Last Updated on December 7, 2020 by ThoughtsStained
SPFBO 5–or, the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off–is officially a go, with 300 entries received, all ten judges signed up and only a week away before the reading officially begins! For those of you in the community, you’ll know that I joined in late last year to help out another judge and I positively loved it. So, when I was invited to be a judge representing my own blog for SPFBO 5, hell yes did I accept. For those 30
unlucky souls authors who are in my batch, I wanted to let them know a little bit more about me and my process, to hopefully help ease the stress and anxiety the waiting game element of the contest brings.
What Is it?
But, before we get into those nitty-gritty details, let me explain to everyone what exactly this contest and what my role in it is.
This is the fifth year for an incredible contest: the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off. Created my fantasy author Mark Lawrence, he offers 300 spots to self-published/indie authors to submit their own published works of fantasy , where ten bloggers have been recruited to judge the works and select their favorites, ultimately leading to one being crown winner.
So, what’s that mean for me? I’m one of those bloggers! I’ve been given 30 books, which I have to narrow down to one favorite, to send forward as a finalist (I know, I’ve been basically given an impossible task, especially when you look at the quality of books submitted this year, but someone’s gotta do it). Reading starts July 1st and I have until December 31st to send forward my winner.
And that’s just Phase One.
Phase Two starts after the holidays, where all bloggers will then read the other nine finalists, writing reviews and scoring them to help determine the winner, which we have to do by the end of May. The winner received a Personalized Selfie Stick from Mark, though everyone who enters wins the main point of this contest to begin with: free promotion, publicity and a strong, supportive community to boot.
For the judges, it’s a lot of work. Like, a LOT, especially as we’re trying to balance day jobs, writing our own novels, reading other books and I guess the whole cooking-cleaning-showering-eating-sleeping-socializing routine some people manage to do on the daily?? (I dunno how, they must be superhuman or something). But the work is totally worth to give back to the fantasy writing community and I’m very proud to be a part of it as a solo judge for the first time.
So, now you know a little bit about the contest, in case you were unfamiliar. But what if you’re on of those thirty authors who happened to land in the group for the blog known as Thoughts Stained With Ink? What’s that going to be like? The rest of this blog post is mostly for you– or anyone, honestly–who wants to learn more about my reading interests, my reading game plan, my rating system and my timeline.
READING INTERESTS: WHAT I LIKE
So, fantasy is my favorite genre of all time (no surprise there). I don’t think there is any subgenre I don’t like, so with any submission I might get, there is probably going to be an element that I really enjoy! But, like everyone, there are just some things I love more than others or some things I am really hopeful to discover.
Quick side note to just say that, just because your book might have these elements, doesn’t mean I’ll automatically love it, just like if your book doesn’t have these things doesn’t mean I’ll automatically hate it. These are just historically what I’m drawn to, but every book is different.
- Subgenres: Epic, high, portal, urban or steampunk.
- ROMANCE: I also am a huge fan of romance (the steamier, the better). I want to cringe awkwardly when the characters flirt, swoon when they finally kiss and cry when a heart gets broken. I love a romance plot that helps strengthen the main plot, but doesn’t take away from it. And I love well written sex scenes that makes my toes curl.
- Attention to (Sensory) Detail: give me your lush settings, your vivid details. Tolkien is one of my first loves and while some might not like the slower pace while we take in every detail of the scenery, your girl loves that shit.
- Real Fucking Characters: I want to feel something when I read. I don’t want 1D characters who I don’t give a shit about or who annoy me to no end. I want characters who are 3D, who feel like real life friends and enemies, who are complex and challenging and challenge me. Bonus points if they are able to make my initial opinion change as they grow throughout the novel.
- Positive Human-and-Animal Relationships: I love animal companions and I love mystical creatures, so give me ALL OF IT (example: Harry Dresden and Mouse or Hiccup and Toothless).
- A Wide-Range of Female Characters: Give me strong female characters, broken women, quiet girls, curvy princesses, complex women, commanding ladies, feminine swordswomen. I don’t want women who move a male agenda as their only purpose and I don’t want forgettable women, either. I want women who reflect the women of the world now: complex and with a wide range of emotions, traits and quirks that make them impossible to put in a box.
- Strong Friendships: I love a band of heroes who have strong friendships just as much as I love a couple. Think Nicholas Eames’ The Band saga or the fellowship in Tolkien. I want friendships to root for, who make my stomach twist when they are tested or broken.
- Witty Banter: Write one-liners that make me laugh, cry and shake my head as I whisper, “Shit, she just owned him,” and I’ll most likely fall in love.
