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!

19 Oct 2019

Quality vs Quantity

Hello readers!

Previously, I updated you all on my progress getting reviews for Fallen Love, releasing the cover, and modernising my marketing platform and author brand. I am making steady progress on that, with a new review going up on Goodreads this weekend (more are coming!) I even have a cover for the Vampire Eirik, which I am polishing with my designer.

The purpose of this post, however, is slightly different. I want to talk about strategy in self-publishing, and specifically, I want to answer questions like: How many books should an author be releasing? How much time and money should be spent on editing? What about covers and blurbs?

The lay reader’s response to these questions tends to be simple: a book should be as good as possible. It should be typo-free and well-edited; the cover should be the wow. These attitudes are often shared by big publishers as well. This approach is well-intentioned... but it is not always the correct approach. Or at least, the reality is more complex, and certain trade-offs have to be made.

The self-publishing business model is very, very different from that of the traditional model—and neither readers nor trade publishers really understand it. Some differences are obvious: self-published authors rely hugely on ebook sales, and for most, the profits from print books constitute only a small part of their income. Trade publishers, on the other hand, overprice their ebooks—they want ebooks to be a cash-cow in the way hardbacks are, instead of being mass-market products like paperbacks.

I can recall, with mirth, that time five years ago when I released my first book, the Necromancer. One of my readers at school came up and told me that I must surely make more money on the print books I was selling in school, rather than the ebooks on Amazon. I corrected her, informing her that my profit on the paperback was half what I made on the ebook, thanks to high printing costs and delivery.

Anyway, I am digressing. I would like to return my original point: that the self-publishing business model, unlike trade publishing, requires authors to publish more books in order to be successful. Put simply, self-published authors generate exposure for their books—a marketing term for how “out there” your work is—by having cheap ebooks on sale.

This is how Amanda Hocking succeeded on KDP. At first, her ebooks were 99 cents; this made readers keen to take a chance on her (especially since they wanted lots of cheap books to go on their Kindles). Later on, lending became possible through Kindle Unlimited, and that helped boost her exposure.

But of course, selling ebooks for 99 cents gives authors very little profit (the royalty rate is only 35%) and devalues books—at least if you’re selling full-length books for 99 cents. I doubt 99 cent short stories change the value proposition of full-length ebooks at $4.99 though. So what do you do? Simples: you sell some of your work at 99 cents or for free, and sell some your other work for meaty, profitable prices like $3, $4, or $5 (I don’t think most self-published authors will manage to sell at $5.99).

This is basically the “reader magnet” strategy outlined by Nick Stephenson. Still, there are some tricky questions you have to ask with the reader magnet strategy, especially if you’re a first time author. My main problem is that my free/$0.99 story, the Sandman, is hardly my best work; and while it does entice some readers, it’s not the greatest reader magnet in the world. The Necromancer is a book that probably would get readers interested in me—I could in principle lower the price to 99 cents once I publish Fallen Love.

Of course that’s not going to happen; I won’t sell a 105,000~ word epic for quite that little money. (I am selling it for $3 though, so go grab a copy!) This is where the Vampire Eirik comes in—it’s just long enough to be interesting (I hope!) without threatening my full-size novels.

Taking this strategy even further requires writing series. You sell your first book in the series for cheap, then gradually make your sequels more expensive. You can bet I’ll be doing this with the Fallen Series—the first book, Fallen Love, will be price-dropped once Fallen Desire is released, while the latter book will command a reasonably high asking price.

The Dilemma

I’m sure the reader has probably released the conflict now, and the reason for the titling of this post. The Reader Magnet strategy is great, but you need to have some books in your catalogue. That’s a lot of books to edit—which costs a lot of money. It’s also a lot of proof-reading, design, marketing copy and keyword optimisation.

Nonetheless, self-published authors can rarely rely on one book. There are unicorns like Fifty Shades, but unicorns are more often than not just that—a myth. In the trade publishing world, your first novel has to swim, or your trade publishing career sinks with it. On the other hand, a trade publisher will at least do something to get your book out there; they will put you in mass-market brick-and-mortar stores; and their covers are usually good.

In a way, though, self-publishing is good for authors and leads to better books. This might sound paradoxical, but think about it. Is an author’s first book likely to be their best? Probably not—it isn’t true for a lot of authors, especially young ones like me. In which case, should an author and publisher waste a lot of time and money editing a book that’s never going to be amazing? Probably not. It’s better to concentrate on writing the next one.

A balance does have to be struck, of course. Typos have to be squashed—but you don’t need a proofreader to do this. Beta readers can also do the job. Even reading the book in a different format (in terms of font, leading, justification etc.) can expose previously invisible typos. Full-length novels need more editing than short stories, and so on.

