Coming 4th is generally held to be pretty hard if you're in the Olympics, but in the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off there are no medals for second place in the heats.
As a small consolation I've invited the authors of the 2nd placed books (where the bloggers were ready to name such a book) to take part in an 'exit' interview, modelling it on these interviews I did with self published authors back in 2012.
Here are the first three to respond!
1. Score out of ten the following reason you write (10 = nail on head, 1 = no part of me has ever even thought this). You may qualify your numerical response with a tweet length text addition if you so desire.
-I hope to become rich
[Josiah] 3. I’d be a terrible rich person. I’d spend all my money on pimped-out dirigibles and tacos.
[Benedict] 3 - This just doesn't feel like enough of a possibility, certainly in the short term, for it to drive my writing.
[AJ] (3) During the day, I work for a non-profit company that aims to support a global community’s conservation efforts…money isn’t really what drives me.
-I would not be happy knowing only a couple of people ever read my stories
[Josiah] 8. I dream of one day seeing someone reading my book on the train.
[Benedict] 9 - I live for this! Readers dropping a quick email or leaving a review are what keeps me going.
[AJ] (8) It’s a thrill to have someone pick up my book and enjoy the adventure. The more, the better.
-To stay sane
[Josiah] 7. I’ll never be sane, but writing helps to blunt the crazy.
[Benedict] 1 - I'm not one of those people, sorry. I'd probably waste lots of time on computer games if I wasn't writing, and I'd cope just fine. I miss computer games.
[AJ] (1) My fear is that it will be the other way around. To find a moment in my busy life to be the writer can be dauntingly difficult.
-To have people tell me how well I do it and how wonderful I am
[Josiah] 7. I wish I could claim to have transcended vanity, but nope.
[Benedict] 6 - Positive praise is always nice, but I know I'm still growing as a writer and publisher - I'd rather have constructive feedback mixed in there too.
[AJ] (2) I don’t need praise; I just want people to have a great reading experience and enjoy the story I weave together.
-To prove wrong somebody/bodies who said I wouldn't succeed
[Josiah] 3. As a rule, I try not to let people get in my head. It’s crowded enough in there.
[Benedict] 5 - I've been very lucky in getting a lot of support at home, although I'd love to show them all how deep the rabbit hole can go.
[AJ] (4) I could give this a one, but I do want to prove myself to…myself. Does that make sense? I wanted to know if I can do this. My social circles are mostly supportive and if they ever had doubts about my ability to succeed, they never voiced them.
2. You've opted to self-publish. Did you ever try to have a publisher do it for you? Are you still trying? How much success are you finding?
[Josiah] I started collecting rejections from publishers when I was sixteen. My favorite rejection came from a producer at the BBC who extolled me to, “Live a little more and write about it less.” I didn’t listen. In an average year, I’ll submit between 150-200 works to publishers, publications, and agents. I will never stop trying.
[Benedict] I sent a few manuscripts to Marvel comics back in the day! Otherwise, discovering the modern self-publishing movement actually spurred me into writing more regularly. Before that, the selection process in traditional publishing put me off pushing to complete anything - I think it would kill me to spend ages writing a story and not be able to get it into readers' hands.
[AJ] I briefly looked at agents and publishers a few years ago, but I found the road of self-publishing more interesting (also; I hated the we-will-get-back-to-you-unless-we-do-not game). One of the major advantages of self-publishing is the freedom and control you have over the (creative) process, which really appeals to me.
On the other hand, to have an agent and publisher behind you can open up a lot of doors and resources. So both ways have pros and cons.
At the time, self-publishing was a way forward for me; to gain more insight and knowledge into the entire process. To have that freedom and flexibility to work around my day-job was the only way I saw it could work for me. What the future brings? Who knows. All I can say is that I’m happy with the road so far and I’m always open to explore new opportunities.
[Josiah] Self-publishing is easy. All it requires is an internet connection, a word file, and a moment of optimism. Anyone can self-publish. Succeeding at self-publishing, on the other hand, requires regular human sacrifice and caffeinated vodka. Ideally, I would spend 20% of my time on promotion and 80% on writing. Presently, I’m spending 80% on promotion and 20% on staring into the void.
