The Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off: First Impressions

(I plan to do periodic updates about how the challenge is going, alongside any reviews of books that I may do, since this challenge is more than just about who wins the coveting bragging rights. It’s an experience for both the authors and the bloggers, and I like transparency in such things, so it’s only fair that I give what I’d like to receive.)

So we all have our lists and our books and some of us have already read a book worthy of positive review, which is a great start to the challenge! For my part, I’d like to take a moment to share some of the highlights of the books that I’ve received, books from the list that have caught my attention either through covers, titles, or blurbs.


I know it seems a bit strange to go, “Ooh, that book sounds interesting just based on its title,” but really, titles and covers are our first impressions of books, most of the time. If  were given a choice as to whether to read The Farm Boy’s Destiny or The Eye of the World, I’m probably going to go with the latter. One title wears its heart on its sleeve, leaves you no mystery about what the book will involve, whereas the other is a bit more ambiguous and makes you wonder a little bit about what it’s all about; it gives nothing away.

So here are a few of the titles on my list that stood out, that made me think, based on title alone, that I might want to look closer.

Chisel and Frost, by A E Marling
City of Burning Shadows, by Barbara Webb
The Bone Flower Queen, by T L Morganfield

That isn’t to say that all the others had terrible titles. These are just the ones that stood out to me on the list, based upon nothing but the words themselves. So in a sense, these books passed a test. The titles made me want to look a little closer, find out more about them, see what they’re all about, and that’s one of the first hooks an author can get into potential readers.


They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and eh, I’m a bit on the fence about that. On one hand, you shouldn’t condemn or praise the story or a book based upon the cover. But the cover is another of those early introductions that can either grab a reader or make them turn away.

I hate to say it, but covers are where I find a lot of self-published books fall down. And it’s somewhat understandable, because art and design is expensive and time-consuming and not everyone can afford those things. And I get that, very much so. On the other hand, novels where it looks like someone just spent half an hour throwing together a couple of hazy images in Paint and then slapped some text over it is a bad first impression. It may not be an accurate one, but it can put potential readers in the mindset of thinking that if the quality of the cover is bad, then what’s inside must be of similar low quality.

But this isn’t always the case, which is why I want to share some of the best covers I found amongst my batch of books.

lastkingsamulet protector sonofadarkwizard srapplings

I think I’m a little bit in love with the cover for Protector, and I really like the simplicity and originality of Scrapplings.

As before, these aren’t the only covers I liked, and there were far more good-looking covers than I expected to find, but these were the ones I liked best, and I wanted to show them off a little.


Blurbs are fun. They’re the back-of-the-book descriptions that we see when we’ve declared a book has passed the other two tests and we’re sufficiently intrigued enough to pick the book up and ask, “So what’s this all about?” And there are a few blurbs that really interested me when I looked through the list, so here are some highlights.

Fall From Grace, by Edward Richie. Heaven: a paradise of all that is pure in Creation. Led by brothers Michael and Satanail, the Angelic Host is a testament to cosmic harmony and love. But when an unprecedented revelation threatens to uproot their peace, a schism splits the Host’s loyalties. Every angel has to make a choice: faith or freedom. Good or evil. Salvation or damnation.

War consumes Heaven in the first and most destructive loss of life that Creation will ever know. As brother turns on brother, the fate of Heaven and Earth rests in the hands of the Creator’s chosen son, Michael. How far will he go, what will he sacrifice in the name of their Father, to protect his family?

Witness the tragic downfall of a civilization told from both sides of a bloody rebellion. More than myth, more than legend, Heaven’s war will forever stand as a harrowing warning that even the purest of souls can fall from grace.

(I confess I’m a little bit of a sucker for stories involving fall angels, which is why this one caught my eye almost immediately.)

A Call to Arms, by Audrey Gardinier. Gibben Nemesio is in trouble.

His parents are dead, his sister is missing, and he’s been left the sole provider for his two younger brothers. With a war brewing in the east and no guarantee of surviving another brutal winter, Gib’s life is plagued by uncertainty. To make matters worse, he suddenly finds himself uprooted from his home and drafted into the army.