Likewise, cover design is hugely important to selling a book. Still, a good cover doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. When I put an ad for a book cover designer, I received a wide variety of quotes for Fallen Love—one professional wanted €1200. Now, I should add that this man was offering illustration and 3D work for this price, which requires more time and more skill. But there are young, upstart designers charging good prices for their work. The only thing I might avoid is pre-designed covers, if only because they are too generic and probably won’t fit your book.

Very well! I have gone on long enough. I am hoping to feature a review next on the Magical Realm. Until then!

16 Oct 2019

More Important News

Hello readers!

It has been two weeks since I last wrote on the Magical Realm. There has been plenty going on since then, rest assured; I am busy working on promoting my books nearly every day, in addition to master’s applications and job-hunting. On the advice of my marketing consultant, I have included social media links on my website—you can see them up in the top-left corner—along with the subscribe form on the right.

The other big thing has been reviews. I am delighted to have received 4 positive reviews for the book so far—though I will need several more until publication. Some of them are from old favourites like Margaux, Ashley and Teresa, but I have also received a review from newcomer Stephen. I am quoting some snippets from the reviews, and if you want to read them in their entirety (which I recommend you do!) please head over to the Goodreads page. And if you want to read and review the book, pop me a message in the contacts page.

“The plot was both fresh and imaginative, and though I'm not the biggest fan of multiple narrators, in this novel I found I couldn't wait to get back to each character's chapters.” —Stephen

“I was not expecting that at all, this was so well written, had a fantastic storyline and the characters were great. Conall and Mark are beautifully written characters with so much depth and not to mention the steamy moments. Just wow.” —Margaux

“This book was nothing short of amazing. I loved the characters, the action, it's safe to say I loved everything about this book. I hope to see more in this series because I'm hooked.” —Ashley

“It was fascinating to experience the changes that occurred in Conall and Mark as their mutual interest blossomed into love—a bond that will be tested when outside forces threaten everything they care about. The paranormal aspects of this book added incredible twists in ways that were completely unexpected. This was an incredible story and I will be waiting for the next book in the series.” —Teresa

The Vampire Eirik

This is the title of my new short story! It will be released in November for 99 cents on retailers—or you can get it for free if you sign up to my mailing list. I will be doing a cover reveal soon... it all depends on my designer, who is very slow, even if he is wonderful.

1 Oct 2019

Cover Reveal: Fallen Love

Hail readers!

It is time for me to reveal the cover for Fallen Love, my upcoming new book. You will have seen hints of it on the Magical Realm (thanks to the redesign) and on Goodreads if you looked. This is also, technically, the ebook cover—the paperback design will contain some additional text, as well as a beautiful back cover. Nonetheless, this is the official cover real!

I have already received ecstatic feedback from my beta readers and fans, but if you would like to share your thoughts, please leave a comment below.

Now you may be wondering: how did it come about? What inspired the design? What does the cover represent? Well, I am going to answer these questions right now.

How did it come about?

This is not the first draft the designer sent me—far from it. The very first draft was OK—at least my readers thought so—but I didn’t think it was a very good representation of the story. It contained all of the elements from the book (Mark, the main character; the mutants; the landscapes) yet it just didn’t look thematically on-point.

I also wasn’t a fan of the circle-thing at the top. In principle, it should have represented one of Kaylin’s spells, but it just looked weird.

The next draft my designer sent me would form the basis for the final version of the cover, but it was still a long way from the finished product. The concept was right—I wanted to show Mark on a background of wings—but the colour scheme and typography served to give the wrong impression. It looked like a scifi cover, not a romantic urban fantasy story.

It took several more variations on this concept to get it right. Ultimately, my designer did the best work once I gave him a mockup—although my graphic design skills are crude, it helped him to understand what I really wanted.

So, if you need a good book cover in the fantasy or scifi genre, I can recommend Hampton Lamoureux. You will find him on Reedsy.

What was the inspiration?

Two covers really inspired me for the design. The first was the Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series by the much-loved urban fantasy author, Cassandra Clare. The connection here was obvious—the books are very similar in content, characters and themes to the story of Fallen Love. The wings on Heavenly Fire are a graphical connection to the books. Still, from a design perspective, my cover is rather different from the Cassandra Clare books.

Enter Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. The design inspiration here is more obvious: it’s the feathers. Yet Hush, Hush has quite a minimalist design, which my designer clearly noticed and tried to replicate. The cover didn’t really work with only a few feathers, it turned out—what it needed was a lot of feathers.

What does it represent?

I will try not to spoil too much of the story here! The winged figure is of course the main character. I really loved how the blue fire interacted with the gold font and red background—the blue fire is one of the main character’s demonic powers, you see. The feathers serve up background, and also hint at the presence of multiple demons. (No, you didn’t hear this from me!)

