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), the superhero novels Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collection, There is No Wheel. In 2017, I'll be releasing a new superhero series, The Butterfly Cage. 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.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Big Ape, V2, Complete! Beta readers needed!

Woohoo! I just finished the second draft of Big Ape!

If I may offer a completely unbiased opinion, this book absolutely rocks. It's got robotic dinosaurs, a hidden city in the jungle, mystery, romance, humor, over the top fight scenes, and, of course, in the middle of it all, a really big ape named Harry Moreau.

The overall plot kicks off from a fairly standard place: Harry gets framed for a murder he didn't commit and spends the rest of the book one step ahead of the superheroes hunting him down. I would say he spends most of the book trying to prove his innocence, but he actually spend most of the book trying to prevent the death of all humanity at the hands of a pair of genius supervillains. It's also a coming of age tale, as Harry starts the book as a confused young man-ape and ends the book as a confused young man-ape, but now he's confused about different things. Character arc achieved!

I'll be plunging into a third draft soon. If anyone is interested in reading chapters as I crank them out and offering feedback, just email me at nobodynovelwriter (at) yahoo.com. A free signed copy of the print edition will go out to anyone interested in reading this draft!


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Selling Books at Conventions

I used to attend a lot of science fiction conventions as a guest. Occasionally I’d do signings and readings, and a few cons I go to have author tables you can use to sell books for the whole weekend. My sales at this type of convention are seldom spectacular. If I sell more than ten books I consider them a success.

A few years ago I started selling books in the Artist Alley at comic book conventions. I’d written superhero novels, so I figured there’d be an audience for my work. To my surprise, I sold many more books at these conventions than I did at science fiction conventions, but it wasn’t my superhero novels that were selling, it was my epic fantasy. Maybe it’s counter-programming. There’s so much superhero stuff at the con, it’s hard for me to stand out. There’s a lot of overlap between comic book readers and fantasy readers, and sometimes I’m the only fantasy author at a convention, so my books don’t have as much competition.

When I first started going to cons, I tried to split the cost of a table with other authors. A cheap table is going to cost $150 and really big cons will charge $300 or more. By the time you factor in the cost of the table and the cost of inventory, it’s easy to worry you won’t recover your investment. Fortunately, with one exception, I’ve at least broken even at every con and usually turn a nice profit without sharing a table.

Even if I weren’t making money, the conventions would still be valuable. At most cons these days I get a lot of signups to my mailing list. This is a good base for future marketing. Even more valuable is watching the real time reaction of people to various covers. My Dragon Apocalypse collection has a cover that draws fantasy readers like a magnet. Since publishing the collection, it’s usually my best seller at cons. In the course of selling it again and again, I’ve polished my pitch, learning what people respond to. I used to try to sell my books by talking about plot or characters, which are, of course, the things that I find most interesting about the book. For a while, I’d also make references to other, better known fantasy authors, saying if you like this author you’ll like my work, but I too frequently found out that people hadn’t read the authors I was referencing. Instead, the pitch that again and again lights up customers’ eyes is when I describe Greatshadow, the first book of the Dragon Apocalypse, as a tribute to my D&D roots, a sword and sorcery dungeon crawl where a bunch of powerful adventurers team up to kill a dragon and take its stuff. It’s concise, accurate, and sells the book again and again.

Of course, not all potential buyers want to listen to your pitch. A lot of readers want to pick up the book and read the copy on the back. Fortunately, I’ve been getting better at writing back cover copy. My back cover copy for There is No Wheel has sold the book more than once, and I’ve learned to trust the cover of that collection as well. The cover has a certain creepy feel to it and a reader attracted to the cover is probably going to be attracted to the stories within.

Readers of my blog probably notice I revise my book covers fairly often. If people ignore a book con after con, it’s time for tweaking. If people read a back cover and have no reaction at all, I also know it needs to be reworked. 

Let’s say you do decide to take the plunge. Aside from a table and some books, what else do you need?

The top priority is an obvious one, business cards. Bookmarks are also a good investment. I’ve never seen the point of postcards, but a lot of people have them. I have a table banner with a catch phrase “A guy who writes stuff” that a lot of people smile at, so it’s worth every dollar I spent on it. I also have a couple of retractable banners. The last con I did I used a Dragon Writer banner and tried out a Burn Baby Burn banner. I definitely sold more superhero novels this time than I had in previous years. Retractable banners can be purchased for under $100, sometimes under $75. Almost everyone in a convention hall with have them, so they are now part of the package of looking like a professional.
My table at Bull City Comicon.

