Thursday 18 August 2016

The Final Round of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016

300 contestants have been narrowed to 10 finalists.

The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off has a winner and that winner is...

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French!


Here's the scoreboard. The reviews, the books, and the blogs are all linked on this table. (click scores to get reviews)

I give some analysis below.

* = Blogger chose this finalist
*= Blogger's top book.

Last year the ten bloggers/teams gave three scores of 9 among their hundred scores and they went to three different books.

This year there were nine scores of 9+ and six of them went to the winner! Including the SPFBO's first ever score of 9.5 and first ever perfect 10.

Last year the winner was the favourite of just one blogger and the books placing 5th and 6th were the favourites of two boggers each.

This year the winner was the favourite of six bloggers.

Last year the spread of scores was from 6.25 to 8.

This year the spread was 5.1 to 8.65.

All in all The Grey Bastards is a runaway winner and I must commend it to your attention.

2nd placed Path of Flames by Phil Tucker was favourite with three blogs and I've read it and can see why!

3rd placed Paternus by Dyrk Ashton was favourite with one blog.

All of these books were someone's choice for finalist and they all scored 7+ with two or more bloggers, so check them out. You never know what will hit a chord with you.

Huge thanks to all ten bloggers/teams for their very considerable efforts and to Katharine of Ventureadlaxre for stepping in to fill a gap. The bloggers are the stars of this show so be sure to keep checking them out now we're done.

Our most generous scorer this year was Fantasy-Faction, taking the crown from Bibliotropic last year. The Elitist Book Reviews remain the harshest scorer, though they were slightly kinder this year.

Anyway. That's my job done. Remember, this is only a success if you allow yourself to be moved by the exercise to try some of these titles. They are cheap to buy, and the top 3 are the 1% of the 300 entries to #SPFBO2. There's even a celebratory giveaway of Paternus audiobooks.

Will we do it again? I don't know. If there proves to be enough interest among bloggers and authors then probably. Let's just give the thing a moment for the dust to settle and the winners' confetti to be swept away.


In case you're interested, we have 5 male and 5 female finalists, from a field that was 49% male, 33% female and 18% unknown (initials).

I'm encouraging bloggers to give their finalist a score that allows them space to reward any even better books that come along.

I'm also encouraging bloggers to use the range of marks since if they mark all the books between 7 and 8 they will have a smaller impact on the final result than a blogger who scores between 2 and 9. (the range is 1 to 10).

On Fantasy-Factor Laura Hughes discusses the SPFBO at the half way point.
On Pornokitsch Jared covers 4 books in one go and agonizes about the vexed business of numbers.
On Fantasy Book Critic a general round up and stock take.
On Laura Hughes's site, a general SPFBO assessment.
Jared does a three in one on Pornokitsch.
Lynn enters the final round and targets her first victim!
Exit interviews with three runner uppers.
Exit interviews with two more runner uppers!
Sarah starts her final round campaign on Bookworm Blues.
A phase 2 round up from Fantasy-Faction.
Bibliotropic's Ria on ratings vs rankings.
Pornokitsch is first to the finish post, reviewing their last 3 finalists!
On Kristen Reads Too Much a review of Grey Bastards.
Elitist Book Reviews on the business of writing good.
SPFBO interview on Shona Kinsellas site with me!
SPFBO interview on Shona Kinsellas site with Dyrk Ashton!
On defining character, from Elitist Book Review.

*Bibliotropic is having to pass the torch to Ventureadlaxre for the last 4 finalists. Thanks to Ria for sterling work, and to Katharine for stepping up to help out!


  1. I'm curious, and if it isn't too much inside baseball, how the 2015 finalists careers were affected by the SPFBO?

    1. That's an imponderable since writing careers rise and fall to their own tune and it would be hard to know how much depended on any given factor.

      Suffice it to say that none of them are household names yet.

    2. I'll have you know I am name in my household.

      Though I rank somewhere below the goldfish and that was flushed down the... given an appropriate service of remembrance a few years ago.

