Shawn C. Speakman, known to many of my readers as the man behind The Signed Page, is a good friend of mine. Beyond that, though, he is a storyteller. Like many of us, Shawn is an aspiring writer, looking to emulate the success of many of his idols (some of whom he also considers friends) and is hard at work on a trilogy titled Battle’s Perilous Edge, with the first novel being called Song of the Fell Hammer. The problem however, according to his blog, is that he has been unsuccessful so far in finding an agent to represent him or a publisher to publish him.


The last two [rejection letters] have been similar. Their underlying theme is best summed up by one of the agent’s quotes:

“Unfortunately, there isn’t anyone here that is looking for epic fantasy at this time.”

This is pretty darn silly if you ask me. Sure, Urban Fantasy is king (or should I say Queen…) at the moment, but that doesn’t mean epic fantasy doesn’t sell. George R.R. Martin, anyone? Too established. Fine, how about Patrick Rothfuss? New writer, epic fantasy and a first person narrative? Terry Brooks’ latest novel was once again a New York Times Bestseller, R.A. Salvatore still sells bucket loads and newcomer Joe Abercrombie seems to be doing pretty well for himself.

But I’m not trying to dig up this argument again. Labeling novels is a pretty useless practice as it is. Every bookstore I’ve walked into has had a Fantasy and a Science Fiction sections; no sub-genres, no distinctions outside of the general genre. A good book is a good book, regardless of what minutiae is thrust upon it by marketers and Internet fanboys.

And a good book is just what Shawn C. Speakman has written. I’m one of the lucky few who has had the chance to read his novel, in fact I was one of the very first, and it baffles me that book industry folk are turning it down and not giving it a fair shake.

Yes, Speakman’s novel, on a superficial level, doesn’t tread a whole lot of new ground. But the way he tackles these genre conventions makes them interesting again and he manages to put his own spin and touch on each of the aspects of the novel. Sound familiar? Yeah, it does to me, too. These are the same types of things that people are saying about Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind (REVIEW), Brian Ruckley’s Winterbirth and David Anthony Durham’s ACACIA: The War with the Mein (REVIEW): all epic fantasies; all treading old ground in new ways; all being led by a young man facing and evil that is threatening the land. On top of all of this, those three novels are three of the most hyped novels of this year….

Huh? Epic Fantasy doesn’t sell? People aren’t reading it?

In a recent Interview, Joe Abercrombie, another author who’s novels take old conventions and make them feel fresh again, had this to say:

Clichés, tropes, whatever you want to call them – they create expectations that help you surprise the reader when you do something differently.

This is exactly where Speakman’s novel excels. Joe then continues (in typical Joe Abercrombie fashion) further on:

Honestly, though, I think uniqueness (if I dare use the word) is sometimes a bit over-rated. Much beloved of critics but perhaps not so much of readers. You can be unique and still be, for want of a better word, shit. A man with an arse for a face is unique, but I don’t know that I’d want to be him. To write an appealing story, I think you need to balance the original with the familiar, and for me, quite small nuances of style and approach can be enough to make some familiar components fascinating all over again. If it’s a choice between the two, I’d much rather be good than unique.

Now, I’m not trying to say that Speakman’s novel is going to be the next breakout success and sell the same amount of copies as The Name of the Wind (seemingly a runaway success), but there is a huge audience for the type of novel that Speakman has written. Abercrombie seems to have his head on straight regarding what it takes to make a successful Fantasy novel. I suppose, in many ways, this aside is more about my frustration with the narrow thinking of publishers at the moment than it is about Shawn’s novel. In any case, let me get back to the point and let you know exactly why I think you should all be reading Song of the Fell Hammer.

Below is an excerpt from my thoughts on the novel when I first read it earlier this year (originally posted on the Official Terry Brooks Forum)

What Shawn has crafted with Song of the Fell Hammer is a story that brings new things to a fantasy field which is quickly growing over-saturated by bland, cliched doorstops with the epic fantasy label. The tale his characters weave tackles themes and questions I’ve yet to run across in the fantasy field.

