Review of Fallen Love by Alex Stargazer

Fallen Love by Alex Stargazer

This review is special since I had the honor of beta reading an earlier version. Overall, while I don’t read much science fiction anymore, this is a well-crafted book that is high in tension and male-male romance in a way that has demonstrated the growth of Alex Stargazer as a writer. The book should be out February 1st on Amazon.

4/5 stars.

 

The premise

There are many kinds of monster that walk the Earth. Some are ugly. Others speak beautiful words through forked tongues. But the worst 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. There is more to Mark than Conall can even dream of. The beautiful, vulnerable boy Conall knows is not human. A dark power lies within Mark—it can make him immortal… but love might be the price.

 

My review

Others have remarked that the book is slow to get going but is surprisingly great once it does and I agree. The writing has leveled up significantly since the beta copy. The style is more consistent and self-assured meanwhile the dialogue is more realistic and the characters more compelling. The slowness to get going is likely a combination of things, including a natural byproduct of sci fi’s need to world build and the lack of apparent conflict right away. This is something I struggle with as well, but is balanced by the tension later on.

In true fantasy style, the politics and world-building in the book serve as a critique of politics and social structures in the real world. Sometimes this was successful and other times felt cliche.

All in all, I commend the growth in writing and look forward to more in the future.

 

Kickstarter

Per Alex’s request, I am including the link to the book’s kickstarter here. Since it is a self-published book, the funds go towards all publishing costs including cover art, any editing, ads, etc that normally is paid for by a traditional publisher.

https://alexstargazer.us20.list-manage.com/track/click?u=58afd4129f6c40f710f179f93&id=93c3933486&e=342d3d855e

 

Book Marketing 101

Based on a twitter survey I did, lots of people want to know more about how to market your book. So here is my (basically) all-inclusive guide to marketing.

  1. Figure out your market audience. For example, if you’re in YA, your primary market is 12-18 years old (who you are aiming to read this) but the secondary market (who might also purchase) include adults such as parents, librarians, adults who just love YA, etc.
    • Where can you find them and how do you take advantage of this? YA readers are going to be in school, so you could schedule an event there such as a book reading or a talk about writing/an issue addressed in the book.
    • Use the right tools. ie for social media, don’t use Facebook for young teens. Don’t use TikTok if your market is older. Are there podcasts you could get on? News sources that would publish an article on you/your book, including schools you attended, cities you have lived in, etc?
  2. You, the author, as a brand. 
    • This is fairly basic but not to be overlooked. Your website and social media should be your name, and consistent across all channels (including images, colors, etc). Make sure your website includes contact information, information about your book (where to buy it, what its about), and events you will be at.
  3. The book as marketing. 
    • The cover and the blurb are what many readers use to decide if they should read your book– make sure these are great. If you are self-publishing please, please, please use a graphic designer. The worst thing is having a great book with an obviously DIY cover that people won’t take seriously.
    • Get (a) great review(s) for the cover. Do you know someone, or is there someone within your publishing house, who has name recognition within your genre? Reach out (or have an agent/publisher/etc reach out) with plenty of time before publication (at least a few months) and to multiple people, from least likely “reach” requests to most likely “safer” requests.
  4. ARCS and pre-orders.
    • Once you have ARCs (advanced reader copies– edits and cover done, usually in electronic form but can be print as well) use sites like NetGalley and Edelweiss+ to give copies in exchange for reviews. This way you can get reviews before the book comes out.
    • Get creative with promoting, especially for pre-orders. As many people as you can get to pre-order, the better your book launch will be. You could offer signed copies, custom bookmarks, or other merchandise related to your book.
  5. Blog tours and social media
    • Set up a blog tour! Reach out to blog owners to publish on their blog to promote your book (and yourself!) to the blog’s following. For an example of how to set this up, click here. 
    • Set up a Goodreads giveaway. Goodreads giveaways are a great way to gain exposure in exchange for a copy of the book. *But* the success rate can vary so try one and see before giving away all your books.
    • Do giveaways. In exchange for following blogs/social media/etc, enter people to win a copy of your book, a bookmark, etc.
    • Social media is great, but it isn’t everything. You may gain a few sales this way *especially if you interact with people personally*, but this should not be your main marketing strategy.
  6. Book launch
    • Set up an event the day of your book launch, either in person (ie a reading at a library or bookstore) or online (ie on Facebook or Twitter). Offer incentives for people showing up (like food in-person, giveaways for both, etc).
  7. Libraries, small book stores, etc. 
    • Reach out to libraries and small book stores to get them to order your book/audio book/etc. You might wonder what the benefit to having your book in a library would be, since you don’t profit beyond the initial sale, but it expands your audience which expands your reach in terms of word-of-mouth.
  8. Get creative. Look at Youtubes/Blogs of what has and hasn’t worked for other writers. Take the best of this advice and tailor it for your book/audience.