Also part of being a professional: Taking credit cards and having good accounting. I use Square for all my transactions now, both credit and cash. I’ve added every book and set of books I sell as preset items. As the con goes on, I get instant reports on what I’ve sold and also keep track of which books are selling best. So, at NC Comicon I can see I did 40 sales. A lot of these were sets, so I actually sold 63 books. Last year at the same con I sold over 100 books, but I was at the end of a row where I was the first table people saw when they came through one of the doors into the hall. This year, I was stuck in the middle of a row. Location is really important, but, unfortunately, you don’t really get to pick which table you’ll be assigned to. Still, I made money, and gathered data. My Dragon Apocalypse collection sold 10 copies, making it my bestselling title. But, Nobody Gets the Girl, my superhero novel which normally doesn’t sell well, sold 7 copies, almost certainly due to the attention the Burn Baby Burn banner drew to my superhero novels. In all, I sold 15 superhero novels.

Square also lets me look at data for the year. I did six comic conventions this year, Oak City, Supercon, Greensboro Comicon, Fayetteville Comicon, and NC Comicon. I’ve made 223 sales, many of them sets, so I’ve easily sold over 300 books. I can confirm that Dragon Apocalypse didn’t just do well at the last con. I’ve sold 55 copies this year, so by itself it accounts for 1/6th of my sales.
But, I’m getting bogged down in specifics, and should be talking about the generalities. The point is, if you use Square or a competing service to track your sales, you’ll be able to see sales trends that might help you focus your energies on what you should be writing. It’s definitely a big reason that I’ll be shifting back to dragons after finishing my current superhero series.

Before I got sidetracked on Square, I was talking about what you need for supplies. One thing I overlooked early on was bags. Believe it or not, I lost some early sales because people didn’t want to buy a bunch of books if they didn’t have an easy way of carrying them. I also have table flare. Since I sell dragon books, I have stuffed dragons and dragon miniatures. I also buy cheap plastic toy dragons off Amazon and give them out to kids too young to read my books. Discovering that my table often draws children has been an important lesson. I’m now planning to write a series set in my Dragon Apocalypse universe aimed at younger readers. I want that allowance money!

I think I have an advantage over some authors in that I do have a pretty good variety of titles. If people like science fiction, I steer them to Bitterwood. High fantasy, Greatshadow. For steampunk, I have Bad Wizard. For less genre specific readers, my short story collections are a good fit. I also have a nice variety of price points on the table. I sell some sets of books for $35, but have a lot of books that I price at $10, and this year I’ve been adding a clearance box where I’m selling books with old covers or some damage for $3. We spilled coffee on the table and stained some books on the edge of the page. I couldn’t have sold them at full price, but I had no trouble selling them for $3, and the alternative would have been to trash them. I also wound up giving away two coffee-stained parts of a trilogy to make a full price sale of the third book in the set. While the lesson of having a lot of price points is a good one, an even better one is don’t set coffee on the same table as the books, ever!

Set up and break down is a lot of work. You will definitely need to invest in folding hand trucks. For my last con I carted in 8 cases of books. This turned out to be overkill, but I’ve been to cons where I’ve sold out of books where I was sure I had all the copies I needed. I now have three hand trucks. Two are useful if I have to haul books through rough parking lots, plus I have a big flatbed cart that’s only good on smooth, flat surfaces. But, at some convention centers, you can drive your vehicle right onto the convention floor to unload, so the flatbed lets me get everything in two trips, versus five or six trips with smaller carts.

Don’t pursue selling books at cons if you can’t stand the accounting. You need to keep track of every dime you spend and document every receipt for taxes. Also, I pay sales tax on everything I sell in North Carolina, and it’s a real pain when you’ve sold books in different counties during the same quarter, since you have to divide up your sales in different tax jurisdictions with different local rates. I meet a lot of people who don’t worry about paying sales tax since they don’t feel like they are doing that much in sales. But, my revenue has grown every year I’ve been doing this and I’m glad I started keeping up with the taxes early on when my con revenue was a few hundred each year instead of a few thousand.

Also, don’t get into this if you have a fragile ego. For every customer who stops at my table, I have a hundred walk by with absolutely no interest in my wares. And, of those who stop, I sell books to maybe one in four. People have very specific tastes and sometimes your books just don’t fit those tastes. I give my pitch to some people and can see them lose interest. Or, they really are interested, but are also on a budget, and deciding whether to spend money on you or on an original drawing from an artist two booths down, and they decide to go for the art. You also get a lot of people who are interested in writing their own books, want advice, but have no intention of reading your work.

The flip side of this is you’ll run into people who’ve actually read your work before and are more than happy to tell you how great the book was. At Supercon, I had someone tell me James Maxey was one of his favorite authors when he saw my books, only to then realize that I was, in fact, James Maxey. A lot of these encounters don’t sell a single book, since they already own my books, but it’s still nice learning you’re connecting with readers.

