15 Nov 2019

A Commentary on Book Reviewers and Target Markets

Hello readers!

I am pleased to announce that I have received my first proof copy of the Fallen Love paperback! Now, I won’t be sharing any photos yet, as some things did go wrong—the colour management software messed up the colours on the cover. I have corrected the problems, and ordered another proof, which will arrive next week. I promise to show you photos then ;)

At the moment, I am planning on releasing the paperback version at approximately the same time as the ebook—on December 15th—though it may be available a few days after that date (Amazon has to check everything and ensure quality). I am working through any kinks before I hit the publish button.

I am also devising a launch-strategy in co-operation with my marketing consultant. At the moment, I think I will be relying heavily on Amazon advertising, which, in 2019, seems to be the best bet for getting book sales. I have excluded BookBub promotions as I will be releasing Fallen Love exclusively to Amazon (and the Vampire Eirik, being a short story, is also unlikely to be selected). Facebook advertising is a possibility, but its extreme complexity—and personal doubts about whether Facebook users will actually buy my books, as opposed to just following my personal “brand”—leaves it second choice.

On Reviews...

In any case, the subject of this blog post is actually something else: book reviews. Some of you may know that, a few weeks ago, I submitted my book to a site called BookSirens. The jury is still out at the moment, but I have a feeling I will withdraw Fallen Love from their platform.

Why? To put it one way, they’ve got the wrong bloody readers. Let’s start with some statistics: the company claims they can show my book to about 1250 readers. As of today, they’ve shown it about 1400 times. I managed 216 clicks out of that (a remarkable CTR) but only 10 readers have actually chosen to review the book. This suggests that I have an excellent cover, but that readers aren’t converting after the initial click.

And this is probably because of genre. To put it bluntly, their reviewers read some weird crap; I’m talking really niche, genre fiction—alien romance, the omega/alpha shifter stuff, etc. It’s the kind of fiction that has a hardcore following of readers, who will gobble up anything in the genre, but don’t much like anything else.

Then there are the reviewers who read the wrong genres, but are mistakenly lumped together with a totally different bunch of readers. No other category better exemplifies this than romance. One of these reviewers enjoys regency romance a lot—a sub-genre that might has the words “romance” in it, but has bugger all to do with Fallen Love. For those of you who don’t know: regency romance is full of tropes about manly earls and plump maids, and they’re usually set in Victorian (or perhaps Georgian) England.

I have nothing against people who read regency romance, of course (whatever floats your boat and all that). But I definitely will criticise regency romance as a social force: these books embody the worst kinds of social values—the words heteronormative and patriarchal only scratch the surface. They’re retrograde and rose-tinted as well; they portray Victorian England as a pleasantly romantic place, but the truth is, the Victorians were dirty, sick, poor—and bigoted.

I didn’t write a futuristic fantasy novel about two gay characters just so I could have it reviewed by people who think the effing Victorians were cool.

What About Targeting?

You may be wondering what this has to do with ads, and the aforementioned strategy. Actually, the relationship is very fundamental. The trick with reviews is the same trick as with ads—you have to identify your target audience, and hone in on it.

For example: the people who have liked my books so far have loved Cassandra Clare’s books as well. This is exactly what I expected. Cassie’s books are similar to my own, not in a superficial way—aside from the genre, they don’t really share all that many archetypes or worldbuilding features—but in more in the kind of stories we write. I’m so confident of this similarity that I’m willing to spend a fair amount of ad money targeting Cassandra Clare’s fans.

Another one of my reviewers read Eragon, which is, again, one of my favourite books. Other authors that I think would make excellent targets are:

  1. Lauren Kate, author of the Fallen & Rapture series.
  2. Becca Fitzpatrick, author of Hush, Hush.
  3. Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse books.
  4. Patricia Briggs, author of the Mercy Thompson books.
  5. Karen Marie Moning, author of Darkfever.
  6. Jeaniene Frost, author of the Night Huntress books.
  7. Alexandra Adornetto, author of the Halo books.

