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Self-Publishing Emotions, Hyper-Supportive Communities and the Pitfalls of Grimdark

In a word, my personal experience of self-publishing was… complicated. Not because the work is hard, not because I had to learn about algorithms and ad copy and ISBNs, but because of the how every moment of joy and hope was too often balanced ten-fold by the trauma of my own disillusionment. I don’t speak for everyone, of course, but I want to address some interrelated issues I’ve observed in the self-publishing community and how so much of it comes back to the weight of big emotions.

Big Self-Publishing Emotions 

For those who don’t know me, I started self-publishing in 2013. WE RIDE THE STORM, my breakthrough book if you will, didn’t come out until half way through 2018 and even then it wasn’t a super success like most people assume. Somehow, I got the dream luck and a Big 5 editor snapped me up, but I say with all honesty that I’ve never been a highly successful self-publisher in terms of income. Those who make six-figure incomes are in a different league.

What the odd trajectory of my career has given me is a fairly unique perspective on how the difference between being self-published and traditionally published feels, adjacent to the authorial emotions and struggles we all share. I feel this is valuable because as much as we want to be treated the same no matter how we publish, most likely as a self-publisher you’re seeing everything through the lens of a different set of emotions.

Me at my first ever book launch, releasing THE BLOOD OF WHISPERERS in 2013

Something I’ve noticed is that traditionally published authors often make light reference on social media to their various struggles from imposter syndrome to motivation to terror of people actually reading their work, and often find discussing the shared experience of feeling like the new little nobody at the table to be cathartic. These same thoughts and experiences are more often raw wounds to self-publishers. Every admission of doubt is too close to what feels like a core of truth, because whatever we KNOW about gatekeeping being arbitrary and subjective, it’s almost impossible to escape the deep human need for validation.

Year on year the stigma against self-publishing diminishes and many people make good money doing it, but neither has done much to stop the feeling that traditional publishing looks like a dream. A golden ticket. Something to be hoped for even while telling yourself you’re happy where you are and don’t need/want to change. Because the reality is that most self-publishers feel looked down on. Even admitting you self-publish can feel embarrassing, especially when people in real life ask about your books. The feeling you need to defend your own choices and creations leads to a lot of ‘WE DON’T NEED GATEKEEPER VALIDATION’ railing and while it’s true, the intensity is hiding disappointment and hurt we would rather not acknowledge let alone examine. What could we change even if we did?

When you get right down to it, self-publishing is exhausting. Not just in the sense of being more work (although it is a lot of work) but in the way it constantly takes from you. The most common journey of the self-publisher begins with excitement and enthusiasm only to face the ever-growing feeling you’re wasting your time. This is because like everything in our capitalistic world (including traditional publishing), success at self-publishing relies very little on how good your book is and a lot on how much money you can throw at marketing. And even so the odds of success are slim. A lot of the most successful self-publishers have been doing it for a long time and have built up a following, many having started back before self-publishing became as pay-for-play as it is now. Before Amazon changed its algorithms. Before their advertising market reached such saturation. 

Real book! On Real shelf! I treasured this photo in the doubtful times

The early stages of getting a cover and seeing books printed are great, but they all too soon give way to realities. That, honestly, people just don’t care. You have to make them care. You have to sell your book to people with already overwhelming to-read piles, and shouting ‘read this, it’s great’ into the void doesn’t work. You need reviews. You need social proof and word of mouth and a positive Goodreads score and even then, there’s so many books why should people read yours? Even if you’ve studied the algorithms and are throwing money at advertising, it often doesn’t amount to anything and you have to fight the feeling of failure every day while you tell yourself to sit down and write and just keep going. 

So when you enter a competition like the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO) there is a feeling that here, maybe, is the ticket away from these feelings. Here is a chance of success. We always tell ourselves not to get our hopes up about things, to expect the worst, but hope has a way of wheedling its way into your heart all the same. A determination never to give up opens the way for it. So when you get a less than stellar review or your book is cut, it doesn’t feel the same as when traditionally published authors get bad reviews, because the one thing you do get when you sign that contract is a grain of validation you can tuck away into your heart and hold onto for dear life.

While this means that yes, of course judges should be mindful of what they’re saying in their reviews, it also means that in order to take part in a competition like SPFBO, or to send your work out for critique, seek reviews, representation, or pretty much any other thing that involves people reading and having opinions about your work, you need to understand that you’re seeing these critiques through a skewed lens. Yes, these things will hurt, they do regardless of how much validation you’ve squirrelled away, but it’s not because people are being extra mean or you extra suck at this, it’s because you’re already carrying heavy emotions just by choosing this road.

