This year I continue to be one of ten judges of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off hosted by Mark Lawrence. Official detail can be found here, however I will collate the information that pertains to my part in it in this entry also. Starting with:
If your judge wants info from you they will ask for it. It’s best you don’t contact them unsolicited during the contest. This is a common rule of juried awards simply as a rule of professionalism – often what an entrant feels the need to say is best directed at Mark and his team.
The expectation of us (as judges) is as follows:
In phase 1 which takes 6 months:
1. Put on their agent’s hat and go through the slush pile of novels allocated to them (30 books) to find the one title they will put through to the final. This does not mean they have to read all the books, but hopefully they will read part of all of them and all of some. These guys are bloggers, they’re used to making up their mind by starting to read and seeing if they feel any compulsion to continue.
2. Review that chosen title.
3. Select their 3 favourite covers for the cover art contest in which they will later vote.
It is hoped that they will also review some of their favourite books from the selection they were given.
In phase 2 which takes 6 months:
1. Read and score all 9 finalists from the other blogs.
2. Review their favourite.
3. Review the winner.
If their own finalist turns out to remain their favourite and to win, then they have no reviews to write in phase 2!
It is hoped they will feel moved to review some of the other finalists too.
The books assigned to me are as follows:
Dean F Wilson – The Call of Agon
J.L. Madore – Blaze Ignites
Daniel Olesen – The Eagle’s Flight
Skyler Grant – Dungeon Crawl
Graham Austin-King – Faithless
Adam Steiner – The Censor’s Hand
R.D. Henderson – Wit Fallo
Let’s take a moment to keep expectations real here. We have 300 entries and each blogger is going to select the book they feel is best from the 30 entries sent to them … that means that 97% of you will fall at the first hurdle. That’s just the unforgiving mathematics of the thing.
You may have written a great book, but there may be one in that 30 that the blogger likes better.
For my own history as a reader and judge, I have been a judge in the Australian speculative fiction Aurealis Awards (convening anthologies/collections in 2011 and 2012, fantasy novels in 2013 and 2014, and in 2015 judging the Inaugural Sara Douglass Book Series Award (best completed Australian Spec Fic Series) of 2011-2014, which resulted in about 60 series/200 novels).
Since 2015 I have also been the overall judging coordinator which means facilitating the awards, and arranging and providing guidance to the ten judging panels. The Aurealis Awards have been running for over 20 years now, and are the only juried awards for Speculative Fiction in our country.
In 2013/2014 I was also one of eight judges of the Australian Children’s Book Council of the Year awards, which was established 1946. The CBCA isn’t a genre award, but is the most honoured book award for children (including YA) within Australia and involved reading about 350 books within a few months, with a discussion conference in Canberra that took about five days along with the seven other judges – one from each state and Territory of Australia.
Other awards in Australia include the Ditmars and the Tin Ducks, genre awards that anyone attending the connecting convention can vote in – usually Continuum and Swancon. I vote in these each year. The same goes for the Hugo Awards, and I’ll be attending Helsinki Worldcon this year in August.
Each year I currently finish about 150 novels – not counting novellas, graphic novels, audio, and books that I start to read but for whatever reason just don’t hold my interest. While you can look at my favourite novels I should also note that a favourite book does not also mean that it is of literary merit. Sometimes there is person enjoyment separate from a noteworthy book, and I read, review, and judge in similar but sometimes separate frames of mind. In the case of SPFBO the book has to first and foremost be a joy to read – hard to put down, with genre elements noted and almost just as integral – this is an award for fantasy after all.
Taken from the Aurealis website: A work in the Fantasy category usually incorporates imaginative and fantastic themes. These themes may involve magic or supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element. Events in these works frequently occur outside the ordinary laws that operate within the universe, whether in the acknowledged real world or in a wholly created one. A work of Fantasy often includes the activity of imagining impossible or improbable things.
These guidelines are not intended to be proscriptive on the nature of genre in these categories. Rather, they are offered as an outline that should be considered fluid and as inclusive as possible within the nature of speculative fiction.
So there you have it – that’s me. As a final note, I’ve always held an open mind to self-publishing – many friends through NaNoWriMo since 2004 onwards found mild-success this way; I was a reader of Michael J. Sullivan and on the same writing forum as he for a few years; and I was convenor of the panel that chose the first self-published work for Best Fantasy Novel in the Aurealis Awards (which then went on to get a publishing deal), which was ‘A Crucible of Souls’ (Sorcery Ascendant Sequence) by Mitchell Hogan. And earlier last year I vaguely heard of a book that had come top of a whole bunch of self published fantasy novels so picked it up, and devoured it within a day. That title was ‘The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids’ (Amra Thetys) by Michael McClung – which I then realised that it was this same competition (which I would later become a judge reserve for). Having worked for a small publisher in the past I’m one of the first to say you don’t need to be recognised by one of the Big Five in order to be a ‘good’ book. It’s just that the book needs to be discovered.