Today on the Factory, I decided to invite a few of the SPFBO authors over to answer a bunch of questions. If you haven't been following the SPFBO, it stands for the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off. Organised by fantasy author Mark Lawrence, it involved almost 300 books and 10 top fantasy bloggers. From the first round, only 10 books were selected, and from there only 1 could win. I'm pleased to say we have the winner Michael McClung (MM) here, along with Tavish Kaeden (TK), Barbara Webb (BW), David Benem (DB), Plague Jack (PJ), and myself (BG). We discuss writing, fantasy and self-publishing:
If you want to find out more about the authors, there are links at the bottom of the blog.
What made you self-publish rather than seek a traditional deal?
MM: The short answer is I am not immortal. Traditional publishing has gatekeepers for the gatekeepers, and it can take 2-5 years to see a book published. I went down that road back in 2002/2003, got published by a traditional publisher, and didn't enjoy the experience. That being said, in business there are no absolutes. You need to look at each opportunity on its merits.
TK: To be honest, I did seek a traditional deal at first. I sent various forms of my novel to two publishers accepting open submissions to no avail. I thought about putting it in the proverbial bottom drawer, but then decided to self-publish—just to see if anyone would actually read it and, more importantly, enjoy it. I had enough positive feedback that I kept the book available and eventually tried my hand at a sequel. In retrospect, I had no idea what I was doing, but I don’t regret diving head-first into the whole process.
BW: I was having trouble getting attention. I was getting a lot of rejections from agents that read, "I really loved this, but I don't know if I can sell it." So I decided to self-publish.
DB: The more I learned about the pros and cons of each avenue the more it seemed the market was moving in the same direction film and music already had, with greater prominence and acceptance of independent contributors… I wanted the freedom independent publishing offered, and figured if my book was any good it'd ultimately get some attention. With how things have gone so far I couldn't be happier with my choice.
PJ: Publishers are businesses whose interests only sometimes align with writers. In many ways my first novel is non-traditional, and that makes it a hard sell. I also have no interest in giving up any amount of creative control, and self publishing lets me do what I want. My mistakes are my own,and if something goes wrong I can fix it.
BG: I like being a business and having control, so self-publishing ticked all the boxes. I come from a music background, and so switching to independent author instead of artist made perfect sense to me. The only differences were the media I was producing and the market.
What’s your one tip for any budding author/self-publisher?
MM: Temper your expectations: writing is not a get rich quick gig. Learn your craft: you have to actually know rules before you get to break them. Accept that you will make mistakes: fix them and move forward. Ok, that's three. Bonus pack!
TK: Proofreading your own work is a horrible, loathsome endeavour, but often a vital necessity for authors who are just starting out and have decided to self-publish. If you can’t get other eyes on your work to help you proofread, I’ve found that having a text-to-speech synthesiser read your work back to you is an excellent way of catching mistakes. At first it may seem bizarre sitting in a room while a computer spits out your prose in a jarring monotone, but you’ll soon get used to it.
BW: Learn your craft and your trade. In self publishing, there's no one but you to give the final say on whether a book is good enough to go in front of an audience. Take the time to learn how to write, and take the time to learn how publishing works, because you're going to have to wear both hats.
DB: Don't cut corners! Get a professional cover. Get an editor or at the very least get your draft in the hands of a group of smart people you trust to give you the hard truth. Take your time--readers will notice. A rushed product is doomed.
PJ: Admit when you're wrong or you'll never improve, but don't be too hard on yourself. Start working on a project you love. There's no excuse, if you want to be a creative start creating NOW. The better you get, the more you'll resent your earlier work and that's okay. Becoming a writer is like building a wall out of rice instead of bricks, so get started.
BG: Be professional in everything you do, from your editing and cover design to your website and how you write emails. As an approach it can open doors, keep others firmly open, and set you apart from the rest, all of which are needed when trying to make a living!
How important are opportunities like SPFBO, and why?
MM: Every writer's greatest enemy is obscurity. Opportunities like the SPFBO simply don't come around every day; to have 10 review sites even look at the first chapter of a self-pubbed book is a massive crack at getting noticed. So when an opportunity presents itself, be prepared.
TK: The SPFBO allowed some very obscure books to get some excellent exposure, and, perhaps more importantly, be introduced to a set of readers who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the genre. Even better, all you had to do to be a part of it was submit your work! No numerical machinations or sales strategies necessary. In sum, I would venture to say opportunities like the SPFBO are extremely important because they provide much needed alternate venues for discovering good books which are not traditionally published or on any notable top-seller lists.
BW: Opportunities like the SPFBO are of critical importance! It's hard enough for a book in a traditional publishing ecosystem to get noticed. If you're self-publishing, it's near impossible. For good or ill, traditional publishing has gatekeepers people (mostly) trust to weed through the dreck and put out a quality book. No one has stepped up yet to do that for self-published books, so readers are taking more of a chance every time they pick up something that's self-published. Reviews, online conversation, even getting your cover on someone else's website--these are immeasurably helpful.