The Dangers of Hyper-Supportive Communities


All that being the case, it’s natural to seek out a support network built of people who know exactly how it feels to fight their way through the mires of a self-published career, a network who will amplify your own self-assurances. I’ve been in quite a lot of these groups in my time and the main thing they all have in common is hyper-support, which often manifests as support based on lying. On telling people they are doing well, that their cover is amazing, that it’s only a matter of time, that their books are brilliant and others just can’t see it yet. I understand why. Being an author of any kind is hard work, it’s personal and draining and adding to someone’s misery with honesty just seems like a step too far. The kind lies also serve the dual purpose of reassuring yourself about your own career. You’re doing well, it’s fine. Your work is brilliant, people just can’t see it yet. Keep going.

And you need this reassurance because every time you see few or no sales on your amazon account you wonder why you do this. Hopelessness and desperation rear their heads. You see traditionally published (and some uber successful self-publishers) getting deals and awards and being invited onto panels and your sense of imposter syndrome grows. However much we know logically there is no reason why one form of publishing is inherently better than the other, the feeling of self-publishing being a ball and chain keeping you down cannot be escaped. There is so much above that glass ceiling you can’t reach. And while it has nothing to do with the quality of your work (because many of those things aren’t available even to the super successful self-publishers either), using that as a comforting excuse and continuing on the same is easier than looking at all the ways you aren’t coming up to scratch.

Oops, you’re stuck in a feedback loop…

At a local con back when I was a self-publisher, I went to a session on short story writing run by an author I believed wasn’t self-publisher friendly. During that session they said something that stuck with me. At the time it triggered upset and I thought they were elitist and mean, but in hindsight it became the central crux of my thoughts on what keeps so many self-publishers from progressing with their craft and their careers. They said, “the problem with self-publishing is no one ever tells them ‘no’.”

Many nos in the journey to traditional publishing are arbitrary and subjective. Based on the personal taste of agents and editors, the ‘marketability’ of your work, and sometimes just whether there is something too similar already in an agent’s stable, but every ‘no’ is a challenge to do better, a call to work harder, to learn, to perfect, to look more critically at your own work. Compare that to supportive communities built on telling you that you’re great. They’re comforting, but they’re suffocating your craft and leave you unprepared to face actual criticism when you leave your bubble. Not only that, but as I said earlier, the lens of your own desperation and hopelessness magnifies the severity of the criticism when you do receive it. How dare people tear you down so cruelly when the job is already hard and you have to fight against the stigma? When you’re already spinning your wheels and getting nowhere? When the dream you were so enthusiastic about pursuing has drained so much from you mentally?

Aren’t Goodreads reviews fun? (Not one of mine, I don’t read them)

Unfortunately, you can’t have both a hyper-supportive bubble community and also demand to be treated no different from traditionally published authors, because the one thing traditional authors can’t escape, even if they wished to, is criticism. It’s the word no. No, it’s not good enough. No, you can do better. No, it’s not ready yet, keep working. The industry is full of no. Of this book wasn’t for me. Of edit letters and reviews and that word of mouth you need to succeed. You don’t get that without plenty of people disliking your book along the way.

And while it’s important to differentiate between constructive, supportive criticism, and cruelty under the guise of it, what we need as creatives are communities that foster a healthy ability to critique, to be able to give feedback without retaliation, and to feel safe in our vulnerability. If you don’t feel comfortable telling someone in your community that something in their work could be better (beyond basic things like punctuation and grammar), chances are they feel the same about yours and all you have is a false positivity bubble. Is that going to help you improve your craft? Or help you reach the next level in your career?

Growth comes in the uncomfortable places in life where you’re forced to sit back and truly consider the validity of someone’s words, and that increasing ability to look critically at your own work and engage with other people’s opinions about it without knee-jerking into angry defense, that is where the magic happens. But, like everything in life, it takes practice. It takes a lot of failing, a lot of no, before you get a yes.

(As a brief addendum, this is not the same as having to read every review of your work that comes your way. It’s up to you to choose where you get your required feedback. I read no reviews at all these days because I have a tried and tested group of people from whom I can get honest feedback, and my editor at Orbit has proven again and again that she has absolutely no difficulty in listing every single thing that isn’t working about a book. And no, it’s not softened with an equal number of things I did well. If she makes one positive note in the whole edit letter that’s cause for celebration.) 

The Pitfalls of Grimdark


Phew, so I saved the most intense part of this for last, but here we go. Another recurring Drama I see in the self-pub SFF community is the attempt to minimise criticism about certain books because said criticism is based on their content. I see enough eye-rolling about how actually we can only write nice happy books now and grumbling over unfavourable reviews of books containing sexual violence that I think it’s time we talk about… grimdark.

If you don’t know what grimdark is I’m afraid I can’t really help you. No one has ever settled on a solid definition and forums are full of people arguing whether certain books do or don’t count, but broadly it’s a subgenre of fantasy that’s usually gritty, full of assholes and antiheroes, the world is going to shit and hope is in minimal supply. You can have one with little violence, but usually it’s also characterised by a lot of blood, gore, suffering and general awfulness. According to some, my debut WE RIDE THE STORM counts, though I don’t agree for numerous reasons I won’t bother going into as the definition isn’t the problem here.

