27 Mar 2020

Announcing My New Patreon

Hello readers,

I’m pleased to announce my new Patreon page! I’ve been thinking about starting a Patreon account for a while now; I’ve been busy researching how it works, setting my prices and rewards, and waiting for the Royal Mail to deliver the paperbacks. (COVID-19 is such a pain in the arse, don’t you know?)

“But what exactly is Patreon, Alex?” you ask. It’s a good question: I had no idea it existed until quite recently, and not many writers use it, at least based on my experience so far. (This may change.) In short, Patreon is a way of supporting me financially, in exchange for all sorts of cool perks—like getting to read Fallen Desire early, along with cool short stories and poems. Think of it as a long-term relationship with long-term benefits and obligations.

Become my Patron!

Poems 2020

Speaking of poems, I’m going to be writing a new series of poems this year, titled (you guessed it) Poems 2020. They are unique and available only to my Patreon supporters during the first year; in 2021 I will be making them freely available here on the Magical Realm.

I’ll be writing about characters from the Fallen series, and one poem, the Sceptre of Fire, will actually be about a new fantasy series I have planned for the future. (Yes, that’s a hint!)

Make the best of quarantine

Like many people in the world right now, I am stuck at home and only allowed outside to buy food and medicine. I figured I might as well do something useful. There’s nothing more fun than passing time indoors with a good book, right? Or talking about a good book, if not reading it.

20 Mar 2020

A Quick Update

Hello readers!

It has been awhile since my last post, and I would like to update you all on what’s been going on. To begin with, I have been busy with my driving lessons: I am slowly getting the hang of steering, clutching (a very complicated process), brakes, acceleration, and intersections. Oh, and parking. Alas, thanks to this pandemic, driving tests have been postponed for over a month.

The other important thing has, of course, been master’s degrees. I will be sending another application soon, and I am expecting scholarship results quite imminently. Then there is Kickstarter—I sent all the remaining signed paperbacks on Monday, and I’m hoping everyone will get their copy soon.

In my personal life, I’ve started exercising more: I’m doing some basic resistance exercises (pushups, squats, planks) with medium-intensity cardio. I figured I might as well do something useful while I wait for my medicines to work—it’s going to take months to fix the remaining skin and hair problems I suffer from. Incidentally, if you suffer from dry hair (which I hate) I recommend biotin supplements; they really do work.

I have some really cool plans for my writing in the future. The second book in the Fallen series has been picked up by a California-based publisher (yay) and I am excited to work with them. On top of that, I’m interviewing my Great Demon and Arch Demon backers; I’ve already started writing the first character based on my backers’ personality. It’s turned out very interesting so far.

That’s not the only new writing! To take one example: I’m hoping to write a piece of flash-fiction that will be published in a Queer Science Fiction anthology. Obviously, there’s the sequel. And there’s more I’m keeping under wraps (secret alert!)

Lastly, I’ve been following the Democratic primary election—or, well, not following. I can really sympathise with the people who voted for Bernie Sanders: the DNC has pretty much turned this into a Biden coronation, and I don’t blame Bernie supporters if they decide not to cast their vote for Biden in the election. Heck, I wouldn’t blame them if they abandoned the Democratic party altogether.

Biden may or may not win against Trump; it will depend on how this pandemic evolves. At this point, though, I don’t really care. It’s business-as-usual in America, and that means crazy-as-usual.

If you haven’t done so already, you can keep following me by signing up to the subscribe form on the right. This way, you’ll be the first to know when I release something new, be it a new book, short story, or exclusive.

6 Mar 2020

Feel the Bern

Hello readers!

Today, I’m going to discuss a topic I usually can’t be bothered with: American politics. As a card-carrying European, what goes on the other side of the pond doesn’t really affect me, so why pay attention? Well, I’m going to make an exception this time—I think the Democratic nomination is really interesting. More importantly, it could have wider relevance for how left-wing parties win (or lose) against populist right-wing opponents.

Also, I have a different perspective because I’m not American; this can give me valuable insights that are missing in the debate. I’ve been treated by the NHS, to take just one example.