- Diversity: I want to read worlds as diverse as the one I live in (but, more often, even more so). I welcome all kinds of diversity, from gender expression to sexuality to race to social class to culture.
- Other miscellaneousness I love includes: drawn out tactical battle scenes, pirates, having my heart broken, both twisted tropes and chosen one stories, and prolly a ton of things I’m forgetting at the moment, but it’s a nice start.
I fucking love dragons.
READING INTERESTS: WHAT I DISLIKE
This is a little harder to pin down, because I’m generally pretty easy going when it comes to books and most of the time, if it’s written well, I’m probably going to fall in love with it. That said, of course there are elements that are a turn off, which I’ll list down below. BUT, please don’t freak out if your book has these elements. That doesn’t mean I’m going to hate it outright. It just might be a tad bit more challenging to impress me or I may just not be the right audience for it. Which happens, sometimes. Reading is always subjective and that is always important to remember!
Also, sometimes, these elements don’t bother me or I don’t notice them or I’m surprised when I actually love them (like a love triangle I enjoy, for instance). Like above, this list below isn’t a hard “I’m going to hate this.” It’s just my usual trend.
- Subgenres: Fairytale (particularly retellings), contemporary, superhero fantasy.
- Pointless Animal Cruelty or Death: I love animals and of course I understand that animals can die or be killed. But when your characters are needlessly cruel to them, abuse them or I have to witness intense, grotesque or graphic depictions of it, there had better be a good fucking reason.
- Male-Dominated: Surely I don’t have to explain this one, right?
- Rape: I can handle reading about rape or even a graphic rape scene. Doesn’t mean I want to.
- Writing Quality: I want to be swept into the story, not being aware that I’m actually reading one. Usually, this is pretty easy for me to do, but if your book isn’t edited and I’m constantly wanting to correct your grammar, punctuation, formatting and pointing out issues, then it’s going to be hard for me to enjoy the story itself.
- Hanging Threads: Don’t introduce subplots (and main plots) if you’re not going to either wrap them up and answer my questions or leave clear signposts that answers could arrive in a sequel!
- Inconsistency or Logic Issues: Sure, we all miss a continuity thing now and then, but if your character goes from being an orphan to having three siblings, it’ll taint my clarity and understanding of the story. Also, I need to UNDERSTAND motivations of the characters, so I understand their logic. I don’t want to constantly question their choices or not understand what their doing.
- Other miscellaneousness I usually don’t enjoy includes: dragging plots, pacing issues, love triangles, body shaming, an excessive use of the c-word.
MY RATING SYSTEM AND REVIEW STYLE
If you’ve ever read my reviews, you’d know they are a little…quirky and that won’t change just because this is a contest. They will still be full of GIFs, all-caps squeeing and prolly lots of swearing. I focus on how a book made me feel, both the positives and negatives, plus what the experience was like reading it. Did the story keep me up until 2am to finish the next chapter? How many times did I want to throw it across the wall? Did I sneak reading another chapter during a slow shift at the desk or was I already looking to see the next title on my “To-Read” list? That sort of thing. If you’re looking for an in-depth review of characters, plot and worldbuilding analysis, well…sorry to say, that’s really not my style.
I don’t usually do a rating system, when I normally write reviews. I rate when I cross post on Goodreads, but I’m pretty lenient when it comes to them. But, this being a contest, I’m going to try and do something a little more concrete. Since it’s out of 10 when we rate the finalists, that’ll be the rating system I’ll use for all the books. In parentheses is the equivalent Goodreads rating.
1-3 (1 star): DNF, either for lack of writing quality (poorly edited/written) or because I truly didn’t enjoy it or couldn’t get into it/hold my attention. I also might not be the intended audience and it’s just not my thing.
3-5 (2 star): DNF (maybe). Cleanly written and it does fit my subjective tastes, but it wasn’t enough to capture my attention and make me want to keep reading.
6-7 (3 star): DNF (maybe) I enjoyed what I read and found a lot of promise in it, but it had enough elements that weakened it to the point that I couldn’t push it forward as a finalist. I might be interested enough, if I DNF-ed it, to return to it later and complete it on my own time.
7-9 (4 star): I read it in it’s entirety and really, really enjoyed it. The writing was clean and engaging, the characters developed and diverse, and I truly cared about what happened. Will probably read more of the author’s work.
10 (5 star): Absolutely loved it. Had everything my four-star read does, but it just wowed me to the point that I will make a point to not miss anything the author writes in the future and I’m already telling my friends about it. A definite contender for finalist status.
