“Self-published novels are complete and utter trash!”
Even with high-profile SFF like The Martian and Eragon in the public spotlight, the stigma persists.The idea that self-published novels are slush-pile rejects at best, and groady monster/dinosaur porn at worst. And up until very recently, I had similar misgivings about the self-pub Amazon space. After purchasing a print copy of JP Ashman’s Black Cross however, it completely changed my perception of what self-published books could be.
Soon I found myself checking out more and more titles from the self-published space. Paternus, Where Loyalties Lie, Bloodrush and more. And again, they turned out to be really freakin’ good. Like, “holy cow, I’ve really been missing out” kind of good. And So I started to take the self-published space a lot more seriously. Are there bad books? Sure, but it’s increasingly easy to separate the good from the bad. Much more so than it was in say, 2010.
Still, there’s a definitely a curation problem on the Amazon platform. With traditional publishing at least, you can get a feel for what different imprints (TOR, Orbit, Baen, etc) tend to put out. Amazon’s a bit more like the Wild West, with all sorts of different books crammed into one store. Sometimes it can be hard finding just the right book, which is why I put together this guide for newbies such as me.
But first things first…
Why Should You Check Out Self-Published Fantasy Novels?
Honestly, it’s a damn good question. Why even bother with these things when perfectly good and popular books come out all the time from major publishers?
Now don’t get me wrong, I have a whole bookshelf of books primarily from trad SFF publishers. But traditional publishing is vetted, and doesn’t have the freedom that Indie publishing has. This has both positives (quality control, no monsterporn) and negatives (sometimes really cool and different ideas don’t make the cut). And if you happen to be a more “hardcore” reader of fantasy fiction, eventually you’ll notice “trends” in mainstream publishing. Sanderson-style magic systems, Joe Abercrombie-esque gritty stories, etc.
Self-pub doesn’t play by those rules though. Pirate Fantasy? A story from a golem’s point of view? 80’s-style epic fantasy? Magic systems based on fungi? It’s all there in the self-published space. If I were so inclined, I could literally write an entire book named Take the L, containing nothing at all but the letter L from start to finish. There’s no gatekeepers stopping me from doing something like that, I could just do it. And while that sort of freedom’s led to a lot (and I do mean a LOT) of shovelfic, it also means there’s stuff out there that’s just as good (and sometimes better) than “normal” books. And like classic Rock n’ Roll back in the MTV heyday, there’s weird stuff, nostalgic stuff, and just overall great material to be found. You never quite know what you’re going to get.
That’s not to say there isn’t crap out there (oh lordy, there is). But thanks to Facebook groups and other methods of curation, finding the good stuff’s become super easy. And while you’ll occasionally see drek in the Amazon marketplace, there’s a very easy way to prime your account to find new and exciting books.
How to Get Started With Self-Published Fantasy
If you wanna dip your toes into self-published fantasy, my biggest piece of advice would be to start out by visiting Sigil Independent. Sigil is an “author’s guild” comprised of several self-published authors dedicated to writing quality self-pub fantasy on par with Tor or Orbit’s offerings. There’s a free sampler on the site that doubles as a choose-your-own-adventure novel, with your choices leading you to samples of different books. I’d suggest giving it a go a couple times, and pick whatever series looks best. All of the choices are very good, and absolutely worth your time.
After you find a story you like, I highly suggest visiting its Amazon page and checking out the “Customers who bought this item also bought” and “Sponsored Products” sections. Above is what I found when checking out the suggestions under Where Loyalties Lie. And there’s actually a lot of real cool picks there! Well-regarded books like Darkmage, Dragon Songs Saga, Benjamin Ashwood and more.
And that’s how I personally ended up finding some real kickass books. Black Cross led me to Paternus, Paternus led to Where Loyalties Lie, and so on.
And of course, if you end up liking the book, give it a good rating on Amazon and Goodreads. Good reader press is extremely valuable to these writers, and helps them sell more books down the line. They will love you for it.
If you want to get into Self-Pub even further, I suggest checking out the Fantasy Faction Facebook group. The Grimdark Fiction Readers and Writers’ Group on Facebook is also really, really good if you like your fantasy a shade darker. A lot of their recommendations are a bit more on the mature side, but lots of really talented writers pop in there, including selfpub authors. One of their more prominent members is Mark Lawrence, who also runs a contest called the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. This one’s kind of a big deal if you’re into the indie scene, as finalists in this contest are guaranteed to be really, really good. And 2017’s finalists are also a good place to start if you want more suggestions.
When getting into self-published fiction, the key to finding great reads is curation. User reviews are a great start, but these blogs are great for finding good reads. All of the ones listed below have been reviewers for the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, so I cannot recommend them highly enough. Below that are some author blogs that are also worth checking out, some of which give out free books!
Review Blogs that Also Cover Self-Pub Books
Fantasy Faction — http://fantasy-faction.com/
Bookworm Blues — http://www.bookwormblues.net/
Fantasy Book Review — http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/
Fantasy Book Critic — http://fantasybookcritic.blogspot.co.uk/?m=0
Recommended Author Websites (Some Have Free Books/Shorts!)
Dyrk Ashton — https://www.paternusbooks.com/what-we-do/
Mark Lawrence — http://mark—lawrence.blogspot.com/
Rob J Hayes — http://www.robjhayes.co.uk/
Ben Galley — https://www.bengalley.com/
Michael R. Fletcher — http://michaelrfletcher.com/
If like me you’ve been burned by bad indie SFF before, resources like this are a good way to find indie books that are genuinely good reads. As well as communities online where you can discuss and share these books. Which…is actually a lot more important than you might first assume. Fan communities and sense of fandom are what made Harry Potter such a massive success. They’re what helped propel SFF to become what it is today. So engaging in Facebook groups or forums and discussing the indie books you like is huge. Because not only is it a fun way to connect with other readers, it helps signal to online passers-by that the book you’re discussing is a thing, and might actually be worth checking out.
Anyway, that’s all I got for now, but I’ll be sure to write a lot more about the indie space on this site, as I find it VERY interesting.