Our SPFBO short-list

We are taking part in the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off, a competition where we – and many other fantasy websites – receive 25 self-published fantasy books and are given the difficult task of selecting just 1 to put forward to the next stage.

Fergus and I approached this task in this way – we read the first chapter of each book and noted down those books that both impressed and engaged us. We then compared notes and found that we were in agreement on 5 titles. They were:

  • What Remains of Heroes (A Requiem for Heroes #1) by David Benem
  • The Penitent Assassin by Shawn Wickersheim
  • Whill of Agora by Michael James Ploof
  • Paladins Redemption by Kade Derricks
  • The Unseelie Court (Frotwoot’s Faerie Tales #1) by Charlie Ward

Mark Lawrence, who has the unenviable task of organising everything, thought it would be a good idea to mention some of the recurring issues we found with some of the entries, in the hope that feedback might prove useful. Should any of the authors of the 21 books that did not make the short-list require any additional feedback please email [email protected] and we will be able to provide a little more information.

Obviously the first thing that should be mentioned is that Fergus and I like some sub-genres more than others. Some of the books that were submitted were not written with us in mind as their target audience. There isn’t much we can do about that I’m afraid – we simply like what we like. But if the book was well-written with an engaging story and characters it passed the first hurdle.

So here are a couple of snippets from our notes, to give a taste of why some books were passed over.

“Repetition of words throughout chapter, e.g. believe was used 5 times in the first 10 lines” – a reader can be lost as quickly as the first paragraph. I recently read a book which contained 5 similes on the first page – the sky wasn’t just black, it was as black as the deepest level of the largest ocean… and so on.

The complaint that appeared most was that the structure was poor, the writing sub-standard. The first book I rejected read like a bullet-point list, its structure being sentence, full stop, sentence, full stop – there was no flow, no celebration of a beautiful language and it had all the charm of a power-point presentation.

“Dry and uninspiring” was noted down next to a story. This means that after the first chapter we just has no interest in the story or its characters.

Many of the books were rather difficult to read, mainly due to how they were written. It’s not enough to just have a good story, the way in which it is told is of equal importance. Many books were often either under- or over-written, proving it really is a delicate balance. I’ve been running this site for nearly 10 years now and I’ve begun to notice something – many of the best authors have a work history including journalism or editing, jobs where one can become both skilled and comfortable with words. Many have also done a creative writing course. However, what I would find interesting is to be able to read a manuscript by someone like Robin Hobb before the editors got their hands on it. Robin Hobb writes beautifully but how much is natural and how much is thanks to the often under-appreciated skill of editors?

Then of course there comes the problem of having read the book before. I think every author wears their influences on their sleeve but sometimes it’s a little too on-the-nose. If, in the first chapter, you feel like you are reading a re-tread of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Twilight then it is unlikely that you will feel well disposed towards it.

In summary, the books that made the short-list had 2 things in common.

  1. The were written with a fair degree of skill, care and attention to detail.
  2. The story, locations and characters were both engaging and well-written.

When reading the very best stories you barely think about the author behind the work. Ideally the only time you give them any thought is when eagerly getting your hands on more of their work.

Congratulations to the 5 authors who have made the short list and thank you to all who submitted their work. Here are some nice words from Fergus to end on:

Dear Authors,

Firstly, I would like to say it takes courage, dedication and conviction to finish a story and a fearlessness to put it out in the world for others to read. You have accomplished something many dream off, but have been unable to achieve as yet.

Unfortunately, being a competition we can only go forward with the novels that resonated with us. For those who did not make next stage in our decision process, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to read your work. Confidence, fortitude and belief in your story will see you through and we wish you every success in the future.

Kindest Regards

The Fantasy Book Review Team

8 thoughts on “Our SPFBO short-list”

  1. I was very pleased to find The Penitent Assassin on your short-list. I hope you enjoy it and the other books you will be reading in full. Thank you for your time and consideration.


  2. Excited to make the short-list! Kindly hoping also that “What Remains of Heroes” can reflect my pen name, especially with it going up on Amazon soon. Thanks much!

  3. Hi Bibliotropic,

    It is a completely different approach to reviewing I agree. Of the last few hundred books I’ve read there have probably only been 3 or 4 that I haven’t been able to complete. I think this is because it’s possible to choose really carefully – and well – nowadays, thanks to online reviews.

    I guess we are all playing at being agents rather than reviewers for the SPFBO as the 25 books are random and the standards vary greatly. I will be honest though (and this I might regret saying) and admit that any cover with a bare-chested man or woman on is unlikely to find favour with me. Fantasy Mills & Boon is not my cup of tea. All other sub-genres I’m fine with.

    How are you getting on with your books – are there any hidden gems in there?

    All the best,

  4. Interesting to see why most of them didn’t make the shortlist. Also nice to see that you reduced your list so drastically; must make it easier to deal with.

    I admit I’m having a bit of trouble with that. I’m so used to reading through to the end of a book that stopping partway feels wrong. There are some books I’ve kept in the maybe pile because the little voice in my mind keeps saying, “Maybe it’ll be worth it if you just keep reading.” Some of them I would have discarded based on an uninteresting synopsis or merely average writing in the first chapter, but I can’t quite bring myself to just put it aside and move on. I suppose this makes me very bad at playing pseudo-editor. Not sure if I should be a bit stricter and approach this like it’s properly my job or whether it’ll be fine to keep going as I’m going and end up reading a bunch of mid-quality novels in the end. (Not to say that everything I got was mid-quality, but playing the law of averages…)

  5. I can assure you that Robin Hobb writes beautifully at all times and that my interventions are never about rewriting her words. My job as her editor is to ensure consistency through a 15-book series!

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