Welcome to my worlds!

I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Write! Daydream, type, profit, repeat! First Two Chapters!

Before I dive in on my final draft of Dragonsgate: Devils, I've taken time to write my first ever book of non-fiction, WRITE! Daydream, Type, Profit, Repeat! I'll announce a formal release date soon. The book still needs line editing and final proofing, which I'll get too after I make another pass on Dragonsgate. 

In the meantime, here are the first two chapters to whet your appetite! 


A Pretty Sweet Deal 

Here’s the deal. It’s pretty sweet. This is it. Everything, absolutely everything you need to do to be a professional novelist:





Yeah, I know, you saw that on the cover.

You’ll see it again on the next page. Tear that page out, tape it above your computer, and follow it step by step. If you don’t type at a desk, adapt. Maybe you ride a train to work in the morning and write during your commute. Ask the stranger next to you to hold this above your screen as you work. Don’t let him tell you he has more important things to do. Explain that you’re a novelist. Don’t let him give you any guff!

Also, I should probably clarify that I don’t actually recommend tearing the page out. Cutting neatly with scissors will give you more professional looking results. These words are intended to change your life. Don’t cheapen them with a ragged, torn edge.*

I looked into getting the pages perforated, but that cost a fortune. And, you know, profit.
Well, my job’s done here. Thanks for reading! Sorry if this book turned out shorter than you expected!  
*This text here will make much more sense in the final print book than it will on the blog. Here's the graphic from the page. 


That’s It?

You may feel that my instructions in the previous chapter are a little sparse. Daydream, type, profit, repeat. It feels a bit… underdeveloped.

One of the duties of an author is to pick apart the world and study its component parts. You take something complex and break it down to the essential elements that make something, well, something. A cartoonist learns to replicate a human face by drawing a rough oval and jotting a few lines to indicate eyes and a mouth. ☺

It will be the same with writing fiction. You’ll learn how to break complex things like human lives, world histories, geologic eras, religions, morals, myths, and mysteries down into a string of words that reproduce these things in a reader’s mind as effectively as a circle, two dots, and a curved line can invoke a face.

Making things simple is surprisingly complex.

You might think I dashed out daydream, type, profit, repeat in a matter of seconds one lazy afternoon. The reality it, it’s taken me very close to twenty years to understand my writing process well enough to capture it in four words. Allow me to use many hundred words to explain how I mastered such brevity.

One of my duties when I was Piedmont Laureate for Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill was to teach writing workshops. Planning for these workshops, I did my best to focus on the components I thought a novice writer needed to learn. How to create characters was an obvious topic. I taught another workshop on how to create realistic settings. Plotting. Research. Time management. Anything people asked me about when I taught one workshop inspired me to create another workshop.

Overall, I did close to thirty events, and ended the year fairly confident I didn’t know a damn thing about writing. Everything I’d lectured on was probably useful advice, but I’d always felt compelled to focus on one aspect of writing fiction rather than trying to explain the whole process. In doing so, I was more or less trying to explain how a car works by showing people unassembled car parts. If you’ve never driven a car, and I showed you a detached steering wheel, then showed you a gas pedal, then spent an hour going over the windshield wipers, when you actually sat in a car you might feel more lost than if you’d never gotten any instruction at all. Ultimately, if you want to learn to operate a car, you need to get behind the wheel of an actual car.

I pondered this problem for a several years. How do I capture the sprawling, time-consuming process of writing novels, something I’ve spent half a century trying to perfect, and break it down into something that evokes the whole process at a glance, the way a circle and a few squiggles turns into a face?

I stumbled into my answer by accident. I was doing a writer’s panel at a convention, one of countless “How to Make a Living Writing” discussions I’ve done. There were five people on the panel, and I was the last to speak. One by one, the authors going before me talked about how difficult it was to be a writer. They complained about publishers going out of business, agents ignoring their emails, and how a career that’s hot one day can go cold the next. A big gripe was how saturated the genre markets had become, as self-publishing had transformed the industry from one where a few hundred new titles a year would find their way into bookstores into a new world where thousands of books get published every hour. How can a writer hope to survive against such terrible odds?

I don’t think this grousing is unique to writers. I think if we’d been a panel of five cab drivers, we’d have spent an hour griping about how terrible traffic is with all those amateur drivers mucking up the roads. It’s a legitimate gripe, but look, if you don’t enjoy being a cab driver, don’t drive a cab. If you don’t enjoy writing books, don’t write books.

Writing novels is a completely optional activity. Mankind invented writing roughly 10,000 years ago. The novel as we know it didn’t come into existence until 400 years ago, more or less. For the majority of human history, people have gotten along fine without novels. It’s not too late to turn back. If the hassle and frustrations of writing books cause you to feel hassled and frustrated, give up! Producing a novel is no more important to the world than driving a cab.

