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Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off! [Updated] [Again] [For the last time]

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Head's up! Pornokitsch is one of the ten blogs participating in this year's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. Mark Lawrence started this quasi-award last year, and I'm very glad to be one of the bloggers for its second iteration. 

You can read more about SPFBO here, and even snag a Storybundle of last year's finalists.

[Updated 29/4 with the list of 30 books]

[Updated 23/5 and 25/6 with links to reviews]

[Updated to add - I've reviewed all ten finalists here.]

I've read my first round of 30 books.

I'm reviewing 6 fully, with one of them going on to the final: (links go to the full reviews of each book)

The remaining 24: (quick-fire reviews can be found here)

  • Helen Bell - Shadowless
  • M.H. Lee - Erelia: Innocence
  • Timothy L. Cerepaka - Gathering of the Chosen
  • Christopher Pepper - The Outrider Legion
  • A.A. Bavar - Az: Revenge of an Archangel
  • David J. Lovato - The Ones Who Follow The Water
  • Assaph Mehr - Murder in Absentia
  • Annie Bellet - A Heart in Sun and Shadow
  • Lesley Donaldson - The Queen's Viper
  • E. Madison Cawein - The Flamebearer
  • Michael Logan - Wannabes
  • Katy Haye - The Last Gatekeeper
  • Amanda Greenslade - Talon
  • Sarah Dalton - White Hart
  • Renee Carter Hall - Huntress
  • Evelyne Contant - Enchantment: The Moonstone
  • Elizabeth Best - The Naiad Chronicles
  • Gordon Atkins - When Destinies Collide
  • T.W. Piperbrook & Bobby Adair - The Last Survivors
  • Toni Kerr - Descendant
  • John D. Brown - Servant
  • Craig M. Skiera - Crimson & Cream
  • Rafael Soares - Enclave: Creation
  • Eric Tanafon - Robin Hood: Wolf's Head

I've made an Amazon wishlist of all 30, if you want to have a snoop.


I think SPFBO is a really good thing. I pay (way too much) attention to awards, and although this isn't one technically, it is also, in practice, the most interesting new prize I've seen for a while. It is natively digital, it is easily accessible, it has common sense rules, it highlights a largely un-highlit type of SF/F and it provides real value to be entrants and readers. Which, that's pretty amazing. 


As a bonus, because it is for self-published books, it is also the closest I (personally) will ever get to blind judging. I don't know anyone, I've not read any of their previous works, and there's no imprint or marketing to distract me. The system works! 

What's also interesting to me is how SPFBO hangs alongside the DGLA in my mental shed. I've been a noisy advocate for years that the DGLA should be accepting self-published works, because that's the heartland of commercial, populist fantasy fiction. And, ironically, here we are, with SPFBO appearing at the same time that the DGLA has, well, potentially hit its peak. Last year's highly-recycled shortlist was either a 'Greatest Hits' episode or a clip show (take your pick). Either way, that's not actually very fun to write about - a lot of mental (and actual) copy & paste. I'm hoping the SPFBO will pick where the DGLA left off, and turn up something new and unexpected. 

ANYWAY, much like my annual foray into the David Gemmell Legend Awards (here's last year's summary), a set-up spiel:

I am incredibly impressed by anyone that writes a novel. I genuinely could not do it. I have endless admiration for anyone that has the talent and the dedication to make things. I don't want to sound like a Hallmark card here, but seriously - having written a novel is already winning. That person has achieved what many people want to, and most people can't. That's amazing. 

I'm also in awe of anyone that has the courage to submit themselves to something like this. Statistically, with 300 entrants, there's a tiny chance of being a finalist and a microscopic one of winning. And that's the cold math. The human part is that a self-published author has made a thing, by themselves, of themselves, and they're sharing it to the whole world! 'Submitting' to an award is surprisingly meaningful language. This takes serious chutzpah and thick skin. 

I've been there! Kinda! I've had five years of "indie publishing" - although, admittedly, as an editor and anthologist. I've carefully grown fragile, beautiful fuzzy chicks of artistic endeavour, and then pushed them out of the nest to be fricasseed by reviewers. It sucks! I still stumble on some reviews and am like WHAT THE WHAT and then drink whisky.



I'm going to quote the great disciplinarian and self-help guru Heather Chandler here: "If you want to fuck with the eagles, you have to learn to fly." 

love fantasy, and I want to see it be the best it can be. We're at a unique point in history where we have more reading choice than ever before. Every fantasy reader out there also has the option of picking up Abercrombie or Le Guin or Lynch or MiĆ©ville or Sanderson or Tolkien or Hobb or 242 Dragonlance books or anything else.

I think pretending that context doesn't exist is counterproductive. The winner of the SPFBO is going to represent self-published fantasy and potentially (hopefully!) be a lot of readers' gateway to indie publishing. If it can't fuck with the eagles, we're in trouble.


Anyway, in the spirit of fair play, I'm going to bust out the same criteria I used for last year's Gemmells - which is to say:

  • Is it entertaining? (e.g. readable, fun, enjoyable)
  • Is it immersive? (e.g. world-building, setting)
  • It it emotionally engaging? (e.g. characters, plot)
  • Is it different? (e.g. that sense of innovation)
  • Is it embarrassing? (e.g. is it a bunch of Islamophobic white dudes raping slave girls? This one is negative points, btw.)

(I've dropped the 'is it fantastic?' criteria, because SPFBO has a broader genre remit, so it isn't super-relevant. We can safely assume these are all 'Fantasy'.)

At first sight, there's a lot of range in my 30 - from the overtly YA to the very serious epic. They range from 0 reviews to over 100; books published this last month to ones over five years old. Interestingly enough, at least two of the authors are hybrid -not the symbiote (alas) - but also traditionally-published.

I promise I won't be a dick. (Someone called me the 'Group of Death'. I laughed... and then felt guilty. Those reviews are rare, honest). My hypothesis is that because of the speed of production and the lack of the acquisitions process, these books have the potential to turn up some really interesting, avant garde stuff. This might be idealistic, but I see self-published fantasy as an avenue for authors writing what they want to read, not what they think will sell. 

For the record, I think Wool was nifty, Blood Song was fun, Bloodrush is a blast, and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is probably the best book I've read in the past two years. So I know self-published books can be as good as anything else. Hell, I know they can be great. So bring it on, SPFBO, let's find some fantasy books worth talking about!