Obviously, this list will be whittled down—I’ll run various ads, and choose the ones which perform best. Nevertheless, you can see the connections here: these are all urban fantasy books. Some of these have gay characters—Charlaine Harris is famous for this, and I think Jeaniene wrote some gay characters too. And I should also add that quite a few of these books are multi-million copy bestsellers.

What don’t you see on this list?

  1. Bodice-rippers, regency romance, M/M shifter books, contemporary gay novels. Nope, none of that has anything to do with my book.
  2. Dystopian scifi like the Hunger Games. I like dystopian well enough, but my book is not actually a dystopian novel! I will be explaining this in a later blogpost.

The trick, then, is to target in such a way that’s not too broad, but also not too niche. The problem with niche readers, as I’ve argued, is that they only want to read the same, familiar stories. The problem with broad targeting is that you will be selling to readers who don’t have a huge amount in common with what you write.

Okay, that’s enough from me, folks! Till next time.

8 Nov 2019

A Brief Essay Regarding Epic Fantasy

Hello readers!

Today I am sharing a brief essay (or perhaps “musing” is a more accurate description) regarding some trends I’ve observed in the epic fantasy genre over the past couple of years. Although Fallen Love is an urban fantasy novel, my first novel, the Necromancer, was definitely in this genre. It’s still my all-time favourite genre, as both reader and writer, and one I care very deeply about.

Thinking Big and Small

One of the trends I’ve observed in many epic fantasy books over the years is a tendency to go bigger and bigger: the world has to be bigger, the plot lines must be increasingly far-fetched, and the characters have to be bigger to accomodate the increase in bigness. Likewise, the word count of many epic fantasy books is becoming increasingly ridiculous—well-established authors are the big culprits, but even less well-known authors write manuscripts in excess of 150,000 words.

Guys, it’s time to dial it down a bit. Writing a 6-book series at 150,000 words a pop isn’t going to produce a better story. The great Scottish poet Robert Burns was praised for his ability to capture everything from the magnificence of a landscape, to the relationship between husbands and wives, all the way down to the life of a mouse. This is something that, as fantasy authors, we should try to emulate.

I’m not saying epic fantasy shouldn’t contain great battles, mighty dragons, or terrifying dark wizards. It wouldn’t be epic fantasy if it didn’t have the magic ingredients. But I also want to read about the little things in life—the wonder of a young boy as he discovers magic; a sweet romance; or the snappy comeback of an annoyed teenager. Heck, I even enjoy seeing the occasional joke in a fantasy book.

Speaking of Jokes...

Seriously, why is fantasy so dark these days? I enjoy a well-written grimdark novel as much as the next dude, but I also want to read fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Not in the sense that it can’t be serious literature—I do want to read about death, loss, politics, love and hope—but in the sense that it doesn’t have to show us gore, profanity, and bad sex to do it. (I enjoy a book with good, passionate sex in it, which is rare in an epic fantasy novel.)

Heroes and anti-heroes

This is another area where epic fantasy needs to wake up and do something different. The first fantasy books—ye olde fantasy by the likes of Tolkien, Le Guin, later Eragon and the Belgariad—popularised the trope of the hero. This hero is male (nearly always), young-ish, and a do-gooder.

Then a new wave of fantasy came along. The old heroes were deemed “cliché”, and they invented the anti-hero in his stead. The anti-hero is usually male, but sometimes female. The men are rough, violent, and not afraid of a little dirty work; the women are usually dagger- or magic-wielding super-assassins (yes, I’m looking at you, Mark Lawrence). The anti-hero can be found in most of today’s grimdark books by the likes of Joe Abercrombie, Richard K Morgan, and GRR Martin.