I’m going to structure this post into two parts: the first is an overview of the personalities, the second is about tactics. I’ll finish by discussing the issues in my conclusion. Why not put the issues front-and-centre, you ask? Well, it’s because the American Presidency is fundamentally a personality contest. You can’t win an election without understanding this fact.

The Personalities

I’m going to classify the candidates based on Donald Trump’s nicknames. I have no love for Darth Cheetoh (as some affectionately call him) but Trump is a very effective rhetorician who speaks straight from the gut. His ability to nail a politicial opponent’s weaknesses—and to embody the spirit of Middle America—is remarkable.

I’ll discuss the candidates who have had sizeable votes; I’ll ignore the non-entities like Steyer, Yang etc.

“Sleepy Joe”: I think Democrats are making a big mistake voting for this guy. I mean, I like him, and Biden is a likeable guy. But he has several critical flaws that make him a poor choice to fight Donald Trump in 2020. Firstly, he shows worrying signs of senility: he mixes up his wife with his sister, doesn’t know what state he’s in, thinks he’s running for the Senate, and said 150 million Americans were killed by gun violence. (That’s half the population.)

On top of that, he is an establishment politician implicated in the Ukraine debacle. I don’t care about the details; voters won’t either. Trump proved how good he is at eviscerating establishment politicians with Hillary Clinton. “Crooked Clinton” cost Democrats the White House, and “Sleepy Joe” might do the same in 2020.

“Mini Mike”: Only one candidate is worse than Biden against Trump, and it’s this guy. Seriously, what the hell are Democrats thinking? Never mind that progressives won’t vote for a groping billionaire. Trump is a groping billionaire himself, and as such, he intimately understands Bloomberg’s weaknesses. Faced with two billionaires, voters will pick the more charismatic of the two.

“Crazy Bernie”: Why isn’t Bernie the front-runner anymore? What are Democrats thinking? Bernie Sanders would wipe the floor with Trump. He is a brilliant grassroots campaigner; he has the money; and most importantly, people like him. He’s honest and authentic and wins people over to his side. Americans think socialism is crazy—but they agree with public healthcare, and they want college to be cheaper. The more they listen to Sanders, the more reasonable he seems.

“Mayor Pete”: Also known as BOOT EDGE EDGE. I liked him a lot—it was really promising to see a gay candidate come out of nowhere and do so well. I think Pete might have won against Trump, despite the handicap of homophobia. (It’s also interesting that Trump respected a gay man as his political opponent.)

I actually think lack of minority support was a much bigger problem for him. The lack of Black support was his own damn fault—he made some mistakes as mayor of South Bend. But I think he could, in the future, gain lots of support from Latinos; he just needs to reach out and campaign better.

It’s wonderful to think this man could plausibly have become President of the United States.

“The Phoney Pocahontas” aka Elizabeth Warren: A smart woman and a brilliant policymaker, but not a good presidential candidate against Trump. The fabricated stories about her Native American ancestry (debunked by a Cherokee genealogist) is exactly the kind of identity politics that would cost her an election. I’m glad she’s dropped out, and hope she will continue to make a difference in politics.

Tactics

Let’s talk about electability. I think Bernie Sanders is more likely to win than Biden. It’s not impossible that Biden could beat Trump, mind you, but they odds are definitely in Bernie’s favour.

Why? It boils down to two things. Obviously, Sanders can get the base out (this has been discussed ad nauseam). But perhaps more importantly, he can win back Trump–Obama voters, which data shows is the reason Clinton lost the election. He can do this by appealing to them—through his policies, through the kind of person he is—and not playing identity politics.

The data shows that racial anxiety was the reason these voters supported Trump (a “whitelash”). But since these people voted a black man for President (twice!), I hardly think Democrats should give up on them. If the left makes a positive, optimistic case for their vision of America, these voters will come back. If Democrats attack them as racist, and bite Trump’s bait, they will lose.

