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In just a few days’ time, the next annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (AKA SPFBO) will be opening to entries! If you’ve not heard of SPFBO, then fear not, as we’re here to help!

SPFBO is an annual competition hosted by grimdark legend Mark Lawrence and author of amazing books such as Prince of Thorns, Red Sister, and the newly released The Book That Wouldn’t Burn. SPFBO exists to shine a light on self-published fantasy books and will be entering its ninth year! It’s a massive competition where 300 entries will be judged by ten blogs and drilled down to ten finalists and then one winner. As a reader, I love following SPFBO as it introduces me to awesome new indie fantasy books and authors. As an author myself who took part in SPFBO 8, I appreciate how SPFBO celebrates authors and offers us a chance to promote our books.

You can find out more about SPFBO and the ten blogs who will be judging for this year’s SPFBO on Mark Lawrence’s official website.

This year, SPFBO will be opening on May 17th at 1pm BST (London Time) and I fully encourage all eligible self-published authors to enter! But what can you expect from entering SPFBO?

I’ve asked some of the finalists from previous SPFBO’s to share their experience and tips:

Ben Galley

Ben Galley is a British author of dark and epic fantasy books who currently hails from Vancouver, Canada. Since publishing his debut Emaneska Series, Ben has released the award-winning weird western Scarlet Star Trilogy and standalone The Heart of Stone, the critically-acclaimed Chasing Graves Trilogy, and the new Scalussen Chronicles.

When he isn’t conjuring up strange new stories or arguing the finer points of magic systems and dragon anatomy, Ben explores the Canadian wilds, sips Scotch single malts, and snowboards very, very badly. One day he hopes to haunt an epic treehouse in the mountains.

Why did you enter SPFBO?

I entered the very first SPFBO (and several since) and at that time it was a full experiment to see what visibility it could get me, and it worked! It’s also a fantastic way to meet bloggers and fellow authors, and that’s why I’ve entered multiple times since.

What did you learn from the experience?

I learned a lot about developing a tough skin and understanding not every book is for absolutely everyone. It’s also fantastic for building a community and enjoying the camaraderie of fellow weird wordsmiths like myself. Community is so powerful and necessary in this industry.

What’s your top SPFBO tip?

Smile and nod. Smile and nod through the pain. In all seriousness, though, it’s the taking part that counts and it’s important to stay positive even if you don’t become a finalist or win. There are plenty of great fantasy books out there, but not winning SPFBO doesn’t mean your book isn’t one of them.


Ben Galley is a two-time finalist in SPFBO with Bloodrush in 2015 and The Forever King in 2021. Find him online here:

L. L. MacRae

Lauren is a fantasy author of character-driven stories and epic adventure.

Her DRAGON SPIRITS epic fantasy series explores the magic-drenched world of Tassar, where powerful spirits reign supreme.

Her WORLD OF LINARIA epic fantasy series is a light-hearted, fast-paced fantasy adventure with bucket-loads of magic, dragons, sky pirates, and airships.

She lives in a tiny village in the UK, has a degree in Psychology, and was a professional copywriter before going full-time as an author – swapping corporate copy for magic and dragons!

Why did you enter SPFBO?

I first entered SPFBO4 with my debut novel, Moroda, because a friend of mine told me it was a good contest to enter. I knew nothing about it, wasn’t really part of the indie community, didn’t have any friendships with other authors or book reviewers, and was super naive about the whole process. It made the semi-finals, and though it didn’t receive a review or any feedback, I realised it was a small insight to a hugely supportive community – one that I really wanted to be part of if possible!

When SPFBO7 came around, I was pushing to get the first book of a new series finished so I could enter. It was the first eligible book I had in three years, by which point I was a bit more aware of the community and had made some friends. Mostly I hoped for some more eyes on my newest book and perhaps some feedback on whether or not the new series had legs!