The anti-hero has become even more of a cliché than the hero was, I would argue. Or at least, the anti-heroes are not always as interesting as they are supposed to be. They suffer from the same problem as the heroes: lack of variety. The anti-heroes nearly always seem to be manly warriors or femme-fatales, and to my mind there are a lot of unexplored possibilities. What about dark magicians trying to do the right thing? Strong kings who gained their power through violence, but have to try and unite the nation against a much greater outside evil? What about arrogant elves who end up trying to save humans? Rebellious angels?

Show us imagination

This is my conclusion, and my advice to fellow fantasy writers: fantasy is about imagination. Let’s see more of it!

5 Nov 2019

The Vampire Eirik is Available for Pre-Order

Hello readers!

I am happy to announce that my upcoming short story, the Vampire Eirik, is now available for pre-order on Amazon and Smashwords (with more retailers coming soon). You can buy the book for 99 cents, or you can head over to the “Free Stuff” page, sign up to the mailing list with the link, and get it for FREE!

Fallen Love, meanwhile, will be available on the 15th December, and will also go on pre-order within the next week or so. I’ve been fighting with Smashwords to get my epub accepted into the premium catalogue, as epubcheck (a stupid automated check) kept flagging up errors—and before you ask, the epub file was working perfectly. I had to rebuild the table of contents (toc.ncx) and change the epub version in Calibre. Amazon accepted my original epub without issue, naturally.

There are formatting differences between the ebook on the different stores, but the content is the same. If you decide to buy it on Smashwords, please buy either the epub or mobi copy and not the other formats, which are automatically generated from a word doc (and produces exactly the kind of results you would expect!)

4 Nov 2019

The Vampire Eirik Cover Reveal

Hail readers!

I am excited to share with you today the cover for the Vampire Eirik, a short story which I am releasing this month, on November 23rd. Take a look! I also include the blurb to wet your appetite.

Readers say they’re “riveted” by “drama” and “exquisite sexual tension”. And the best part? The Vampire Eirik is yours for just 99 cents.

For Peter, a young, carefree engineering student, Norway means a chance for a better financial future — and the opportunity to see a beautiful landscape of fjords, primeval forests, and windswept peaks. A friendly vampire on the other hand — that’s just an unexpected perk.

Yet the landscape conceals a darkness, a hidden ferocity: nature is older than man, and it does not always welcome him. To survive, Peter will have to rely on Eirik. But Eirik is still a vampire, and nature always wins in the end…

A tale of friendship, intimacy and magic, the Vampire Eirik is a short story that’s perfect for bedtime reading.

What readers have said...

★★★★★ “I enjoyed the sexual tension between the characters, it was exquisite.”—Margaux, Goodreads Reviewer.

★★★★★ “I was riveted to the drama; it is my hope that their story has just begun.” —Teresa, Goodreads Reviewer.

The Vampire Eirik will be available not just on Amazon, but also on Smashwords and other major retailers, for (you guessed it) 99 cents. But, if you sign up with your email on the right hand side form, you can get it for free with the newsletter!

About the Story

I wrote this story years ago—I believe it might have been 2015 or more likely 2016. It was a side-project; a release for pent-up creative energy. At the time, I was having trouble trying to get a trade publishing deal for the Necromancer. The deal never came, but this story remained.

I postponed publishing it on account of the fact that I did not want to spend too much money getting a cover designed for it. I reasoned that if I hired a designer to do two covers—one for the story and other for my next full-length title—I would get a better deal. I was correct. Unfortunately, it took years for me to get to that point. It was partly my fault (I made a massive false start with the Ark) but I also wasted a year trying to—you guessed it—get a publishing deal.

Anyway, with Fallen Love complete, I got to work improving and revising the story. Based on feedback I received from another author, I removed a chapter and wrote a new epilogue.

How did the cover come about?

I worked with the same designer I did for Fallen Love: Hampton Lamoureux. (Didn’t you read the “package deal” part?) Right at the start, I told him I didn’t want any character design like I had with Fallen Love or the Sandman. Partly, because it would be more expensive. But also because I had a strong vision for what the cover should incorporate.

