the contest, I still worried that the fact that it was in no way traditional epic fantasy (which seemed to be the bread and butter of most everyone involved) might hold it back. That aside, I was confident that anyone who read it with an open mind would enjoy the experience, and I’m very pleased with how well it’s been received, particularly for my first novel.

I’ve been absolutely thrilled to see how well it’s done: it’s one of Fantasy Faction’s top three in the first round. Even if it doesn’t move forward, I’ll always have the thrill of knowing that my novel got a good review on one of the biggest fantasy sites on the web.

 

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.

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.

The SPFBO Charges Onward

Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off is well underway, and several of the participating book bloggers have posted progress updates and reviews. Mark keeps a page on his own blog updated with all of the latest additions, so check that out and follow the hashtag #SPFBO on Twitter if you want to stay up to date.

Most recently, Sarah from Bookworm Blues has posted reviews for the first five of her assigned (27 or so) books. There are two awesome things about this.

First, Sarah is doing what she calls a mini-review (which really isn’t that mini) for every book she reads, which is going above and beyond the call of the Blog-Off: participating reviewers are only asked to select their favorite of the 25 or so books sent to them.  How they do that is up to them, and they aren’t required to finish every book, let alone review every book on their site.  So the fact that Sarah is taking the time to read and review each book shows an incredibly gracious and determined professionalism on her part, especially given the personal setbacks she’s had to deal with recently.  Hang in there, Sarah!  Thank you for your work and effort, and I think I speak for all of the authors involved when I say our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Second, Sarah’s first batch of reviews is overwhelmingly positive.  Bookworm Blues uses a five-star rating system.  Of the five books she’s read, four of them received four-star reviews, and one received a three-star review.  This speaks highly of the work submitted to the contest thus far, particularly given that she chose the first five books at random.

This may be the golden age of self-publishing, but self-published authors still face a significant hurdle in getting their work taken seriously; many reviewers and readers alike still presume that self-published fiction is generally of lower quality than its traditionally published counterparts.  The fact that so many book bloggers, who have become some of the most important book critics of this generation, are taking self-published work seriously enough to review it in the same manner they review fiction published by the Big Five is incredibly encouraging.

I wouldn’t have been any less enthusiastic about this contest if all of the reviews were negative, but it is wonderful to see self-published fiction being praised.

‘Exile’ in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off

Exile AMZN-EPUBSo I’ve entered Exile: The Book of Ever into Mark Lawrence’s awesome Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, which I talked about here just a few days ago.  (Exile is free for Kindle through this Monday, by the way.)

My book got sent over to be reviewed by the excellent people at Fantasy Faction, which is very exciting for me, as I’ve been a reader of theirs for quite some time now.

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Mark Lawrence will be updating his post (linked above, and here) as reviews start to trickle in, and you can also check the individual blogs for updates as well.  If you happen to be talking about the Blog-Off on Twitter or another social media site, be sure to use the hashtags #SPFBO and #SelfPubFantasyBlogOff!