4th Annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off – An Introduction

magic book by Martin CauchonHello, to all the followers of the SPFBO – Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off – the competition which began with an idle thought in the shadowed recesses of Mark Lawrence’s mind and is now in its fourth year. Some of the previous winners and finalists have been picked up by traditional publishing houses and some authors have turned down deals from those same big publishers because they want to keep self-publishing!

In essence, and reality, 300 authors throw their books into a great big ring where they are to be judged, reviewed and discussed. Now, if anyone has stepped onto a stage, under those hot and blinding lights to perform/sing, you’ll know how terrifying it can be. Here though, the audience is not constrained to a small pub (or for the famous amongst you – a stadium), but is worldwide – agents are peeking, publishing houses are watching, and readers everywhere are keeping a sharp eye out for a great book! With that in mind, we (our happy band of brothers and sisters at Fantasy-Faction) will do our utmost to treat every book and every author with respect, kindness and honesty.

This year our method won’t change too much from the previous three years. I know, a shock! But don’t turn away just now, there’s more.

Here’s how we will work Round One:

Stage One: Slush Pile

All of our judges, seven of us, will read the Slush Pile.

books by Therin Busby

When Mark first proposed this competition it was with the aim that each blog would take on the role of agents – well, intern agents as there was no pay involved, just exposure (which I’ve pointed out to him is crime in many countries). Read a sample of each book and decide which ones to do a “Full Manuscript” call for.

This year, that’s exactly what we will be doing. Each judge has been asked to score (out of 10) the first 3 chapters (10-15k) of each book and to write a short summary of their thoughts. To make this easy on us, we will use the Amazon Look Inside feature whenever possible. Already the judges have cracked on with this task and are motoring through – I am so impressed with them!

This means that every book will have been looked at by seven judges – readers, writers, editors, booksellers and fantasy fans all – and we’ll get a consensus of opinion!

At that point we will start to put reviews up on the site. We’ll write short reviews of each book in batches of three to five – and try to pull out the positives of the samples we read. Sadly, these will likely be the ones that haven’t made it to the final – or be our finalist.

Stage Two: Selection

reading a book by HayashinaWhile those reviews are going up, we’ll be reading the books we’ve identified as possible finalists.

Each judge will read the books they want to, the ones they loved from the samples – we’re not going to force our judges to read every book as that may not result in a fair review. Each of these books will get fuller reviews as we get towards the end of round one – we’ll save our choice of finalist for the last review, just to ensure we have wrung every last ounce of tension out of the process.

In the event of tie, I reserve the right to be a stroppy old git and force us all to make a decision on the book we will call our winner and send on to the final.

With that in mind, here’s how we’ll tackle that bit of the competition!

Round Two: The Finals

Pile of books on a black background by macinivnwThe finalist round is by far the easiest, and longest. Each book a blog puts forward will get a full review on Fantasy-Faction. They’ll also get a score out of 10 – and this score will be measured against every other book we’ve ever reviewed on the site. A book is a book to us, no matter how it came into our hands, who published it, who wrote it – we review it fairly. If it is great, we’ll say so – and usually the round two judges will all contribute to the reviews. If it isn’t our cup of tea (coffee, vodka, mercury, arsenic) we will say so and explain why.

It is vital that everyone knows that every single aspect of this wonderful competition is subjective. Writing is art and the art I love, you might hate. We’ll agree on somethings and disagree on others (as will our judges). That’s fine. That’s life. That’s writing and reading.

I’ve been a judge on this competition since its inception (and an entrant in the first SPFBO–got 4 out of 5 from Bookworm Blues–just saying) and it has been a privilege every year.

Without further waffle, here are our judges for Round One.

The Judges

G R Matthews – Hey, that’s me. I’ve judged all the past SPFBOs for Fantasy-Faction and have had the pleasure to get to know a lot of the authors. I’ve got six books available already, two more written and waiting. Reading is a real pleasure, as is writing. I’ve taught Creative Writing amongst other things and studied a few martial arts (enough to know that getting hit really hurts).

Website: grmatthews.com
Twitter: @G_R_Matthews

Julia Sarene – Not only is Julia a mod on our 5,000+ strong Facebook group, she’s the most prolific reader we’ve ever met. Also a seasoned beta reader, she’ll be adding her opinions – which are always blunt, honest and fair – to help us make our decisions. She’s also a book buyer for a chain of bookstores – publishers go to her for recommendations!

Twitter: @KitvariaSarene

David Zampa – David is a freelance book cover designer, voracious reader, and full time dad, which leaves about three hours each night to sleep. With over nine years’ experience in print design and advertising, marketing, and sales, David is equal parts artist and marketing professional.

Website: The Pensive Dragon
Twitter: @DavidZampa

JC Kang – JC’s unhealthy obsession with fantasy and sci-fi began at an early age when his brother introduced him to The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Trek, and Star Wars. As an adult, he combines his geek roots with his professional experiences as a Chinese Medicine doctor, martial arts instructor, and technical writer to pen epic fantasy stories.

Website: jckang.info
Twitter: @jckang804

Author’s Note: If JC’s book makes it through the final (good luck, JC!) he will be dropping out of the judging.

Jessica Juby – Jessica works full-time during the day in marketing and at night dons the cape of proofreading hero, running her own proofreading business. Although she’s had non-fiction published by Hodder & Stoughton, her passion lies in sci-fi and fantasy books, which is where she enjoys hiding.

Website: jessicajuby.co.uk
Twitter: @JessicaJuby

Rakib Khan – Rakib Ahmad Khan is a doctor from Bangladesh, currently working as a medical officer for the government, who enjoys fantasy in all its forms. His favorite hobby used to be searching in the used book stores of Dhaka for hidden gems (quite hard to find good fantasy or sci-fi when you live in a country called Bangladesh) which he could add to his collection and slowly devour later. He boasts of reading 50-60 books, and about twice as many comics/manga each year. He also loves of rock music, rpgs, and fighting games. He has been writing about these things for almost four years on his blog and also tries to be active on Goodreads among other sites.

Website: Ihate00 Critics
Twitter: @ihate_00

Rachel McCoy – Rachel is an author dabbling in quirky fantasy, dynamic science fiction, and fresh fairytale romance, which she sells to pay for her book addiction. Other obsessions include coffee, chocolate, vodka, bad reality TV, and anything that keeps her children quiet (she also has a bit of a thing for manta rays).

Website: rsmccoyauthor.com
Twitter: @RSMcCoy1

Good luck to everyone competing and may the best book win!

Title image by Therin Busby.


By 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. Growing up, he spent Sunday afternoons on the sofa watching westerns and Bond movies after suffering the dual horror of the sounds of ABBA and the hoover (Vacuum cleaner) drifting up the stairs to wake him in the morning. 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 hometown, not far from the standing stones of Avebury, he picked up the Pawn of Prophecy and started to read - and now he writes fantasy! Seven Deaths of an Empire coming from Solaris Books, June 2021. Agent: Jamie Cowen, Ampersand Agency. You can follow him on twitter @G_R_Matthews or visit his website at www.grmatthews.com.

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