In other news, I am also working hard on my consultant’s advice, and I’ve been making a few changes here on the Magical Realm—as the previous post alluded to. You can now sign up to my mailing list and receive a free short story when it comes out. No, I am not saying more than that. You will have to wait a little longer for a title and cover reveal on the short story!

27 Sep 2019

Change is Coming

Hail readers!

Today, I have some more news for you: following the first consultation with my marketing advisor, I’m making some changes to my online platform. To begin with, I have a new Facebook page, named—curiously enough—Alex Stargazer Writes Books. I recommend you check it out! It contains sales links to my existing books, plus the new books when they go on sale. Eventually, it will also contain stuff like videos, photos of the new paperbacks, and so on.

The next part of my online platform is of course Amazon. That’s where I will get most of my sales, and where a significant part of my marketing efforts will be directed—this will involve keyword and category research, and eventually, ads. But as my marketing advisor explains, I need a solid base to begin with, so I have worked to polish my author profile. You can buy my books on there, leave reviews, and get the feed from my blog. The link is easy to remember: https://www.amazon.com/author/alex-stargazer

I have made updates to Goodreads as well, the most significant being that... Fallen Love is now on the Goodreads platform! This means you can add the book to your to-read shelf, and read the ARC reviews as they come in. It also means you can take a peek at the cover ;) I will be doing the cover reveal here on the Magical Realm very shortly. As part of the reveal, I will also explain the design: how it came about—including previous drafts!—and what the cover represents. Here is the link to the book.

Nor is the Magical Realm immune to the new agenda. I have already redesigned the colour scheme and background, but rest assured that more is coming!

Now, I must leave you, dear reader, for I have one more secret up my sleeve. I will leave you to guess at what it is... Oh, but before you do, why not sign up to my blog? Simply enter your email address up in the top right corner. I promise to turn it into a proper mailing list.

25 Sep 2019

Intermezzo: The Stupor of Brexit

Hail readers!

Following on from my previous post—that Fallen Love is coming out in December—I can provide you with a short update. I am due to meet with my marketing consultant tomorrow, for my first hour of consultation. Fingers crossed! As for my designer, he is on a trip and will return to work on Monday.

In the meanwhile, I am writing another post, on the subject of the title: Brexit. I will attempt to keep this brief, on account of two things. Firstly, I do not wish to distract too much from the main content of this blog. Secondly, because I fear that a lengthier entry would be a rant as opposed to a rational précis.

Let’s start with the title, shall we? Why the word “stupor”, which the Oxford dictionary defines as “a state of near unconsciousness or insensibility”? There are a million other words I could have used to similar effect: stupidity, insanity, pandemonium, et cetera ad infinitum. The answer is simple—the word most accurately describes the state of the electorate. Not the media or Parliament, mind you; the aforementioned words are appropriate there.

This is an observation I have made while living in Glasgow for the past month. To put it quite bluntly, I do not believe that the electorate actually understands the precariousness of this country’s position. Even the most devoted Remain campaigners have either gone into shock, or have been distracted by other, far less important issues.

I was particularly amused by the climate protests here in Glasgow, which drew a sizeable crowd; a police helicopter and several ambulances; and filled up a square. Readers should not make the mistake of thinking I’m downplaying climate change. Climate change is one of the biggest global issues of the 21st century; it will require a fundamental change in our industry, economy, and livelihoods—it will be a second Industrial Revolution.

But climate change is a global issue, and it will require decades to make these transformations a reality. This country is about to leave the European Union in one month without a deal. Protesting about climate change is like complaining in a burning house—it’s true that erosion from the seafront will make the property collapse in about 100 years, but the house is on fire, right now.

The government’s own documents for No-Deal planning, named Operation Yellowhammer, spells out the inferno in detail. To take but a few examples: medicine shortages; chaos on the motorways; food shortages; and riots. They should also add, to that list, economic implosion. Trade deals that will evaporate overnight. Exporters will go out of business; multinational companies will move their offices (they are already doing this!); layoffs; and Sterling will be nuked. Inflation will rise to levels not seen since the 1970s.

So why are voters not scared about this? Some are fanatics who will want their Brexit unicorn no matter what, and no amount of expert testimony or evidence will convince them otherwise. But this is a minority. Rather, I have come to believe that the majority of the electorate are simply living in denial. And the reason for this denial has to do with something fundamental in today’s politics.

People do not understand the impact of political decisions. They don’t have the background in economics, law or history to understand. Not until something happens—the moment those political decisions start to affect their lives.

I fear that by the time the majority wakes up, it will already be too late. On a personal level, this has two effects. Firstly, I am looking for opportunities to get out of this country as soon as possible: an internship placement, a master’s degree, or boarding the flight to Romania on October 31st—the last resort. Secondly, my sympathy has run out.