The problem is that a lot of people seem to think the way to write a grimdark novel is to replace all character arcs and development with suffering and shock-value atrocities, even to the point of selling it to people on the premise of “It’s great because the main guy eats everyone’s FACES off.” There may be a few individuals whose specific reading kink is face eating and that’s fine, whatever, each to their own, but what most people read for is their own personally-weighted combination of plot, character development, world-building, entertaining dialogue, inter-character relationships etc. None of these things can be replaced with face eating. Or baby killing. Or rape. Or genocide. You cannot write a narrative where your protagonist either suffers or perpetrates endless terrible things and not have that character engage with the aftermath, because character suffering isn’t the same as character development.

Connecting back to the previous idea of hyper-supportive communities, if you’re going to write a grimdark novel make sure you have people around you who will give HONEST feedback, people who feel comfortable pointing out where you’re not engaging with the content and have fallen into the trap of using it for shock value and nothing else, because if you’re going to write about heavy topics that trigger a lot of emotion in readers you have to be sure you’re handling them well. If you’re a part of a community that seems more interested in glorifying the grimness for the sake of grimness and its “cool factor”, and out-grimming each other in a never-ending game of atrocity one-upmanship, then you’re more likely to produce a self-insert style “Edgy Thing” that revels in its own cruelty than a grimdark novel that appeals to readers. So, decide which one you’re trying to achieve.

***Happy Books!***

This leads me to the most important point here: criticism of violent elements in grimdark novels. This has come up a lot during SPFBO’s history, especially in regards to poorly-handled or unnecessary sexual violence. To look at the nuanced critiques lately offered by the judges and boil it down to “turns out we can only have happy books” is to exaggerate and distort the critique, making it flagrantly ridiculous. “Of course no one wants only happy books so those judges should feel ashamed” is the response they’re after. This also happens when people take critique of sexual violence as being the same as pointing a finger at the author and shouting “you’re a rape-apologist!” No. Critiquing elements of a book and calling the sexual violence within unnecessary or gratuitous or any other descriptor is not an attack against the author’s moral fibre and to say so is to deliberately obscure the point.

As I said earlier, if you’re going to include content that triggers intense emotions you can’t just throw those elements into your book wherever you need some shock or horror or a replacement for character development – you have to be intentional about your use of it or you risk hurting a large portion of your readers rather than carrying them with you. Poorly-handled rape and misogyny that is never examined or engaged with is akin to slapping a big sticker on your book that says, “Hey ladies, this book isn’t written for you!” This isn’t because we never want to read rape. Sure, some women prefer to avoid it because why read about it in your escapism when you can just live that in the real world, but there are also many women happy to engage with such heavy topics for a variety of reasons. My debut, WE RIDE THE STORM, contains a rape scene I included after much thought and consideration, a deliberate choice to engage with the complexities of how such violence would appear to a non-patriarchal culture. Its aftermath is still being dealt with by the characters three books later in a variety of small ways, because that’s what real life is like. On the flip side, if you just throw rape (or anything else heavy) in without engaging narratively with it in any way, just to show a character is bad or to give a male character motivation to get revenge then you’ve done nothing but perpetuate the hurts of that violence upon your readers.

Most of the time this is either accidental or the result of failing to examine the reason for your choice, and yes, often, your own biases. We regurgitate a lot of ideas and tropes from the media we consume and our media is overwhelmingly violent toward women (among other minorities), so it’s easy to include it without thought, just as we are as a society often still include ableist language without thinking about it. But just because we meant no harm doesn’t mean we didn’t do harm. And throwing acts that trigger intense emotions in without engaging meaningfully and intentionally with them is breaking the unspoken authorial promise that you will keep your readers safe even as you guide them through what could still be the most blood-soaked, grim tome imaginable.

When it comes to critique about such elements in your work, someone not liking it is not on the same level as not liking your setting or your characters or most other things about your book. There is “this wasn’t for me” and there’s “this is actively harmful to me or others in my community”, and reviewers have a responsibility to the people who read their reviews to make this clear. This is not an attack, but it may be a moment for personal growth where you can work to break down the biases that led you to think the decision you made was ok in the first place. Sexual violence may be common in the media you consume, but someone else’s mistakes aren’t an excuse to shrug off critique and tell yourself that anyone complaining about its inclusion in your books is just a pearl-clutching wimp who should go read some romance or something.

