SPFBO 6: Finalist Review Black Stone Heart

Black Stone Heart


A Wind from the Wilderness by Suzannah Rowntree – SPFBO #6 Finals Review

A Wind from the Wilderness

SPFBO #6 Finals Review

Fantasy-Themed Cookbooks

Fantasy-Themed Cookbooks

Multi-Book Review


5th Annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off: An Introduction

Yellow Beetle with Books by Olia Gozha (detail)

Hello, to all the followers of the SPFBO (Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off) the competition that began with an idle thought in the shadowed recesses of Mark Lawrence’s mind and is now in its fifth year. Some of the previous winners and finalists have been picked up by traditional publishing houses and some authors have turned down deals from those same big publishers because they want to keep self-publishing!

In essence, and reality, 300 authors throw their books into a great big ring where they are to be judged, reviewed and discussed. Now, if anyone has stepped onto a stage, under those hot and blinding lights to perform/sing, you’ll know how terrifying it can be. Here though, the audience is not constrained to a small pub (or for the famous amongst you—a stadium), but is worldwide—agents are peeking, publishing houses are watching, and readers everywhere are keeping a sharp eye out for a great book! With that in mind, we (our happy band of brothers and sisters at Fantasy-Faction) will do our utmost to treat every book and every author with respect, kindness and honesty.

This year our method won’t change too much from the previous four years. I know, a shock! But don’t turn away just now, there’s more.

(If you have no idea what we’re talking about, you can learn more about the SPFBO on Mark Lawrence’s blog.)

Here’s how we will work:

Stage One: The Slush Pile

All of our judges, eight of us, will read the Slush Pile.

When Mark first proposed this competition, it was with the aim that each blog would take on the role of agents—well, intern agents as there was no pay involved, just exposure (which I’ve pointed out to him is crime in many countries). We will read a sample of each book and decide which ones to do a “full manuscript” call for.

This year, that’s exactly what we will be doing. Each judge has been asked to score (out of 10) the first 3 chapters (10-15k) of each book and to write a short summary of their thoughts. To make this easy on us, we will use the Amazon Look Inside feature whenever possible. Already the judges have cracked on with this task and are motoring through—I am so impressed with them!

This means that every book will have been looked at by eight judges—readers, writers, editors, booksellers and fantasy fans all—and we’ll get a consensus of opinion!

At that point we will start to put reviews up on the site. We’ll write short reviews of each book in batches of three to five—and try to pull out the positives of the samples we read. Sadly, these will likely be the ones that haven’t made it to the final—or be our finalist.

Stage Two: Round One Selection

While those reviews are going up, we’ll be reading the books we’ve identified as possible finalists.

Each judge will read the books they want to, the ones they loved from the samples—we’re not going to force our judges to read every book as that may not result in a fair review. Each of these books will get fuller reviews as we get towards the end of round one—we’ll save our choice of finalist for the last review, just to ensure we have wrung every last ounce of tension out of the process.

In the event of tie, I reserve the right to be a stroppy old git and force us all to make a decision on the book we will call our winner and send on to the finals.

Stage Three: The Finals

The finalist round is by far the easiest, and longest. Each book a blog puts forward will get a full review on Fantasy-Faction. They’ll also get a score out of 10—and this score will be measured against every other book we’ve ever reviewed on the site. A book is a book to us, no matter how it came into our hands, who published it, who wrote it—we review it fairly. If it is great, we’ll say so—and usually the round two judges will all contribute to the reviews. If it isn’t our cup of tea (coffee, vodka, mercury, arsenic) we will say so and explain why.

It is vital that everyone knows that every single aspect of this wonderful competition is subjective. Writing is art, and the art I love, you might hate. We’ll agree on some things and disagree on others (as will our judges). That’s fine. That’s life. That’s writing and reading.

The Judges

G R Matthews: GR has been a judge on this competition since its inception (and an entrant in the first SPFBO—got 4 out of 5 from Bookworm Blues—just saying), and has had the pleasure of getting to know a lot of the authors. He has seven books available already, three more written and waiting. Reading is his real pleasure, as is writing. He’s taught Creative Writing amongst other things and studied a few martial arts (enough to know that getting hit really hurts).

Julia Sarene: Not only is Julia a mod for our 12,000-strong Facebook group, she’s a prolific reader, bookseller and seasoned beta reader. She’ll be adding her opinions—which are always blunt and honest but fair—to help us make our decisions. It’s her third round of judging SPFBO books.

David Zampa: David is a freelance book cover designer, voracious reader, and full time dad, which leaves about three hours each night to sleep. With over nine years’ experience in print design and advertising, marketing, and sales, David is equal parts artist and marketing professional. David is also a familiar presence and moderator over in the Fantasy-Faction Facebook group.

Lynn K. – Lynn of Grimmedian fame is a blogger in her second year of reading for SPFBO. You’ll find her website is predominately filled by self-published work and was inspired by SPFBO to begin blogging and reviewing. A voracious reader of five decades of SFF and other genres, she’s pushing hard to find gems and increase the signal for speculative fiction. 

Jessica Juby: Jessica works full-time during the day in marketing and at night dons the cape of proofreading hero, running her own proofreading business. Although she’s had non-fiction published by Hodder & Stoughton, her passion lies in sci-fi and fantasy books, which is where she enjoys hiding.

A. M. Justice: A. M. Justice is an award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy, a freelance science writer, amateur astronomer, scuba diver, and once and future tango dancer, who regularly shares her opinions of books, films, and television on the Fantasy-Faction site. She entered a novel in SPFBO4, and now she’s embraced the dark side as a rookie judge on the Fantasy-Factioner team for SPFBO5.

Marielle Ooms-Voges: Marielle is a devourer of fantasy. She has broad taste and enjoys a wide variety of subgenres. She’s a moderator for our Facebook group and will be joining us for the first time in judging SPFBO this year!

Kartik Narayanan: Kartik generally reads all kinds of books but some genres, like SFF and non-fiction involving science and maths, are more equal than others. When growing up, he was influenced by Gerald Durrell and James Herriot. So naturally he ended up working in the IT industry. Somewhere along the line, he discovered Isaac Asimov and Terry Pratchett and that’s when his obsession with SFF began. He lives in India with his wife and his two daughters, all of whom spend most of their spare time reading.

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Good luck to everyone competing, and may the best book win!

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Title image by Olia Gozha.



  1. Avatar keith says:

    I want to publish my fantasy novel in the next couple of weeks. Can I enter my novel in this blog?

  2. Avatar WILL ABEL says:

    How do I enter my book into this contest?

    Fegnir Book 1- The Plight of Man

  3. I want to know more! How do I submit? When are the deadlines? How does one get involved? This just sounds like way too much fun. 🙂

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