Thoughts of semi-finalist or finalist positions weren’t really on my mind – I was just hoping for some relatively positive feedback and that was about it! Mostly I entered to get some more eyes on my book and that was about the extent of it!

What did you learn from the experience?

There is so, so, so much luck involved. You can write the best book in your sub-genre or niche, and if it doesn’t gel with your assigned judge/judging team, there’s nothing you can do. It’s easy to think poorly of your book/your writing if that is the case, so learning to properly step back and be as objective as the judges is a big thing to learn how to do.

Because I was fortunate enough to have been chosen as a finalist, my biggest takeaway from the experience was a huge increase in my writing peers becoming friends. I’m still in touch with my finalist group, have met up with a couple of them, and plan to do so again. It’s been a wonderful experience to connect with other writers and share in the stresses, highs, and lows together!

It sounds super cliche, but it’s true. The connections you make along the way are worth their weight in gold!

What’s your top SPFBO tip?

Go into it with as few expectations as possible, and understand the contest is not fool-proof. Its primary purpose is to shine a light on lesser known books and help those books find an audience. Those that are chosen as semi-finalists or finalists are not necessarily “better” or “worse” than those that aren’t – it’s more about having a story click (or not) with a few individuals.

The judges are beyond generous with their time and most will share even a few lines of thought about the books they cut, which will in turn help people find books they like. Stay humble and unbiased, remain open to opportunities and connections, and you’ll probably get quite a lot out of the contest!

Oh, and if you are selected as a finalist, prepare to be elated for a day and then stressed for the next several months!

L. L. MacRae is a 2021 SPFBO finalist with The Iron Crown. Find her online here:

Olivia Atwater

Olivia Atwater writes whimsical historical fantasy with a hint of satire. She lives in Montreal, Quebec with her fantastic, prose-inspiring husband and her two cats. When she told her second-grade history teacher that she wanted to work with history someday, she is fairly certain this isn’t what either party had in mind. She has been, at various times, a historical re-enactor, a professional witch at a metaphysical supply store, a web developer, and a vending machine repairperson.

Why did you enter SPFBO?

I’ve entered SPFBO for three years now, actually! I entered because an author I enjoyed had mentioned the contest—and by sheer chance, when I looked it up, it was two days before the contest was about to accept submissions again! I really enjoyed the experience, even if I didn’t place, and it introduced me to a big, vibrant indie fantasy community which I hadn’t known about before.

What did you learn from the experience?

My first two times in SPFBO really hammered home that hanging out in the community is its own reward. Even when my books were knocked out of the running, people still got interested in reading them, and I got the chance to network with other authors and bloggers.

What’s your top SPFBO tip?

Have fun with the other authors in the contest! Tell people what you love about your fellow entrants! Hype up other people, and they’ll hype you back! As long as you contribute to the positive vibe, there’s actually no way to lose at SPFBO. (I know, I know, you’re probably like “but you won, you jerk”, but I lost my first two years, and I still enjoyed the heck out of them!)

Olivia Atwater is a 2022 SPFBO finalist (and champion!) with Small Miracles. Find her online here:

T. A. Hernandez

T. A. Hernandez is a science fiction and fantasy author and long-time fan of speculative fiction. She grew up with her nose habitually stuck in a book and her mind constantly wandering to make-believe worlds full of magic and adventure. She began writing after reading J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings many years ago and is now is happily engaged in an exciting and lifelong quest to tell captivating stories.

She is a clinical social worker and the proud mother of two girls. She also enjoys drawing, reading, graphic design, playing video games, riding her motorcycle, and making happy memories with her family and friends.

Why did you enter SPFBO?

When I first discovered the competition, I thought it was a great way for indie authors to get a little more visibility for their books. It’s free, and it’s fun just to follow the competition and discover new books to read. I figured, why not enter?

What did you learn from the experience?

This was my second time entering SPFBO, and both times, the little bump in visibility for my books has been really nice. I’ve also met some really talented authors and read some incredible books through the competition, and that alone makes it worthwhile.

