Following some discussion about the difficulties of promotion for self-published authors, Mark Lawrence, author of the Broken Empire series, came up with a great idea: get some established fantasy bloggers lined up, and throw self-published books at them, 25 apiece, with a six month window to work through their ‘slush pile’ and find just one book to promote. The chosen books would then be looked at by all the bloggers and rated, to produce an overall winner.
Mark threw the idea out into the blogosphere, chose 10 bloggers from the many who volunteered, accepted submissions from self-published authors, randomly assigned each to a blogger and sat back to watch the fun.
Now, I’m not big on competitions, and writing competitions, in particular, seem to be more subjective than most. However, the opportunity to have my book at least looked at by a blogger who wouldn’t normally even consider a self-published work is too good to miss. I’ve submitted The Plains of Kallanash, and I’ve been assigned to Sarah Chorn of Bookworm Blues, which warms the cockles of my fangirl heart. It will be an honour to be rejected by Sarah.
Erm, rejected? Why so negative? Because statistics, that’s why. There’s only a 1 in 25 chance of being chosen for promotion to the next round, the competition is stiff and however brilliant a book is, it also has to capture the interest of the person reading it. I can’t even guess whether Sarah will enjoy Kallanash or not. No idea at all. Plus – brilliant? I wrote the thing, I’m only too aware of its weaknesses. Sarah, like all these bloggers, is used to reading the very best of trad published work, against which I would never, ever presume to compare my own scribblings. So, I’m realistic about the chances of being talent-spotted.
What really excites me about this has nothing to do with my own chances. It’s this: for possibly the first time ever, these ten bloggers will be looking seriously at self-published work. Some of them may never have cracked open such a book before, with the possible exception of a few authors who’ve switched from indie to a trad or hybrid deal, like Hugh Howey, Michael J Sullivan or Anthony Ryan. Now they get to look at 25 indie books, and evaluate them in exactly the same way they review any other book.
One aspect that will be really interesting to me is that most of these books are unknown quantities. There are a few who have sold by the shed-load, but most are like Kallanash: low to medium sales, relatively few reviews and no hype, no history, no buzz to go on. The bloggers can’t say: oh, I liked X’s last book, so this should be good. They can’t say: Y wrote a glowing review of this, so it must be good. They can’t even say: the publisher’s pushing the boat out for this one, so they think it’s good. Each book will be reviewed in a vacuum.
That might not sound difficult, but I’ve been reading and reviewing self-published books for several years now, and I find it really hard to judge a book in isolation. If I love it, that doesn’t mean anyone else will. If I hate it, maybe that’s just me. It’s a different judgement call from evaluating a book that’s already a known quantity. When I read Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns, for instance, I already knew it was controversial, and that a lot of people hated the young protagonist. I knew what I was looking for, what questions needed answering.
Knowing something about a book or author creates expectations. Now, those expectations may or may not be met, but there’s something as a base line. But if there’s no starting point, no expectations, it’s like jumping off a cliff blindfolded. There’s just no knowing where you might end up. It’s a peculiar feeling opening a book without having the slightest idea what you will find inside.
I’m really looking forward to seeing how this goes. I’ve read and reviewed several of the books on the list, although not always with glowing results. One, at least, I rejected because I found the plotline too trite (but it went on to do extremely well, which shows how much I know). Several on the list are authors who write way better than I do, and some have featured on my list of self-published gems; it would be no disgrace to lose to any one of them.
Whichever author ‘wins’ the competition, the real winner here is the world of self-publishing.
Here’s the complete list of bloggers participating, and books submitted.