Ask Luna #56

From: Alice

Dear Luna,

May I know if you are aware of the existence of any shops that sell magical objects in Ireland? Thank you :)

Yeah, there’s one somewhere in the north. Alex mentioned it once, and I remember him saying that it’s a little weird that there’s one there, since there really shouldn’t be enough people in the area to support a proper magic shop, so I guess there’s something a bit unusual going on. Never been there personally.

From: Lloyd

Hey Luna, big fan of how awesome you are. Wondering if you have chosen a mage name yet? Also when it comes to dueling who do you think would win in a azmiuth duel between you and Alex/Vari/Anne? Personally my money would be on you thanks to your range and experience. P.S could we get an encyclopedia entry on Alata

I’m not sure about a mage name. I was thinking about going with Zarine again, but it felt . . . I dunno. Wrong somehow. I guess I’m not sure if I like the thing that Dark and Light mages do, where they give up their old name and start going by their new one. It feels like they’re saying they’re better than everyone else.

For duelling, I can usually go about three for two against Vari. Against Anne and Alex I’d probably win easily. It’s kind of fake, though. I mean, take Anne – on an azimuth piste, I can beat her all day long, because she doesn’t have any range, so I just hit her every time she moves in. But Anne would absolutely destroy me if we ever fought for real.

And on Alata? Really? I guess I could look it up, but I don’t know a thing about the place.

From: Max

Hi Luna!

Hope you’re well, and thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. This column is brilliant.
I’m curious about Arachne; is she *the* Arachne, from the Greek myth, or is that a name she chose for herself like a mage name? If I recall correctly she once told Alex something along the lines of “a creator can act as a mother;” would this mean the dragon Alex met is Athena? Magical creatures from various mythologies seem to be around, if rarer than they once were; what about the gods & goddesses from those pantheons?

Maybe. Alex thinks she is, anyway, and he’d know better than I would. I’ve kind of danced around it with Arachne once or twice, but she doesn’t seem keen on talking about it, and I don’t want to push it.

I think some of the gods and goddesses are around . . . kinda. The way my teachers told it, they aren’t so much gods and goddesses as especially powerful magical creatures who made it into legends and started getting treated as gods and goddesses. Two thousand years is enough time for stories to drift a lot. But then, it’s not like the Light mages know everything, is it?

From: Monika

Hi Luna,

hope you are well.

I was wondering whether you enjoy lessons with Chalice. Are they very different from what Alex did with you?

And … do you trust her?

I guess Alex isn’t all too sure about her, is he?

Anyway, I hope you learn a lot with her.


They’re pretty different, yeah. No offence to Alex, but Chalice just knows SO much more about chance magic than he does. With Alex it was “Well, I don’t know if your magic can do this, let’s throw you in and find out”. With Chalice it’s more like, “Sure there are about five different ways you can do that, there’s this and this and this and maybe this, which one do you want to learn about first?” She knows so much it’s actually kind of scary.

As for whether we can trust her . . . I dunno. So far I’ve taken a chance on her, and so far it’s worked out. Until something changes, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.

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Burned US Cover

Here’s the US cover for the seventh Alex Verus novel, Burned!


Up until now, the US covers have followed a colours-of-the-rainbow theme, with orange for Fated, blue for Cursed, purple for Taken, yellow for Chosen, red for Hidden, and green for Veiled.  I can’t help thinking that the reason they finally decided to break from the rainbow theme was that the only colour left would have been pink, so now we’re doing dual-colours instead.

The colour change is appropriate in a way – Burned will mark a turning point in the series.  Some major things change in this book, and from this point on, the Alex Verus books will be a lot less episodic and a lot more centred around the primary plotline.  We’re still a ways off from the endgame, but we’re moving towards it.

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Ask Luna #55

From: Daniel

Hi Luna,
reading the newspapers just a minute ago, I am wondering who would be more likely to help refugees – Light or Dark Mages?
Wish you well,

I can’t really think of any reason that Light OR Dark mages would spend their time helping refugees. They’re both too busy with their own stuff. Mages don’t spend much time doing charity work.

From: Leslie


Maybe I missed it (and if I missed it, just tell me what book and I’ll go back and read it there), but, what’s the story with Alex’s mother? Will we hear anything about or meet her? And will Alex’s father be back (arguments and all)?

He hasn’t told me. I’m pretty sure he was living with her before he joined up with Richard, but I don’t think he went back again afterwards. I get the impression that their relationship wasn’t the best, and it doesn’t sound as though it’s gotten better.

As for his father, Alex still talks to him occasionally, but not often. It always seems to put him in a bad mood when he does.

