2023 sees the ninth iteration of Mark Lawrence’s Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog Off or SPFBO (pronounced Spiff-bo). The competition invites 300 #indieauthors to submit their fantasy novel. Ten panels of judges, bloggers & vloggers, review those books to identify their finalist. The ten panels then read each finalist to select the outright winner.
The competition has taken on a life of its own. This year it took just 41 minutes for the 300 authors to log their entry. The competition offers writers additional publicity, to get their work in front of people who may be unaware of it. Finalists can find even greater benefits, some finish up with publishing deals and representation by literary agents.
It’s also a wonderful way for the writing community in the fantasy genre, to support one another. That’s what I’m trying to do here. Let’s find out about our next author!
John Champaign's SPFBO9 entry is Endless Seas: Never Meet Your Idols. You'll find him in Timy's judging panel at the Queen's Book Asylum.
John's interview offers a great insight into someone who makes it clear writing is his hobby but approaches it with complete professionalism. We're not all planning to become the next Stephen King! For some of us, writing a book, putting it out there for others to read and enjoy, is enough.
1. Tell us who you are and how we might have read something by you.
I’m a former professor and programmer who retired early and has been writing as my “retirement hobby”. Like many avid readers, I always wanted to start producing books and not just consume them. I’ve been having fun doing that!
I break most genre writing ‘rules’ from advice books, articles, and forums. I write different genres under the same name (my own), I keep my expenses firmly in check, and I explore different genres and topics rather than adding books in a single series.
I have a pair of urban fantasy books, Merchant Magician and Friendship Magician, which take an economics perspective on a modern, fantasy version of our own world. I’ve written non-fiction about salary negotiation (Negotiating After Getting A Job Offer) and real estate investing (Getting Started As A Small Scale Landlord).
2. Give us your ‘Elevator Pitch’ for the book you’ve entered into #SPFBO9.
“Endless Seas: Never Meet Your Idols” is a nautical, high-fantasy action adventure. Captain Joseph Baxtor and his crew on the sailing ship Phoenix cross dimensions through underwater portals on behalf of 'The Pantheon', a collection of cultures each led by their own created god.
On their maiden voyage, they are sent to establish diplomatic relations with the El-Fax, a recently discovered, friendly culture. Rather than being the routine voyage expected, everything may not be as it first appears.
3. Tell us about your journey as a self-published author.
I started writing a novella with the conceit that it was about a group of university professors playing D&D. Each chapter would switch between the players talking around the table and the characters adventures, described like a fantasy novel. My writing skills at the time weren’t up to the demands of the story and I’ve since un-published it.
Since then I’ve explored fantasy in a couple of subgenres (urban fantasy and nautical high-fantasy) as well as non-fiction in the form of how-to guides. I wrote regularly as a graduate student and professor and was a contributor to a well-regarded Canadian personal finance blog for years. My recent focus is writing fiction.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that all writers need to figure out things for themselves. Every time I read advice or instructions that people have created for other writers I find problems with it. Best practices should be regarded as “here’s something to consider trying” rather than “this commandment must be followed”.
There are many things in life people can teach one another, but how to become a writer doesn’t seem to be one of them.
I’m more of a journey than a destination guy, at least with regards to my writing. I want to write things people want to read, so I’ll probably keep following readers’ interest in what I write.
4. Have you tried the traditional route to publishing?
I talked to a small genre press, which invited me to submit Endless Seas to them. When I didn’t hear back from them for six months, I took it back and self-published. With all the trade-offs, I find indie publishing irresistible compared to traditional publishing.
I recently had a sci-fi short story accepted as a paid submission to an anthology, which is nice, but I view it more as advertising for my self-published work than anything else.
5. What prompted your decision to self-publish?
I liked that writers can figure it out and do it themselves, instead of applying to gatekeepers for entry. At the end of the day, self-publishing seems faster, easier, and better than traditional publishing.
6. Writing is a lonely business. Self-publishing even more so. Does this isolation affect you?
My wife is my editor and proof-reader (and often approaches co-author status). I’ve found writers’ groups and online communities unfulfilling so far, but maybe I just haven’t found the right one.
Jerry Seinfeld has a quote that I like: “Writer's block is a phony, made up, BS excuse for not doing your work.” It’s easier said than done, but getting down to work and doing what you need to do is a large part of the battle. Other people can’t really help you with this.
Imposter Syndrome is a big part of academia, so I’ve had years of experience working with this.
7. Tell us how you manage the range of jobs of a self-published author.
I hire cover designers off of Fiverr and my wife is my editor and proofreader. I do everything else myself. I have a strong technical background, so IT and various web services are pretty straightforward for me. Marketing is a constant challenge, but I think that’s true for almost all writers.
8. How do you balance writing commitments with other pressures, like your career and home?
The big advantage of writing as a “retirement hobby” is that I don’t have a lot of the pressures that writers with young families or careers struggle with. The biggest issue is feeling that I could have put more work into writing and accomplished more, but this is true for everyone doing anything.
9. Many self-published authors want to retain control of their work and their IP (Intellectual Property). Is this important for you? What properties do you value?
I’d actually be more excited about relinquishing control.
Robert Asprin created the Thieves’ World anthology series because he felt many writers were held back by the need to create their own world for their stories. He provided the world and let other writers play in it.
I think there’s an opportunity for writers to be more collaborative, rather than jealously protecting territory they’ve staked out.
10. What is your greatest success?
Every organic read I get brings me great delight. I appreciate friends and family taking an interest in what I’m doing, but I love someone finding my writing on their own and getting some value out of it.
If I look at my Amazon dashboard and see a few pages of one of my books has been read, I feel like getting up and doing a jig. For readers who have enjoyed one of my books enough to leave a rating or review somewhere, it’s this feeling on steroids.
Thank you for your time in doing this interview. The hope is your experiences might inform others who are starting out on their journey to independence.
We wish John lots of luck in #SPFBO9. Timy has a fantastic panel of reviewers so I know he'll have a great experience. As with all of us #indieauthors, if you read John's book, please make sure you write a review or allocate it some stars. Reviews are our lifeblood. You can buy and review his book on Amazon and on Goodreads.