  2. That review for Path of Flames is incredible. I had never heard of Phil Tucker, but the book has 71 reviews on Amazon and has 4.7 stars. I think I will check it out.

    1. Having recently finished the 3 books he has published I would say they are well worth a read.

    2. Thank you for coming back and telling us! I'll be looking too!

  3. I was thinking about the problem of reviewers/bloggers who do or don't use the full range of scores and therefore influence the final result less than those who do.

    We have a similar issue with appointment panels at work and the way we get round that is that
    a) each member of the panel works out their score
    b) each member of the panel then puts the candidates in rank order of score, 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc
    c) it is the ranking numbers (1 for 1st, 2 for 2nd etc) which are then totalled across all panel members.
    d) the one with the lowest total ranking number (and therefore highest average rating across all reviewers) is the one who is the winner.

    While not perfect this does mean that the views of each blogger/reviewer have equal impact on the overall outcome.

    Just a thought - maybe for next year.

    1. The problem with this method is that all the books need to be read before it can be applied, which removes the opportunity to see the process unfold.

    2. They could sort of rank as they read if you feel you need to show progress, inserting and adjusting along the way (so some books may get bumped down as it goes). I think ranking would be a good way to go, personally, since every reviewer will rate differently based on their own preferences (when to use a 7 versus 5, etc). Ranking will be a solid comparison with little ambiguity with how one reviewer rated versus another. It's also easier to rank than to dole out low ratings (like 2s).

  4. We'll be announcing our finalist on Thursday Sept 29 at noon EST.

    Kat Hooper for

  5. You know what, when books are good, Pornokitsch has a way of doing reviews which really make you want to go out then and there to read it; I bought both Path of Flames and Senlin Ascends (go read this one too - Mark has been banging the drum for this and it's well worth it) straight after reading they chose their finalist.

    Really excited to see their reviews for the other finalists.

    (Little backstory: I first found Pornokitsch through r/fantasy and their reviews for the Gemmell Awards - I think it was the review of Traitor's Blade which really piqued my interest - and I've read whatever gets posted on r/fantasy from Pornokitsch ever since)

  6. I also bought Path of Flames and Senlin Ascends based on Pornokitsch's reviews. Haven't read Senlin Ascends yet, but Path of Flames was a lot of fun.

  7. A couple of comments. One, you could potentially control for some of the variation between different reviewers' scoring methods by eliminating outliers. For example, you could simply eliminate the highest and the lowest scores.

    Second, I'm very surprised to see Elitist Book Reviews as one of the blogger judges this year. There was some very obvious (and some not so obvious) bias in their reviews based on many accounts, and I wouldn't think that you'd want them tainting the voting process yet again. Also, I'm not convinced they actually read all of the titles as they claimed to have. I'd at least ensure that they don't sign any of the authors prior to the end of the contest (as they did last year), which could easily be seen as biasing the results of their reviews in the contest.

    1. Since you made exactly this comment last year, I will just cut and paste EBR's reply:

      EBR doesn't have a financial interest in Thief. I'm published at Ragnarok, which is awesome. After they saw our review of Thief, they picked up Mike's books. Our "nuclear assault" on the other books couldn't be more incorrect. We are obviously harder on the books than the other review sites, which is our prerogative. Just like it was our prerogative to give Thief a 7 (which is far below the average). In fact, Thief wasn't even our highest scoring finalist.

      We have several reviewers. The guy who personally reviewed Thief actually recused himself from the rest of the process because he felt like he would be too biased. The rest of us read the books individually, then averaged out our scores into those that you see. Nothing malicious. Those books just didn't work for us as well as some of the others in the contest.

      "Vested financial interest." Interesting. As an accountant, this means that we are supposedly receiving financial compensation for Thief. We aren't. In fact, if we were, we wouldn't be Hugo eligible as a Fanzine (and we ARE eligible). We don't make any money from our site. Zero. We don't have ads. We used to get money from Amazon on clickthroughs to books (enough for me to buy a few important books for my reviewers to read that hadn't been sent to us). We don't even bother with that anymore. I don't prepare a P&L or a Balance Sheet for EBR, because there aren't any to prepare. We donate the books we get or give them away in giveaways.

