SPFBO Cover Contest Killed After Discovery That 2023 Winner Was Produced by AI

Author Mark Lawrence says he will stop holding the cover contest that’s long been a feature of his Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off competition after the latest winner proved to be AI-produced artwork, despite Lawrence’s rule excluding such covers from consideration.

As Lawrence explained in a blog post ”AI or not AI? That is the question” the SPFBO contest entry form asked each author “Is the cover wholly or in part AI generated” and “any answer to the AI question other than ‘no’ meant that the cover wasn’t considered for the contest. The author of the winning cover answered ‘no’”.

But when artist Sean Mauss’ cover for M.V. Prindle’s novel Bob the Wizard was selected by the SPFBO judges as the 2023 winner, several artists on Twitter quickly identified it as AI-generated.

The book’s author, Prindle, disagreed:

Contest sponsor Mark Lawrence asked the artist for confirmation. Also, “I emphasized privately to the artist that if it was true, deliberately or through some mistake with the form, they should just come clean and we could all move on. But they were adamant that no AI had been involved. I gave multiple opportunities to U-turn on this.”

Sean Mauss sent Lawrence several preliminary sketches and photos with an explanation of how he’d created the cover with Photoshop, as well as the many-layered Photoshop file for the cover. Lawrence shared some of this on social media. Although people in his SPFBO Facebook group found Mauss’ evidence persuasive, artists on Twitter soon showed why Mauss’ story could not be true.

Artist Rue Sparks has posted a 24-tweet examination of the image files submitted by Mauss, with analysis to show why they could not have been created in the way he claimed. Thread starts here. Here’s an excerpt:

Mark Lawrence said yesterday that “in response to my increasing distress over the situation” Sean Mauss removed his cover from the contest. Lawrence bumped the other finalists up and declared a replacement winner, then announced, “There won’t be a cover contest going forward.”

Meanwhile, a couple of other authors who used the same cover artist have launched a GoFundMe to pay for replacement artwork: “Cover Art Fiasco”.

We’re Clayton Snyder and Michael Fletcher, authors of Noryslka Groans and various other novels. Recently, we paid an ‘artist’ for a cover to our new novel, the conclusion to the Manifest Delusions series. After paying and accepting the art and setting a cover reveal date, we discovered it was AI generated, against our explicit wishes. We were lied to and scammed. We cannot in good conscience continue forward with the current art when there are living artists who need to make a living, and since indie authors aren’t exactly swimming in cash, we’re turning to the community in hopes of rectifying this.

Mauss has now taken down their Twitter account.

Once the original issue was sorted, Twitter toxicity expanded in an attempt to claim other victims.

One participant in the Twitter discussion got overheated and snidely wondered if Prindle’s book was written by ChatGPT.

At the other extreme, someone attempted to retaliate against an SPFBO judge, blogger CraigBookwyrm, who’d been critical of Mauss.

[Thanks to Anne Marble for the story.]