It’s your fault, Brits. Wake up and smell the burning building. I’m not hanging around to see it burn.

23 Sep 2019

Fallen Love is coming out!

Hail reader!

Following on from my previous post (“Publishing Woes and Other News”) I have some good news for you all: Fallen Love is coming out in December. This was not an easy decision to make, but I think it is the right one, and I hope you’re all as excited as I am to read my new book. It’s been a long time in the making.

Self-publishing isn’t cheap, of course—I am trying to get it done on a €1500 budget, which is basically shoestring. This is without considering the money I’ve paid for editing over the past couple of years, which comes out to about €850. The biggest expense (developmental editing, easily costing €2000 on its own) had to go. Even so, I have high hopes for this book, not least because of the awesome cover and my helpful marketing advisor.

Ah yes, the cover. I shall be revealing that very soon—I have one more little detail to finalise with my designer, which is why I am not showing it to you in this post. The new blog design, however, should give you a clue about the colour scheme and thematic elements.

I can, however, reveal the blurb, which you can also read on the page named Fallen Love, up top:

There are many kinds of monster that walk the Earth. Some are ugly. Some speak beautiful words through forked tongues. Some possess the grace of angels, and the hearts of demons...

Upperclassman Conall is rich, impeccably dressed, and set for a prestigious career in the Party hierarchy. He doesn’t lack for anything—except, maybe, love.

When he finds Mark, alone, abandoned and hurt, he doesn’t expect one act of kindness to alter the course of his life forever. For Mark is more than just beautiful; he has the spirit of a warrior, and his heart is divine. He has the power to save Ireland from the tyranny of the Party—or to to condemn it to something far worse.

Fallen Love is packed full of magical action, futuristic technology, and diverse characters. Demons and unscrupulous politicians face off against witches and ordinary, determined humans. If you like romance that’s dark and funny at the same time, this is the story for you!

What readers have said...

★★★★★ “This was an incredible story and I will be waiting for the next book in the series.” —Teresa, aka Fallen Angel.

Stay tuned for more updates! And before I forget to add, the publication date is set for 23 December. But if things go well, I may move it a bit earlier, so hope for the best!

8 Aug 2019

Review: the Queen of Air and Darkness

The Queen of Air and Darkness is a great book that just goes on for too long. Cassandra Clare’s third book in the series is over 200,000 words—and a fourth book, a short story, is coming. Can the plot really support going over half a million words?

The Queen of Air and Darkness is undeniably a stunning work of fiction: the vast array of characters, relationships, conflict and magic is enough to keep this poor reader awake till the dark hours of the night. To cover all this ground in a review feels onerous; I can only summarise the key points, and reflect on my personal impressions. I assume the reader has already read the previous two books in the series, as well as the Mortal Instruments books. You are going to have a tough time reading this book otherwise.

Characterisation takes up most of the immense word count; this is partly a good thing, and partly a bad thing. Emma and Julian are great characters, of course, and we’ve come to know them well—the devoted and protective Julian, so beautiful yet so tortured; and fierce Emma, trusty Cortana at her side. There are many, many other characters in this book, however. Some, such as Jace and Clary—or my favourites, Alec and Magnus—are well-loved favourites from the Mortal Instruments. In fact, let me be honest: Alec and Magnus broke my heart, in all the best ways.

The remaining character cast is not as important to the narrative, but still take up too much “screentime”, so to speak. The number of pages dedicated to Drusilla and Jaime/Diego; to Rayan and Divya; Kit and Ty; and yes, even to the Mark–Kieran–Cristina nexus, is out of proportion. It slows down the plot, and weakens the story. Emma and Julian are the real protagonists in this tale.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed Mark, Kieran and Cristina’s relationship immensely. It’s rare to get a bisexual love triangle in a fantasy book! Even so, I feel Cassy drew out their subplot way too much. Every romance story needs to have a reason for why two (or three) people can’t be together—and the biggest problem with any romance story is when those reasons become contrived. These three were like a seesaw: always up, always down. At some point you have to wonder: “Why don’t they just get together already?”

The plot is certainly interesting: Cassie has woven twists and turns between the angst-driven relationships, and her skill as a plot writer is, by this point, undeniable. The problem, really, is that there’s just too much—the story loses focus and starts to confuse the reader. The real antagonist is not Annabelle Blackthorn, as the title alludes to; it’s actually Horace Dearborn and his Cohort. Nor was it Annabelle in the first book (Malcolm Fade gets that honour).

I’ll try not to spoil this too much, but in part two of the book, Emma and Julian head to an alternate dimension known as Thule. I think this was probably a mistake for the story. This section seems separate from the rest of the book—aside from a few plot points, the entirety of this section could have been removed without affecting the main story too much. There’s some good characterisation, but the re-introduction (and subsequent death) of Sebastian Morgenstern is just anti-climatic.