I want to read grimdark. I want to read about antiheroes. I want to read books that challenge me, but violence for the sake of violence isn’t challenging. At best it’s lazy and boring, at worst it’s actively hurtful, and shouting “but it’s fiction!” or “but historical accuracy!” does not make that less true. Be deliberate. Be intentional. Engage with the darkness you choose to include or just leave it out. You can keep readers interested without blood. You can give characters motivation without suffering. You can show that guy is really really evil without rape.

The Vengeance Trilogy Cover Reveal!

So, while WE RIDE THE STORM is getting all the attention in the lead up to its release in June, it’s time to make everyone aware that in addition to the four books of THE REBORN EMPIRE series, Orbit also bought the rights to my earlier books, THE VENGEANCE TRILOGY. These books are set in the same world about seventeen years earlier, with some characters appearing in both. If you read WE RIDE THE STORM and think you’d like to know more about Emperor Kin, Empress Hana and Katashi Otako then I HAVE THE BOOKS FOR YOU!

I originally self-published the first book, THE BLOOD OF WHISPERERS, in 2013, finishing the series in 2016, so it was both a great challenge and a great joy to be able to go back and edit, re-write and polish them with a number of extra years experience under my belt. I’m very proud of the outcome and look forward to lovers of Storm getting to read the updated editions of the storm that came before the Storm. (Or you can read them the other way around, they can be done both ways.)

Look at me yabbering away when you came for a cover reveal! Well here we go, the description of the first book, THE BLOOD OF WHISPERERS, and all three covers of the trilogy that will release together on August 4th!

They call him the Usurper.

Once the Kisian empire was ruled by gods. Now Kin Ts’ai, a man of common blood, sits on the Crimson Throne. At his command, the last Otako emperor was executed and a new era began. But claiming an empire is easier than holding it.

In the north where loyalty to the Otako name runs deep, a rebellion grows. And Emperor Kin will learn that killing one Otako, doesn’t mean you’ve killed them all.

Vengeance is coming.

Phew! There we go! Three books all at once. Four books this year! It has been a wild time, that’s for sure (especially having to edit them all at the same time…) But look at these beauties! Super huge thanks to Gregory Titus for the art and Lisa Marie Pompilio for the stand out design as always.

As we get closer to the release date, I’ll be talking about these books a lot more, but for now that’s it. Go forth! Note the date, pre-order (HERE), ogle the covers, squee with me about how exciting this is! 



I have been slack updating this space with my news, but now I’m through the worst of the EDITING LANDSLIDE, I hope to be more on top of it.

SO, better late than never. A bit over a year ago, I was preparing for the release of the second book in my Reborn Empire series when my career took a sudden turn. A WHOLE DAMN YEAR followed in which I had to be totally silent and keep all my excitement to myself as I worked busily away at my projects, not telling anyone. Did I mention I couldn’t tell anyone? I couldn’t tell anyone and it was really hard. What I wanted to shout about, was that in January 2019, the lovely Nivia Evans at Orbit US emailed me out of the blue expressing interest in my book, We Ride the Storm. At first I didn’t believe it was real. Then I had a mini panic attack. Then I wrote back. The rest is history (at times stressful, amusing, exciting and also dull history). 

Orbit ended up acquiring SEVEN of my books. The four books of THE REBORN EMPIRE series, and three from the prequel trilogy that starts with THE BLOOD OF WHISPERERS.

So what has changed? The cover, most obviously. That was a given from the beginning of the process and I have to say that as much as I loved my original cover (on the left), the new one(on the right) is just as glorious and wonderful and lives up to its predecessor in every way. The internal character symbols have also changed, as has the map. As for the story, well it now has three new chapters as well as extra scenes and characters. There is deeper world-building especially for the Levanti society, and plenty of tidying up has been done. I love it even more than I did before and cannot wait to share it with you all.

WE RIDE THE STORM is out now in ebook, or can be preordered for the June 23rd release date!

The second book in THE REBORN EMPIRE series, (the one I was just about to release when all of this started and I had to pull it) is called WE LIE WITH DEATH and it is slated for release in January 2021, with books 3 and 4 following in the same year. EXCIIIIIITE!

WorldCon 2019!

From the 15th to the 19th of August this year I am going to be in Dublin for WorldCon and I AM SO EXCITED THAT THERE WILL BE LOTS OF EXCLAMATION MARKS IN THIS POST! (Sorry not sorry)

This will be the first WorldCon I have properly attended, though I managed a few hours at the last Australian one in 2010 when my oldest girl was teensy weensy. This will also be my first time travelling long distance on my own (IT’S 24 WHOLE DAMN HOURS FROM HERE!) as I’ve always had kids with me, so I am looking forward to that, too!

SO! Without further ado, places you can find me at WorldCon!