But how does Bernie win the nomination? The Democratic establishment has rallied around Biden. The good news is that Warren has dropped out, and I’m hoping she will formally endorse Bernie Sanders. If it takes a VP ticket or a seat on a committee, so be it. Bernie and Liz need to stick together.

I want to briefly touch on why the Democratic establishment is so keen to support Biden, despite some pretty obvious flaws. I think it boils down to two things;

  1. (This is the theory I lean towards) They’re desperate. People who are desperate, in my experience, don’t think rationally.
  2. They want to lose with Biden rather than win with Bernie, as the latter option means they lose control of the institution (the Democratic party). Psychologists who study organisations often note this kind of behaviour.

Bernie needs to show Biden’s weakness. “If Joe can’t win a debate against me, how can he beat Donald Trump?” This is is the question Bernie needs to ask voters. He doesn’t have to be aggressive, mind you; Sleepy Joe is like a deer in the headlights anyway.

Conclusion

Two questions are important in the Democratic contest. The first is: “What’s the answer to Trump?” The second is: “How does America get public healthcare?” In both cases, the answer is vote Bernie Sanders.

Pete Buttigieg made a huge mistake in turning away from the single-payer model. He asked what would happen to the 150 million Americans who have private healthcare via their employers. The answer is that all 300 million Americans would be covered under an American NHS, and they won’t have to pay out-of-pocket, and they won’t lose healthcare along with their job. (The German model that Pete proposed would be certainly an improvement over the present system, but it’s still second best. When has America ever settled for second-best?)

If Bernie Sanders makes the case for Biden’s poor electability, and champions in his Medicare-for-all policy, he might still win. I for one think it’s time to “Feel the Bern”.

5 Mar 2020

I’m finally getting published

Hello readers!

I have been busy these past few weeks, which is why I have not posted any updates here on the Magical Realm. Partly, it’s been because of the new book, Fallen Love. I’ve been advertising on Facebook, fulfilling backer rewards for Kickstarter (lots of paperbacks to send out!) and I’m negotiating the rights to the sequel with a small press.

Yes, you read that right: a small fantasy publisher wants to publish the next book! The talks are only at the beginning stage so far, and there is much to think about. Editing, design and marketing are the big ticket items; there are a million other things that go into a publishing contract.

There is a trade-off involved, naturally: the royalties aren’t as good as in self-publishing, which means I have to sell more books to earn the same. In exchange, I get editing, which is seriously expensive business (think $2000+ for a full-length novel). The publisher has a physical presence in California, which offers many opportunities—conventions, bookstores, Kickstarter rewards—that wouldn’t be open to me otherwise. Finally, I want someone to do the work for me. Self-publishing is too complicated and too exhausting.

The Curse of the Automobile

I’ve started taking driving lessons. Getting my licence will prove a time-consuming and tedious process, mostly because of bureaucracy. I can’t say I’m massively excited about it, because it’s not like I can afford a car at this stage in my life. Moreover, car transport is the cause of many negative externalities—pollution, climate change, congestion, and obesity among them.

Sadly, the reality is that we are hopelessly dependent on cars. You need to drive a car in order to be an independent adult. Even employers require it as a condition for getting a job—or the market forces you to drive a car because living in the city is too expensive.

Plans for the future

But enough about that! I have exciting plans for my writing. Getting a publisher for Fallen Desire is just the beginning; there are other promising opportunities I’m exploring. You’ll hear more about it in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned!

3 Feb 2020

Fallen Love is finally here!

Hello intrepid reader!

I am delighted to announce that Fallen Love is now on sale! Head over to the Fallen Love page up top, or click the button below.

You can get Fallen Love as both an eBook and a paperback. What’s more, the eBook has Amazon X-Ray enabled, which lets you see useful information about characters and terms.

Thanks to my Kickstarter backers, I have raised enough money to promote Fallen Love and cover my expenses. So thanks a lot guys! This story has been a long time coming. After two publication date delays (first December, then January, finally February) it feels like a relief to finally have it out there. Read my story on Kickstarter

Next Steps

If you’re just reading this, why not head over to my Facebook page or my Twitter and stay up-to-date with everything going on. If you want to know when book #2 is out—and get a free copy of my short story, the Vampire Eirik—please sign up to the mailing list.

