Twenty Must-read Indie Fantasy & Science Fiction Novels – An Introduction to Self-Published Books Worth a Look

My name is Michael J. Sullivan. I was asked by The Ranting Dragon to create a list introducing readers to some of the best self-published speculative fiction. For those who don’t know, I myself have roots in self-publishing, and have earned my place on io9’s Most Successful Self-Published Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors list. I sold 70,000 books (across five titles) of my Riyria Revelations from April 2009 – August 2011 before signing with a big-six publisher. Orbit (fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group) re-released my six books as a trilogy consisting of Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, and Heir of Novron.

Before I introduce the books I’m recommending, I’d like to take just a moment to talk about some misconceptions regarding modern self-publishing, because understanding the publishing landscape explains that these self-published authors are just as professional as those published traditionally, and did not choose this route because they couldn’t get signed by a “real” publisher. Self-publishing in 2012 offers authors a compelling option, and many have either not submitted their work or have turned down lucrative contracts with six-figure advances because they want to self-publish. Nowadays, there are many professional self-published authors, employing the same quality and techniques as a traditional publisher. These people approach writing as a career and operate like any other start-up. On average, they actually outperform their traditionally published counterparts. This is why many authors choose to remain independent.

Why is self-publishing so different in 2012 than it was even a few years ago? The big answer comes down to distribution. In the past, when brick and mortar stores dominated the book business, it was nearly impossible for self-published novels to make it onto store shelves. Once book buying moved online and e-readers grew in popularity, authors could now use Amazon, Apple’s iBook store, and Barnes and Noble to reach readers directly. By breaking the barriers to distribution, self-publishing now offers a whole new opportunity.

With so many self-publishing advantages, many authors take a hybrid approach, releasing books both traditionally and through self-publishing. There are authors like myself who used their self-publishing success to garner a traditional publishing career, as well as those abandoning traditional publishing in search of greater control and higher income. You’ll see a number of the authors on the list that fall into this hybrid category, and I suspect the trend will continue.

I hope my list helps you find some great new books from talented authors who deserve all the success they have achieved. You’ll notice in some of my recommendations are indications of the number of books these authors have sold. We all know that top authors sell millions of copies, but what most people don’t realize is that a typical novel will only sell five to ten thousand books over its entire time in print. Several indie authors sell this much in just one month.

So without further ado, enjoy the list!