The subplot between Kit, Ty and Drusilla is underdeveloped, because it does too little to affect the resolution of the story. Cassy could have given this rather important subplot much greater significance, with a bit of imagination: Livvy could have done something important in the final battle.

I would also like to comment on a few things that personally drew my eye. Cassy understands politics incredibly well—I almost wonder if she majored in political science or history at college. She’s certainly read the history books: the Cohort’s rise to power mirrors the Nazis, from the false flag attacks; the political theatre; and the Hitlerjugend. I also enjoyed the political realism displayed by the Seelie and Unseelie rulers; I think Machiavelli and Bismarck would approve.

Despite my criticisms of this book—really, it needed a better developmental edit—I still enjoyed the book tremendously. Emma and Julian are a great love story; Alec and Magnus are wonderful; likewise the Blackthorn family, which is one of the best examples of family I’ve read. The plot twists and turns, sometimes in horrible, unpredictable directions.

I will be reading the next book—a short story anthology named “Ghosts of the Shadow Market”—which will, at least, be shorter.

Rating: 4/5

3 Aug 2019

My Experience at AUC: A Review

As promised, I am writing a review of my experience at AUC—including the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. I have given similar feedback in the evaluation form I was sent, so the information presented here has already been communicated via the official channel. Instead, this blog post is written partly as an introspective essay, and partly as a guidebook to future AUC students.

The Good

The best thing about AUC is the student community. The environment is co-operative: think MIT rather than investment bank. Some students are academically gifted and help other students, but even the weakest AUC students possess something uncommon—initiative. Entrepreneurialism is cliché, and it’s not the best description here; we AUC students don’t start companies (this is not a thing in the Netherlands) but we do organise events, sing, write, go to festivals, and chair lots of committees.

The curriculum is interdisciplinary, at least much more so than at comparable universities. The course is demanding and hard, but also intellectually satisfying. The AUC faculty teachers are really good—I studied under a lawyer who is foremost in his field of environmental law, for example. One of my teachers is a prominent climate scientist in the Netherlands; another is a best-selling writer and human rights advocate. All of them are good teachers as well as academics; they’re obviously passionate about interacting with the students, and the students are happy to ask questions or pose criticisms.

We have graduates from Stanford, Cornell and Leiden in the faculty. The number of AUC students that obtain master’s degrees from the likes of Oxford, Cambridge or HEC is remarkable given that AUC only graduates about 300 students a year.

The Bad

Academically, the programme suffers from two problems: there’s too much work (and stress), and the quality of courses offered by outside professors is too variable. I won’t name courses or professors here, but one course I took at AUC was more like a high school class than a university-level class at one of the country’s most prestigious schools.

The workload is a well-known issue—AUC themselves basically admit it—and the stress takes its toll on many students. A survey reported by our student newspaper indicates that mental health issues are probably pretty common, and stress is the foremost issue in student life. Speaking personally, it’s not just the amount or the difficulty of assignments that’s stressful—though some exams and assignments were difficult, and sometimes I did have an awful lot of assignments. It’s also the way the assignments and exams are structured: the assignments are usually due at midnight. Not infrequently, on weekends. Exams can be early in the morning (I had one at 8:30am) or as late as 6–7:30pm.

The AUC experience is chaotic, in other words. It also doesn’t help that university’s administration is likewise chaotic and disorganised: the rules are many, important information is not always communicated on time, and some very bizarre decisions are taken with respect to retakes or grade equivalencies from semesters studied abroad. I myself contested an economics paper grade, and ended up having to write a new paper over the summer. Not fun.

The Downright Ugly

The ugliest thing about AUC is not actually AUC, but rather, DUWO—the company responsible for student accommodation. All AUC students have to live in the dorms, so there is no way to avoid dealing with this bunch of losers. Their incompetence verges on the comical, and I could write a long litany of all the things I hate about them. This is but a brief list, covering the greatest iniquities:

  • Repeated breakdowns in the hot water system. Sometimes this lasted a couple of hours in a localised part of the dorms, but once, all of the dorms didn’t have hot water for 2 or 3 days.

  • Repeated breakdowns of the lift: good luck getting your bike to the 3rd or 5th floor.

  • Lack of communication, and stubborn idiocy on the other end of the line.

  • Electronic keys that stopped working.

  • Poor quality washing machines. They didn’t allow us to use our own washing machines, either.

  • A bathroom with no light fixtures or ventillation; a linoleum floor that was always dirty even if you just cleaned it.

If I had to pick one ugly thing about AUC, however, it would be the way they deal with struggling students. As of 2020, students who need an extra semester to graduate need to move out of the dorms and find housing on their own. Retakes are officially forbidden, so hope you don’t screw up an exam.

