Okay, first things first, let’s have some straight talk. I vanished for a bit. It’s been crazy. Things in my last post got worse. Shoot me a message on Twitter, I’ll chat if you’re interested. More to the point, I’m dedicated to reviving this platform, and I plan to use the 2022 SPFBO to do so. I’m not a review blog and won’t ever be, but this is a really exciting competition and I really want to support the other authors putting their work out for evaluation.
SPFBO stands for the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off. The link to the main page is here for writers interested in learning about submission guidelines and here for readers interested in finding cool new books to read. Those links go to pages that link to each other, but I figure readers don’t much care about the specifics of submitting to the contest.
Here’s a quick overview of the rules so everyone understands what the competition does. The competition is run by Mark Lawrence (Thanks, Mark!) as a way to help self-published fantasy authors get visibility on their books, and it runs for a full year before selecting a winner. Each year up to 300 books are accepted on a first come, first served basis so long as they meet the basic requirements. Each book submitted must be a novel (not a short story or an anthology), must be published by the author, must be fantasy, must be available for purchase by day one of the competition (usually June 1), and must be either the first in a series or a stand-alone novel. The books are then distributed between 10 fantasy blogs (some of which are some of the most respected blogs currently in business), who consider their books and write reviews for the books they are interested in. Each blog selects a finalist and every blog is required to evaluate each finalist and select their favorite, which they then must also review. Whichever book wins must be reviewed by any blog in the competition that didn’t review it already. This means that each blog must write between 1 and 3 reviews, but most of the blogs write more, some as many as 30 to 39 reviews over the course of the year.
As well, Mark Lawrence runs a cover contest for the contestants each year (here) and there is a lot of hype around authors supporting each other, SPFBO authors running simultaneous promotions, and lots of other discussions. There is no better publicity in the world for a self-published author (did I say… Thanks, Mark!!!).
Okay, SPFBO sound cool…But what now?
I entered SPFBO this year with my debut novel, Wake of the Phoenix. I’m excited about the competition and I want to support my fellow writers who are in this with me this year. However, I very quickly noticed one thing. There are a lot of people collating lists and discussing entries, but I’m not sure which of these books even fits into a category I want to read. I don’t know about other readers, but for myself, I have to be prepared for the genre I’m reading. If I pick up a YA without realizing it’s YA until I start reading, I’ll dislike it even if it’s objectively good. So, I want to do a little categorization.
I’m not going to be able to post a full evaluation right now, so instead I’ll post some information from the books assigned to each blog every couple days for a bit until I get a list I can work with, and then I’ll start getting into the weeds a bit more.
Here’s the first blog’s worth of books:
|Troupe of Shadows by Jennings Zabrinsky (Reverse portal fantasy? Real world setting, fantasy world protag; sounds kind of interesting)||Tails by Jessica Grace Wright (“Children’s” fantasy; unsure if YA or MG)||Breaker by Amy Campbell (Western fantasy…like if Firefly was a fantasy instead of a sci fi. Also, another BEAUTIFUL cover that looks illustrated)|
|The Darkness Calling by Kaleigh McCann (high fantasy, I think; looks like grand quest theming)||Imagine The Fire by S.C. Gowland (Epic Fantasy; there’s a sick king, or maybe not sick, and a woman who is loyal to him for…some reason, and a guy who may or may not help; I really want to be interested in this because it’s my genre, but I can’t figure out what it’s about)||The Alchemyst’s Mirror by Liz Delton (YA Steampunk)|