[Benedict] Self publishing is emotionally tiring - it can be very depressing to know your work is out there, but people are not picking it up. At the moment I'm focussing almost exclusively on writing, to build up a catalogue of three or four books. After that I'll push the self promotion button a bit more.
[AJ] Honestly, harder than I expected. Finishing your story is only half the work. Then, you have to find the right editor, think about cover design, typesetting, ebook formatting and everywhere there’s money involved of course, so you have to be careful with what you invest. Finally, after you have the actual book polished and done, comes the marketing, online presence and fan base building. Trying to find the answer on how you get people to pick up your book and read it…without becoming obnoxious.
Self-promotion can be dangerously time-consuming. With only a few hours per week that I can spend on writing, it can be a real obstacle. At certain times I dial down the promotion as far as possible, in order to focus on writing. In a way, that’s part of the promotion process as well, since each new book you release, has the chance to stimulate new readers toward your previously published books as well.
[Josiah] I’ll let Senlin Ascends do the talking for me.
Senlin cleared his throat and furrowed his brow. “Marya, I… I have a difficult time expressing certain… genuinely held feelings. I…” he swallowed and shook his head. This was not how he wanted the speech to go. She waited patiently, and he gathered his thoughts. “You’ve made it impossible for me to read a book in peace. When you’re not here, I just gaze at the words until they tumble off the page into a puddle in my lap. Instead of reading, I sit there and review the hours of the day I spent in your company, and I am more charmed by that story than anything the author has scribbled down. I have never been lonely in my life, but you have made me lonely. When you are gone, I am a moping ruin. I thought I understood the world fairly well. But you have made it all mysterious again. And it’s unnerving and frightening and wonderful, and I want it to continue. I want all your mysteries. And if I could, I would give you a hundred pianos. I would…”
She stopped him with a gentle hand on his shoulder. She rose, her hand moving to his cheek. He tried to stand and fell back onto the keyboard with a discordant bang of notes. She kissed him, shifting the bench with the side of her leg. He attempted to lift himself from the keyboard, but again she pushed him back with the force of a kiss and again he banged upon the keys.
The villagers who walked past the headmaster’s cottage that evening wondered where he had gotten a piano and why he insisted on playing it so poorly and so loudly for so long.
[Benedict] From the folk story ,The Magpie King and the Black Squirrel' from They Mostly Come Out At Night:
It was in the early days of the forest, long before the outsiders arrived. The world was still new, and would look strange to your eyes if you saw it now. Cat and mouse would walk together through the leaves, chatting about a joke a human had told them earlier that morning. Rabbits sneered rudely at passersby, concerned that everyone was after their patches of clover. Strange creatures that you cannot imagine shared these trees as their home, such as mammoths, bears and dragons.
The Magpie King was young, and was still becoming accustomed to his power. He viewed every feature of his forest with wonder and delight, and found great joy in taking the opportunity to pass the time of day with every deer, leopard or wolf.
This idyllic paradise was shattered when a great darkness enveloped the sky above the forest. Man, woman, fox and frog alike threw themselves to the dirt and wailed for the Magpie King to protect them.
[AJ] From Windcatcher – Book I of the Stone War Chronicles
For the second time since the conflict started, Raylan saw a wolf pass over his head like a dark shadow of death. There was nothing he could do as a chaos of fangs and claws threw itself directly on top of the horses. Crashing toward the ground, the legs of both horses snapped like twigs, and the entire wagon began to roll. A disarray of flesh, stone and wood crashed down the slope. Raylan felt himself launched into the air, barely missing a dead tree stump on the way. Slamming into the ground, he slid on his side into a stone boulder. With his heart pumping pure adrenaline, he jumped up at once, unaware of any injuries. He saw the remainder of the wagon continue its downward crash.
The steep slope was littered with small boulders and trees; the ground filled with the fallen needles of those forest giants that died. It had softened Raylan’s landing, but also made the ground a slippery slope all the way to the ravine’s edge. The wagon smashed into a large boulder with the sound of shattering wood and bending metal. The horses’ limp bodies—clearly dead now—rolled along the slope. Raylan heard the wolf growl in anger, as it got tangled up in the reins and four pair of legs. Its heavy stone body was dragged along by the dead weight of the horses and rapidly approached the edge of the ravine; but that did not concern Raylan in the least. Before he actually saw the stone wolf disappear over the edge, his focus was drawn to the wagon. It had split open upon the rock, throwing Stephen and the chest out of it.