Conclusion

I ultimately enjoyed my time AUC, and survived the more difficult periods. I have just graduated cum laude with a high GPA—enough to meet the minimum requirements for Oxford. Nevertheless, I cannot recommend AUC to just anyone. It’s obvious that academic ability is required (any good university requires this), but the experience is also unnecessarily stressful. By the end of my studies, I was exhausted.

2 Aug 2019

Publishing Woes, and other news

Hello readers!

It has been a while (over a month, in fact) since I last wrote on the Magical Realm. Alas, this is inevitable: there was too much work to do in June—the final month of my studies—and after July 1st, when I graduated. The wonderful housing corporation, which every single AUC student is obliged to rent from, made me move out on July 15th. That’s barely two weeks since I graduated.

After I managed to sell my furniture—or rather, a single piece, the rest of which I simply dumped—I travelled with my parents to Romania, and visited beautiful places in Austria along the way. The journey is about 2300km in length, and we were in no hurry, so we stayed 2 weeks on the road. You can check out my album here.

In Romania, I hoped for some peace and quiet, but naturally, got neither. Part of it is because of my family. Part of is it also because of a medical problem: I have developed foliculitis decanavans on my scalp and hair, thanks to years of antibiotics and reclacitrant acne. The good news is that I have convinced a local dermatologist to put me on isotretinoin (also known as “Accutane”). This is a Vitamin-A derivative that drastically reduces sebum production—sebum being a fatty secretion on the skin. Acne like mine has a variety of causes, but a huge overproduction of sebum is the main cause.

(The above is still a very simplified explanation: you can read more about it online, if you are interested.)

The medicine is, unfortunately, known for its side-effects, and I will need monthly medical supervision during the 6-month treatment course. But it’s the only permanent treatment available for both my acne and foliculitis.

You, dear reader, are probably interested to know more about my new novel—Fallen Love—as well as my experience at AUC. The latter is a topic I will be addressing in an upcoming blog post, entitled “My Experience at AUC: A Review”. I will be posting that shortly.

As for my new book, progress has once again stalled. I have queried another batch of agents, receiving one rejection and no replies after 1 month. The situation is so bad that I’ve seriously started considering how I will self-publish. Self-publishing requires three things: knowledge, time, and money. Naturally, money is the most difficult of the three. One good thing about AUC is cost; the cost of living in Amsterdam was manageable thanks to student housing and subsidies, and the tuition was mostly covered by loans. The loans have 0% interest and a 15-year repayment period starting in 2021. This means that I am not broke.

Even so, I have divided the self-publishing option into two plans: the cheap plan, and the expensive one. It is impossible to self-publish effectively without a good cover and a solid marketing strategy; and since editing is expensive, it must face the financial guillotine.

The two plans cost as follows:

  • The cheap plan costs €2500. This includes cover design (in the region of €500); the services of a marketing professional (€1000); miscellaneous expenses including a self-publishing course, for around €200; and the remaining €800 is budgeted for ads.

  • The expensive plan costs €5000. It budgets €2250 for editing (developmental + a proof read) and €750 for cover design, just to make sure I get the best cover I can.

The cheap plan is feasible for me right now; the expensive plan is predicated on getting some sort of job.

Right now, I’m honestly still uncertain as to what to do. I have applied for a master’s degree and a scholarship at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, where I can save rent living with my parents. If that doesn’t pan out—and there’s no guarantee it will, financially—I will look for a job or start a master’s degree in the winter.

Now you understand my quandary. I will leave you now, dear reader, for I need review the quality of my university’s education, on which I shall be writing again soon!

21 Jun 2019

The Bullshit of Academia

Hello intrepid reader!

It has been a long while since I last published a post here on the Magical Realm, and this has been because of—wait for it!—my university. In its usual way, the university has left me stressed out, in doubt, and wondering what to do next. Partly, it’s avoidable mismanagement on the side of both the university and the housing association: I am meant to be moving out on the 15th of July, but I have no idea who the new tenant will be, and I have a lot of furniture I need to sell. Naturally, my room came completely unfurnished; were I to extend the luxury of furniture to the new tenant, both of us would benefit. Instead I must live with the uncertainty.

Then there’s the idiotic choice of dates: I will have my graduation ceremony on the 1st July, my final internship report the day before, and have only two weeks to move out. This is despite the fact that the first years start intro week at the end of August. The rationale? None. Or at least, none that a sane person could comprehend.

It gets worse: although I have to move out on the 15th of July, I don’t get my official diploma until August 30th. What the hell does my university think I’m going to do in the intervening six weeks? (Hint: it’s not holidays or travelling. A great deal of bureaucracy must be conquered in order to have the diploma delivered by post.)

