Unless you’ve been living on Mars with Matt Damon, you’ll know that Fantasy-Faction is one of ten blogs participating in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO). Created and hosted by Mark Lawrence, the SPFBO is a contest that aims at increasing the discoverability of talented self-published fantasy authors.

In March, more than 300 authors submitted manuscripts to this year’s contest. Six months later and the ten blogger-judges have each whittled their allotted pile of 30 down to just 1. (In case you missed it, here’s our discussion about why we chose Dyrk Ashton’s novel Paternus to be Fantasy-Faction’s finalist.)

With the final 10 chosen and the scoreboard revealed, it’s already clear that not only is there an impressive variety of styles and subgenres (including steampunk, grimdark, YA, urban, historical and epic) but also a wide range of scores. Given that most bloggers’ decisions were based purely on personal taste, it’ll be extremely interesting to follow the inevitable clash of opinions from book to book.

SPFBO - 2016 Finalists

Naturally, each individual response to a book is unique. Similarly, not everyone’s experience of the SPFBO will be the same. Certainly, some of the authors have benefited from the contest’s exposure much more than others; and while some blogs have expressed disappointment at the overall quality of submissions, others have lost sleep whilst trying to decide which one is best out of a batch of fantastic entries.

But one thing that has remained consistent throughout is the overwhelming atmosphere of positivity and enthusiasm. And now that we’ve moved forward into the final round I thought I’d share some thoughts about how the contest – and more importantly, the writers who have participated in it – are challenging (and changing) common preconceptions about self-publishing.

‘S’ is for Sportsmanship

Despite obviously feeling gutted about not making the cut, most of those eliminated have taken the time to not only thank their blogger but also to laud their rivals’ success. Some runners-up have even continued to follow the contest’s progress, weighing in on the books they’ve read and cheering on the remaining authors. It’s fantastic!

‘P’ is for Professionalism

The prevalence of social media makes it so, so easy to make an arse out of yourself in front of the whole world. In an age where an unfortunate Facebook post can result in a one-way ticket to the local Jobcentre, it’s a miracle that some of us manage to avoid a daily bust-up just by posting a picture of our Pot Noodle.

But our authors are clearly pros. When it comes to networking, they’ve succeeded in connecting with everyone involved whilst also maintaining a respectful distance. Furthermore, they have responded to criticism and rejection in an overwhelmingly valiant manner. I’ve witnessed no bitter comments, no arguing against criticism – or indeed any correspondence through channels other than social media (at least while the first round was still ongoing). Pros indeed!

‘F’ is for Friendship

We’re in danger of reaching Andy Pandy levels of cheesiness, I know. But honestly, all the SPFBO discussion and banter that I’ve seen has been friendly, fun and oftentimes hilarious. In my experience the entrants have treated one another like allies rather than competitors; some have even become friends, and it’s made me proud to be part of such an awesome, amicable community. I know we’re all adults here and this may sound patronising, but it really is refreshing to see so many folks united in a common interest.

SPFBO - Tweets

‘B’ is for Bravery

Seriously, it takes balls to submit your work to such a high-profile outlet. You’re essentially opening yourself to public criticism which, while intended to be constructive rather than hurtful, can nonetheless put a real dint in an author’s self-confidence. I’m not sure whether I’d be brave enough to do the same.

‘O’ is for Ownership

In most cases (barring one exception in which the author was clearly in denial), the authors have taken full ownership for any perceived flaws within their writing. Expressing gratitude for the feedback, the authors have swallowed and digested most criticisms without argument. Whether they then sent their book off for a simple proof read or took the more drastic measure of re-editing (with one or two even pulling their book from sale altogether), each author has acted with grace and professionalism, accepting responsibility before moving on to improve their work.

– – –

I’ve heard way too many horror stories about reviewers who’ve had bad experiences with indie authors. Whether it’s the jilted writer with a grudge against the websites that won’t review her book, or perhaps the author bent on revenge against the blogger that dared give him a 1* rating, it’s always the negative accounts that most people hear about.

Far less often do we take the time to praise that wonderful majority of indie authors who conduct themselves like exemplary human beings and not massive sacks of piranhas. Every participant – bloggers, writers, readers, and everyone who follows, shares and supports the SPFBO – is part of the movement which I’m calling the Bright Future of Self-Publishing (or BFOSP), which, as an acronym, can be rearranged to make ‘SPFBO’.


Title image by Martin Cauchon.


By Laura M. Hughes

Laura lives under the grey, pigeon-filled skies of northern England, where she also writes for Tor.com. When she isn’t absorbed in Dragon Age, raving about the #SPFBO or working on her first novel, you’re most likely to find her trying to convince unsuspecting bystanders to read The Malazan Book of the Fallen. If you’ve any queries, or just want to talk fantasy, Laura always encourages like-minded folk to seek her out on Twitter @halfstrungharp. Anyone interested in hiring her to edit or proofread a manuscript can check out her rates, services and testimonials at lauramhughes.com.

3 thoughts on “SPFBO: Positivity & Professionalism in Self-Publishing”
  1. This was my second year participating and it was great to be involved once again and receive both constructive feedback and praise from such well known bloggers.

    Cheesiness aside, I can only echo the sentiments above. The spirit of the contest has been excellent: from the graciousness of the authors involved who are all desperate to do well to the tact and respect showing by the sites reviewing the books.

    It is a fantastic initiative and long may it continue.

  2. This is my first year entering the contest after a friend suggested I do so. To be honest, when I submitted my work it was kind of a “fire and forget” sort of thing. I mean out of 300 entries what are the odds, right? (Okay, it’s like 3 out of 100, but still.) I only found out that my novel had made the finals when all the congratulations started showing up in my Twitter feed–most of which were from the other finalists and/or contestants! Talk about sportsmanship and camaraderie.

  3. […] involvement as part of Fantasy-Faction’s judging team has changed my perspective even more. The positivity, enthusiasm and professionalism of the entrants in our group swiftly banished any lingering reservations I may have had, as did the […]

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