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1. My Blood Approves by Amanda Hocking
Without question, Amanda is one of the biggest superstars of the self-publishing movement. She is now a hybrid author (her Trylle series was republished by St. Martin’s Press and she sold her new Watersong books for a two million dollar advance). She is also one of the few authors who have sold more than a million copies for the Amazon Kindle. Her Blood Approves series remains self-published and I recommend trying at least the first book in that series. The book is a young adult paranormal romance involving a love triangle between a seventeen-year-old girl and two vampire brothers.
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2. Wool Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey
The first Wool book was a novelette of just 12,000 words that quickly took on a life of its own. Faced with tremendous reader demand, Hugh wrote four more installments and my recommended title combines these in a single volume. Wool is a dystopian science fiction story where mankind has been forced underground and talk of the outside world is forbidden. The movie rights have been optioned by Ridley Scott, and Random House will traditionally publish editions of Wool for the UK market.
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3. A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish
David is a prolific indie author and actually has four series and several short story collections. You really couldn’t go wrong with any of his series: Half Orc, Shadowdance, Watcher’s Blade, and The Paladins. I selected this title, book one of the Shadowdance series, because I love tales about master assassins. I found the story arc of the main character, who breaks free of his birthright and ends up protecting the women he was sent to kill, an engaging read.
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4. Blood Song by Anthony Ryan
Ryan’s Blood Song has been out for less than six months but has already proven itself to be a title worthy to sit on any “favorite fantasy” shelf. Like many indie titles, this work is highly underpriced (currently $2.99)—but snatch it up quickly, as fantasy imprint ACE has purchased the series, and I’m sure its re-release will raise that price. This book has it all: a great coming-of-age theme, a compelling main character, and a fast-paced plot. The book explores the themes of conflict, loyalty and religious faith. I liked it so much that I even provided a promotional quote.
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5. Moon Dance by J.R. Rain
J.R. Rain was the first indie author to crack the Amazon Top 100 list with a title priced higher than $2.99. Even more impressive, all five books in the series have made the list, a task not easily achieved. In Moon Dance, we are introduced to Samantha Moon, who is balancing life as a soccer mom and a career as a federal agent. When she is attacked and turned into a vampire, she quits her job, becomes a PI, and is hired to investigate an attempted murder on a client who has his own paranormal secrets.
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6. Amber Magic by B.V. Larson
Another prolific indie author, B.V. Larson has more than twenty books released and has found great success in both fantasy and science fiction. His series include Star Force, Imperium, Haven, Hyborean Dragons, and Seeker. Amber Magic is the first in the Haven series, which centers around nine jewels of power, each represented by a different form of magic. As of December of 2011, he has sold more than 250,000 books and will soon be a hybrid author, having signed a contract with Amazon’s 47North imprint.
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7. Mageborn: The Blacksmith’s Son by Michael G. Manning
Another author who has hit Amazon’s Top 100 list with a higher priced book is Michael G. Manning. He has three books in this series and all are routinely at the top of the Epic Fantasy Best Seller list (usually the first non-George R.R. Martin titles). He has sold more than 100,000 copies across two titles. In this first installment, we follow Mordecai’s tale, a simple blacksmith’s son transformed by the discovery of his magic birthright.
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8. To Kill a Warlock by H.P. Mallory
H.P. Mallory has two paranormal romance series: Dulcie O’Neil and Jolie Wilkins. As of July 2011, she has sold more than 200,000 copies, and while the first books in her Jolie Wilkins series remain self-published, Random House has contracted for several books. In my recommended book, we are introduced to Dulcie, a fairy who works in law enforcement monitoring creatures of the Netherworld and preventing them from wreaking havoc on mortals.
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9. Star Soldier by Vaughn Heppner
Vaughn Heppner is another prolific author with more than 30 science fiction, historic fiction, and fantasy books released. Series include Doom Star, Lost Civilization, Ark Chronicles, Lod Saga, and the Knights trilogy. I chose to highlight Star Soldier because it’s the first book of his that caught my eye and is the first book of one of his most popular series. Star Soldier is based in a techno hell filled with thought police and super soldiers created in gene labs.
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10. The Sword and the Dragon by M.R. Mathias
M.R. Mathias has two fantasy series released: The Wardstone Trilogy and the Dragoneers Saga. Both were deemed great enough to make Fantasy Book Critics’ Top 10 Independent Novels of 2010, and he has sold nearly 250,000 copies as of June 2012. The title I’m recommending is an epic fantasy with all the tropes of the genre: dragons, elves, wizards, giants, dwarves and all the rest. It follows two main threads and tells a traditional fantasy tale with some nice twists.
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11. The Big Bad Wolf Romance Compilation by Heather Killough-Walden
Technically speaking, the New York Times doesn’t allow self-published books but a few indie authors have snuck on. Heather is one of those, with The Spell, May 2011. I’ve selected the omnibus version which provides the entire series for one low price. The first book, The Heat, tells the tale of a girl being fought over by two werewolves. This book is sexy, daring, and action packed from start to finish. Heather is a hybrid author, also published by Penguin, and has sold more than 400,000 copies through self-publishing.
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12. The Book of Deacon by Joseph Lallo
Joseph sold more than 7,000 books in the month of April 2012, but even more impressive is the high ratings he has received. All three books of the trilogy are released and he also has a few standalone novels. The book I selected tells the tale of Myranda Celeste, a young woman, orphaned by a century long war, who makes a discovery that changes her life and sends her on an adventure of soldiers and rebels, wizards and warriors, and beasts both noble and monstrous.
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13. Taming Fire by Aaron Pogue
This recently completed trilogy is a staple on the Epic Fantasy and Magic and Wizards Best Seller lists. In this first book, we follow Daven Carrickson, who begins life as a beggar and the son of a thief. We follow his journey as he develops his skills both with a sword and magic. Just as it looks like he’ll escape his past, he finds himself wanted for treason and murder. To help other authors, Aaron has also formed The Consortium, a company which is trying a new model for publishing based on the patronage model of the Renaissance period.
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14. The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker
Lindsay has released two series: Emperor’s Edge and Flash Gold. I selected this title because it is one of the highest rated Historical Fantasy books on Amazon. It tells the tale of Amaranthe Lokdon, who is an Imperial law enforcer that is generally good at what she does. When a plot to kill the emperor is uncovered she is assigned to hunt down one of the empire’s most notorious assassins. Lindsay turned down a contract from 47North to remain self-published.
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15. First Contact by Michael R. Hicks
Michael’s In Her Name series has sold close to 100,000 copies as of March 2012. Broken down into three trilogies, the first two are completed and the first book of the third trilogy was recently released. This space opera combines elements of both science fiction and fantasy. The book I selected follows Ichiro Sato, a young midshipman who joined the crew of starship Aurora to escape his tyrannical father. Aurora ends up making humanity’s first contact with a sentient alien species.
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16. Blood of Requiem by Daniel Arenson
Daniel has released two series (Song of Dragons, Misfit Heroes) and a number of standalone titles. He recently sold his 100,000th book and usually has multiple titles on the Epic Fantasy Best Sellers list. This first book introduces the kingdom of Requiem, a land where men could grow scales, sprout wings, and take flight as dragons. Their civilization was lost, hunted to near extinction by a tyrant, and this book will determine if they will be snuffed out completely or once more become dragons and defend their way of life.
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17. The Kinshield Legacy by K.C. May
K.C. May has two books and a short story released and also recently passed the 100,000 copy mark (April 2012). This book has earned more than 100 4- and 5-star reviews, and chronicles the story of Gavin Kinshield, a reluctant hero in search of answers to his past, present, and future. May weaves an engaging tale with a satisfying conclusion that sets the stage for the next book.
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18. Fated by Carolyn McCray
One of the founders of the Indie Book Collective, Carolyn McCray leads by example and demonstrates how savvy marketing can help an author find an audience. She has several books released and reported sales of over 13,000 for the month of March 2012. Fated is a historical romance with a paranormal twist. Set in ancient Rome, it tells an alternate history version of Caesar’s demise told from Brutus’ perspective.
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19. Last of the Chosen by Lawrence P. White
The three books Lawrence P. White has written have received mostly 4 and 5 star reviews from over 630 reviewers. The most recent book is receiving rave reviews and bestselling status. This space opera is an engaging mixture of science, military, and human interest where an Empire spanning hundreds of thousands of civilizations is invaded by the Chessori. These diminutive creatures wield a powerful mind weapon impossible to resist. One word of caution—the first book does end in a cliff-hanger, but the next is readily available and economically priced.
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20. A Galaxy Unknown by Thomas DePrima
Thomas DePrima’s Galaxy Unknown series currently has eight books released and has sold over 140,000 copies mostly priced at $5.99. Exploring a time-honored traditional trope of a young ensign who is suddenly catapulted into command, this book might be a bit rougher in the editorial department than some of the others. I’ve included it because many have found it to be an entertaining, action-packed read, and successive books in the series have been bestsellers, proving that it has found an enthusiastic audience.
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Are you a reader of indie fantasy? Do you agree with the list? Do you know of any books I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