Ultimately, you are trying to convince people to spend money and time on reading your book, over other books and other things. How can you convince them to choose yours? Are they getting something from it (ie merchandise as in your preorder campaign)? Are they invested in you as a person (ie close friends/family, people you met at events)? Was it recommended by someone else (this is the hardest but best one, and where reviews come in)?

Review of The Upside of Unrequited

Image result for the upside of unrequited

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

This books was a lot of firsts for me. First YA book I listened to as an audio book (or at least first completely- I’ve tried reading others but stopped part way through). First book with a protagonist also named Molly. First book with a character named Molly that I actually liked. A lot. The upsides of this book are numerous.

 

Overall: 5/5 stars.

What I liked:

When we talk about #WeNeedDiverseBooks, this is exactly what we need for them to look like. Just like Simon vs the Homosapian Agenda (same author) this book deals with themes instead of Themes. What I mean by that is sexuality and Judaism and body image and mental health are important to the story and the characters but they aren’t the Defining Characteristics. The people and plots are more complex than that.

The ending was satisfying but not too cliche. The emotions Molly feels are so realistic and poignant. Some people have remarked on Goodreads that she comes across as self-centered because she’s focused on how lonely she is rather than being happy for her sister but *hello* this is a major theme in the book. This is what anxiety looks like. This is what adolescence feels like.

Other issues people have had with the book are that she doesn’t become more secure until the end, but again. Adolescence. Anxiety. In a perfect world should we be secure without a significant other? Yes. Can we be insecure and still find love? Yes. Can being in a relationship give us confidence and is that ok? Also yes.

The mothers in this book are incredible. Like all the characters they feel real and tangible and distinct, whereas many YA parents have been victims of stereotypes and sweeping generalizations. The major events in the book (ie legalization of gay marriage) add a refreshing layer of reality.

Having Molly be into something other than sports or art was also great. Who doesn’t like Pinterest and crafts and baking anyway?

In terms of craft, this was well written– the dialogue is strong and the imagery is captivating. The language is realistic for teenagers without being condescending. It was fun to read, serious enough to deal with major issues but not to the point of being sad or depressing, and had a great mix of tension and satisfactory conclusion.

Overall, it was a fun, mushy book– everything you’d want out of a YA romance, and nothing unexpected that you don’t.

 

What I wish was different:

**spoilers**

I get the theme of needing to put oneself out there and be rejected. I get the hesitancy of admitting your feelings to the person you really like. But I have to say that Molly being rejected just didn’t fit quite right. Its important to be rejected and to learn that that’s okay and  I get that she wanted to be with Reid anyway, but I would have liked for her to be the one to choose to not pursue anyone else.

 

New short story being published!

I just found out that SHARE (https://shareblog.press/), a new publication that publishes one story a month, will be publishing a short story of mine, Twenty-four! The publication explores “personal stories of adversity, hardships, achievements and growth.” While 24 is not a direct biography of my life, it explores issues that I am passionate about, like mental health advocacy, supporting others with mental health issues, mental illness making children have to become caretakers, issues with society’s dialogue around beauty, and more.

The story is one I wrote for a fiction workshop, more-or-less a satire about the fashion industry told by a model struggling to support herself and her ex-model mother suffering from depression.

 

Also, some update on other stories!

The tentative publication of my YA novel, Starvation, is November 2020 — stay tuned for more information. I’ll be posting a cover reveal, bonuses for signing up for the pre-order, calls for ARC (advanced reader copy) reviewers, and more!

Also, the short story anthology I have a story in, Running Wild Press Anthology, Paper Girl about a girl in an in-patient eating disorder treatment center, is wrapping up edits and should be out Spring/Summer 2020!

 

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Review of The Liar’s Daughter

The Liar's Daughter

The Liar’s Daughter by Megan Cooley Peterson

I got this book in hardcover off of Amazon, since it came out recently. I’ve never picked a book because I loved the author on Twitter (she also happened to be in Minnesota, so of course she and her book were amazing).

And… I’m so glad I did. Wow. 5/5 stars. 

I loved the past and present chapters (hmm sounds like a book out next summer… by me…) and the psychology of the cult and its members (also that these things were not explicitly stated but implied). I was also impressed by the accuracy of the psychotherapy– the therapist in the book did textbook CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).