For a moment, Raylan was confused by the bandaged person flying through the air, until his mind caught up to the fact that Regis’ remains had been in the wagon as well. Raylan started moving before Stephen hit the ground, next to their wrapped up comrade. The chest landed almost at the same time. Because it lacked a proper lock, it sprung open. The dragon’s egg instantly launched out of its wooden confinement and began tumbling down toward the ravine at incredible speed.
5. The first great book, poem, and album that pop into your head?
[Josiah] Invitation to a Beheading by Nabokov, “An Arundel Tomb” by Larkin, and “Plastic Beach” by Gorillaz.
[Benedict] Book: The Lord of the Rings, Poem: Ode on a Grecian Urn, Album: Simon & Garfunkel - Tales from New York
[AJ] This perfect day – Ira Levin; defy the rules to shape your own future, but not all is as it seems. The Road Not Taken – Robert Frost; adventure awaits for those that dare. 10000 days – Tool; sometimes the road is long, but the feeling is overwhelmingly good.
6. What has been the most effective mechanism (which is open to others) in getting readers? (we can omit the SPFBO)
[Josiah] I’ve found r/Fantasy to be a wonderfully supportive community that is full of passionate and engaged readers. Like most online communities, they resent it if you just pop in and start flogging your books. But if you participate and contribute to the conversation, you can find new friends and new fans.
[Benedict] Patty Jansen runs monthly promotions for Sci Fi and Fantasy authors, which alternate between 99c and free promos. They cost nothing, but everyone involved pushes the promo to their individual mailing lists - the reach that can be achieved is huge. (www.pattyjansen.com/promo)
[AJ] There are so many opportunities out there, it can be difficult to choose which you want to focus on. To do them all can be a full time job. Not to mention that one method will work for one writer/genre, while it totally fails for another. Here’s three that stand out for me.
The most effective platform I encountered up till now is Goodreads. It’s highly interactive and useful to gather interested readers and reviewers. Especially their giveaway can have great results in getting your book in front of people. In turn it will start to build your book’s reviews list. Which will create more exposure and lead to additional reviews, and so on, and so on.
Second would be the use of paid advertisement lists, to announce your promotions. Mailing lists like Ereader News Today, the Fussy Librarian or the famed Bookbub (which I haven’t tried myself yet), have thousands—if not millions in case of Bookbub—of readers waiting to hear about your next master piece.
And finally, the Reddit community is a great group to be a part of. Be it /r/worldbuilding or /r/fantasy, there are plenty of places to gain feedback or inspiration, discuss ideas and encounter future readers. Though I wouldn’t necessarily call it an effective tool to sell many books for an unknown author like myself, it’s a wonderful way to make connections.
[Josiah] Self-publishing can be a lot of fun. I grouse about the process sometimes, but if I had a time machine that could take me back to 2013 when I published Senlin Ascends, I wouldn’t change a thing . . . except the goatee. I would put myself in a headlock and shave that blond abomination right off my stupid, stupid face.
[Benedict] Just wanted to say a huge thanks for this interview, and also for running the SPFBO. I got a fantastic review from Sarah at Bookworm Blues, but more importantly it has really helped me get a firm foothold in the indie fantasy community - there are a number of fellow SPFBO authors I would now call friends. In a profession that can be as lonely as this one is, that human contact is invaluable.
[AJ] To Mark: Thank you for the opportunity. You are an inspiration.
To those that aspire to write: Enjoy the road traveled. Take it one step at a time, prepare and learn, but never forget to enjoy. I hope the things above will help you on your way.
To those that read: It truly is an age of finding unknown treasures in the world of storytelling. And when you do find such a hidden gem, please don’t keep quiet about it. Mention it to your friends and family. Talk to those you encounter at work. Do an elevator pitch at the mall, and grab the nearest people on the street to enlighten them; for if you do, somewhere in the world an unknown author will be forever grateful that you found his book important enough to mention.