      We have no financial interest in any author...other than we want all authors to sell well so they get money. We like authors to succeed. Whether we are talking about Thief (which we like and hope succeeds more than it already has), to Mark Lawrence's stuff, to McCammon, to whomever...we want them all to have success. But we don't get any of that. We don't get royalties or kickbacks on other people's work, and it's never even been offered to us (is that a thing? Do review sites get these kinds of offers?). We'd reject the offers if they came.

      So no, no financial interest. You act like we've been shilling for Thief all over the place. Why did we give the other books lower scores? Because we didn't like them. We respect the authors for putting their work out there for us to critique. We actually see a lot of promise in those authors. Not sure where your idea that we were compensated for Thief comes from, but the facts and our scores don't actually bear that accusation out.

      It's cool though. No harm, no foul.

    2. Because I just came across this, and that I'm feeling mildly contrary, and that the copy/paste (which we very much appreciate, Mark) doesn't cover everything you mentioned, Mr. Anonymous...

      "...ensure that they don't sign any of the authors..." -- This sounds like we're a publishing outfit, which is patently ridiculous. We're a review site.

      "...some very obvious (and some not so obvious) bias in their reviews..." -- I'd love to see what you might think of as bias in any of our reviews. Well, other than the stuff that is very obviously our own opinion, which, I think, pretty much covers everything in every single one of our reviews.

      "...not convinced they actually read all of the titles..." -- Did we read 100% of all of the stories given to us? No. We're not required to. If we can't handle reading a book because it's so atrociously bad or so resoundingly mediocre, we have every right to set it aside and say "no" to reading any more. I don't think we ever said that we had read 100% of all of the stories we'd been given, and this whole blog-off is actually set up with those options built into it. What I can say with absolute certainty is that, regardless of how much time it may take, we give every story sent to us a chance. Every. Single. One.

      Last, a brief comment on our method of scoring. We're not scoring these novels against one another. We're not ranking them. The top story doesn't get a 10, and the worst story doesn't get a 1, or vice-versa. We're scoring them against all of the other, published, books out there that we read on a regular basis. If we think they're all lacking, we'll give out a bunch of twos and threes and sleep very soundly, thank you very much. If, however, they're all awesome sauce, we'll dole out the nines and tens with ecstatic applause. Just remember, these are OUR opinions, and we'll stand by those scores regardless of what anyone else says or thinks. Just because our scores for the novels deviated last year (or even they do this year) from what everyone else thinks doesn't make us wrong. It just makes us Elitists. :)

    3. Nice response and fair play to the work you guys are putting in on your site and supporting these self published fantasy competitions :)

  8. About this stage last year, I posted a weighted average table. It swapped the 1st and 2nd positions, much to the distaste of the then current leader. However, the weighted averages did in fact predict the final outcome quite well, including the 1st place.

    This year, the average and weighted average scores at this point yield the same 1st place, but the 2/3 place changes.

    Here's the table.

    The Grey Bastards (60.5/7)___8.64_____1_____8.62_____1
    Path of Flames (36/5)________7.20_____3_____7.33_____2
    Paternus (58/8)______________7.25_____2_____7.15_____3
    Fionn (57/8)_________________7.13_____4_____6.99_____4
    Larcout (41/6)_______________6.83_____5_____6.83_____5
    Outpost (26/4)_______________6.50_____6_____6.36_____6
    The Moonlight War (25/4)_____6.25_____8_____6.29_____7
    Assassin's Charge (43.5/7)___6.21_____9_____6.14_____8
    The Music Box Girl (31.5/5)__6.30_____7_____6.08_____9
    The Shadow Soul (31/6)_______5.17____10_____5.03____10

    (Sorry for ___, forgot how to markup tables here)

  9. Congrats to all, and thank you to the bloggers who spent so much time to review. I appreciate your contribution to our community! This was a cool event!

  10. Thanks for doing this Mark, I picked up a couple of books from the top 10