I’m very lucky that I haven’t had to deal with too much negativity or issues surrounding this in the past, but I’ve heard horror stories from other bloggers, so I want to make sure and make this clear: harassment will NOT be tolerated. I am doing this because I want to, because I am passionate about the writing community, I want to support authors and I am willing to give up a significant amount of free time to do so. I want to create a supportive and empathetic environment and hopefully create new friendships and professional relationships, as well. These guidelines just help make sure that environment stays that way.
Oh, and just an FYI: I don’t accept friend requests on Facebook with people I don’t personally know or am VERY close with. It’s nothing personal if I don’t accept yours, I just like to keep that separate! I also don’t have any social media apps on my phone, so if I’m silent on the weekends, I’m taking my time to recharge.
No matter what, you will not:
- Flirt with me or suggest any sexual advances. This is never okay and I don’t want it, nor should I have to deal with it. The question of whether I’m single or not is irrelevant, because that status shouldn’t matter. DON’T DO THIS. (If you find this being done to you by a member of the community, you can reach out to me, if you feel safe enough or need to do so. I’ll be a safe space for you and advocate for you, if you need it.)
- Constantly reach out to check the status of your book. Trust me, this WILL impact how I read your book. I will definitely get done by the contest deadline and I will post updates as I do. Harassing me will not make me read faster or feel favorably to you.
- Harass me for a review. I’ll detail how I’ll approach reviews for this down below, but I reserve the right to only review my finalist, as required. Life happens. Respect that.
- Attack me for my opinion or “judging” of your book. If you disagree, that’s something to prolly keep to yourself (and, if you just have to try and start a discussion, do it PROFESSIONALLY and keep it focused on the content of the novel and NOT an attack on my person). If you have clarifying questions or want more in-depth feedback, I’m happy to provide it in an email on my own timeline (i.e., if you have to wait until the contest is over in five months, be willing to do that). However, I will not have name-calling or abuse or attacks on my person because I didn’t like your book or because I cut it. It’s subjective and I’ll stand by my opinions. And, I will talk publicly about your abuse, so you’ve lost more potential reviewers for future books than just me if you’re going to be a douchecanoe. Trust me on that.
- Abuse my time. I am MORE than happy to answer questions, provide updates or chat on Twitter or the SPFBO Facebook page about books and other random nerdery. But I log off of social media on the weekends. Don’t expect an immediate answer and don’t expect me to be able to respond to all threads or conversations. There is a lot else going on on my plate, too.
Sorry for all that downer stuff. I just want it to be clear up front, though I’m hopeful and confident this won’t be an issue with anyone. 🙂
MY GAME PLAN
So, last year, I had a very tight reading schedule, coming in midway through. I’m very excited I’m going to be able to space it out a little bit more and have some breathing room. So, I’m going to be doing things a little bit differently. It’ll go like this:
- Stage One: The Taste Tester.
- I promise every author that I’ll at least read 50 pages. I had an internship with the wonderful Literary Agent Naomi Davis and in that internship, I discovered that, if the first five pages didn’t either turn me off or make me fall in love instantly, the first 50 pages are definitely telling and usually, my opinion doesn’t change after, but only solidifies. Some books, I’ll know after the first page this book isn’t for me, but I’ll keep reading to page 50, just to give a second chance. Others, I’ll hit page 50 and be dying to know what happens next. But, to stay as fair as possible, I’ll read 50 pages from all my entries.
- After I’ve read the first 50 pages of all 30 entries, I’ll cut the books I know I don’t want to read any further. For those, I’ll do mini reviews (usually one-two paragraphs each) with multiple books reviewed in a single post. Since I have no idea how many books will be in this first cut, I have no idea how many individual posts this will be on the blog. But I’ll definitely tease some warning before these posts go live. 😉
- Stage Two: Read, Review and Repeat
- After I’ve gone through my first cut and have only the books I’m interested in, I’ll go through and restart each book, reading until I’m either bored, decided it’s not my finalist or I’ve finished the book. If it’s the former two options, it’ll be cut. If it’s the latter, there’s a good chance it might be considered for my finalist.
- For those I cut, I might wait to announce it until I have a group of three or four, so I can post all the mini reviews in one post. For those I read fully, I’ll write full reviews, each dedicated to their own post. However, I’ll probably do a group announcement post for these, too, since I’m not going to post their reviews until I either cut them or announce it as my finalist (see below).