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23 comments

  1. Thanks for the inclusion Michael. Rathbone, Prior, and Bielawski are great indie fantasy writers too.

  2. Michael Sullivan

    I just wanted to say that there were a lot of fine and excellent authors that were on my short list of “near misses.” Some I have read and some others are based on well-earned reputation. It’s difficult to narrow down to just 20 and while I’m sure I’m still going to leave off some great people I would like to also give a nod to: Brian Rathbone, Moses Siregar III, David A. Wells, Kristian Alva, T.B. Christensen, Brock Deskins, Brondt Kamffer, P.S. Power, B. Justin Shier, Toby Neighbors and many many more

  3. excellent choices! I’ve even read some and have some on my TBR already.

  4. Excellent rundown of the top-selling authors in indie fantasy and scifi. Thanks for the mention in the comments, Michael.

    If it’s all right, I’d also like to plug some great indie authors who haven’t had as much luck on the bestseller lists yet (but deserve to be there, IMO): Ben S. Dobson, Mike Vasich, D.P. Prior, D.T. Conklin, David H Burton, A.E. Marling, J.L. Bryan, Valmore Daniels, Steve Umstead, Robert Duperre, Annie Bellet, David McAfee, A.R. Williams, Vera Nazarian, and Leah Petersen being some of my favorites. That’s a long list, but I promise you they’re all very good.