Forced to leave his siblings behind, Gib reports to Silver City, where he enrolls in the legendary Academy of Arden. An outsider and misfit, Gib struggles to blend in among the highborn city folk. His charming candor eventually wins him a handful of friends—an enigmatic mage trainee with a secret, a young girl who has defied tradition by joining the military, and a prince looking to escape his stifling, royal life. But his new-found comrades may not be able to help when Gib alone overhears a traitorous plot—a scheme so horrible that if seen to fruition, all of Arden will suffer for it. It’s up to Gib to convince the High Council of Arden to act, to stop the terrible danger, before it’s too late.

(Okay, the description seems to be a bit heavy on the tropes, but it interested me anyway. It seems like the sort of thing I’d enjoy when I’m in the mood for something light.)

The Chosen, by Annette Gisby. The neighbouring kingdoms of Oscia and Arcathia have been at a tentative peace for three years after centuries of warfare. Prince Severin of Arcathia has been brought up to put duty before all else and as the only son of the King and Queen, it is his duty to marry and produce an heir. His parents want him to marry an Oscian princess to cement that tentative peace. Unfortunately Severin isn’t interested in princesses. Now, if he had his pick of princes that would be another matter.

Havyn has been a slave all his life. When his aptitude for wizardry is discovered, he finds himself purchased and freed by Prince Severin and apprenticed to the royal wizard, Ildar. His duty is to stay chaste to keep his powers strong, but his feelings for Severin sorely test his resolve.

With kingdoms at war, the throne hanging in the balance, magic in the air, and outside forces trying to keep them apart, can the two men find happiness together, or is duty more important than love?

(I’m also a sucker for GLBTQA fantasy, so as much as I normally don’t go for heavy romantic plots, I kinda want to read this. A lot.)

There. 10 books highlighted, and out of 26. That’s almost 40% that I liked the sound of based upon nothing but the title, the cover, or the blurb. I think that what this alone has proved to me is that yes, there are clearly some self-published books out there that can and do catch my eye and make me want to read them. They just have to be brought to my attention first. Which is the entire point of this challenge, after all. To bring these books to the attention to those who might not otherwise find them Maybe there are some books here that might interest a couple of my readers and who have decided to check one of two of them out, based upon nothing but the fact that I saved them  the time and energy of searching.

That’s part of the kicker of self-published books, I think. There are so many, and far fewer people reading and reviewing them than traditionally-published books, so the search is that much harder. And most of them are digital, so it’s not like you can just go to your nearest bookstore and start idly browsing covers until one jumps out at you. You have to search through pages and pages and pages of titles on Amazon, hoping you find something before you just get frustrated and give up because the good stuff is in there, somewhere, but it’s harder to find them. Maybe all it takes is a trusted blog or two talking about these books for sales to pick up, for more people to find a good story they never knew existed.

10 comments on “The Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off: First Impressions

    • I’m looking forward to what a lot of the other bloggers have to say about their first impressions, too. There’ve been a couple of other posts so far, and I’ve found them pretty interesting.

  1. Nice post. I plan to do something at weekend by way of update too. In fact I’d be interested to see from blurbs, covers and titles how many off my list grab me – I’ve obviously taken a look at them all already but I might make a comparison.
    Lynn :D

  2. I was just browsing through those named titles and I wanted to mention something I noticed which might have escaped you. It seems as if The Bone Flower Queen, by T L Morganfield might be the 2nd book in a series according to Goodreads. I haven’t read either btw.

    • There are a couple like that, I think, and not just in my batch. Which is a shame, because I hate reading books out of order like that, but admittedly, some books in a series can also work well as standalones, so I’m still going to give it a try. If it doesn’t work out, well, I suppose that’s the drawback to pitching the second book in a series and not the first. But I’ll still give it a fair shot.

  3. Thanks for participating in this challenge. It means so much to us self-pubbed authors to be given a chance to be reviewed by some of these epic book bloggers. Also, wheeeee, I’m glad you enjoyed “A Call to Arms”‘s blurb. I must have spent three days agonizing over writing it. It’s nice to know it grabbed your attention. :D

  4. Pingback: March in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

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