I’ve thought much on where I would place Shawn in the pantheon of fantasy currently at the top of the fantasy field.It became apparent to me that I would place him in the position currently held by authors such as Robin Hobb, Greg Keyes and Tad Williams. The way he crafts his story, alongside the world he’s created to set it in, falls somewhere in between the Terry Brooks/RA Salvatore/Raymond E. Feist school of story telling, which is a bit lighter (“bubblegum fantasy”, as some would call it), and the Steven Erikson/George RR Martin camp of gritty medieval-fantasy. I feel this is an area of fantasy currently dominated by the three authors I have place Shawn beside. Song of the Fell Hammer blends easily accessible characters and setting of Terry Brooks with the gritty story filled with the controversial themes covered by George RR Martin.

One can’t speak of Song of the Fell Hammer without looking at the impact religion plays on the story. Shawn tackles the concepts of organized religion in a way that I haven’t seen any other author do it. He paints the church as neither good nor evil and consistently shows us the many facets of organized religion. Throughout the story he never lets the reader come to any conclusions about whether the church, and even the many different characters that populate the story, will end up on the side of the protagonist or not, but the reader will be sure to flip flop many times throughout their time reading.

Everybody on the Internet seems to either have a friend working on a novel, or is working on a novel of their own. Manuscripts (especially in-progress ones) are a dime a dozen. So, I understand that my friendship with Shawn probably means that no matter what I say people will always just consider that I have a bias for Shawn and his novel. So don’t listen to me. Check out his web site and find out for yourself. Read his excerpt chapters, take a look at his overall synopsis/vision for the trilogy (the second novel is already in the works) and read his blog where he talks about the trials of trying to become a published author.

If you like what you read, if you want to see more, send him an email. Let him know that you’re one among many who want to see his novel on store shelves. Anyone with a shred of nostalgia for epic fantasy, anyone who enjoys controversial themes and grey characters, and anyone who would consider themselves a fan of Raymond E. Feist, Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore, Greg Keyes, Tad Williams, Patrick Rothfuss, etc… should check out his excerpts.

I don’t think you’ll be disappointed… unless it doesn’t find a publisher.

Disclaimer: This article is completely unsolicited by Shawn C. Speakman. In fact, he has no idea I’m writing it. He’ll probably be pissed when he reads it, but it’s something I wanted to spread the word about, so…

  • Shawn Speakman October 11, 2007 at 7:13 am

    I just found it, Aidan. haha

    One of your readers signed up for my Newsletter and since I always ask how people find me, I found out right quick.

    Thank you for the kind words about the novel. They are appreciated. Fell Hammer has been greatly tightened up since you read it, with a few more twists thrown in, but overall it is the same book.

    And ironically, two publishers asked for it this week almost at the same time. So that is encouraging. At least my query letter and ties to the industry are giving people interest. I just want to be read; if an editor doesn’t like it based on the merits of the book, that is solely fine. But at least let it be read without rancor or bias for a sub-genre that helped build the commercial foundation of the overall fantasy section in the bookstore.

    Anyway, cool to see you posting so much on here. I like the little home you’ve burrowed yourself into. Good writing, clear, and concise. I wonder what you have up your sleeve in the future…

    Best wishes to you in Canada!

  • The Book Swede October 11, 2007 at 8:13 am

    I had the pleasure of visiting Shawn’s site the other day, and I was really impressed by it. A good site, and very detailed info on everything a publisher would want and need.

    Nice post you did, here :)

    The Book Swede

  • Tia Nevitt October 11, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    It was lovely of you to do this for your friend. I went to his site earlier today and I mean to pay another visit.

