Approximately a year ago, I announced via my blog post that I would be entering A Drowned Kingdom in The 7th Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO7). I explained all the many benefits of entering this prestigious contest.
I was not disappointed in terms of the fact that SPFBO7 proved to be an exciting, enlightening experience for me. Although unfortunately A Drowned Kingdom did not advance past the first round, I would not trade that experience for the world.
A Drowned Kingdom received a largely positive review and score. The recognition merely from participating in SPFBO gained additional interest in my book, and I even enjoyed a noticeable spike in sales while my book was in the contest!
The fantastic contacts and connections to be made with people in the writing community was very beneficial. I loved the sense of camaraderie and fellowship I felt by participating in the event!
Finally, real hype and buzz about SPFBO, with most of the eyes of the indie fantasy community squarely trained on the year-long contest, if you’re not paying attention to SPFBO at some point during the year, what are you doing?
Now, a year later, incredibly, I find myself on the other side of the table, as one of the judges with the wonderful Before We Go Blog www.beforewegoblog.com for the 8th Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO8)!
Before I speak further about being a judge for the current iteration of SPFBO, let’s revisit what SPFBO is, as defined in that blog post from a year ago, for those who are not familiar with the competition.
SPFBO is an annual contest designed for English-language fantasy writers and readers. The patron and host of SPFBO is famous British Grimdark fantasy author Mark Lawrence.
Mark has penned ground-breaking books such as the internationally best-selling Broken Empire Series. The opening book of the Broken Empire Series, Prince of Thorns, is one of my personal favourite top 100 books of all-time. And the protagonist of the series, I feel, is one of the most memorable - not to mention most controversial - fantasy characters ever written: the flawed, dangerous, and compelling Prince Jorg Ancrath. You can learn all about Mark Lawrence and his outstanding books here: https://www.marklawrence.buzz/
Altruistically, although he is heralded world-wide as a traditionally-published fantasy star, Mark Lawrence created SPFBO. He wanted to design a vehicle for his self-published brethren, so we may potentially one day acquire the sort of success he currently enjoys. The purpose of the SPFBO contest is to shine a light on self-published fantasy books, promoting the fact that there are more than solely great traditionally-published literary works in the genre. SPFBO is a phenomenal opportunity to increase the credibility and visibility of self-published fantasy books.
Read about SPFBO, its rules, and why you, a self-published fantasy author, should consider entering here:
Here is how SPFBO operates: fantasy novels are submitted by their authors to the SPFBO website. Then the novels are distributed to 10 prominent fantasy blogging sites (who are essentially the judges) for review. 300 books maximum are selected, based on a first-come, first-serve basis. The books selected are divided evenly amongst the blogging sites. So, each blogging site has a pile of 30 books to review.
Next, each individual blogging site has the task of choosing ONE finalist from among their 30 books. Thus, there are a total of 10 finalists. Then, those 10 finalists are subjected to further scrutiny by ALL 10 blogging sites. The overall winner of the contest is the finalist amongst those 10 who receives the highest average review score received from the blogging sites.
Despite the immense celebrity of the host Mark Lawrence as a top fantasy author, and all the acclaim the contest has garnered to-date - surprisingly - many self-published authors I spoke to had never even heard of SPFBO. Since there are many wonderful awards and prizes open to independent authors, I suppose even one so prominent as SPFBO can escape attention.
Still, I can think of no more prestigious and impactful award out there right now in the world of self-published writers than SPFBO. The ability to have top bloggers review your work cannot be understated.
The potential for increased sales due to exposure from the contest is considerable. Some independent authors have even found agent or traditional publishing contracts specifically because of their success in SPFBO. SPFBO6 winner Justin Lee Anderson, author of The Lost War, recently signed with Ian Drury of Sheil Land Agency, on the heels of his big victory.
In my September 2021 blog post I had announced my joining Before We Go Blog, led by the amazing Beth Tabler, as a blogger.
Bloggers who review SPFBO-entered books are considered judges for the purposes of the contest. In addition to providing honest reviews of the books entered, individually and collectively in their blogging team, they ultimately decide if a book will advance to the next round (either semi-final, final round). They also help decide who the ultimate victor is for the contest.
Being a judge is quite the honour, and quite the responsibility. For the most part, with the extremely high level of competition, due to the high quality of self-published fantasy entered in the contest, it is typically very difficult to select which books to advance. Yet that is the judges’ job, and that means that some very good books will be eliminated from the competition, at various stages. There can be only one winner of SPFBO, in the end.
No judge feels good about cutting a book from the competition. Many of the judges are authors themselves, and can certainly empathize with how it would feel to have someone write a critique of your book - even if it is overall quite unfavourable - that takes your book out of the running. I know I can.
It is an emotional, and potentially devastating experience. Yet that is the nature of the contest, and with candour, care, and consideration for the time, effort, and achievement of writing a book, and the courage to submit it for judging, books are removed from contention by SPFBO judges, in order to move the contest towards its ultimate conclusion.
Along the way, bloggers try to write cut reviews that also try to highlight the book’s positives.
A blogger may not necessarily find a particular book to their specific taste, but they generally highlight the positive aspects of a writer’s work, along with any areas for perceived improvement. Even if a blogger did not enjoy a certain book for whatever reason, that does not mean that book may not be exactly what someone else wants to read!
With a blogger getting the word out there about a book, it can potentially lead the perfect reader to that book! As we all are aware, reading tastes are very subjective, and it is not the blogger’s goal to turn readers away from books, but rather to turn them towards the books that are best suited to their reading preferences.
Therefore, the main reason I volunteered to be an SPFBO judge was to do just that! A cut review can still increase a writer’s wider audience, just by virtue of receiving a review from a popular blog site like Before We Go Blog. Moreover, if I do my job well enough as a judge, readers who read my review might find just the book they are looking for, based on my feedback, even if I end up cutting the book.
And besides wanting to read even more great self-published books, that’s why I became a judge: to help shine a light on as many of those books as possible!
Please feel free to comment on this and future blogs and I will be sure to get back to you. Chat soon!
P.L. Stuart's Blog
I am a Canadian high fantasy author. My debut novel, A Drowned Kingdom - first in The Drowned Kingdom Saga, is now available! Book 2 in The Drowned Kingdom Saga, The Last of the Atalanteans, is now available here!