First Step Into a Larger World: Learning to Embrace Self-Published Fantasy

When I first began blogging a little over a year ago, I was barely aware that self-published books were a thing. I had of course heard the tale of THE MARTIAN, the self-published book that became a sleeper hit and a major motion picture.  But that seemed the exception that proved the rule.  Either you were good enough to get a publisher or you weren’t. Right?

As I delved deeper into the SFF book community, I slowly started seeing people enthusiastically touting various self-published books; in fact, there seemed to be an annual contest featuring HUNDREDS of books with no publisher.  I was surprised, but still skeptical about how good these books could actually be.  I received my first self-published book, IN THE VANISHERS’ PALACE by Aliette de Bodard, for review in October 2018.  But this was by an “established” author, so again, exception that proved the rule.

Then in December 2018, I saw an author tweet out that he was looking for book reviewers for his upcoming self-published book.  The cover looked pretty cool, that was a good sign, right? (I know, I know, I frequently violate the rule of “Thou Shalt Not Judge.”)  I decided to give reviewing a self-published novel a go and requested the book.  And friends, may I tell you my surprise when I discovered it was…really good? Not just “okay,” but actually, genuinely, really good?  NEVER DIE by Rob J. Hayes was here to show me just how wrong I was about the quality potential of self-published books.

I’d love to say that reading NEVER DIE forever changed my life and that I have plunged headlong into the self-published pool, but I haven’t – at least, not quite yet.  That’s mostly because for this first year of blogging I’ve pretty much been drowning in my NetGalley and Edelweiss queues, and my space for reading newly released self-published just hasn’t been there. But I’m changing my ways.  I’ve actually started buying self-published fantasies to put into my endless TBRs, and this year I’m actually paying attention to the aforementioned “annual contest,” the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (#SPFBO), hosted every year by Mark Lawrence.  I’ve got at least two self-published books on my mental READ THESE BEFORE THE YEAR ENDS list.  And with the hope that I will curb my penchant for smashing the ARC request button for everything that looks remotely cool, I’m hoping I’ll have more space for backlist reads, including some self-published books that have come out in the last few years.

So before I go, I want to share what self-published books I HAVE managed to read this year, what I’ve bought, and what recent books floating through the Twitter sphere have caught my eye.  Who knows?  Maybe one of these will become my new favorite thing!

I’m linking the covers to Goodreads, so if any of these strike your fancy, check them out!

Self-Published Read This Year

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NEVER DIE by Rob J. Hayes
If you love wuxia/”wire-work” martial arts movies, you can’t go wrong with NEVER DIE.  A young boy travels the land collecting renowned fighters to take on the despotic emperor.  Each warrior has a “signature move,” a magical ability that only they can do, and it’s a delight discovering each character’s unique style.

SNOWSPELLED by Stephanie Burgis
I BELIEVE this is self-published (and if it’s not, it’s from a very small publisher).  In this regency fantasy novella (first in a series), women govern while men deal with the more “masculine” art of magic – that is, until Cassandra Harwood becomes the first woman sorcerer.  Now she’s stuck at a party at a country manor, trying to unravel a plot that threatens the country’s relationship with the fae – while also contending with her recent inability to use magic.

TECHNICALLY, I didn’t read this one until it had been picked up by Orbit Books for distribution, but I wanted to include it as yet another example of a self-published book that became a breakout “mainstream” hit. While this ultimately wasn’t my cup of tea, this African-inspired revenge thriller fantasy has been a hit with fans of the grimdark genre.

Self-Published Books I’ve Bought/

Received for Review – And Still Need to Read

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THE SWORD OF KAIGEN by M.L. Wang (Bought)
This is a book that it seems like EVERYONE I respect in the SFF reviewing community loves without reservation. For a few examples, go check out the reviews at Novel Notions and The Grimdragon.  I tried to squeeze this in during Wyrd and Wonder but ran out of time, so it’s got a priority spot on my “Catch Up December” list.

CHASING GRAVES by Ben Galley (Bought)
This is the first in a completed trilogy, set in a world where people who die are brought back to life to work as slaves. There was a big blog tour for Ben Galley’s works at the beginning of summer, and I decided to give it a try.  I, of course, have not managed to read it yet.