Unless, maybe, you have a beautiful and unique vision for a book that you alone can write. A book that might change the world, or, at the very least, a book that at least a few people will regard as a pretty good story. Which, probably, you do, or you wouldn’t be reading books on how to write novels.

Sorry. I’ve gotten sidetracked. I was telling the story about the writing panel. I kept listening to my fellow writers, hearing them express every frustration I felt about my chosen career. Writers work long hours and the most common reward for your work is obscurity, though occasionally you also get poverty. The publishing industry is brutal. The standard contracts offered by most publisher creep right up to the borderline of legal theft. The gripers ahead of me on that panel didn’t need to explain to me how much life sucked for writers!

Then the moderator asked me how I felt about writing as a career. I looked at the audience. All the energy had drained from the room. The authors on the stage had collectively published over fifty novels. Now we were telling a room full of people working on their first novels that only an idiot would want to be an author.

What if we were telling people this because it was true? What if writing novels is an absolutely crap job? What if those people uploading a thousand books every hour to Amazon were hopeless fools? Forget those thousand people on Amazon. What the hell was I doing? Why did I ever want to be a writer? Why was I still doing it, despite knowing the difficulties?

And suddenly, I knew. Like a cartoonist who discovers a face in a few squiggles, I grasped the entirety of my career. I could see the whole process end to end, and it was simple and elegant and beautiful. No wonder I love doing it.

I said to the room, “I don’t know why everyone’s saying this is hard. I daydream and I type and people send me money to keep doing it. It’s a pretty sweet deal.”

And that’s that. You daydream. You type. You get paid. Then you do it all over again. It’s that easy. Why anyone thinks this is difficult is a mystery. It’s not rocket surgery. You aren’t digging ditches. You seldom get tackled by linebackers. You’re getting paid actual money to sit around daydreaming! Also, there’s some typing involved. And some business stuff. Contracts, royalties, taxes, that kind of junk. Don’t sweat it. It’s easy to figure out. Keep your eyes on the big picture. You want to be a professional author? Daydream, type, profit, repeat!

Don’t let anyone tell you it’s hard!

I mean, sure, occasionally it’s a little hard, parts of it. Not too hard. Except for the times when it’s really hard. Speaking from long experience, there are only four difficulties in writing that I would describe as “soul-crushing.”

1. Daydreaming

2. Typing

3. Making a profit

4. Repeating it. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Dragonsgate Update

Winter gives way to spring, spring to summer, summer to fall, and still Dragonsgate grinds on. Yesterday I completed chapter 20 of the second draft, which brings the novel as of now to 102,533 words. There's the very real possibility that when this draft as done, I'll be looking at the longest novel I've ever written, probably 150,000 words. But maybe longer! As the second draft has evolved, I have an ever growing list of scenes I need to go back and work in, I also have at least six more existing chapters to rewrite, plus a bare minimum of two chapters past those where I wrap up final plot threads. I really won't be surprised if the final second draft comes in closer to 160K words. But, I'm also certain there are redundancies and bloat I'll be trimming on future drafts. Assuming I do have 160k words when I'm done, then assuming I edit out 10% to tighten stuff up (or, more realistically, 15% cut, but 5% new enhancements and clarifications), I'll probably have a final book of about 144k words. My previous longest book was only about 130k.

Ultimately, the book will be as long as it needs to be. I've added a lot of fresh characters who need room to breathe and grow alongside existing characters. It will all be worth it.

What's intimidating is that this is just book one! The second book my be longer, and the third book longer still! But maybe not. I'll have a much smaller cast after this book.

Friday, September 13, 2019


Unpacking my latest restock order. The one downside to selling a lot of books is that it's always followed by a order where you buy a lot of books!

Still, this year I've finally gotten good at it. I used to rely too much on my memory of what books I had in stock, and my hunches as to what books were likely to sell at upcoming cons. Too often, this would result in my packing up for a con the following day and discovering, oops, I only have two copies of Nobody Gets the Girl, or just a single Bad Wizard. My two biggest sellers, the Dragon Apocalypse and Bitterwood collections, were relatively easy to keep track of. Nine times out of ten, I'll sell most of what I take, so it was easy to keep track of my stock levels and anticipate when I needed to reorder. Where it got tricky was my superhero novels. It's not unusual for me to do an event and not sell a single superhero novel. So, I generally didn't bother keeping a lot of them in stock. But, almost at random, I do have events where I sell superhero books to just about everyone who looks at them. Probably the most I've sold at an event is 30. So, 0-30 is a big range to keep track of.

Complicating matters further, I often sell books in bundles. So, a single superhero novel is $10, but a full trilogy is $25. So, I'd have multiple line items for selling the same items.

