Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off #2: The Self-Pub Strikes Back

Last year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off gathered a lot of interest across Twitter, Facebook and forums. At Mark Lawrence’s request, ten influential websites, bloggers and over 250 authors got together and had themselves a competition.

The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids (cover)Each blog had twenty-five (or so) books on their ‘slush pile’. And the simple task was to pick their favourite and put it forward as the best of the bunch to the other 9. Once that was complete, all the sites read the top ten and scored them. Eventually, a winner was selected: The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids by Michael McClung.

Well, it is starting again and we here at Fantasy-Faction are once again one of the ten judges. This time, having learned a little from the first round, we have put together a crack team of commandos (we escaped a maximum stockade to the Los Angeles underground) to do the reading and slushing…if that is actually the correct term, or even a word.

Having had feedback from the authors who entered last year, me included (I didn’t win… dammit!), we’re going to try to do this a little differently, but the same (and with that oxymoron, Murrayism, I think I should stop, but I won’t). That is we will try to give some feedback to as many of the authors as we can, and do so positively.

With that in mind, let me lay out the process we are going to try (I keep using that word because things change and we’re all volunteers with our own lives and things to get done, but I reckon we have time to do justice to all the effort the authors put in) to do it this way:

A Stack Of Books Meant To Be Read Aloud by Joel RobisonStep 1:

Read the first few chapters of each book and make some notes for each other. Decide which books we want to carry on with. We will use the Kindle Look Inside feature as much as we can for this bit. Just as if we were customers on Amazon.

We will try (there it is again) to give updates to all the authors and fantasy readers out there of our progress and reasoning.

Step 2:

Read the books we selected, cover to cover, and make notes. Enthuse, rave, or shake our head sadly to each other.

We know it is all based on taste – individual reviewers taste, but we’ll give feedback on Fantasy-Faction about our progress and reasons.

Step 3:

Read each other’s favourites. Argue, cajole, bribe and threaten bodily violence until we have whittled it down to our joint favourite (which is what happened last time…bar the violence. No one fights Marc and walks away…you’re carried).

Let the authors and everyone else know via Fantasy-Faction.

After that we’ll be in the final stage: just ten books left, including our chosen one!

Having said that, let’s tell you a little about our three main readers and their book tastes.

Our Judging Pannel

Richard Bray

I prefer character-driven fantasy, and am willing to overlook a weak, meandering plot if there are great characters who interest me. My tastes lean toward epic fantasy with plenty of action, but I read a wide range of fantasy and non-fantasy and appreciate any well-written story.

A.F.E. Smith

My favourite fantasy books fall somewhere between naïve and grim, exploring both the best and worst of human nature, but essentially coming down on the side of optimism. They have flawed, realistic characters who drive the action; human relationships of all kinds (romance is fine by me); male and female characters of equal importance and complexity. Dragons are a bonus.

G. R. Matthews

I’m a simple man, I like simple stories. Though I’ve been known to read epic fantasy from time to time, I just don’t do fifteen POVs and twenty-seven plotlines. Give me good story, told at a good pace, with characters I can care about. Think Cole, Lawrence, Butcher…I don’t mind gritty, but balance it with humour. And most important, don’t you dare have an info-dump. I’ve been frustrated with many a traditionally published book for that.

– – –

And on a bright note, depending on your point of view. We’ve started reading and making our notes. At my last count…14 of the 30 have had the first bits (the ‘Look Inside’) read by at least one of us. We’ll see if we can maintain that pace.

Last thing, I mostly promise.

To the authors,

Carried Away by Joel RobisonI know how hard you’ve worked on your book. I know the passion and effort you’ve put into it. I empathise with the love you hold for your characters and with the grief you’ve probably got from your family for spending your days, evenings, nights working on them. Believe me, I do…I’ve done it five times so far and I’d like to say it gets easier, but that wouldn’t be true.

It took courage and a lot of thought to enter your book into this competition. We will do our utmost to treat all your words with respect and just because we three, we happy three, haven’t put yours forward as our final winner, don’t be down-heartened or dispirited.

Publishing, as you know, is bloody tough and what we are doing isn’t a rejection – it is just comment on our taste in books. My own went out in Round 1 last year and it was still the best of experiences, providing me with ideas and a marketing blurb I could use.

We are going to try do our best.

Kind Regards,

G. R. Matthews

Fantasy-Faction’s First Round Book List:

Melanie Cellier – The Princess Companion
Rob Donovan – The Cadaver Knight
David Neth – The Full Moon
Blair MacGregor – Sword and Chant
L. Penelope – Song of Blood and Stone
R. J. Blain – Pack Justice
Michael Laird – The Forged Prince
Nathalie M. L. Römer – The Wolf Riders of Keldarra
A. R. Cook – The Secrets of the Moonstone Heir
A. E. Marling – Magic Banquet
Troy Osgood – The Skeleton Stone
Ruth Nestvold – Yseult
S. A Randel – Hunter’s Moon Rising
Aderyn Wood – The Raven
Brian K. Lowe – Once a Knight
Amy Rose Davis – Ravenmarked
Salvador Mercer – Ranger Rising
Max Florschutz – Unusual Events
Benita J. Prins – Seascape
Ryan Howse – Terminus
Brandon Draga – The Summerlark Elf
Allen Houston – Nightfall Gardens
James Hockley – Fear’s Union
Tyler Sehn – Daughter of Shadow
Moses Siregar III – The Black God’s War
Yordan Zhelyazkov – When They Shine Brightest
J. R. Armstrong – God of Chains
Dyrk Ashton – Paternus
Andrew Busey – Accidental Gods
Brandon Berntson – My Enemy

Title image by Joel Robison.


By Geoff Matthews

G. R. Matthews began reading in the cot. His mother, at her wits end with the constant noise and unceasing activity, would plop him down on the soft mattress with an encyclopaedia full of pictures then quietly slip from the room. Growing up, he spent Sunday afternoons on the sofa watching westerns and Bond movies after suffering the dual horror of the sounds of ABBA and the hoover (Vacuum cleaner) drifting up the stairs to wake him in the morning. When not watching the six-gun heroes or spies being out-acted by their own eyebrows he devoured books like a hungry wolf in the dead of winter. Beginning with Patrick Moore and Arthur C Clarke he soon moved on to Isaac Asimov. However, one wet afternoon in a book shop in his hometown, not far from the standing stones of Avebury, he picked up the Pawn of Prophecy and started to read - and now he writes fantasy! Seven Deaths of an Empire coming from Solaris Books, June 2021. Agent: Jamie Cowen, Ampersand Agency. You can follow him on twitter @G_R_Matthews or visit his website at

5 thoughts on “Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off #2: The Self-Pub Strikes Back”
  1. I wish I had seen this earlier – is it still possible to enter? There is no mention of a cutoff date on the blog post, but since books have been allocated already, I guess it looks bleak.

    Oh well, I’ll mail off my book anyway. It’s great that you guys are judging again and I love the review method you’ve outlined here!

  2. […] Factioners may have noticed that we’re currently participating in a little thing called the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. Here’s an important thing I’ve learned from judging: there are a LOT of self-published fantasy […]

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