  5. And I’m going to try a test comment, to see if I can figure out the best way to post on this blog.

  6. Many thanks for the spot on the list! Is it weird that I’m nearly as proud that my cover was picked to be part of the banner, too?

    •  Haha, you should be! I usually use the first three or four covers for a banner, but with the quality of some of those covers, I simply picked the prettiest ones. ;)

    • Haha, you should be! I usually use the first three or four covers for a
      banner, but with the quality of some of those covers, I simply picked
      the prettiest ones. ;)

  7. Speaking of cover art. If you want to see the NEW The Sword and the Dragon cover, just go the Amazon page via the link above. I can get away with telling you how awesome it is because I had no part in making it…lol

  8. Thanks for including Emperor’s Edge on your list, Michael! I hope you’re rocking things over there with Orbit! :) 

  9. It pleases me to know that I have some of the novels listed here, and knowing that they’re held in such high regard makes me want to read them even more. It can be really hit-or-miss when it comes to self-pub or indie-pub books these days, so I’m always a little bit wary, but some of them just looked so good that I couldn’t miss the chance to at least give them a try!

  10. Thank you so much for including my book in your must-read list! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

  11. There are definitely some good books on that list, though I’d have to say that I disagree with the inclusion of Moon Dance as I found it to not be a well crafted as it could have been and the characters not as engaging.

    I’d have included Frank Tuttle (though he now publishes through Samhain I believe), Maria Schneider for her Urban Fantasy Under Witch Moon and her straight fantasy Dragons of Wendal as well as Jeannette Cottrel’s Unicorn on Speed Dial.

    Thank you for highlighting self published authors, many work long and hard to craft engaging books and to create enticing covers and do most, if not all, their own PR.

  12. This is an awesome list and a great service to the reading community. I had no idea that a lot of these books existed, or that they were worth a shot, but now have listed several on my TBR pile and it has helped make me MUCH more open to indie authors. Seriously, thanks so much!

  13. Thank you for this excellent list.  Many of your chosen novels I’ve actually read or are on my TBR list.  I also thank you, as a self-published author, for your comments regarding the new realities of the publishing world.  Many of us have chosen this path deliberately as you say and I believe that many more, both new and old, will choose this path in the future.

  14. How many of the books were published by your wife’s company?

    •  Not sure if any of them were.  I know the HP Mallory was self-published as is the one by Amanda Hocking (I’ve read her “Hollowlands” and it’s usually free.  Good book.  Some flaws, but minor — it’s a page turner and has good characterization.)  The HP Mallory is basically a romance with paranormal characters.  It wasn’t my  thing for several reasons, but it enjoyed quite a bit of popularity.   I know David Daglish is independent of any publisher.  I haven’t tried the one listed above, but did start his first “epic” fantasy.  It had too many POV switches for my taste and head-hopping, but that is a personal preference on my part. 

  15. Great list, Michael! I’m humbled to have been included. There are some very nice people on this list as well, and I count myself fortunate to have been able to interact with a few of them.

  16. Wool, Emperor’s Edge, and Last of the Chosen are amazing! I’m so excited to try out some of the others. (and I LOVE your books too Michael, so I trust your judgment)

  17. MAXIS by JT Schepise is a fun read, I haven’t read the sequel but it’s out too. Popular over in Asia but its in English.

  18. I don’t see mine on there… Haha, just kidding ;) anyway, The Dreamers by Oliver Dahl – http://www.amazon.com/The-Dreamers-Story-Kullen-ebook/dp/B006PU2ING/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

  19. As an Indy author myself, I totally agree with what you are saying. Lots of people skip over Indy books because they think the quality will be inferior. Sometimes it is. But with the ebook boom, now people can preview a book without worrying about wasting money if it turns out to be crap.

    Speaking of books that people probably don’t want to waste their money on, here’s mine:

    http://www.amazon.com/Bitten-Resurrection-Thriller-Tristan-Vick/dp/1477566368/ref=la_B005359NBO_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1350171097&sr=1-1

    Just kidding. Actually, one of the reasons I chose to self-publish is because I am a hybrid writer. Nobody wanted to publish the types of stories I like to write. Stories which mix genres. My zombie novel is a blend of horror, hard sci-fi, with a scattering romance throughout, and a bit of pulp.

    Self publishing allowed me to write the book I wanted to write. It allowed me the freedom to tell the kind of stories I like to tell.

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