GUILD OF TOKENS by Jon Auerbach (ARC)
This is a current contestant in the ongoing SPFBO.  It will also be the first LitRPG book I have ever read (unless some very rudimentary Pokemon fanfic from my youth counts…) and I’m intrigued to see how the concept works!  In this one, Jen Jacobs joins a real-life “game of epic quests” that takes place on the streets of New York.  The more she plays, however, the more she realizes that something more sinister is afoot.  This one I will actually be reading very soon, so keep an eye out for a review in the future!

MORODA by L.L. McNeil (ARC)
This is a recent addition to my stack that I plan to review in December/January. It was a semi-finalist in the 2018 SPFBO, and promises dragons, sky pirates, airships and more, as two sisters race to find a way to stop a man bent on destroying their people.  If you happen to like this one, it kicks off a six book series – the first three have been released so far!

Recent Self-Published Fantasy on My Radar

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FORTUNE’S FOOL by Angela Boord
Current SPFBO contestant, this Venetian-esque fantasy is about a women who must navigate a world of mercenaries, spies and smugglers as she sets about enacting revenge on those who caused the death of the man she loved.  Oh, did I mention she has a metal arm?

It’s fantasy, it’s got a cool cover, It’s a SPFBO contestant, and I’ve started seeing good buzz. I don’t know much more about it, but we’re promised a tale of one man’s attempt to free some fellow rebels from a prison camp in an attempt to finally overthrow the Councilate that oppresses his people.  And they have to do that while resisting the urge of committing the same evils against their oppressors that have used against them.

McClellan is certainly no stranger to mainstream publishing, but the first book of his new novella series is self-published (and actually a contestant in this year’s SPFBO!). It’s an urban fantasy about a man who works as a reaper (essentially a “fixer”) in the supernatural world, who is commissioned by Death itself to hunt down a supernatural thief.  One review I read said this was perfect for fans of DRESDEN FILES, so this is definitely on my list!

Yes, I’m cheating again, because this one will be published by Orbit in 2020. However, this one was self-published for years before it finally found a home, so I’m putting it on the list!  In this one a Queen survives an assassination attempt that leaves her stranded and alone in a foreign land.  Orbit commissioned a new cover, with a kick-ass lady wielding a sword, and I am very excited to get to this down the road!

Okay, I’m calling it a wrap on this list!  I know that I have BARELY scratched the surface of self-published works, so if you think I’m missing something particularly brilliant, be sure to leave a comment or reach out to me on Twitter!

19 thoughts on “First Step Into a Larger World: Learning to Embrace Self-Published Fantasy

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  1. Self publishing is completely different than it was eight years ago when I started blogging. It was pretty terrible for the most part back then and it really turned me off. But over the years, authors have wised up and stepped up and realized that in order to succeed they have to apply the same rigors of traditional publishing to their books, and it’s really paying off. A lot of the books you’ve listed have been reviewed and loved by bloggers I trust, and I would definitely give them a try!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree! That’s one reason I’m enjoying following SPFBO, people I trust are weeding out the not so great from the gems, so hopefully I’ll have more interesting cool things to read in the future!


  2. This is a great post, Caitlin! I had a couple super bad experiences with self-published books which really had an impact on how I saw the whole thing in general. But The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley completely changed the way I think about self-published books! I’ve read quite a few now that have been fantastic, and the list of self-pub books I’m dying to read is VERRRRY long! 😄

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic post! Learning to embraced self-published is something I’ve had to to do as well. Some of my favorite reads in the last few years have been self-published. I honestly think I see a lot more creativity in self-pubbed sometimes and also things that blend genres or include more diverse casts and settings. It’s a good time to be getting into reading self-pubbed books!

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  4. I’m so excited you’re starting to get into self-published works more (I just started getting into it the past two years or so and I’ve definitely found some fantastic gems). Although, with reading both traditionally published books *and* self-published books, now I’m basically just never going to get caught up on reading EVER. 😛 And the books you have on your list so far sound great! I am definitely really excited to finally read something by Galley and Hayes, and Sword of Kaigen just sounds SO GOOD. I’m also really excited to read Fortune’s Fool (it’s in my SPFBO batch, actually!), I betaread McClellan’s novella and it is most DEFINITELY a rec comparable to Dresden Files! I’m also so excited for the Bitch Queen series, it’s unreal.

    *Not* that you need more books on your list, but could I recommend Barbara Kloss, JA Andrews, Demi Harper and Chris Schaefer (the last writing a fantasy thriller that floored me) as some self-published writers I’ve either loved their work and am excited to read their work? ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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