The story is set in Trondheim, Norway; it is late winter. Snow and ice is a very prominent theme in the book. Likewise, blood is very important—this is a vampire story don’t ya know? I realised that the contrast between the two would look brilliant.

I think my designer did a great job with the artwork, although the typography is 99% rather than 100%. Nevertheless, it is a better cover than I could have had otherwise, and I am proud to put it on my work.

Anything else?

I will post the buy links as soon as the book is on sale!

31 Oct 2019

The SNP & the Election

Hail reader!

I will be taking a short break from my usual stream of updates regarding Fallen Love and the Vampire Eirik, in order to talk about something else: politics. As usual, I am writing about a specific issue from a specific viewpoint—Scottish independence as a European citizen, to be precise. You American readers may tune in to my existing backlog of posts if this doesn’t interest you; you can take a look at the search bar to the right or the archive on the left.

With that out of the way, let me start with the first piece of big news: I’ve joined the SNP and resigned my Labour membership. Why? Well, I’ve already written a detailed and succinct explanation in my 2-page resignation letter: you can read it here. The short version is that, although I agree with the Labour Party’s policy and direction in England, I support Independence, and that practically means I have to support the SNP—or the Greens.

I did not choose the Greens because, as outlined in a previous post, I think this country has bigger priorities at the moment.

Right! Onto the other topic for today: the December 2019 General Election. I would like to share a few choice observations that have not, to my mind, been sufficiently emphasised in the discourse.

Oldies Don’t Like the Cold

Everybody knows that people aged 50+, and especially those over 65, are by far the biggest supporters of the Tory party. There would never have been a Tory government for the past 9 years if the vote had been decided by the under–40s.

In light of this fact, it may not have been the best decision for the Conservatives to hold the election in December. Old people don’t like to go out in the cold because it hurts their bones, and they are likely to slip and require a hip replacement on the NHS; this article provides a good explanation of the underlying physiology.

Speaking of the NHS

Precisely because of the above reason (and due to some other reasons as well) the NHS is at its most over-crowded and stressed during the winter months. Though the descriptors “over-crowded” and “stressed” don’t really do justice to the situation: NHS England is usually at “breaking point” or “collapse” during the winter. NHS Scotland is managing a bit better, thankfully.

This does not bode well for Boris Johnson’s Conservative party. A couple of alarming headlines, combined with a few angry parents and doctors asking him tough questions on TV, will shift the conversation away from his Brexit and towards the NHS. This will play right into the hands of Labour, and to a lesser extent the SNP as well.

The Psychology of Winter

The UK does not generally hold elections in winter: the dark nights and freezing temperatures reduce turnout, and make campaigning harder. A winter election brings to mind such evocative, poetic one-liners as “The Winter of Discontent” (which brought down the Labour government and ushered in decades of Tory government under Thatcher). It also cost Stanley Baldwin, a Tory Prime Minister, his majority in the 1923 election.

This is the least well-understood factor of the three I have presented here. The majority of commentators interpret winter elections as benefiting the opposition at the expense of the incumbent Government—people are at their most miserable and least optimistic during the winter, and are more likely to punish the Government of the day. On the other hand, the SNP and Labour campaigns rely on optimism to succeed, not misery.

Any Predictions, Alex?

The only predictable thing about this election is that it will be unpredictable. I certainly don’t know which Party will gain a majority—or which will form the government in a hung Parliament. Even so, I am willing to make three predictions.

Firstly, the Conservative Party will be punished hard in Scotland; it is not inconceivable that they will be down to one seat, or even zero—a complete annihilation not seen since 1997. Three factors play into this: the departure of Ruth Davidson; the massive unpopularity of Tory economic policies in Scotland; and Boris Johnson himself, who goes up like a lead balloon with the Scottish electorate.