What’s your top SPFBO tip?

Just enjoy it. Take advantage of the opportunity to build connections with other authors, and try to look at it as a fun way to maybe find new readers you wouldn’t reach otherwise.

T. A. Hernandez is a 2022 SPFBO finalist with Tethered Spirits. Find her online here:

Thiago Abdalla

Thiago was born in Brazil but grew up in the fantasy worlds from the stories he kept in his mind. He has inhabited everywhere from Middle-Earth and Azeroth to the planes of Dominaria, Ravnica and Tarkir. No matter the medium, what kept him coming back was always his love for story.

He could never wait for the next world to dive into, so, after being (indirectly) urged on by the (printed) words of Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Patrick Rothfuss, N. K. Jemisin and many, many others, decided to create his own.

Why did you enter SPFBO?

It’s a great way to get readers to find out about your book. No downside.

What did you learn from the experience?

As a debut author, it taught me to sweat under the spotlight. Some of the reviews were the highest highs, others helped me thicken my skin. It also confirmed how reading is a subjective business and that every book has its audience, regardless of how far they go in the competition.

What’s your top SPFBO tip?

Try to make as many friends as you can. The book community is powerful and everyone is nervous about the competition. Use it to find a common bond with fellow authors. The road is a lot easier with people to share the load.

Thiago Abdalla is a 2022 SPFBO finalist with A Touch of Light. Find him online here:

Tim Hardie

Tim Hardie grew up in the seaside town of Southport during the 1970s and 1980s. This was before anyone had even heard of the internet and Dungeons & Dragons was cutting edge. Living in a house where every available wall was given over to bookshelves, he discovered fantasy writers like JRR Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, Ursula Le Guin, Alan Garner, Stephen Donaldson and Susan Cooper. Those stories led him into the science fiction worlds created by Frank Herbert, Philip K Dick, Arthur C Clarke and HP Lovecraft.

After training to become a lawyer Tim lived in London for three years before moving to Yorkshire in 1999, where he has worked ever since in a variety of legal, commercial, financial and management roles. His writing began as a hobby in his early twenties and has gradually grown into something else that now threatens to derail his promising career.

Tim writes epic fantasy that will appeal to fans of Joe Abercrombie, John Gwynne and Robin Hobb.

Why did you enter SPFBO?

This was always part of the plan when I went with indie publishing back in 2020. The fight against anonymity and trying to be noticed in a crowded market is the hardest part of this, by far. SPFBO gives everyone a level playing field and an opportunity to raise their profile. This competition gets a lot of attention and the kind of marketing potential you simply can’t buy.

What did you learn from the experience?

It helped me find an audience for my books, which simply didn’t exist previously. That was a massive turning point for me as an author trying to make a go of this. I also made some great friends through the competition. That’s so important for all sorts of reasons. Writing can be a difficult profession sometimes and you need that wider support network to help you deal with the highs and lows, as well as learning from each other.

What’s your top SPFBO tip?

Lots of stuff springs to mind on this one! I think the key thing is to remember it’s just a competition, not your whole writing career, and make sure you have fun. That’s where the camaraderie with other competitors comes in. I did find it difficult and tense sometimes, waiting for a review I knew was going to drop and worrying about what it would say. You have to try and relax and learn to let that go, so I’d say going in with a positive mindset is my top tip.

Tim Hardie is a 2021 SPFBO finalist with Hall of Bones Find him online here:

Have they convinced you to give this year’s SPFBO a try? If so, don’t forget to check the official website for eligibility and guidelines! Entering SPFBO is free, but your book must be fantasy (or a subgenre of fantasy that is fantasy ‘enough’), at least 40,000 words long, a standalone or first in a series, and self-published. Make sure you have an .epub file of your ebook ready to go as entries closed within 9 hours last year. Expect this year to close even quicker!

And if you do enter, remember to enjoy the experience and support your fellow authors. Good luck!

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