|Dust Bound by Clementine Fraser (post-apocalyptic Fae-based fantasy with romantic plot-threads)||Blood on the Canvas by David Samuels (YA epic? fantasy…looks like maybe YA fantasy romance, but listed as epic)||In The Shadow of Ruin by Tony Debajo (I think historical fantasy with forbidden magic themes? Oddly, it’s classified as “African Literature”, which seems to emphasize the setting more than the genre)|
|Burning Bright by Melissa McShane (gaslamp and/or historical fantasy romance; Jane Austen feels)||Gold Glamour’s Ghost by Neil Adam Ray (Historical “gunslinger” fantasy…with a BEAUTIFUL illustrated cover)||Born of Fire by R R Carter (Contemporary “NA” fantasy with witch burning vibes; looks like a “kitchen sink” fantasy that tries to include everything under rule of cool)|
|The Scorpion’s Lullaby by Juliet Vane (dragon rider/thieves book, maybe YA, maybe romance, maybe adult epic? /shrug)||A Song For The Void by Andrew C. Piazza (Mostly horror, a few dark fantasy vibes; pirate ships, I think?)||Beneath the Dragoneye Moons: Oathbound Healer by Selkie Myth (LitRPG…uh…that’s about all I know. Doesn’t seem to have much in the way of stakes? Or at least doesn’t tell me about them)|
|Master of the Flying Broom by Joseph J. Bailey (Martial arts fantasy, feels kind of tongue-in-cheek)||Dungeon Man Sam and the Orphaned Core by J. W. Benjamin (umm….uh….I’m honestly not sure? It’s a fantasy book. There’s something about dungeon building. Some people said “LitRPG” but I see no LitRPG elements except people making D&D style dungeons…Someone tell me what this is)||Forest of Forgotten Vows by Grace Carlisle (Contemporary fantasy mystery; Fae/fairy themes; feels a little like a 25-30 woman rediscovering her childhood)|
|The Soul Trade by Edward Rose (contemporary fantasy; a little Dresden Files-ish, but dark instead of humorous)||Rise of Tears by Brand J. Alexander (Epic fantasy; maybe YA or some YA crossover appeal; coming of age story)||The True and Accurate Log of the Sand Ship Uncertainty by Fowler Brown (Pirate fantasy but on sand with boats that move on sand? Something about evil landscape corrupting crew, maybe?)|
|Sacaran Nights by Rachel Emma Shaw (gothic fantasy…is that a genre? maybe dark high fantasy)||The Pirate’s Deal by Elayna R. Gallea & Daniela A. Mera (Fantasy romance; I’m getting a YA vibe but it’s not categorized as YA; might be the Little Mermaid comparison)||Darkhaven by Kel E Fox (YA contemporary fantasy; very “Coming of age, choose your life” feels instead of “magic cool, kids with magic!”)|
|Raven: Reawakening by Mitchell Hogan (dark assassin fantasy…yes, there exists assassin fantasy that isn’t “dark” in genre terms)||Manipulator’s War by Elise Carlson (YA portal fantasy; set-up looks like it’s heading toward romance vibes but reviews mention nothing of the sort…are YA books allowed to not have romance? That would be so exciting….)||Afterworld by James G. Robertson (Dystopian Fantasy…maybe. More afterlife introspection fantasy/sci fi/light horror vibes)|
|An Altar on the Village Green by Nathan Hall (fantasy horror, maybe some Warded Man similarities?)||The Crypt Lord’s Call by Dawson George (LitRPG–yes, a real one–but says great for fans of epic fantasy? Those aren’t the same audiences…)||The Heart of the Bloodstone by Philinna Wood (Epic fantasy, maybe with animal companions? Unsure if the obviously human intelligence tiger in the opening is a super-tiger or the protag has animal control abilities)|
Please remember that my descriptions above are my own interpretation of the books and their topics. I encourage anyone reading this to click on the links and look at the books themselves. Since many of these are outside my typical preferred genres, I may have misrepresented the books slightly despite my best efforts.
As an extra disclaimer, I have linked to the blog these books will likely be reviewed by. Please support the blogs taking part in SPFBO, as they put in a lot of work to help support self-published authors. Any reviews for the books in this chart may not be posted for some time, as the first phase typically takes about five months (ending in October this year), but the blogs in question still have some great content to check out.