But, all along, the tools to manage sales were built into Square. Each item in Square can has an inventory field. Today, unpacking five cases of books, I stopped and input every book I received into the inventory. Square also lets you set up alerts when stock levels fall below a certain level. So, I now if I fall below having ten in stock of any superhero title, I get an alert and know to reorder. And, the final trick was to get rid of all my bundle entries in square. Now, I ring up each book of a trilogy as it's own item, but then add a fourth item, a $5 discount. Square lets you create discounts as negative value items that you just add to the transaction. Now, I not only keep an accurate count of what I'm selling, I can also look at the end of each month and see how much I'm relying on discounts to move books. It helps find the balance between cutting a deal to move books, and holding firm on price to maximize profit.

In retrospect, I wish I'd been doing this years ago. I'm sure I've lost sales by not having enough inventory. And, while you don't get a volume discount from Amazon by ordering a lot of titles at once, you do save on shipping costs, so being able to quickly know every possible title I can add to an order helps cut that cost, at least.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Mid Year Update: 209745

As June comes to a close, my word count for the year is 209745. This is mostly new fiction, between a first draft of Dragonsgate, 14 chapters of Nobody Nowhere, and lots of false starts and test chapters on other projects. At the beginning of the year, I still thought I'd be writing a Smash Lass novel called Smash, and I may one day, but for now it's gone and forgotten. I also wrote several false starts for a younger reader novel called Squire. It's also set aside and mostly forgotten. In non fiction, I've written several chapters or fragments for my writing book, The Stuff. It's very much an alive project, but a ton of what I've written is probably unusable. I've been approaching the book as a series of essays, but am starting to see that, despite being non-fiction, it really needs a plot. There should be a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it needs some twists along the way. I wrote a new first chapter for the book last week and feel like I might finally have a handle on how to make the book a page turner. I also think that my previous takes on writing advice have been somewhat serious and dry. My new vision incorporates much more humor.

My word count is also including some non-revenue oriented writing, like these blog posts, some written interviews I've done, and some of the writing-related work I've done on organizing projects for the Friends of the Library. (For instance, writing the rules for the costume contest at the Comic Fair.)

But, still, I'm not happy to be over 40k words under goal for the year. On the other hand, I'm not panicked either. My year got off to a slow start, with really low selling cons in January and February, and the first BookBub ad I ever ran that had no long trail off at all. On previous ads, I had elevated sales for up to six months. The last one I ran had a one month boost, then a rapid reversion to what I'd been selling before. So, in March, as I was really starting to dip into my savings, I took a temp job. I really thought the project would end in early May, but it ran through the third week of June. Ironically, once I took that job, the writing income panic went away as bigger cons started kicking in. But, it's nice going into the rest of they year with my savings account boosted up a bit. I've got some good sized cons lined up for July and August. September doesn't have any huge events on the calendar, but October and November should be good, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this year I won't have two events in a row cancelled by hurricanes. It's the December through February window that's challenging, both for finding events of any size, and for not having those events canceled by snowstorms (which also happened to me this year).

Of course, the best cure for the winter con slump is going to be to have books releasing during that time frame to boost my online revenue, and I'm on target to do that. Getting in 300k words in the second half of the year requires an average of 12k words a week. Not very daunting. Now, it's time to wrap up this blog post, and get back to cranking out chapters!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Year to date: 188092 words

I skipped a weekly update last Sunday since I was still at ConCarolinas. Next Sunday I'll be at HeroesCon. This week, Cheryl and I took a trip for her birthday to Damascus, Virginia to bike the Virginia Creeper trail. As I predicted in my last blog post, all of this has just killed my writing momentum for the time being.

In addition to all the travel, I also did something yesterday that was writing related, took hours, but didn't count toward my word count goals. I finally created an online inventory system for my books. I've almost certainly lost sales this year by not having enough stock when I head out to a con. I've now upped my inventory level for all my titles and, more importantly, have linked all my inventory into Square so I'll know when it's time to order more while I'm selling them instead of waiting until the day I'm packing for a con to discover what I still have. Unpacking every book I had in stock, sorting them, rearranging shelves so I can more easily store what I have, and keying the inventory into Square ate up my whole afternoon yesterday, but now that it's done it should pay off moving forward.

This week, I was listening to a radio story about a musician who wasn't releasing her new album digitally but was instead only going to release it as a CD. She talked about how CDs might not sell as well in stores, but they still sold well at concerts. It made me realize that my career has kind of become that of a gig musician. Last month I had more revenue from selling books at cons than I made in online sales. This pattern will likely hold true at least through August. Online sales in theory have less cost, but the landscape of digital sales has changed a lot in the last few years and now Amazon has sort of changed the rules to a system where you have to pay to play. If you aren't running ads, your books disappear.