  • Graeme October 12, 2007 at 2:21 am

    It seems to me what Shawn needs in his book is a kick-ass half vampire private eye (female) with man troubles, publishers will be beating down his door! ;o)
    Seriously though, I’ve read some of Shawn’s stuff and it amazes me that publishers would rather make money off authors who aren’t that good (but are established)than take a chance on someone who is actually really good…
    Good luck Shawn, I reckon you’ll make it :o)

  • Robert October 12, 2007 at 5:19 am

    What a wonderful article Aidan! Shawn was one of the first to reach out and offer his support to me when I started Fantasy Book Critic, so for that he earned my gratitude and respect. After learning everything that he contributes to the fantasy community as a webmaster, a writer and The Signed Page, he earned my respect even more. So Shawn, I know it’s just words, but never lose hope, stay focused, stay passionate, stay positive, and your time will come :) Much love & respect…

  • jkdr97 October 12, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    I have read the excerpts of Shawn’s book and truly loved them. I personally feel it is a cop out for the publishers to deny him due to “the fantasy genre not selling”. How frustrating! Here’s to hoping it gets published REAL soon!

  • Shawn Speakman October 13, 2007 at 8:14 am

    Thank you all for the very kind — and wholly unnecessary — words about my project. I hope you guys get a chance to read it — in paperback, trade paperback, hardcover… I don’t care!

    Book Swede: I got your email. Thanks! I’ll be writing you back soon.

    Graeme: The sad thing is, I do in fact have a contemporary fantasy/urban fantasy in mind that involves Seattle, Ireland, and the fey world found in Arthurian tales. The story would have the same feel as Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist, just a bit longer. I have three books planned for that series as well, all the books stand alone. I wish I had started with that one now. haha

    But you bring up a great point, Graeme. I sneakily have access to sales numbers, and there are three or four authors who I know I can sell better; I know I will sell more hardcovers in that first week then they sell the entire year of their release. Knowledge like that can be very frustrating. I just hope I get a chance to prove it.

    Robert: I love this genre and I love the people that make it up. That might sound very Barney-esque, but I sincerely care about this genre and its readers. Speculative fiction offers a grand canvas for philosophical and scientific expansion, and that’s what I love about it. Reaching out might be odd considering the stereotype of the fantasy reader is one of closeted shyness, but I guess we all can’t fit under that stereotype, now can we? haha And thanks for the kind words, always.

    jkdr97: I’d have to say you are my first groupie! You are everywhere. haha Like I said above, it is words like yours — although unnecessary — that really help me push forward and not forget the reason I am doing this: To be read and entertain people.

  • aidan October 13, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    Shawn: I only hope that this article reaches the right eyes. I know I have a terrific group of readers (some of which include those already in the industry) and I hope that I can lead them to discover just what you’re putting together. The more people who get in on the ground floor the better!

    Chris, Tia: It’s nice to know that you’ve found Shawn’s site. Drop me an email and let me know what you thought of it! Support from bloggers like you two could be a big boon for Shawn’s carrer.

    Graeme: How do you know he doesn’t have “a kick-ass half vampire private eye (female) with man troubles”? It is silly that they’re almost prerequisites to have a novel picked up these days, though.

    Robert, jkdr97: I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who’s passionately interested in helping Shawn get his novel (and trilogy) published.

  • The Book Swede October 14, 2007 at 1:26 am

    Aidan: I’ve always been quite interested in things like this, so when Shawn drops me that email, I’ll ask him if I can do anything to help :)

    I’ve recently done a review of a book by Mayer Alan Brenner, a Daw author from the late 80s to early 90s who’s books were finally dropped. He was kind enough to send them out to me, and they’re fabulous. Truly excellent. He’s trying to get them republished and get publisher attention via his website, so yes, helping out like that is something very dear to my heart.


  • Shawn Speakman October 14, 2007 at 7:36 am


    Ironically, Mayer Alan Brenner came up with the same idea I have. Read the email I just sent you, Graeme, and Robert, and we’ll see if we can’t have some fun with this.


  • Patrick October 14, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    This coming from a guy who has a collection of well over 100 rejection letters over the years (I should tally the number, just for the heck of it), all I can say is hang in there!

    It’s frustrating, especially if you know the market and you’re aware that you have something good. But there’s very little one can do…

    I’m fortunate enough to have one of the biggest agents in the SFF field, a terrific manuscript (so say a lot of people!), I’m a well-known figure in the SFF circles thanks to the blog, and still editors appear reticent to give this epic fantasy tale a chance.