So, if you have books to sell and want to give cons a shot good luck! Hopefully you’ll find it as rewarding as I have.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Superhero Update, Audio Update

I've completed the prepublication draft of Cut Up Girl, the first book in my Butterfly Cage series of superhero novels. I'm currently working on chapter 16 of the sequel, Big Ape, which puts me somewhere in the middle of the second draft. Once I finish it, my goal is to release Cut Up Girl and Big Ape only a few weeks apart. My timing is still up in the air. I've had two releases already this year with Covenant and Jagged Gate. My current instinct is to wait until January to release the new books. There will also definitely be a third book in the series, and I've intentionally designed the world to be open-ended. There are easily dozens of stories I could tell built around the characters I introduce in the first two books.

That said, after this current superhero trilogy, I definitely plan to return to dragons, with a new trilogy set in the Bitterwood universe. The new trilogy is fleshing itself out in my mind more and more every day and when I do finally sit down to start writing I plan to keep an aggressive schedule. Stay tuned for updates!

In other news, in the last two weeks I've signed contracts for more audio books to be produced. For a long time Bitterwood lingered alone in my audio catalog, but it was joined over the summer by Greatshadow. Now, the second books of both series are in production, along with Nobody Gets the Girl. I'm confident that by this time next year I'll have nearly my full catalog available in audio, with the possible exceptions of Bad Wizard and my short story collections.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Jagged Gate is Open!

Tomorrow I'll be at NC Comicon Greensboro and will for the first time be selling paperback copies of the Jagged Gate. The book went live last weekend on CreateSpace, and should be available from any print retailer you search on the internet, and can also be ordered in bookstores. The ebook will remain exclusive to Amazon for the time being. I may eventually take it into a wider release, but short story collections don't seem to do much outside the Amazon ecosystem.

I'll be at the Regulator on Tuesday night doing a joint reading with author Mur Lafferty and Becca Gomez Farrell. I may decide to read something from this, but I only have ten minutes, and none of the stories could be finished in that time, and it feels weird to read half a story and stop. When I read for ten minutes of a novel, it's not as odd to be letting 99 percent of the book unread. Plus, I've been listening to the proof tracks of the audio edition of Dragonforge (more on this soon) and am leaning toward doing a reading from that. But, I probably will have copies of the Jagged Gate for sale unless I run out of them over the weekend. One can dream!

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Jagged Gate is coming!

It's still a month or two away from release, but this is a draft of the cover for my next book, a short story collection called The Jagged Gate. It will contain 10 of my published stories plus two never before published works. This is a book I probably wouldn't have put out if not for face to face contact with fans at conventions. Online, but current short story collection There is No Wheel is by far my worst selling book. But at conventions, Wheel is one of my better selling titles, and I frequently encounter people who've purchased the book previously who come back to tell me they want more! So, more is on the way.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Covenant is here! Rejoice!

At long last, Covenant is here! This is the third and likely final book in the rather loose trilogy of superhero novels that began with Nobody Gets the Girl. All three books really stand alone, though if you have read the earlier books then the political background of Covenant will make more sense. In the first book, in a battle between superheroes and supervillains, a major world city gets ground to dust by one of the heroes who loses control of her powers. Or, more precisely, loses control of her temper.

This leads to all superheroes being outlawed, not that there were hundreds or even dozens of them running around to start with. Three were active at the time of the destruction of the city, and by the time the law is passed one is dead and the other two are missing.

Things changed when two supervillains came out of hiding seven years later in Burn Baby Burn. These two villains are far too powerful for ordinary police to fight, so a team of superheroes presents themselves to the government volunteering to help. Unlike the previous superheroes, these heroes who claimed to work for the good of mankind but did so outside the law, the heroes seek to be authorized by the state to work as special deputies of law enforcement. They present themselves as a new type of superteam, taking the name Covenant to remind the world that they've make a promise to serve them.

Also reinforcing this is the fact that the most powerful member of the team operates under the code name of Servant. Servant is a devout Christian who thinks of his powers as a gift from the Lord and feels he has a moral obligation to use his powers to help anyone in need. But, he wouldn't be a protagonist in a James Maxey novel if he didn't have a least on dark secret. In this case, before he found the Lord, Servant was a notorious supervillain known as Ogre. If he reveals his past, he'll likely go to prison, and if he goes to prison, how can he use his powers as the Lord intended? His struggle to reconcile his past and his present provide most of his ongoing personal drama.

The most famous member of the team is App. He's the world's first open source superhero, able to download superpowers on demand into a teleportation belt that can take him apart and put him back together in new configurations. He's a social media superstar, young, funny, and having the time of his life as a superhero. Unfortunately, since he's not bulletproof, he does have a habit of getting killed on a lot of his missions. Which is no big deal, since the servers that house his data can just reboot him if they see he's been killed again. By the time the novel starts, he's been killed and rebooted ten times, and is starting to question whether he's even himself any more, or just a copy of a copy of a copy.