Introduction to grimdark

Format: Panel

16 Aug 2019, Friday 18:00 – 18:50, Wicklow Hall-1 (CCD)

Grimdark is a fantasy subgenre defined, amongst other things, by its cynical outlook and flawed protagonists. The term was originally pejorative, stemming from the Warhammer 40,000 description: ‘In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war’ – but many authors have turned the insult around and claimed it as their own. The panel will offer a brief introduction to the history and tropes of grimdark fantasy as well as reading recommendations.

Devin Madson (M), Elliot Craggs, Kim ten Tusscher, Cameron Johnston, Jenn Lyons


Send in the crones: older women in SFF

Format: Panel

17 Aug 2019, Saturday 21:00 – 21:50, Wicklow Hall-1 (CCD)

Very often SFF stories centre on young women, with older female characters being consigned to background dressing at best and cliched depictions of elders and antagonists at worst. Is anyone writing stories that focus on older women? Where are the middle-aged heroines?

Lauren Roy, Ali Baker (University of East London), Sam Hawke (M), Devin Madson, Julie C. Day


Kaffeeklatsch: Devin Madson

Format: Kaffeeklatsch

18 Aug 2019, Sunday 10:00 – 10:50, Level 3 Foyer (KK/LB) (CCD)

Devin Madson


Portrayals of mental health in genre

Format: Panel

18 Aug 2019, Sunday 12:00 – 12:50, Wicklow Hall 2A (Dances) (CCD)

Content warning: may include discussions of suicide and self-harm, mental illness and ableism, eating disorders.

Mental health used well can drive a story, create believable motives for characters and even greater awareness amongst the audience. However, these issues are not always treated sensitively or realistically. This panel will explore examples of mental health issues in genre fiction and consider their implications and accuracy.

Alasdair Stuart (Escape Artists) (M), Penny Jones, Dr Glyn Morgan (The Science Museum, London), Devin Madson

Other than at those events, I will be generally hanging around, chatting and checking out panels, so if you see be about, stop and say hi! I’ll be wearing a lot of black, and boofy floor-length geek skirts!

I am particularly excited for my kaffeeklatsch, so if you want to hear about my almost tragic and very irregular road to traditional publishing, talk self-publishing, head chopping, poisonous Australian things, or pretty much anything else, I’d love for you to join me for that! 

Meet you back here again in three weeks for a rundown on how it all went!


SPFBO 2018 Highlights

Carrying on from our open letter last week, we SPFBO finalists are taking a day each to talk about SPFBO and to highlight some of our favourite books amongst those that were cut in earlier stages. Cut they might have been, but there’s still a wealth of fantastic stories that might just not have been to their particular reviewer’s taste or were just squeezed out, so here we go!

(For those who don’t know, SPFBO is the Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off and is hosted by the wonderful Mark Lawrence. The official page is HERE if you would like to learn more.)


SPFBO is a rollercoaster of a journey, nail-biting when you know the expected date of your book’s first review, and tense every time you see a post if not, but it is a competition that not only brings great books to more readers, but brings together a community. It’s that part of it that I love the most, and so here we are with the three books that I want to highlight.

Revenant Winds by Mitchell Hogan

“As a secret cabal schemes to awaken an evil thought defeated millennia ago, the lives of three unlikely heroes are fated to converge:

Aldric, a veteran priest and sorcerer, who seeks acceptance from the church that shuns him. On the brink of their approval, he receives a mission that brings him face to face with a long-buried evil.

Niklaus, master swordsman, and slave to his goddess, who plots to split the veil between life and death and ascend to become her equal.

Kurio, the runaway daughter of a noble family, now turned to thievery, who stumbles across a disturbing secret that binds her future to infernal designs.

Drawn toward a horrifying endgame by an unknown force, Aldric, Niklaus, and Kurio find themselves in a battle not only for their lives, but for the beliefs that have come to define them. A wrong decision, an overreaching ambition, or the failure of an already tormented faith, is all it will take to plunge mankind into an eternal dark.”

Not only is Revenant Winds a joy to look at (how glorious is that cover?) it was also a joy to read. I beta read this book before it came out and even then in its not fully polished state it was a page turner. It follows the interconnected stories of Niklaus (jaded and snarky just the way I like them), Aldric (the nice one really trying to do his best) and Kurio (mysterious and awesome) and while it takes some time for them all to come together, that set up is well worth it when it does. My very favourite thing about this book however, is how skilfully magic is described. It reads a bit like a video game or movie where even I, non-visual that I am, could almost see and hear the crackling power of the raw magic. And there is a lot of magic and each time its used it feels fresh and different from the last time.

I highly recommend this book, especially to all those who like some sword and sorcery in their reading.


The Red Hourglass by Ashley Capes

Escape isn’t the hardest challenge for a slave – it’s staying free afterwards.

Siblings Thomas and Mia find themselves fleeing across a desolate land, hounded by the monstrous sand-hog, a steam-powered war machine bent on recapturing them at all costs. 