There's a lot of cost involved in selling books at conventions, but the raw dollar profit on a physical book is much larger than the royalty on most ebooks. My ebooks sell best when I discount them. So, from time to time I've done 99 cent promos on my dragon collections, and these are always profitable compared to what I spend on the ads. But, at 99 cent, selling 45 books earns me a royalty equal to the profit I make selling one trade paperback dragon collection at a con. And, at cons, the competition is  less intense. I'm not going to conventions where George R. R. Martin or Brandon Sanderson are sitting next to me selling their books. At a lot of the cons I do, there are only a handful of other authors, and most aren't targeting the same audience. So, for now, doing cons most weekends seems to be the most reliable way of turning my time into money... with the one long term cost, for now, seeming to be a loss of hours spent actually producing new fiction.

The only way forward is forward. I used to balance a day job with writing a couple of books a year, so I see no reason I shouldn't be able to balance all these conventions with producing at leas the same number of books. And, I feel like I'm spending a lot of time beating myself up for making it to June without having released a new book this year, and kind of ignoring the fact that I have actually produced the first draft of one novel and am creeping toward the final chapters of another. Little by little, the writing is getting done. I'm still on track to release two books this year. And, unless the bottom completely falls out, I should have a more profitable year this year than last. It's hard work, but anyone who thinks that making a living as a writer is easy is delusional. It's still so much more rewarding than anything else I've done in my life to earn an income.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Week 21: 3300 word

As expected, the Hillsborough Comics Fair ate up most of my time this past week. No new fiction, most of what I'm counting as writing is a blog post and a lot of social media posts promoting the event. I normally count blogs posts, but don't count, say, a Facebook post, but these were fairly chunky posts hyping several features of the event like the cosplay contest. Oh, and I'm counting typing up the rules for the cosplay contest and creating an entry form and judges form.

Tomorrow I'm doing a 50ish mile bike ride from Anderson Point Park in Raleigh all the way back to near the Southpoint Mall in Durham, so that's going to chew up tomorrow. I'll probably be brain dead Tuesday after the ride, and Thursday I'll be packing up to head for ConCarolinas, so I won't get a lot of writing done this week either. Still, I'm optimistic that I'll be well over 200,000 words by the end of June, probably in the range of 230,000 words, which leaves me positioned to get back on track over the summer, when my cons aren't quite as stacked up as they've been in recent weeks (and won't be requiring quite as much travel).

It was totally worth it to take the time to plan the Comics Fair. Our best estimate is that over 200 people came to the event, and it might have been closer to 300 people. There were a lot of kids, which was exciting. A lot of the cons I go to are really focused on nerdy adults, which is great for me since that's my target reader. But, since this was a free event at the library, the proportion of younger kids was a real thrill. It felt good to contribute to the future nerds of America.

Luckily, my friend Calvin Powers came by and snapped some pics! Here's some of what you might have missed if you didn't make it yesterday!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Week 20: 4850 words

Last week I took a micro vacation on the way to Tidewater Comicon, spending two days biking in the Virginia beach area before the two day con. With Wednesday spent packing, this effectively gave me a work week of Monday and Tuesday night, and a count of 4850 words.

This week, I'm mainly doing last minute organizing on the Hillsborough Comicon, so probably another low word count week. Then, the following Monday, if plans hold, I'll be doing a 75 mile bike ride, then prepping for ConCarolinas, a three day con where I'm moderating panels, again giving me another short week. But, despite a hectic May (and early June), things should calm down considerably after HeroesCon, as I won't have any more multi-day cons on the books until the end of July for SuperCon/GalaxyCon.

Cons are a huge time and energy investment, and there's no question my busy travel schedule over the last few months have sapped my writing energy. Is it worth it? Yep! The more cons I do, the better I'm getting at selling my books. This year, I've earned four times what I'd earned between January 1 and May 20 last year. Part of it is just that I have more books to sell, since I didn't have all of my Lawless books out last year at this point, nor had I released Dragonsgate. I also didn't have hardcovers. I'm charging more for my books than I did last year, relying less on discounts to move products. I'm also travelling a bit further and doing more multiday events. I've revamped covers that weren't selling, and improved my table signs and banners to do more selling without me spending as much time doing pitches. Part of this means that I'm once again a part time writer... only now, instead of my energy being divided between a day job and writing, my energy is divided between writing and a career as a travelling salesman for my own books.

I'm not complaining at all about this, by the way. In my years working a "real" job, I spent countless hours selling products of dubious value, with my soul withering as the people who signed my checks kept inventing new ways to gouge customers with unnecessary add-ons. It turns out that selling a product I believe to be superior to other items of a comparable price is actually quite uplifting. I normally finish a con exhausted, but giddy at how many books I've sold. Hoorah for the intersection of creativity and capitalism!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to work!