From: samuel

Okay, so Alex has saved quite a few people on numerous occasions. But, do you think Alex and the rest of the gang will ever take on a challenge that threatens the entire existence of the planet? Lets say something like the dark mages make or get hold of very powerful imbued items than enslave the entire world to their whims? Also I haven’t read veiled yet, so this could of have happened already…, but do you think star breeze will notice Alex hasn’t been calling on her and turn up out of the blue to save your lives? Gate magic is well rubbish compared to an air elemental at your beck and call.

Jesus. You want us to take on some bunch of Dark mages who are threatening the whole world? What, you think the stuff we do already isn’t dangerous enough? Sure, let’s go around picking fights with guys who are apparently powerful enough to enslave the whole planet, I’m sure that’ll go great. This isn’t Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

As for the less insane suggestion, we’ve actually tried finding a way to get in touch with Starbreeze, but it didn’t work. And yeah, I figure she’ll eventually notice that Alex isn’t calling her and fly around to see what’s up, but given that she lives literally for ever, ‘eventually’ means something really different than it would do if she were a human. Could be next week or next century.

From: BlackMass

Hey Luna I have a question of some importance. Was Aleister Crowley a real mage, hell was Rasputin a real age.

If what I learned in class was right, Crowley was a sensitive who got hold of a mangled book of spells and tried to peddle it as actual magic. (Which doesn’t work. ‘Spellbooks’ are just books of verbal components, and they’re only any use for mages who can use that type of magic already.) If he were a real mage, the Council would have shut him up.

No idea about Rasputin.

From: Andy deal

It strikes me that Alex has very formidable enemies and is merely an adjunct magical cop. Are there ways he can gain magical power , e.g. branch into related disciplines, so he can can improve his survival odds!

Yeah, it’s a problem, and yeah, he’s working on it. But the trouble with getting magical power is that every other mage in the world ALSO wants more magical power, and all the low-hanging fruit was picked a long time ago. I dunno, it’s something that’s been worrying me too. We’re going to have to think of something.

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Pharma Hack: After Action Report

Okay, everything looks clear.  Website appears to be clean again.

For the curious, here’s what’s been going on:

Sometime a while ago (at least as early as June 2015, if not earlier) this website was infected by a Pharma Hack.  The way the hack works is to create a large number of hidden links on the infected website advertising drugs from an online pharmacy.  The goal of the hack is not to get you to click on the links – the goal is to use the links to boost the online pharmacy’s Google ranking.

For those wondering why this is important:  you know how when you do a Google search for something, some results will be right at the top of the first page where everyone will see it, while others will be hidden down in page 5 or 10, where almost no-one looks?  What determines that is the website’s search engine ranking.  Making your website appear high up on Google results is called SEO (search engine optimisation), and it’s big business.  SEO can be done legitimately (‘white hat’) or illegitimately (‘black hat’).  The Pharma Hack approach (a.k.a. spamdexing) is very much black hat.

One of the reasons that Pharma Hacks are so annoying is that they’re really hard to spot.  The results of the hack are only visible to search engines, not to regular visitors – if you’re reading this, you probably visited this site while it was infected without noticing anything.  (No, you don’t need to worry about your computer being infected because you visited – it doesn’t work that way.)  You could even have looked up the website on Google and there’d have been nothing suspicious.  However, if you looked at Google’s cached version of my website (which is the one that Googlebot uses to build its search index), you would have seen this:


At the other end of these links is an illegal online pharmacy selling restricted drugs.  The drugs in question are usually produced in countries with lower manufacturing standards, and there’s no guarantee that the drug will be packaged in the correct dose, be within its sell-by date, or contain the right active ingredient.  A particularly common trick is to advertise the pharmacy as ‘Canadian’, since a lot of US customers are used to buying from legitimate Canadian pharmacies to avoid US domestic drug costs.  (Just to give you an idea of how widespread this is:  the NABP did a study of over 10,000 online pharmacies in 2013.  They found that 96.7% of them were illegal.)

For those who want to know more, the Pharma Hack blog has a ton of info on pharma hacks, including how they work and ways to combat them.


The site’s now been cleaned, the spammy links have been terminated, and the backdoors the hackers used have been flushed out as far as we can tell.  New security measures have been put in place, but please do contact me if you see any signs of pharma spam on this blog dating from November 2015 or later.

To finish on a positive note, here are a couple of shout-outs and recommendations:

  • Michael VanDeMar has a step-by-step guide on how to clean a hacked WordPress installation.  His tutorial’s available for free, but he’s also willing to do it for you for a pretty reasonable fee.  I recommend giving him a look if your own site’s been compromised.
  • My web host, Vidahost, were also helpful – they weren’t able to fix the problem themselves, but they gave me good advice and over the years I’ve used them they’ve been good with phone support.  I’d recommend them if you’re looking for a hosting service for a site of your own.