Thomas fears the worst. He knows the tyrannical King Williams seeks Mia and her mysterious powers of foresight, but it seems even her gift cannot save the day when the sand-hog corners them. It isn’t until they cross paths with a group of rebels and stumble across rumours of a lost airship that Thomas begins to wonder if there isn’t hope of escape after all…

A steampunk adventure set in a slowly dying land where magic clashes with steam and alchemy.

While I have not yet read THIS book, I have read a number of Ashley Capes’ other books (1-5 in the Books of Never, and The Fairy Wren) and so have no trouble at all suggesting people give this one a read.

Ashley Capes writes adventures with an Indiana Jones feel to them, and there is always something going on. They don’t drag, but move at an easy pace and with just the right amount of poetry in their soul to capture the imagination. The Books of Never are a rollicking series of adventures that follow the eponymous Never and his gaggle of friends on a journey to discover the truth of Never’s past, and having enjoyed it as much as I did, this one has landed squarely on the TBR pile. Ash is also one of the few other contestants I’ve actually met in person and he is right up there on my list of good people to be stuck sitting next to at an all day convention, too.

Dragonshade by Aderyn Wood

This game of thrones will be played by gods. And when the gods play, ancient cities burn…

Prince Sargan is the worst swordsman in all Zraemia. His clumsy performance draws scorn from his uncle, pity from his sister, disappointment from his father, and sniggers from everyone else. 

But soon, Sargan will enter the temple and begin his long-awaited path to the seat of high priest. His brother will one day inherit the throne. His sister will marry. The enemy king will leave them alone. And all will be right with the world.

Unless… the gods change the game. 

And when the gods play, the game turns to war – the Great War.

Ancient prophecies surface, dark enemies rise, new allies emerge, old ones can’t be trusted, magic scorches the earth, reluctant heroes are made, and nothing is ever the same again.

This book earned the place of the book SPFBO most made me want to read. I had heard of it before because my editor worked on this book as well, but it was this bit in the early review by Adam Weller over at Fantasy Book Review that made me want to read it.

I’m more than bit sad to eliminate Dragonshade. This book is exquisitely detailed, with rich characters and a fully-realized setting. Clocking in at 864 pages, Wood takes her time in describing family histories, cultural developments, warrior clans, enemy kingdoms, cutthroat politics, royal hierarchies, prophetic dreams… and even a full chapter dedicated to duck farming. (Full review HERE)

DUCK FARMING! To be able to build such a detailed world that duck farming can have a place alongside the action sounds absolutely delightful and I’m really really looking forward to reading this one.

And there we go! Three books I recommend from the SPFBO pool, though there are so many good books it is hardly enough to do justice to the talent on offer.

I am second last in our series of posts about our favourite SPFBO books, so stay tuned to read Mike Shel’s thoughts tomorrow (now HERE), or head back and check out Barbara Kloss’s post from yesterday, HERE!

SPFBO 2018 Open Letter

An open letter to fantasy fans everywhere

We are the finalists of the 2018 Self Published Fantasy Blog Off, also known as SPFBO 2018. The contest has brought us together from across the globe and the far-flung corners of our favorite genre to celebrate speculative fiction and the possibilities of self-publishing.

We believe that independent publishing is a force for good in our industry. The direct connection between authors and their fans yields greater choice for readers, drives new business models for writers, and helps create new audiences for books. That’s especially true in fantasy, where new subgenres and tropes are rising up thanks to self-published authors and their fans. Independent authors are working alongside traditional publishers and authors to create a bigger, better, and more inclusive fantasy community.

If you’re looking for evidence of the quality and creativity available from independent authors, look no further than our fellow contestants in SPFBO 2018. Many of the judges this year have remarked on the great quality of books they’ve encountered, and the challenge of whittling down their entries to one finalist. Whether you want something epic or intimate, funny or frightening, grim or uplifting, there’s a fantasy book for you among this year’s SPFBO. We encourage you to find it.

To that end, we will take this time to draw attention to some fantastic books cut from this year’s competition. Over the next week, many of us will highlight some of the deserving fantasy novels of SPFBO 2018. It’s a chance to salute other indie authors who could have easily been signing this letter had the die been cast differently. Please consider giving them a shot, or any other entry that caught your eye. When the genre grows, we all win.

In closing, we’d like to thank the indomitable Mark Lawrence for founding this amazing competition and for his continued efforts to highlight independent fantasy authors. We’d also like to thank the contest organizers and judges for their hard work, thoughtful reviews, and consummate professionalism. And finally, we’d like to thank fantasy readers everywhere, without whom we could not pursue our shared passion. This wonderful community makes it all possible, and for that we are forever grateful.