Secondly, the Green Party will do pretty well, though it probably won’t gain any new seats. This is on account of the high media profile of environmental issues at the moment (which I find somewhat bizarre given the severity of the constitutional and economic crisis the UK is going to find itself in). Thirdly, and finally, I don’t think the Liberal Democrats are going to do as well its leader, Jo Swinson, hopes.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, Remainers (and plenty of Brexit voters too) have a strong sense of what is right as being democratic. The Liberal Democrats’ policy—to unilaterally abrogate Brexit without a referendum vote—will be seen as arrogant and disrespectful of democracy. (I would also add that it is fantasy: you can’t just roll back the clock to 2015. Too much damage has been to this country’s social fabric, and too many bridges have been burned with our friends in Europe.) Secondly, I think lots of Remain voters—most notably the young—ultimately care more about housing, the NHS, jobs and education.

29 Oct 2019

Another update on Fallen Love

Hail readers!

I am writing a brief update for you all today. The big news first: I have managed to get Fallen Love accepted into BookSirens, a platform dedicated to getting reviews for authors. I have fairly high hopes for success on there. They will show my book to more than 1000 readers who read the genres I write in, and who have a proven track record of writing reviews. I already have a handful of readers on there (after 1 day!) which is good news.

But of course, if you would like to read a free copy of the book and write a review, you can use the platform too. Just follow this special link: click here

In other news, I am adding the final touches to the Vampire Eirik cover with my designer; I expect to do a cover reveal quite soon. As I have said previously, this short story will be free if you sign up to my newsletter (see the button on the top right corner)—or 99 cents if you don’t. I am also adding some finishing touches to the story itself, mainly in relation to researching all of the details of the setting.

I will also be receiving a review for Fallen Love from another blogger, Sharonica Logic, this weekend. I will send you a link as soon as it’s up!

Now, back to writing!

22 Oct 2019

A Wonderful 5 Star Review

Hello readers!

I am excited to share with you today a 5 star review I received from Rion on Goodreads. I am reprinting here on the Magical Realm with permission. It’s a long read, so buckle up!

In Rion’s own words...

I received an Advance Review Copy of Fallen Love by Alex Stargazer in exchange for an unbiased review. This review contains no spoilers.

Prior to receiving this Advance Review Copy of Fallen Love, I had never heard of Alex Stargazer. After finishing Fallen Love, I definitely plan on remedying that lack of knowledge. Alex bills his book as a futuristic M/M romance, but it is so much more than that. Let’s stop there for a moment and make one thing clear: when you think of romance novels, you typically think one of two things: the flowery language describing acts of unfettered passion... you know the ones I’m talking about. The bodice-ripping, burgeoning manhood kind of romance novels. Alternatively, you might think of the dark, glittering covers of the 50 Shades books that are so titillating to bored housewives who, without realizing it, propagate the idea that the BDSM scene is for everyone (not knocking the BDSM scene at all... just saying that it’s not for everyone). Don’t get me wrong these are two types of romance novels that the public in general is used to seeing. Further, the public is definitely not used to seeing LGBQ+ romance novels. That is changing for the better, and it is in part due to authors like Alex Stargazer. Since this is a review of Alex’s book, I won’t start in on a sociology lecture about other LGBTQ+ authors that are out there and writing awesome stuff. I will, however, tell you that Alex definitely deserves to be named among those other authors.

Fallen Love is neither a bodice-ripper (cod-piece ripper?), nor is it a book about the darker side of sexuality. Fallen Love is absolutely what it is billed as... a male-male romance novel set in a futuristic world where one’s station in life is where one stays unless they fall. In Alex’s book, the caste system is very rigidly enforced by The Party. The Party is a virtually Orwellian construct that ensure that the population stays where circumstances put them. The members of The Party are obviously the upper echelon, and don’t mind a little slap-and-tickle with those beneath them, called the Fallen. They certainly wouldn’t set housekeeping with them, but for a member of the Party, to have a kept man or woman isn’t frowned upon. It’s not generally accepted, but The Party turns a blind eye if you have enough status and power and you don’t rock the boat with your outside-the-bedroom affairs.