The newest member of the team is Steam-Dragon. She's an army vet who lost her legs in the middle-east, and to get past the VA wait list for new legs, she and her boyfriend used a 3d printer to just make new ones. Her talent for design and her access to advanced 3d printers capable of printing in carbon composites harder than steel lead to her designing a steam-punk inspired weaponized suit that looks like a dragon. She uses this suit to avenge her murdered boyfriend, then has to choose between joining the Covenant or going to prison for her vigilante actions. So, she's part of the team, but not necessarily joining with the best attitude.

Also new to the team is Chimpion. As her name implies, she's a chimpanzee, one of the super-intelligent Pangeans introduced in Burn Baby Burn. She's a martial arts expert who has joined the team to show the world that Pangeans can be trusted. Of course, she has a dark secret as well, but if you want to learn that you'll need to read the book, since it's kind of a major plot point.

Finally, there's Skyrider. She's living under the name Sarah Buchanan, but she used to be Sarah Knowbokov, the Thrill from Nobody Gets the Girl. She's one of the superheroes outlawed following the destruction of the city, and still public enemy number one, even though she really had nothing to do with the destruction. She came back under the new identity of Skyrider to help capture Sundancer in the second book, but she really wants nothing to do with being a superhero. She's happily married, living a quiet life in a small town where she's married to the deputy sheriff. Unfortunately, when she met him, she was living under an assumed name in was certain she'd put her old life behind her, so she never got around to mentioning to her husband that she could fly, and he still doesn't know that while he's at work she's suiting up and going out to fight crime with the Covenant. Now, she's finding it increasingly difficult to turn her back on her responsibilities as a superhero and having a harder and harder time coming up with excuses for why she sometimes goes missing at odd hours and often shows up covered in bruises. If she doesn't tell him the truth, it will likely destroy her marriage. Of course, if she tells him the truth, it will also destroy her marriage, she it will show how it was all built on a foundation of lies. Is there any way she can reconcile her two lives?

This is the first time in my superhero novels I really tackle the trope of the secret identity. In Sarah's case, I think I give her an excellent reason for wanting to have one, which gives me a real excuse to dig into the consequences of trying to live a double life that I don't think most comic books tackle any more. (Classic Spider-Man comics probably did the best job of exploring these themes, but these days superheroes seem to blurt out their secret identities to everyone they meet.)

Mike MEZ Phillips once again provided artwork for the new cover. It's not yet showing up on Amazon in the print edition but it should pop up there and at other retailers soon, and is now available as an ebook on Kindle here. I don't yet have the epub edition uploaded to other retailers, but I'll tackle that next week and it should be available almost everywhere by next weekend.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Covenant is Coming! New Cover Reveal: Burn Baby Burn

When I'm selling books at conventions, I get asked a lot what my favorite is of the books I've written. It's a little bit like being asked my favorite child, and there are days when I answer, "Greatshadow." But, there are even more days when I answer, "Burn Baby Burn."

Burn Baby Burn is a book that took me a long time to write and a short time to write. A long time, because I started thinking of it as soon as Nobody Gets the Girl saw print back in 2003. I plotted it out in my head, but when Phobos Books folded after the release of Nobody, it didn't make sense to write a sequel to a book that hadn't done well. So, I pushed it to the back of my mind, but I always kept thinking about it because there were stories I could tell about two supervillains that I couldn't really tackle with more traditional protagonists. Years later, ebooks became a thing thanks to Amazon, and I published an ebook edition of Nobody Gets the Girl. It sold really well, and suddenly I wished I'd gone ahead and written that sequel. So I did, banging out the first draft in the span of a week. To this day, it's the book that has changed the least from first draft to final draft. The story had gestated so long in my imagination it came out right the first time.

As for the story I wanted to tell that I couldn't tell with heroes, I wanted to write a love story. But the problem with most love stories is that they are about lovable people. The protagonists are usually witty, charming, good looking, and good-natured. So the underlying theme of most love stories is that love is a wonderful thing... if you're lovable. But what if you're not so lovable? What if you aren't even likable, kind of downright terrible, in fact? Does love have any power to change the lives of such people? Is it possible to find redemption in love no matter your past sins?

This is also the book where I deal most with the emotional turmoil of having a partner die slowly, knowing death is coming, and knowing there's nothing you can do to stop it. Which sounds like a pretty bleak theme, but if I have any words of wisdom at all to say on this subject, they wound up in this book. And despite the dark theme, this is a book that takes place in part on an island populated by talking chimpanzees. It's got a lot of humor and weirdness to sustain the reader through the darker moments. If you haven't read Burn Baby Burn, don't feel like you need to read Nobody Gets the Girl to understand it. The book stands alone despite being a sequel to the first book and a prequel to the third book. Grab your copy here!

And now, without further build up, the new cover by Mike MEZ Phillips!

Next up: Covenant!