NOTE: The following are my wrap-up thoughts on this year’s SPFBO (Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off) created by Mark Lawrence. For more on the competition, see this earlier post I wrote on making the finals. This one is basically a part 2 to that.

I have trouble writing clearly when my heart is so full (always easier to project my most extreme emotions onto my characters and keep them there, at a safe distance), but let’s give this a try. I decided way back in February that I’d already won SPFBO – not in terms of numbers; I still only had two scores on the board at that point and was not expecting the remaining scores to land as high as they did – but in terms of walking away from the competition with something valuable.

Not long after the ten finalists were announced, Virginia McClain (author of Blade’s Edge) started a Facebook chat for us to set up a joint 99c/99p promo. Our interaction easily could have ended there, as a business exchange, but the chat quickly detoured into trash talk, jokes, and discussions of the competition, and then just… never stopped. There have been lulls since then, but the chat has run more-or-less continuously since October of 2019.

I’m slow to make friends (in real life and online), so having this extended period of “hey, look another review!” and “hey guys, random marketing question:” and “how’s the weather in your neck of the hellscape today?” let me get to know the other finalists in a way that I rarely get to know people online. My benchmark for whether someone is my actual friend is whether or not we can carry on a conversation in inside jokes and references.

As of this posting, I probably share more inside jokes with these nine people than anyone else – barring maybe my sister.

After quarantine went into effect, we started meeting on Zoom to talk ‘in person’ and put faces to the chat bubbles.

The above is a screencap of our QuaranCon panel on competitions. I’m a bit annoyed that I don’t have an image from any of our other Zoom chats because this one is missing Rob Power, who is, despite his claims, one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet and often the heart of the chat.

There’s no reason to get into the gnarly details here, but 2019 was a bad year for my mental health, and 2020, unsurprisingly, hasn’t done much to improve that. In the panel pictured above, I mentioned the importance of having a group of peers available to discuss writing, marketing, and the weird particulars of indie publishing. But on top of that, I cannot overstate how helpful it was just to have a group of friends to joke around with, no matter the weird hour of night, no matter the variety of anxiety, no matter how stringent the lockdown on physical contact.

There were bad days made okay by the SPFBO chat and okay days made actually pretty great, and I don’t know if any first-place trophy is worth more than that.

At the end of that QuaranCon panel, someone asked about everyone’s biggest takeaway from the competition and I didn’t know how to answer. Levi said “a thick skin” and that’s a good answer; even at the top of the finalist board, you’re going to hear things about your book that you don’t want to hear and we all need our own mechanisms to absorb that without collapsing. But no one is made of titanium. That’s where you need a support network of people who understand your experience and sympathize with your challenges. Weirdly, I happened to find that with my competition.

My main takeaway from SPFBO 5 is the importance of seeking out other people who do what you do and love it the way you love it. Now, I don’t think most people need to make the SPFBO finals to accomplish that, but if you’re as terrible at online friendships as I am, SPFBO is probably a great place to start.

I won’t be entering another book in the competition for a year or two due to the big mess I’ve made of my writing and release schedule (more on that here), but regardless of whether or not I’m participating or how far I get, I can’t wait to follow future competitions and see more wonderful friendships develop.

Thank you to Mark Lawrence for putting on this competition every year and giving this wonderful community a place to thrive. The man is a gift to self-publishing. Go check out his books!

Thank you to the other finalists for just being awesome:

Thank you to the book bloggers who put in hours upon hours of time to make this competition possible:

This beautiful badge I defaced with squiggles was commissioned by Barbara Pickering, with art by ArikTheSaiyan and text by Jordan Smith (

1 Comment

  1. Thank you, Miracle, a moving book, a worthy winner, a magnanimous finalist and a great year’s competition. At this time, connections suddenly seem so much more valuable and SPFBO is s great way to make them 😀

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