The descriptions were lovely. The characters were unique and vivid. The tension was *high*. I read the whole book in one sitting, in about 2 hours. So yeah, it was that good.

All the motivations and emotions were believable. There was enough revealed about what was going on that I was intrigued rather than frustrated. I did think, for a while, that things would never get better (which is why I kept reading) but the way the ending was handled was perfect. Even the inclusion of words like “groovy” to show how out-of-touch Piper was with other kids worked great– and worked a lot better than the author telling us.

The author mentioned that she was in a doomsday church/cult when she was younger and this translates to a realistic depiction of the Father’s rhetoric and the followers’ response. You not only see how much control they have over the followers, but also why the followers trust the leaders. You understand why someone would believe them. I was glad this stayed less gory than I was anticipating, especially with the intense (but very apt) cover.

I was most intrigued by the themes of this book, namely how do we determine what is real and not. How to trust memory when it is fallible. Knowing who to trust and why. Reconciling after being lied to. The idea of what makes family.

I think this is one of the best depictions of a character you don’t quite like, but have sympathy for. I didn’t like a lot of Piper’s actions, but I felt sorry for her and understood why she was thinking the way she was. I liked how she interacted with the kids and the older boys– you could tell she was caring and maternal and wanted the best for them.

There’s also a romance sub-plot which was great, especially because it was a sub-plot and didn’t become the Most Important Thing like in other stories. Nor did it take away Piper’s autonomy.

All-in-all, this was an amazing YA contemporary novel with lots of tension and the right touches of mystery, romance, and psychology.

 

If this sounds intriguing to you, support Megan and buy her book on Amazon here

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Review of Opposite of Always

Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

The Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

3/5 Stars

I’ve been waiting for this book to come out for a while. I was really looking forward to reading it, not only because of the refreshing diversity and the cover, but also because of the premise.

I almost quit a couple times but kept going hoping it would get better. Taste is subjective and I’m sure there are lots of people who would love this book, but I am not one of them.

*The cons* The dialogue felt stilted. There was so much that was cliche about this — dying girl. Time travel. Boy in love with the best friend who’s in a relationship. Boy who is “average at everything” (and best friend who is the best at everything). Prom being the pinnacle of importance. I like a good cliche every once-in-a-while, but not so many together. The writing style wasn’t my favorite– I would have liked more implied (ie seeing feelings by how things were described) and less internal dialogue/ less “saying” what was already implied. I liked J, but liked him less as he talked more and was obnoxiously unaware of certain things.

There is *no* reason Kate couldn’t have told him what was wrong with her while he was at the hospital. Except for plot. This took me out of the story and made me put down the book. Also I had a hard time believing the time travel was triggered the way it was — like really? Of all the potential ways?

*The pros* I thought there was some great imagery and characterization– each character was vivid and unique. I liked the idea of this premise and the theme. I loved that the majority of the cast was POC and explored important issues like incarceration, divorce, death, love, etc.

What an agent won’t tell you about publication

After 4 years of undergrad, I was surprised that we finally had an event on campus about book publishing. Although I know quite a bit about the industry, I thought I’d go, just in case.

The person speaking, was an agent/editor (for those who don’t know, an agent helps pitch your book to publishers, polish it before pitching, and helps you through publishing and contract negotiations. Meanwhile an editor is within the publishing house and edits your book before it comes out, often much more in-depth and over various stages).

Given her success, this agent/publisher has to be fairly good at her job. However, there were a few things mentioned that I wish were addressed differently. Her comments are in bold, paraphrased. My response is below.