Megan Crewe (www.megancrewe.com)
Angie Grigaliunas (https://www.angiesquill.com/)
Barbara Kloss (www.barbarakloss.com )
Patrick LeClerc (www.inkandbourbon.com)
Devin Madson (www.devinmadson.com)
Steven McKinnon ( www.stevenmckinnon.net )
J. Zachary Pike ( www.jzacharypike.com )
Craig Schaefer (http://craig-schaefer-v2.squarespace.com/)
Mike Shel (https://www.mikeshel.com/ )
Keith Ward (keithwardfiction.com)


I have super duper exciting news! As you can surely tell from the headline of my cleverly-titled post, I am rebranding my first three books to bring them into line with the print quality of the recent series. HURRAH! Now the art on The Vengeance Trilogy covers won’t be changing, they will still feature the beautiful original artwork of Viktor Fetsch representing three characters from the books (Katashi Otako, Malice and Emperor Kin) but Shawn King from STK Kreations has given them fresh life.


This is a project we’ve been working on slowly for quite some time now, since it became apparent that the original versions just wouldn’t hold up against the new ones. As you can see from the images above, the colour at the bottom of each covered too much of the art, especially on The Gods of Vice where the addition of the blue stole much of the detail from Malice. The spines, too, were very flat and overall lacking the punch Shawn has brought to The Reborn Empire and In Shadows We Fall. So it was time for a makeover!

Aaaand the NEW ONES!







Aren’t they beautiful? I am super pleased with how these turned out and owe huge thanks to Shawn for taking the time with them that he did.


So what now?

The ebooks will be switching over in the next couple of days, but there is no difference to the interior so that’s all good.

The original covers will be available in print through all the usual online retailers for about another two weeks or so for anyone who is still desirous of completing a set they might only be halfway through reading/purchasing, but after that we will be making the full switch over and they won’t be available anymore. That will leave the 150 or so sets of original print run books I have (with spot gloss and everything!) the last of their kind and once they are gone I will be shifting over completely to selling only the new ones at conventions as well as online.

So that’s that! NEW COVERS! EXCITEMENT! There will of course be more cover excitement soon with Book 2 of The Reborn Empire, but until then this is here to tide you all over.

There’s so much going on – A News Bulletin!

THERE ARE SO MANY UPDATES that having not posted about them as they turned up, I am now swamped with news. Soooo here it goes! It’s news bulletin time!

Exciting thing number ONE

My first short story will be published in the 17th edition of Grimdark Magazine later this year! This is super exciting for me as I’ve never been a short story writer, the story arcs in my mind tending to be on the… long side. For many years I just assumed my brain was wired for novels and trilogies and epic series, but when I saw the open call for stories at a magazine I respected and enjoyed reading, well… it was time to give it a try.

So look out for my story, A Risk of Malice, in the upcoming edition, which you can be sure I will shout about a lot more closer to the date.

Exciting thing number TWO

We Ride the Storm is the Resident Author Bookclub (RRAWR) book of the month over on r/fantasy this month (July). The link to the announcement page is HERE and the first discussion thread will go up on the 14th/15th July, with a final one at the end of the month. So if you’ve read the book, are reading the book or would like to read the book, now is a great time to share your thoughts with a group of other readers and pepper me with questions. (Not scary at all, I swear…)

Exciting thing number THREE

Speaking of We Ride the Storm, it has been entered in the vaguely annual SPFBO competition (Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off) run by the all sorts of awesome Mark Lawrence. For those who don’t know what that is, you can check out the introduction post HERE, and for those who want the TL;DR version – 300 self published fantasy books, split between 10 bloggers, each choosing a finalist to be scored by all of them to pick an ultimate winner. It’s in its fourth year and has been a roaring success so far, and this year is looking no different.

The cover of We Ride the Storm has also been selected as a finalist in the SPFBO cover competition, YAY! You can check out the other beautiful finalists … HERE 😀

Exciting thing number FOUR

I ran a competition for the super duper subscribers to the Madson Quarterly (otherwise known, quite boringly, as my newsletter). The prize was a signed copy of We Ride the Storm sent anywhere in the world, and all they had to do was email me a suggested name for Dishiva e’Jaroven’s horse. She is a Levanti warrior and to them their horses are everything, so it is as much like asking you to name her best friend. The winner was Matt McAbee with the wonderful name, Itaghai. I really had fun with this competition and look forward to doing more like it as we go along, so keep a look out for that too. And if you’re not a subscriber to the Quarterly, then now is a good time to change that. You can check out all the details HERE.

EXCITING THING NUMBER… wait, no, that’s it for the big announcements for now. I’ve probably missed something, but I’m working so hard on line edits at the moment that my brain is as a perforated-metal-kitchen-implement-that-is-required-to-cook-spaghetti for anything else. Ah well, time is a wasting. I must get back to laughing at my own jokes.


– Devin

We Ride the (Release Day) Storm

Book! Look, it’s a book!


