Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off: general comments

So, I happened across the SPFBO posts at The Fantasy Hive, where a handful of reviewers had been cutting their thirty entries down to six semi-finalists. I noticed because one of their entries was Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis, so that caught my eye.

They followed a format where they eliminated four books and picked one semi-finalist, six times. Their comments as they work through all these entries are interesting, especially as five different reviewers rapidly provide their reactions , so click through if you’re interested in reading them: first set, second set, third set, fourth set, fifth set, sixth set.

If you’re interested, here are the semi-finalists, pulled together so you can see them, with their individual reviews linked:

A Tale of Stars and Shadow is the one selected as the finalist, by the way.

What interested me most were the patterns in the comments, as reviewers nixed one entry after another from the thirty they’d drawn to review. Here’s a reasonable if rough summary:

–One entry that went way too heavy on the Message

–Two that had significant faults in worldbuilding

–Three or four that were considered to have problematic content in some manner; eg, rape jokes; brother sexually attracted to sister, things like that.

–Eight that had problems with typos, grammar, incorrect word choices, or awkward phrasing

–Ten that had problems with flat exposition, flat plot, and/or flat characters

I will add, plenty of entries won praise, including a good handful that were not chosen as semi-finalists. But it was interesting to me to see what faults turned up, and in what proportions.

I sometimes pick up a sample or (more rarely) a full copy of a self-published book because (a) it was recommended by one of you; (b) it was recommended on Twitter and the reviewer happened to say something that caught my eye; (c) I follow the author on Twitter and like them there; (d) I happen to see it at a really good price and it looks interesting.

I’ve actually tried previously a couple of the thirty books reviewed by the Fantasy Hive reviewers, and a couple others from the 300 entries total. They didn’t necessarily work perfectly for me, but I finished several of them. Since I DNF books pretty easily these days, that says something.

Interestingly, in glancing over all the reviews from The Fantasy Hive, the one that caught my eye the most was not a book that even made it to the semi-finalist stage. It was this one:

Here is the description:

To the Iruk people of the South Polar Sea, the crew of a hunting boat is sacred–a band of men and women warriors bound by oath and a group soul. But when Lonn leads his crew away from the hunt to pursue his dream of a treasure ship, they find more than an easy bit of piracy.

The ship belongs to the witch Amlina, and after the Iruks carry off her possessions, they are robbed in turn. Worse, one of their band is taken–Glyssa, the woman Lonn loves.

To rescue her, the Iruks must join forces with Amlina on a perilous voyage far from the seas they know. To Lonn and his mates, nothing matters but saving Glyssa. But Amlina knows much more is at stake. Among her possessions is an object of ancient power. In the wrong hands, the Cloak of the Two Winds can unravel the age-old magic that keeps the world from chaos.

Here are some selected comments from Fantasy Hive reviewers, one comment each from five different reviewers:

Cloak of the Two Winds boasts some really innovative and immersive worldbuilding, including day-to-day details and hardships of the Inuit-like lifestyles (traversing the ice on skates, returning to their home and struggling to make it warm again, preparing food, etc). — Laura

I got myself a new word courtesy of the story and kindle dictionary:  “rime,” frost formed on cold objects by the rapid freezing of water vapour in cloud or fog.  Which is by way of saying there is a nice turn of descriptive phrase here. — Theo

My initial reaction to Cloak of the Two Winds was that I loved it: I loved how different the setting was, I loved the cultural set-up, I loved the character interactions (which felt natural and distinct and not at all forced) — Beth

[I]t was unlike anything I had read before. It’s not groundbreaking, but it does carve out a new course on frigid seas. — Mike

I really enjoyed this one, and will probably finish it after the contest. I love the concept and the world that doesn’t feel like I’ve read it 100 times before! The characters were interesting and not like cardboard cutouts. — Julia

Several of these reviewers also noted that the quality of the prose went downhill after the first chapter. Still, I find all this intriguing enough that I want to take a look for myself, so yept, I’ve now got a sample to check out.

If you want to dive more deeply into the SPFBO entries, here is the list of the ten finalists, with all their reviews linked.

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