  1. Once you send your book to agents, they will call you up and fight to represent it. Maybe this happens for some people, but no one in the writing community, that I know, has had this happen. For one, it takes on average around 100 queries to find an agent, if you find one at all. Secondly, because agents are receiving so many manuscripts, they have to really, really love it (enough to bet a lot of time and money on it) so even if it’s perfect from a craft perspective, the odds that multiple people like it that much is low.
  2. Once you have an agent, the publishing houses will fight to represent it, offering you lots of money and competing to acquire it. Similar principle as above. The reality is the publishing industry really relies on a few “star” authors to bring in the money and fund their ability to take chances on other books. They receive a lot of pitches and have to like it enough to again, bet a lot of time and money. At this stage, the market can play a large role so you might have written the best book that they love, but if it won’t sell, they won’t buy it.
  3. Don’t worry at all about platform. True, there’s less of a push than before to grow your platform (in part because its not clear that having more followers = more sales) but especially when you as the author are doing a lot of the book marketing, you need to at least know a few people in the industry, from bloggers to other authors, who can help get the word out. Quality over quantity here because 1000 followers who don’t engage with you is worse than 10 who you actively interact with. The idea is to make people want to spend time to read *your* book over other things– so promote other writers, interact with them, basically do what you would want them to do for you.
  4. Shell out $20/month+ for publishers weekly to look up agents who did sales on similar books. Okay, so could this be helpful? Sure. What’s wrong with it? For one, you are going to be querying over a long time, so unless you buy it for one month and take great notes so you can use it in the future, you’d need it over many, many months. Secondly, given that many writers don’t need more costs than they already have, why not do the same thing but for free? MS Wishlist (#mswishlist on twitter or this website) lists what agents are looking for, Writer’s digest posts a lot about agents looking for submissions (ie here), and a lot of agents you can find (*gasp*) by googling literary agent + your genre.
  5. You need an agent. And traditional publishing > anything else. Now you do need an agent if you want to publish with the big publishing houses since many won’t accept submissions unless you do. BUT you can still publish with a smaller press or do hybrid or indie publishing. Of course there are pros and cons to each and you shouldn’t indie publish just because you never found an agent, but for some people indie is better than traditional, and vice versa.
  6. If you want to be in publishing you need to be in New York. If you want to be in the big 5, this is likely true since they’re located in New York. However, there are publishing hubs in other cities (Philly, LA, San Francisco) and regional publishers all over that you can start (or have your whole career) in. There are also many roles (ie freelance editor, etc) that you can do from anywhere.

All in all, while an agent can be a great resource, they have one perspective. Just as one author might taut indie publishing as the best and another traditional, they can be right for some and wrong for others. There are always different ways to do things, especially in book publishing.

 

Publishing Contracts

I just got my contract from Immortal works for my YA novel, Starvation, and thought I’d share what I’ve learned in the process. (Side note: if you want to get publishing updates and/or more information on books and publishing, subscribe in the sidebar on the right.)

If you have an agent, they will (hopefully) understand a lot about a contract. That doesn’t mean you should just sign what they send you, though. A publishing contract is a legally binding document. If you don’t have an agent, please, please, please spend the money to have a lawyer look it over—it could be well worth what you’d save later-on if you have to take legal action or are stripped of rights/royalties/etc that you were expecting. Even if you have an agent, strongly consider talking to a lawyer.

Most (good) lawyers are going to be around $500/hr. The contract, depending on the length, will probably take 1-2 hours for them to go through, especially if you have certain things you are looking for (ie you don’t want to give up rights to making cassette tapes). It will cost even more if you ask them to negotiate directly with the publisher.

I hired one lawyer to do line edits and look things over thoroughly, which took almost 2 hours (the contract was actually very good and very fair, most of it was small wording changes and things I wanted to negotiate). Another graciously talked to me on the phone for a few minutes after skimming it; he didn’t charge me for the call. I will be working with another, recommended by a friend, if the contract comes and needs negotiation. I highly recommend both and you can find them here:

Robert Stein

David Wolf

Lindsay Arthur (Retired)

 

What’s in a contract?

  1. Definition of the work. Make sure this is specific and accurate.
  2. Royalties, how they will be determined, and how they will be paid
  3. Rights, including to other media, international right, etc
  4. Sequels and right to first offer (basically you have to first pitch to them and they can give you and offer before you pitch elsewhere)
  5. Deadlines, both for you and the publisher
  6. Copyrights, marketing, and other roles and/or costs

 

What should I look out for?

  1. Wording like, including but not limited to that isn’t specific
  2. Can you keep to the deadlines they gave you? Make sure you can, planning for how the schedule will fall with other events like holidays
  3. Look out for clauses that allow the publisher to publish “with or without the author’s permission” in terms of chosen titles, edits, etc.
  4. What is each party expected to do? For traditional publishing, the publishing house should pay for editing, cover design, etc. If not, run. For smaller publishing houses (and frankly all) you will be expected to do a lot of the marketing

 

Other things I learned

  1. Most publishers take care of copyright, but if yours puts that on you, as the author, its not expensive or hard. It’s probably worth negotiating other points instead. Just make sure you remember to do it.
  2. Make sure there’s a clause with sequels that, while you may pitch to them, you are under no obligation to accept any offer. Also make sure it doesn’t say the contract has to be the same—if your first book was successful you want to be able to ask for more.
  3. Unless stated in the contract, the publisher is not required to try to schedule signings/events. Most, however, are willing to schedule at least one, so ask about this. If they agree, put it in writing (but again, be careful of the language that you can cancel if you are sick, etc)
  4. Publishers are not allowed to publish anything to email lists provided by authors, they must be sent out by the author themselves (thanks to the CAM-SPAM act). The publisher, however, may ask to be informed before such emails are sent out.