Still, the title of this post does not single out my university in particular (although, buyer be warned). Rather, there is an underlying problem here, common to many universities across the globe: the bullshit of academia.

Teaching Useless Skills

I have spent a great deal of time and effort, during the past 3 years, in perfecting skills that will be useless later on in my career. I speak here of such things like citation styles (an archaic mess that belongs in the 7th circle of Hell); or the various muddled conventions of academic writing, like passive voice; or indeed the whole sorry mess of journals, impact ranking, H-index, et cetera ad nauseam.

All practical applications of writing—i.e writing that people want to read and which makes money—follow conventions that oppose the dictums of academic writing. I am not referring to such things alone as writing a novel, essays, or journalism pieces; indeed, business writing, too, shares more similarities with a journalism entry than your typical academic paper. Practical writing uses active voice; the intent is to sell something, be it a story, your CV, or a product. Good writing gets to the point. When presenting an argument, the reasoning must be comprehensible and the conclusions clear.

The weasel words of academia—“generally”, “this indicates that”, or, my favourite, “to what extent”—have no place in business writing. Superfluous jargon or verbiage, likewise, must face the guillotine. (I exclude technical terms here, which are necessary in order to be precise.)

Teaching Useless Courses

Another pet favourite of liberal arts courses is the teaching of superficial nonsense courses as general requirements. In my case, it was such wonderful things as: “the Global Identity Experience”; “Big Questions in Future Societies”; or Advanced Research Writing. (ibidem)

The problem, let me be clear, is not always the material itself. It is instead its superficiality. Philosophy of science, for example, is a huge discipline with a rich and wonderful history. (And plenty of real-world applications, for that matter.) Yet its treatment in Global Identity did not do it any justice. Qualitative methods, likewise, is a practical course, but covered insufficiently.

Creating Knowledge (not)

The crux of my criticism against academia, as taught in undergraduate courses, is that it inculcates bad habits in students in order to succeed in the academic game; that it teaches certain important topics too superficially, and places too much attention on unimportant things; but my argument also contains a distinctly scientific criticism.

Academics like to delude themselves into believing that they create knowledge. From the perspective of epistemology, it is obvious that the purlieu of academia only covers propositional knowledge, and not other forms of knowledge which are valuable in the pursuit of human flourishing (for example, practical knowledge, moral knowledge, or friendship). Economists like Hayek will tell you—correctly, in this case—that the private sector is also responsible for creating a great deal of knowledge.

But even with these caveats, there remain more problems for academia. The first is one of social conventions—I refer, once more, to the aforementioned passive voice, citation styles, and pretentious journals. These social conventions are dangerous enough on their own. In order:

  • Passive voice obscures the nature and strength of the claim being made. Exempli gratia, “Results indicate that the prevalence of rape culture on campus is proportional at 25% (95% confidence interval: 21–29%).” Active voice: “A small-sample size questionnaire with dubious methodology, carried out by feminists with an agenda, found that approximately one quarter of women on campus were raped.”
  • Rick & Morty (2000) found that stress made consumers less likely to judge information correctly... versus... A study, “The Effects of Stress on Consumer Behaviour” (1) found that stress made consumers less able to judge information correctly. (Guess what: author name and year tells me absolutely nothing about the the claim being made. Give me a useful description and number your reference list!)
  • Pretentious journals, or journals with no standards. One rejects potentially valuable research on technicalities. The other publishes crap. Naturally, everyone wants to get published in the pretentious journals, which, via supply and demand, are given even more power to enforce pointless requirements.

Another problem, well documented by this point, is the “neo-liberalisation” or industrialisation of research output. This is a topic all of its own, and one that I cannot cover in sufficient detail within this mere blog post. I only point to the effect: a huge amount of research is published, much of it unreadable by laymen or non-specialists, and whose scientific merit is difficult to evaluate.

So what to do?

I often see that academics are reluctant to suggest solutions to a problem, either relying on weasel words (“x and y claims are subject to further research...”) or leaving it to someone else (“policymakers”, whatever that means). I don’t have all the answers, but I can suggest some obvious first steps. To begin with: academia and academic teaching should collaborate much more closely with business, industry and successful professionals. Academia is not real life, but real life has a lot to teach academia.

Secondly, scrap the archaic citations, academic verbiage, and passive voice.

I promise you that not only will academia benefit, but students too.

Yours truly,
A frustrated student.

2 Apr 2019

Review: Epic Battle Fantasy 5 (RPG)

It’s hard to review this game, for me personally, because I’ve been playing the series for so long; this a game steeped in nostalgia, with a history spanning a decade and two spin-offs. This is Matt’s magnum opus—I don’t think he will ever make a game that’s bigger than this one.