- Stage Three: Finalist Countdown and Announcement
- After I’ve read all the books and subsequently announced whether the book has been cut or if I’m still considering it as a finalist, I’ll be down to my semi-finalists. It’ll be pretty straight-forward from here, where I’ll slowly post the full reviews as I cut each remaining book, until I finally get down to my finalist!
So, nutshell version: I will read at least 50 pages of every book and I’ll write reviews for every book (whether a mini-review or a full review). My reading order will be completely random. Since I’m not sure how many books will be cut during Stage One, I have no idea of a timeline of when all of these will read and announced. I do know that, although I have until December 31st to get all of my books read, I’d like to try and finish by November 1st, before the holiday shenanigans start up. Will life let me do that?
Well, time will tell, won’t it?
All reviews will be posted here and I share on the SPFBO Facebook page, my personal Facebook page and Twitter! I’ll also cross-post my reviews and ratings on Goodreads and Amazon.
THE SUM UP
You deserve a cookie for reading all of that, honestly.
Everyone, I’m super excited to be a part of this! It’s a great way to give back to the writing and reading community by highlighting gems that, otherwise, we might not have discovered before and it’s truly a honor. Thanks for welcoming me as part of your family and be sure to continually check back, as I’ll try to do update posts and other fun content throughout the contest, on top of my regularly scheduled content.
With that, I have some reading to do.
Paul's Picks says
Love all of this. Have fun! I really like following the competition.
Priscilla Bettis says
Cooking-cleaning-showering-eating-sleeping-socializing is overrated.:-) Happy reading!
Realms of My Mind says
I started blogging in the middle of last year’s SPFBO, so I caught bits and pieces of what was going on but never had a full picture. This is a truly excellent breakdown of the overall process, as well as your own! Best of luck with your reads, I’ll be looking forward to seeing what gems you find!
Nicole Evans says
Oh goodness gosh, thank you so much, Caitlin! I’m super excited to see what I discover!
I like your plan to read 50 pages, and make a decision at that point to continue with the book or not. Sure, there are plenty of twists, character development, and surprises after the 50 page mark, but still, 50 pages gives you enough writing style and basics of the world to know if the book is worth your time.
Authors like, haven’t harrassed you for a status update, or gotten pissed about how you reviewed their stuff, have they? that’s awful!
Nicole Evans says
Thank you! It seems like a pretty solid method for me, because even though there *might* be something that could change my mind later on, when you’re reading on a deadline, I don’t have the luxury of time to read through every book to completion to find out!
Luckily, it hasn’t happened to me personally! But so many other bloggers I know have experienced that, so I wanted my own policy on it to be clear and upfront!
and if you get 50 pages in, and for whatever reason put the book down? you can always pick it up again later, when you’re not staring a deadline in the face. Happy reading! 🙂
Nicole Evans says
Yes, exactly! Sure, it might not have become a finalist in the contest, but it still gained another reader, which is a win in and of itself!
Off The TBR says
Super excited to follow along with you this year. Good luck. Rest up! And dear God please nobody violate your rules.
Nicole Evans says
Thank you, Jason! Gosh, I hope not, either. So far, so good!
Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum says
Kudos on doing another year! I was a judge for SPFBO2 and I remember how hectic that was, and I wasn’t even doing it by myself because at the time I had two co-bloggers who pitched in. Needless to say, I admire you judges! And woohoo, I saw some of the covers/titles on another blog and this year’s crop of books are looking great!
Nicole Evans says
Thank you! I am pretty excited to try it out as my own judge this year! I know, it’s going to be such an impressive year!!
Kevin Potter says
First, I find it depressing that the disclaimers are necessary. I can’t even tell you how much it bothers me when I hear about someone in the writing/blogging community being harassed, particularly when it’s by an author and especially if it’s about a review (or lack thereof).
Now, that sounds like an awesome process and I’m thrilled to be a part of it 🙂
Especially with some of the other AMAZING books and authors in your lineup 😀
Happy reading, and good luck narrowing down that incredible list.
Nicole Evans says
Kevin, I am right there with you! I hate that these disclaimers have to be a thing, but I’d rather be upfront about my policies and my expectations than have someone assume any of that would be okay.
Thank you so much! I’m really stoked to read your book! 😀
JA Andrews says
yippee! More of your reviews! More Psych gifs! yippee!!!
Nicole Evans says
You’re the best. <3 <3 <3
Ahhhh what an incredibly exciting event, so so happy you get to be a part of it, I hope you will have a fantastic time with it! <3 <3
Nicole Evans says
Thank you so much!! It’s a ton of work, but I really enjoy it and it’s so much fun!