 

Want to learn more?

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Novel and Short Story to be Published!

A short story of mine, Paper Girl, is going to be published in this year’s Running Wild Press short story anthology. Originally written for a creative writing class of mine, I recently went back and edited it before submitting it this week. A day later, especially fast given the normal pace of the publication industry, I received word that it is being published! I will send out a post when it is released.

The story is about a girl with an eating disorder, stemming from my studies of clinical psychology. I am receiving money for the work, but I am donating the proceeds to Melrose Center, an eating disorder treatment program that also does research, education, and more. If you would like to donate as well, you can do so here.

 

Today has been a crazy day because I also found out my novel, STARVATION, also about eating disorders (but in a young male wrestler), will be published by Immortal Works!

I am planning on donating a portion of the profits to the Melrose Center as well.

 

Keep up to date as I learn more about publication dates, giveaways, and more by subscribing to my blog (on the side bar).

What Writers Should Know About Mental Health

The intersection between art (especially writing) and mental health has been observed for a long time– be it writers like Woolf and Hemingway and Plath that suffered from mental illnesses to the portrayal of such maladies in stories such as Hamlet, Speak, Looking for Alaska, and many more.

Journaling can be an effective tool for gaining or maintaining mental health (for example, see this post at NAMI) but it can also cause negative side effects such as leading to too much thinking or obsession with thoughts (as shown here at Psychology Today).

So what’s important to know about mental health or mental illness as a writer?

For writing about mental illness:

  1. Part of the reason there is so much stigma around mental illness is because the average person doesn’t know a lot about it. Limit jargon. Talk to people who have had the illness. Do your research. Go into it assuming you know nothing.
  2. Language is important. Use person-centered phrases (ie a person with depression rather than a depressed person). Stick to phrases such as “died by suicide” rather than “committed suicide” to prevent connotations of sin or illegality. Stay away from words like psycho, schizo, crazy. 
  3. Don’t use diagnosis for non-person objects/situations.  The only “thing” that is bipolar is the mood of a person with bipolar depression. You aren’t OCD with cleaning unless you are scrubbing your hands until you bleed or are cleaning so much it is detrimental to your well being (yes this is criteria for diagnosis).
  4. Past diagnosis aren’t current diagnosis. Being transgender or gay is not a mental illness anymore. Neither is female hysteria (basically being a woman with an opinion or emotion). Read the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) for what currently is classified and what someone needs in order to get a diagnosis.
  5. Add content warnings and prevent details of events such as suicide. Content warnings are especially important for people who are triggered by certain material to prepare for, or avoid, such stimuli. This prevents panic attacks, flashbacks, and more. Including details about suicide (especially on the news) has been linked to increased rates of suicide.
  6. Mental illness is not a characterization or plot. Give your characters more than just a mental illness– just as people are not defined by them, characters shouldn’t be either. And although it is a tough thing to struggle with, your character should want something more than “getting better”. Rape/PTSD/etc should not be included just for a plot twist or tension.
  7. Representation of relationships is especially important around these subjects. Characters should not be “cured” by simply finding “the one”. Illnesses of any kind should not be romanticized, nor should unhealthy relationships. Recovery should not be promised, but sad endings should not be the norm either.

For all writers:

I loved this article by the Writing Cooperative about mental health risks in writers.

  1. You face a lot of rejection, solitary time, goals that feel unreachable, and an art that could allow for an infinite number of drafts. Overthinking and judgement are key to good art, but also key ingredients to negative thought patterns. Of course, not all writers have mental health issues, but it’s important to realize there is a correlation. The article above goes into the difference between alone and being depressed. If you feel on edge all the time or have trouble sleeping, you could have anxiety. If you’re even considering getting help, reach out to a primary care provider or find a therapist to get an assessment.
  2. Writing should be fun. If it’s not, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong but take a step back and look at why it no longer is. What can you change to get back the spark? Take a break? Write something else?
  3. Try to build community and support systems where possible. Just because you write alone doesn’t mean you can’t have support. Start or join a writing group to get together with people. This can allow you to write or exchange pieces for advice. Get beta readers for feedback and encouragement. Share your writing with friends and family and tell them about your goals for accountability.
  4. Have realistic goals and manage your expectations. You are no less of a writer if you only write 1 day a month or if you don’t ever publish.

 

Anything I missed? Comment below!

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