Before I carry on, if you’re considering buying this game: do it. The executive summary is that Epic Battle Fantasy 5 is a great RPG—one of the best, even. And I’ve played a lot of RPGs, let me tell you.

The remainder of what I’m going to write is intended for other players and Matt himself; it’s my experience playing this game after having played EBF3 and EBF4. I’m not a hardcore gamer in the sense that real hardcore players would consider, but with 72 achievements under my belt (and a similar number for EBF4) I’m definitely not your average casual.

Let me begin by saying that this game is huge. It’s even bigger than EBF3 and 4, which were pretty big games in their own right. I’ve spent 100 hours on this game, and—unlike other games where a player can tally 100 hours or more—EBF5 is not repetitive. Pretty much every hour you spend on this game is fighting new enemies, discovering new areas and treasure. In fact, I’m going to say that EBF5 is too big: Matt has bitten off more than he can chew, and it shows.

I don’t like the new cool-down system. While it’s appropriate for some skills that would otherwise be abused, overall it functions less effectively than the mana points system. All of the players except Lance can spam the same skills over and over, without having to worry about running out of MP. Lance, on the other hand, is crippled by the fact that most of his skills—especially his best skills—have long cool-downs. I would have preferred keeping the mana system and having shorter cool-downs on some of Lance’s skills: zero cool-downs for bullet hell/antimatter/plasma, as well as machine guns + airstrike. MOAB and Unload should have cool downs of 3 and 2 turns respectively.

The summon system, which initially didn’t exist until EBF4, has gotten better, but is still a little broken. I love the mechanism of catching foes and summoning them in later battles. However, most summons cost too many summon-points, which makes them rather ineffective in battle. It’s no fun having bosses and Cosmic Monoliths in your summon pool if you only use them once in a blue moon. To fix this, I would have the party receive summon points every turn based on their level, in addition to SP from foes. I would also make the summon pool larger, or else lower the summon cost of the stronger summons.

I do love having NoLegs as a playable character. Firstly, he’s super cute. Secondly, he’s an effective fighter; I would say the most effective after Matt. His evade often saves him from attacks that kill Natalie, Anna or Lance; he has good support skills; and good offensive skills.

Finally, let’s talk story. What I loved about EBF3 and 4 was the storyline: it was so wonderful to see the heroes join forces to take on dangerous bosses and save the world. I loved the wit, the banter, and the meta humour. EBF5 has many of the same elements, but the story is not as good as it could be. Partly, it’s because the characters don’t know each other in this game, which is just a big setback for character development. The ending fixes this to some degree, but... I would have liked it if the characters got flashbacks or hints from their past.

It’s also a setback for the worldbuilding, especially since the new character—NoLegs—doesn’t have a story of his own. Who is NoLegs? Does he have feline family? Why does he fight other cats? What made him choose Matt and his friends instead of Godcat?

Then there’s another problem: EBF5 has certain problematic themes that don’t really belong in an RPG. It’s one thing to portray Lance as an anti-hero who wants to take over the world; it’s another to depict him with Nazi paraphernalia. The previous games used the iron cross, which is definitely not the same thing as the swastika-like symbol in EBF5. He’s still lecherous towards women, but lacks the humorous, endearing qualities he possessed in EBF3.

The music, by the way, is awesome. Phyrrna has outdone herself yet again.

In conclusion, despite all the negative feedback, I still loved playing Epic Battle Fantasy 5. This is still an awesome game. There’s a gravestone, actually, near the masoleum, which says: “Here lies Epic Battle Fantasy 6, along with all those who ask about it.” But I think Matt is wrong. We do need EBF6. It certainly shouldn’t be as long as this game, but I think the series deserves one more shot. At the very least, I would like to see some of the game mechanics be fixed.

18 Mar 2019

The Necromancer, and Reedsy Discovery

Hello readers!

Once again I have been lackadaisical in keeping the Magical Realm up to date with all my doings. I will spare you the usual litany of excuses: writing a capstone, exams, et cetera. Instead I will briefly cover what’s been going on so far, and my plans for the near future.

To begin: I am still trying to get Fallen Love published. I’ve submitted to many, many agents and have scored a few near misses and close-calls, but no contract as of yet. I will persevere insofar as it is reasonable with this. If not, I will reconsider my options.

In other news, I have decided to submit the Necromancer to Reedsy Discovery. For now, the book is only available to Reedsy reviewers. The idea is to get more reviews, and reviews = exposure. The book will go live on Reedsy on the 30th April. On the day, I will write another post reminding you, my faithful readers, to go to the landing page and upvote the book!

Naturally, I will also be running a Kindle Countdown deal from April 30th to May 3rd, and any readers will be able to buy the book for cheap during that week.

Very well, that’s all for now! I will return to the Magical Realm once again, when time permits. Until then, may the stars be with you.