What I’ll be doing

I will be busy over the coming days and weeks with promotion, including guest blogging organised by the gals over at LesCourt & Vibrant Promotions. Aside from that, I will be busy with social media and advertising. The ads will start once the book has its reviews.

Wish me luck! It’s finally coming together.

27 Jan 2020

The Final 48 hours

Hello readers!

I am happy to announce we’ve raised nearly £1000 for the Kickstarter! This has been more than I expected and, to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. As a first time Kickstarter creator, I had no idea what to expect—and nor did I know anything about Kickstarter etiquette. Thanks to the help of Dyrk Ashton (an author you should check out!) and some newly-gained personal experience, I now have a plan in place for the remaining days until February 1st.

Stretch Goals

I am announcing two stretch goals in addition to my original goal of £500. Here’s an explanation for what all the goals mean:

  1. The original goal: basic promotion. For £500, this covers the cost of the marketing professionals I’ve hired, as well as advertising on Amazon, Bookbub and Facebook.
  2. Stretch goal #1: £1000. This pays for a BookBub promotion called Featured New Releases, and makes it easier for me to sell the book to bookstores.
  3. Stretch goal #2: £1250. This pays for another blog tour & ARC reviews, and it makes the sequel, Fallen Desire, more financially viable.

Rewards

I’ve released two new rewards since the Kickstarter began. The first—the Special Edition eBook—gives backers never-before-seen artwork, and comes packaged with an excerpt from the Ark, plus secret editor feedback.

The second reward, named the Great Demon special, has two very special features: it lets you base a character in the sequel on yourself; and I dedicate the book to you! Yes, you heard that right.

Interested?

Then follow the link.

16 Jan 2020

Guest Post with Julia Goldhirsh

Introduction

Hello everyone! Today I’m co-authoring a blog post with Julia Goldhirsh, a YA fantasy & fairytale writer. We met on Twitter and decided to combine our collective efforts for a bit. Enjoy! Oh, and make sure to check out our respective blogs: Julia Goldhirsh and Alex Stargazer.

How to pitch your book as the right genre

  1. See what types of people are interested in your book. Who wants to review the book, how old are they etc?
  2. Make a list of the types of tropes you have in your book.
  3. Search on Amazon to see what other books have those tropes
  4. Ask your readers how they would define the book. See what readers say about it during beta reading.
  5. Use the template below to help get started
  6. Look for novels that seem similar to yours and that have similar tropes. How do those writers classify their books?

Age of characters: 12-18 (Typically YA or MG) Time Period: Modern (Urban), Past (Possibly historical) Genre: Science focused, magic and sorcery focused, end of the world focused, love focused, etc.

You can see a further breakdown of genres here.

To craft your pitch

Grab them with the first line- A dark fairy tale with a twist. Introduce an enticing trope- At the turn of the 20th century, a Rapunzel in a greenhouse battles an evil nymph Leave them with something that makes them want to know more- with help from a messenger with a mysterious past.

Here is another hook that I’ve used- An enchanted Rose spellbound to a greenhouse prison.

How to sell books to bookstores

Some of the main things bookstores want when looking for books are retail discounts, ISBNs, and a price on the barcode. This makes selling your book easier for them and will make your book an easier sell in the long run. Here’s what I’d recommend so you can have those things for the bookstores.

  1. Ingram Sparks- Get on Ingram sparks. No seriously. Do it. It will make you a lot more palatable when you approach bookstores.
  2. Bowker- Purchase a barcode from Bowker and have your cover artist put the barcode on there for you. You can get your ISBN there too.

Alright, so now that you have that out of the way, here’s what you can do to reach out to bookstores. Note that this is not a one size fits all approach, but this worked for me.

  1. Library- Submit to your local library.
  2. Bookmarks and business cards-Have some bookmarks made and ask your local bookstores if you can give them bookmarks
  3. Barnes and Noble- Fill out the forms they provide on their website. They even offer the option to get your book reviewed through their website.
  4. Books a Million- Fill out the forms on their website. (They do not accept Print on Demand titles).