    Matt Bialer (my agent) has told me that a lot of fantasy epics have failed in terms of commercial success in recent years. Hence, editors are not as eager as they once were to buy the rights of such books. Ten years ago, it was virtually impossible for something like that not to work. Now it is. Matt appears quite baffled that he hasn’t yet been able to sell my manuscript, especially since those editors who turned it down actually liked the story.

    But authors like Stephen R. Donaldson and Steven Erikson had such a hard time getting their series published, and look where they are now!

    So the wait continues. . .

  • Shawn Speakman October 15, 2007 at 7:21 am

    Patrick, you are absolutely right.

    But here is what I’d LOVE to know:

    If the editors who are turning down a book are fearful of recent fantasy epics failing, I want to know what those books are that they deem failed. I want examples. Because in each case, I bet it has nothing to do with the sub-genre of epic fantasy but how it is packaged, marketed, and edited.

    So whose fault is that?

    A publishing company can’t buy an epic fantasy after a huge bidding war, allow the book and following books to have deux ex machina at every climax, slap EPIC FANTASY OF THE YEAR on the book cover, and expect a very smart fan base not to see through the attempt at marketing crap.

    These people who read are smart, very smart. And it is quite simple to send a message by not buying the book.

    It may appear people don’t like epic fantasy anymore; but the truth is they don’t like epic fantasy that is done poorly. I know I don’t.

    The example I gave above is real, it happened, and the guy is lucky to sell 2000 in hardcover after six books of publishing.

    And like you, Patrick, I have 2000 people who would buy my book in the first week alone, more than likely. So why does a publisher keep publishing an author who sells so poorly over a prospective writer who has connections to thousands of fantasy reading fans who will probably sell better?

    Matt should be baffled. It makes no sense.

    Fear runs this industry and I have the mantra of Frank Herbert going through my mind over and over and over again…

  • Shawn Speakman October 15, 2007 at 7:23 am

    Maybe we’ll get to change that, Patrick; perhaps we’ll buck the imagined trend and make publishers feel comfortable about epic fantasy again.

  • The Book Swede October 15, 2007 at 8:20 am

    Good luck, both :) I have your e-mail, Shawn, just replied…

    I also find it strange that they’re less willing to accept Epic Fantasy. I’ve heard quite a few people say the same. I have a special fondness for Orbit, but I’d imagine they’re the same.

    Good luck, and I’m happy to help, as I say in the e-mail :D

  • Patrick October 15, 2007 at 11:13 am

    I don’t necessarily think that publishers are afraid of epic fantasy. It’s just that urban fantasy is the fad now, and those “slimmer” books cost less to produce and get written more rapidly.

    Like it or not, if I was acquiring manuscripts, I’d take the easy road to making more money. People must not forget that this is a business…

    Having said that, it does suck!;-)

  • Shawn Speakman October 15, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Yes, it is a business. :) And I want to make that business money.

    I know paranormal romance and urban fantasy are the “fad” right now, but poor sales in one sub-genre make people afraid; the bottom-line of those failed projects makes people afraid. People fear losing their jobs. So there, we differ.

    But we agree: It sucks.

    And I know you’ll get picked up. I’ll be hearing back from a publisher within the next 10 days or so from what I’ve been told. Just gotta keep going…

    … in the meantime, I am outlining my urban fantasy. By the time it’s finished, the publishing pendulum will have swung toward fairy tales or something. ;)

  • aidan October 15, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    Ahh, don’t we know it, Shawn! I’m also working on an Urban Fantasy and I’m sure by the time I’m done with it publishers and editors will tell me that it doesn’t sell!

    Nice to see you drop by, Pat! Maybe, if you’re interested, you could give Shawn’s novel a look. We all know how much a good word from you can mean in the SF/F world!

  • jkdr97 October 17, 2007 at 9:52 am

    I don’t know if being a groupie is good or bad?! I only hope that the publishers give your book a chance so I can read the darn thing.

    Best of luck and hope to hear soon that you got GOOD news!


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