SPSFC At Boundary’s Edge: Closing Thoughts

Well, here we are. Only a few days remain before the inaugural Self Published Science Fiction Competition crowns its winner. With seven finalists still in the running and a broad spread of scores being given for each one, it’s still anyone’s game. Whoever wins, it’s important that they have their day in the sun, and that’s why I’m getting my wrap-up post out there before the celebrations begin. This will be my final post for this SPSFC (don’t worry, I’ll be back for the next one) and, as always, these are my own thoughts, and are not necessarily indicative of the team or other judges. You can find some of my earlier thoughts HERE, but I go into more recent thoughts below.

Team Judging

The SPSFC is the only part of this blog that I don’t do alone. I went in expecting to be a solo blogger as usual, but ended up leading a team. Unexpected, but an interesting experience. Right from the start, we were a team of four, the smallest in the competition. Before we started reading the entries, one judge had to drop out for personal reasons, and a second judge also had real life get in the way later in the contest. This meant that the books in our allocation were only read by two or three judges. For some books this was favourable, as it only took two judges liking it to catapult it up the rankings. For the more divisive books, it was disastrous. The Nothing Within was greatly praised by my co-judge, but I found it to be the worst book in the competition. Having seen the opinions of other teams, I’m very much in the minority, but my dissenting opinion saw the book eliminated before it could be taken to the quarterfinals. Likewise, books I enjoyed were knocked out early on. Mazarin Blues, which our entire team judges one of the best written, failed to win the favour of other teams (though the author has since picked up a publishing contract, so it’s not all bad). Being in a small team meant that the books we put forward were those that scored reasonably well with all judges, rather than one that proves more divisive.

On my part, I’m definitely going to shake things up with how I run the team for the next contest. Beyond scoring books, there wasn’t much discussion among our team this year, and I think that’s a key part of the contest from the bloggers’ perspective. Wrangling a team to read books in an orderly fashion can be a challenge, but it’s one I fully intend to rise to.

Competition Format

This section might be a bit vague, because no one wants to see how the sausage gets made. The SPSFC was the first time doing anything like this for most of the people involved. As such, it was a steep learning curve, and there were mistakes made along the way. Reading 20% of 30 books didn’t always give a fair reflection of the book’s story, but it was the only feasible way to limit the workload for the judges. On a quick mathematics note, assuming no book you supported made it to the next round, the maximum number of books to read was 24 (20% of 20, 10 quarterfinalists, 3 semifinalists, 7 finalists). That’s not a small number, and some judges struggled to fit them all into their schedule. For myself, I managed, but due to the e-book format, I’m not wholly sure I got the most out of each book. Certainly, I do not count any SPSFC book towards my annual reading total, because I am experiencing them in a fundamentally different way.

Behind the scenes, there has been a great deal of discussion about how o score a book. Some have proposed rigid rubrics, while others are more freestyle. I have attempted to balance what I see as objective quality (prose and structure) versus personal preference (anything but a dystopia, please). Obviously, there is no one size fits all solution, but I think having each team judge in their own unique way is part of the contest’s appeal. Likewise, their has been much debate over the role of a DNF (Did Not Finish). At present, it counts as a 0/10, but weighted at half the value of any other score. Personally, I’m not a fan of weiging opinions differently just because they are negative. For me, a DNF is just as valid a score as a 10/10. However, maths is not my forte, and I understand that the SPSFC is supposed to promote self published works, which a DNF doesn’t really do.

Who Is It For?

This one has been weighing on my mind a lot recently. When I look at social media, there are two groups I see talking about the SPSFC. The first are the judges, promoting their reviews and favourite books. The second group is the authors themselves, sharing the positive reviews and using the contest to support each other. This is all great, by the way. While I do think the self-publishing community can be a little insular and self-congratulatory at times, that goes for just about any group of people. But what I’m not seeing a whole lot of is readers. Now, it’s always going to be true that most people who visit a blog aren’t going to comment or engage beyond their initial reading, but it has left the SPSFC feeling somewhat inward-looking. If the majority of the interest is from bloggers and writers, then the SPSFC isn’t really helping books find a wider audience, which to me is the whole point of the competition. For context, the fewer books I talk about in a post, the fewer views it receives. The initial cut posts are all in the three figure range, while the individual reviews still sit in the double digits. To me, this suggests that the people reading the reviews are the authors and their already interested following. I could be wrong about this though. If you’ve found a book through the SPSFC, do let me know.

The caveat here is that this is only year one of the SPSFC. Success doesn’t come overnight. It grows over time. Right now the only people following the SPSFC are those with a stake in it. Next year, there will presumably be more. Exposure is an exponential curve.

Am I Going To Do It Again?

Absolutely. I’ve had a few issues here and there, but overall it’s been a great experience (and not just because of the extra readers it’s brought to At Boundary’s Edge. The team make-up will be different, the way we do things will probably change, but I will be bringing At Boundary’s Edge kicking and screaming into SPSFC2.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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