Alright, the background stage is set. What I didn’t mention was the world-building that went into the creation of Fallen Love. One of the things that I found so fascinating about the world of Fallen Love is that if feels like a mash-up of Victorian Ireland and a certain science-fiction movie franchise whose mode of transportation starts U.S.S. (I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about), but without all the rough edges that such a mash-up of cultures would usually create. This world is a smooth blend of the anachronistic and the futuristic and I absolutely loved it because it felt so real and possible. And that, my dear readers, is what I look for first in a story. If I am paying more attention to keeping the old and the new straight, I can’t focus on the characters, their developments, and the plot in general. The world-building in this book is superb.

Next up, we have characters. Characters can either fit the world setting or they can be a constant discordant note that sets your teeth on edge. Some characters are supposed to set your teeth on edge and be so contemptible as to be loathed. When that is what a writer is going for and has this character in a solid world, with other solid characters, it works great. Other times, the characters stand out so much that they overshadow the other characters and even the plot. I am pleased to say that the characters in this book fit and meld like a well-loved recipe. They aren’t predictable or so false that all you can do is roll your eyes. Alex brought these characters into a well-built framework, and made them real. The characters are realistic given the situations that they find themselves in, and grow and act in a manner that is realistic.

Side note: I have to be perfectly honest here (not that I haven’t been thus far)... there was a certain point in the book that I almost lost faith. The circumstances were set for a plot-line that appeared to be going in a direction that I didn’t care for. I won’t go into the details, but I was virtually gnashing my teeth because the book had been so good up to this point and I was preparing myself for disappointment. The plot-line continued and I found myself disappointed alright... disappointed in myself for even entertaining the thought. After the book is out, we can talk about this part and I can describe the direction I thought the book was going and what thoughts I entertained, contrary to the storyline thus far. I admit it... I was utterly and completely wrong to have the doubts that I did, because nothing in the book led me to believe that it would go in that direction.

So, we’ve got a great world, filled with believable characters, a political system so rife with the potential of abuse, and then the Big Bad appears (yes, that’s homage to a certain girl with a pointy wooden friend and whose show was the one that I first saw two people of the same sex kiss). Even the introduction of this character was foreshadowed so well that you’re prepared for something, but you’re not exactly sure what or who to be prepared for.

I saved the best part for last and what you’ve all been waiting for: the sex! Here’s the deal: I don’t mind sex in a book unless I’m turning pages so that I can get back to the plot (a la a certain necromancer who shall remain nameless, but who has recently found the middle-ground between plot and sex). Sex has to move the plot forward for me. It can’t just be a mid-scene cutaway describing a couple, or more, banging each other for no clear or apparent reason. That said, the sex between characters in Alex’s book was real, raw, visceral, and hot! It gets a little bit graphic, but hey, we’re all adult’s, right? We can all handle different words for different body parts and how they fit together. I will 100% say that the sex scenes in Alex’s book moved the story and mire it down in a bunch of unnecessary and gratuitous sex; which, in my opinion, made the sex scenes that much more powerful.

Overall, the pacing of the book is realistically paced, the development of characters and plot both mature nicely, the love scenes were well balanced between sensual and sexual, and the supporting characters storylines were developed to a point of wanting to know more about them (unlike some supporting characters, the characters in this book aren’t little blocks of wood trotted out just to flesh out the plot, they have their time in scenes and the were interesting backgrounds that make you want to get to know them too). One thing that really stood out to me was that Alex’s “voice” and “tone” were very strong without being overbearing, that he had very deft turns of phrase that were evocative and intriguing and those added to the other elements of the book make this an enjoyable and memorable book. And, I can definitely attest to the fact that I want more!