And that’s it, at least for now.  Right, back to writing.

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Anti-spam treatments have been carried out on the website.  In theory everything should now be clean, but please send me an email if you see anything on this site that suggests a hack or a significant spam problem.  (Random spam comments that happen to have made it through the filter don’t matter – it’s stuff on the website itself that we’re concerned with.)

At the moment all the tests I can run suggest that the problem’s been eliminated, but I’ll be watching closely for the next few days for any signs of reinfection.

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Playing Defence

I did have an Ask Luna post ready to go for this week, but unfortunately this has been put on hold due to this website coming under spam assault.  Everything is still working (and if you’re reading this, new posts are loading fine) but we’re going to be doing some electronic fumigation to get rid of the pests.  I’ll keep you updated as things develop.

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Sales and Royalties, The Sequel

So, my UK sales figures are finally in!  This is a sequel post to the piece on sales and royalties that I wrote last year, and, just like the last one, it’s mostly going to be about numbers.  If you’re not too interested in the details, just skip to the subheading marked ‘TLDR Summary’.

Ebooks and Print

Just as before, ebooks continue to be the biggest part of my royalty income, and not by a little, but by a LOT.  Partly this is because with an ebook, a higher percentage of the price goes to me, but mostly it’s because the ebook sales of my earlier books are much higher than the paper sales of the same.  This make sense if you think about it – it’s easier to get a writer’s backlist via ebook than it to track down paper copies.  Each new book has high initial paper sales on release (most of which goes to the bookshops) but once that’s done, paper sales drop to a trickle while ebooks just keep on selling.  Over time, the ebook sales end up eclipsing the paper ones.

This works out quite nicely for me, as it means that the format that most readers are using for my older books is also the one that earns me the most money.  Added together with the sales difference, the disparity between my ebook income and my paper book income for older books like Chosen and Taken is huge – as much as 10x in some cases.

Scaling Up

Back in last year’s post, I wrote that the sales for Chosen upon its release in the second half of 2013 were higher than the sales for Taken upon its release in the second half of 2012.  The same’s happened again with Hidden – its sales upon release in second-half 2014 were better than Chosen’s sales upon release the year before.  And although I haven’t yet got the sales figures from Veiled (that’ll have to wait until next spring), from what I’ve been told by my publishers, the same thing’s happened again, and Veiled’s first week has outsold Hidden’s.

The difference isn’t huge – it’s not like the sales are doubling or anything – but they’re going up by a noticeable fraction with each new book, which suggests that the fanbase for the books is steadily growing.  Publishers like that, and so do authors.

The American Dream

I’m getting more and more of my income from the US and Canada, rather than the UK.  It’s not that I’m selling badly in the UK, it’s just that while my UK sales are climbing, my US sales are climbing faster.  If I don’t look at income but only at sales numbers, then the difference is even higher – I sold almost twice as many copies of Fated, Cursed, and Taken in the US over the first half of this year as I did in the UK.

Why this is the case, I don’t know.  The obvious explanation is that there are 300+ million people in the US and only 60-odd million in the UK, and that’s probably the biggest reason, but I can’t help wonder if there might be other factors.  Usually authors sell much better at home than they do abroad, but maybe American readers like long-running urban fantasy serials more than British ones do?  If you’ve got any other explanations, feel free to put them in the comments!

TLDR Summary

The Alex Verus novels are still selling well (especially in America), my readership’s continuing to grow, and it’s looking like I’ll be able to keep writing the series all the way to its end.  Good news all around!

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Busy week.  Alex Verus #8 is coming along, but I’ve got a few outside factors distracting me.  We’ll see if I can keep to schedule.  Sales data post is coming once I get the numbers in.

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Update from last week

Alex Verus #8 is on track now and going well!  Hooray!

On the downside, still haven’t received the UK sales data.  Will do a post on that when I get it.

Been a while since I’ve done any Ask Lunas, will put up a new one once I get another question or two.

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Good news, bad news

Mixed week today.

Bad news: Alex Verus #8 is still going really slow.

Good news: Copy-edits on Alex Verus #7 are done, which means the book’s pretty much done too.  The version I’ve sent off today is 99% identical to the version you guys will be getting your hands on this coming April.

Even better news: Got the US sales data for the first half of this year, and it’s very good.  I’ll write more about it when I get the UK news too and I have a fuller picture, but it’s all positive so far!

So more good than bad, really.  Still, let’s hope the new book starts making some progress soon.

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