One thing I did was that I had some bookmarks designed and printed through Vistaprint. I contacted some local bookstores and cafes to see if they’d be interested in taking the bookmarks. Often when I went in a customer or two would ask about the book, I’d give them a short pitch and the customer would express some interest. This resulted often times in the buyer purchasing the book off Ingram.

If you’d like to see more of my content, you can sign up for my mailing list here.

Below are some pictures of my book in the library and on the bookstore shelves.

Alex’s Suggestions for Getting into Bookstores

To begin with, I second Julia’s suggestion regarding bookmarks, and this is something I will be doing myself. Bookmarks give you physical presence, author branding, and credibility. But let’s not forget the most important element: pitching your physical book to the manager. This is exactly what I did at WHSmiths, and it immediately grabbed the attention of the manager. At Waterstones, I was unable to meet the manager in person—and when I pitched him via email, it didn’t work.

Another suggestion, which won’t work for everyone, is Kickstarter. I have been able to successfully meet my funding goal thanks to the awesome folks at Kickstarter. What does this have to do with bookstores, you wonder? Again: credibility. It’s easier to convince a manager to buy your book if you can prove that you raised $1000 (say) for your crowdfunding campaign.

Your author branding should work to support your message—I intend to display the Kickstarter logo along with Fallen Love imagery in my bookmarks, for example.

Regarding which company you use to print your books (Amazon, Lulu or Ingram) this is a tricky question and one which I haven’t figured out yet. Julia thinks you should use Ingram, which is the traditional choice for getting into bookstores. But combining Bowker + Ingram has an entry cost in the hundreds of dollars, and that’s money that can certainly be better spent. Amazon has the best prices—but branding might be an issue. Lulu’s prices are too high, for paperbacks at least, to be realistic. Personally, I’ll plump for Amazon.

How About Genre?

This is easy if you’re publishing something in an already well-defined genre—epic fantasy, for example; thriller; or cozy mystery. Things get harder if you’re writing something a bit more unconventional like what me and Julia are writing. The general advice—shelve your book in the sub-genre of the main genre, so on Amazon that might be fantasy and then “LGBT Fantasy”—works if you know what your main genre is. It may be that you need to categorise your book in more than one genre. This is a case of experiment-and-see-what-works.

I learned this the hard way for Fallen Love. I always knew that, at heart, the story is urban fantasy: the young adult characters, the worldbuilding, the tropes—it’s the stuff of Cassandra Clare or Lauren Kate or (heck!) even Twilight. Yet I hoped it would also appeal to LGBT and Sci Fi readers. The jury is still out on the SciFi part (I don’t have a large enough sample of Sci Fi readers yet) but my experience with LGBT readers is that it’s more often miss than hit. As much as I love the relationship between Mark and Conall, the book has too much complex worldbuilding to appeal to M/M romance readers. For a reader who diets on contemporary gay romance, demons, witches and 26th century Europe are just too much.

You can guess I’ll be heavily promoting Fallen Love as an urban fantasy book before anything else.

Conclusion

So how does the intrepid author go about getting their book into a bookstore, and hopefully selling a bunch of copies? Both me and Julia agree on the business fundamentals: you need a good price and discount for your book; a well-chosen target market; and you should a physical product that communicates your brand. The author’s personal presence is often important as well.

If you have raised money in a crowdfunding campaign, or have already sold a decent number of books online, this is something to emphasise.

Julia Goldhirsh is the author of Spellbound, a fairytale spin on the classic young adult fantasy story. You should follow her on Twitter and Facebook or her mailing list to get the latest on her new books, special offers, and cover reveals.

Alex is an author of some excellent LGBT Urban fantasy books with hints of romance. His second novel is called Fallen Love and he has a scheduled publication date of February 1st 2020. You can check him out on www.alexstargazer.com and follow him on Twitter or Facebook to be the first to get updates on cover reveals, new books, and promotions.