DB: The SPFBO was a fantastic, unique opportunity to get thoughtful, insightful reviews from respected folk who might not have otherwise spent so much time with so many indie books. Although I'm not sure about the impact it had on actual sales, the importance of critical acclaim from these sorts of reviewers really can't be measured.
PJ: Huge. The SPFBO has helped me tremendously, mostly because it's a lot easier to get people to take me seriously now. I think given a decade or two self-publishing will become the norm, and publishers will exist to give wider distribution to creatives who have already built their audience.
BG: Very important indeed. With such a voracious genre as fantasy is, people are always looking for something new. The trick is being that something new, which means visibility and word of mouth. The SPFBO really lifted the visibility of my books in the fantasy community. Plus, I got a chance to be reviewed by 10 top bloggers! That alone was worth the weeks of nail-biting and finger-drumming.
And why fantasy? Why do you write what you write?
MM: Fantasy and sci fi are the genres of possibility, of "what if". For whatever reason, I've always enjoyed asking "what if….?"
TK: I’ve always loved fantasy, and for me there is definitely some escapism fueling why I read and write in that genre. Fantasy is also extremely flexible, which is ideal for someone with as little experience writing fiction as I have. There isn't much in the way of subject matter that can’t find a good home in a fantasy book, you just have to make sure it is congruous with the story and adapt it so it is genre appropriate. Love writing about science experiments? Mages, alchemists, and the like have you covered. Do you have a thing for urban planning? Invent a medieval city so complex and real it is practically a character. Zoology enthusiast? There is a whole catalogue of ready-made mythical beasts waiting to pop up in your book, or make your own! You get the idea.
BW: I love it! I grew up reading fantasy. My parents were book people, and had a huge library of fantasy and science fiction in the basement. I was surrounded by covers with dragons and elves and magic swords. It sunk in, and now the fantastical is so much a part of how I create, I couldn't do something different if I wanted to.
DB: Are you implying there are genres other than fantasy??? Seriously, though, fantasy is the genre I most enjoy reading and the one I've always wanted to write. Even as a kid I was writing my own fantasy RPGs and doodling fantasy characters. I've never really wanted to write anything else.
PJ: I like fantasy because I have the brain for it. I wish I could give a better answer, but that's pretty much it. My work is political without really making any statement. I don't want to tell the reader what to think, but I want to give them something to think about. I try and avoid black and white morality, but I do throw in the occasional hate sponge for fun.
BG: Because reality is just so… boring.
What’s your one tip for writing a good book?
MM: Cut out all the stuff you'd skim over, were you reading someone else's book.
TK: As an author you have absolute control over your literary worlds. Don’t feel you need to use it.
BW: Write the book you most want to read. Be in love with your book. Be passionate. That always translates through to the reader. They'll feel your excitement and get excited as well.
DB: Be yourself. Find your own voice--don't try to mimic others or write for what you perceive to be the market. You won't enjoy the act of writing as much as you would otherwise, and I think readers can tell when something isn't genuine.
PJ: People rarely just talk about what they're talking about, and they bring their entire life and relationship history to the conversation. Try and create an invisible layer of depth to everything your character does Dig yourself as deep into their heads as you can go, then dig deeper.
BG: Move people. Make them laugh, cry, grit their teeth, shake their fists, and all the rest. That’s the secret to writing a book that will get people turning. All you have to do is turn a piece of paper into emotion.
And lastly, what’s next on your agenda?
MM: I've always got many irons in the fire! I've just released the first novel in a young adult series, and within a month I'll have the second book out for my Sword Monk series. And in November, the 4th book of the Amra’s Thetys series will be released by Ragnarok.
TK: Four books currently in various stages of (in)completion. I am not good at planning.
BW: I've put the finishing touches on WHAT DREAMS SHADOWS CAST, the sequel to CITY OF BURNING SHADOWS. All I'm waiting on is the cover, and that will be ready to go! I'm also toying with a space opera romance. It's still in the development stage. And of course, starting to think through the third Ash book.
DB: My next book! Book Two in my series A Requiem for Heroes is well underway and I'm shooting for a release date later this year. It's had its share of fits and starts though the book is humming along nicely now.
PJ: My latest project is DISCORD, a YA fantasy/sci-fi/dramedy webcomic, set in an inter-dimensional library located between thirteen unique universes.
BG: Next I’m working on my first standalone – The Heart of Stone – which will be exploring a non-human protagonist in a brand new world of mine.
Find out more about:
Michael McClung - The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids (1st)
Tavish Kaeden - The Weight of a Crown (3rd)
Barbara Webb - City of Burning Shadows (4th)
David Benem - What Remains of Heroes (6th)
Plague Jack - Sins of a Sovereingty (5th)
And me (2nd) over at my Books page.