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!