I should try for something more professional than the impulsive squeeing that is going on inside my head, so here we go. It is with great pride, excitement and trepidation that I announce the arrival of We Ride the Storm, the first instalment in my new series The Reborn Empire. For those who have visited The Imperial Expanse of Kisia before in The Vengeance Trilogy or In Shadows We Fall, there will be some familiar ground and characters, and for those who have not they will make you welcome with open, if blood-stained, arms.

I had wanted to tell this story ever since I finished working on The Vengeance Trilogy, because I knew, just KNEW, the direction the world was heading at the end of that series was going to get… interesting (read: bad). I wanted to see the fallout, to explore how small decisions could have big consequences, how kept secrets could fester, and how a world on the brink of social change could either bend or break when force was finally applied. And if it breaks, what will rise from its ashes?



I had no great plan going in, I never do. I knew who I wanted to write about and had a vague sense of their character arcs, and from this vague miasma came a story darker even than I had expected (with promise of still more pain to come) and yet owning more humour and humanity than I had thought possible. And there is still so much journey left to take you on. Rah, Miko, and Cassandra still have a long way to go.

It’s safe to say that I love this book. I laugh out loud at the dialogue even though I wrote it, I cry with the characters even though I know what is coming, and I marvel at the occasional line that even I don’t want to fix. (They are rare. I’m such a perfectionist I don’t know whether my books would ever go to print if my editor didn’t prise them from my hands.)

We Ride the Storm will be followed in March 2019 by We Lie with Death, which will feature the delightful (read: cold, snarky killer) Cassandra on the cover, a picture I just CANNOT WAIT to see. She is a fascinating character and I am sure John Anthony will do her justice with his fantastic work.

We Sing for Blood and We Dream of Gods will follow and conclude the series in March 2020 and March 2021 respectively, though there is always a chance the timing will be brought forward if everything goes well. And there is already a portion of my brain busily working away on what happens after the end of THIS story and how that moves even further into the rest of my world, so there’s plenty more to come.

We Ride the Storm is now available worldwide in ebook and paperback (it makes a very pretty paperback), from wherever you most like to get your books. While it’s easy to get on Amazon and Book Depository etc, if you prefer to shop at a local bookstore you can always ask for it to be ordered in. Prefer to get your books from the library? Why not request your local branch gets a copy? Then it will be available for lots of other people to read and enjoy.

And of course if you read and enjoy then please do consider leaving a review, either where you purchased it or on Goodreads, and just generally shouting at all your fantasy-reading friends about it. Indie books (all books really) live and die by reviews, so even if it’s just a single line and a rating it is much MUCH appreciated.

Ok, now the whole formal promotional thing is done, I can run around squeeing, yeah? And get back to working on the next one of course.


War built the Kisian Empire and war will tear it down. And as an empire falls, three warriors rise.

Caught in a foreign war, Captain Rah e’Torin and his exiled warriors will have to fight or die. Their honour code is all they have left until orders from within stress them to breaking point, and the very bonds that hold them together will be ripped apart.

Cassandra wants the voice in her head to go away. Willing to do anything for peace, the ageing whore takes an assassination contract that promises answers, only the true price may be everyone and everything she knows.

A prisoner in her own castle, Princess Miko doesn’t dream of freedom but of the power to fight for her empire. As the daughter of a traitor the path to redemption could as easily tear it, and her family, asunder.

As an empire dies they will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.

Well that’ll never get old…

It has been almost a week since they read out my name and In Shadows We Fall as the winner of the 2017 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novella and I probably ought to be used to the idea by now, but nope. For someone who can still occasionally be amazed at having kids eight years after the fact, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I’m still grinning to myself at random times. And I don’t think this is ever going to get old. I won a thing. And not just a competition, not just a popularity contest, a legit award judged by a panel of people who know what they are talking about. Someone other than me and my mum thinks my work is worth reading. WOW. Nope… not getting old. (I’m totally grinning right now, I bet you can feel the force of it through the screen. I’m grinning so much it’s bending REALITY).

Sadly I wasn’t able to be there to accept my award in person, but a friend (another Devin, no less!) did an amazing job for me. I laughed all through his rendition of my acceptance speech and after that I might have missed the last few awards on the livestream because I was running around the house screaming. Then my editor called and we were both screaming. (Pretty sure I’ve written plenty about how awesome my editor is, but that might need reiterating again soon)…

So, what’s next? I’m publishing the first book of a new series this year (more on that soon) and will be taking my first steps to shopping yet another new series to agents and publishers. I’m super excited about all of it and look forward to sharing the continuation of this journey with all of you.

In the meantime if you’re interested in an e-copy of my Aurealis Award-winning (Sqqueeeee that will NEVER get old) novella, you can get one my signing up to my quarterly newsletter below. Unless there’s something very exciting going on you will only ever get four emails a year from me full of only the most awesome of awesomeness (still excited).