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, April 19, 2009

An open letter about Dragonseed

Dear readers of the Dragon Age,

We are still officially a little over two months away from the release of Dragonseed. I'd like to ask for my most hardcore fans of the series to go ahead and place orders for the book now, rather than waiting for the book to appear in stores.

Why now? Dragonseed is appearing in a completely different real world environment than the first two books. The economic turmoil that began last fall and carried over into this year has hit bookstores to a similar degree to other industries. Bookstores used to buy their inventory on credit. When the credit markets locked up last year, bookstores freed up money to buy stock for Christmas by returning unsold stock at record rates to the publishers. Publishing is a strange industry. If Sears or Walmart buys blue jeans from a manufacturer, and those blue jeans sell sluggishly, they have to keep marking the jeans down until they sell. They don't have the option of returning their inventory to the manufacturer. Bookstores, on the other hand, have long had a model where they can return excess stock to the manufacturer for full credit. Thus, mid-list books like mine turned into a type of credit card for bookstores last fall. They could return books that might sell only a few dozen copies per store to free up revenue to order more copies of guaranteed bestsellers like the various Twilight books which sell hundreds and thousands of copies per store. It's a perfectly rational economic move for the short term, but the long term consequences may prove devastating for bookstores, publishers, authors, and readers.

First, there's a tricky bit of logic here, but bookstores frequently lose money on best-sellers. When the last Harry Potter book came out, most bookstores had to sell it at a discount to stay competetive with other bookstores and, more importantly, with retailers like Walmart and Target which also stock bestsellers. While I don't have hard numbers to prove this, it wouldn't shock me if more copies of Harry Potter sold through Walmart and Target than all bookstores combined. What's a bookstore to do? It's not like they can refuse to stock Harry Potter. They have to have Harry Potter in the window of the store to draw in shoppers who might then buy my books and maybe a mocha frapachino, which they are selling at a profit. Except, by Christmas time, a lot of stores didn't have my books--they'd returned them to order more minimally profitable bestsellers. Bookstores saw revenue decline, but they saw profits decline even more. (I read somewhere that Barnes and Nobles actual sales fell only 6%, but their profits fell 30%... but I'm not reading an actual prospectus to get these numbers, so perhaps these are only horror stories writers whisper to one another).

With credit markets more restrictive than last year, bookstores are simply ordering fewer books than they were last year. Obviously, this is bad news for publishers. A lot of publishing houses are cutting costs by letting go of staff and closing imprints. They are also cutting their promotion budgets. I do book reviews for Intergalactic Medicine Show, and last year I used to get a couple of dozen advance reading copies a month sent to me. Since the first of the year, the flow of ARC's has dropped to almost nothing. The few ARCs I have gotten this year have been for established bestsellers like Brandon Sanderson rather than new authors. Again, I can see the logic in these costcutting measures. The ARC's cost a lot to print, and there's a low review to print ratio--a publisher might print 200 ARC's of a new writer's book and only see a dozen actual reviews as a result. Still, as inefficient as the ARC system was, it was often the only advance publicity a new book got. It seems logical that less publicity for the midlist will generate fewer sales.

Obviously, this is bad news for writers. But, it's also bad news for readers. First, there are going to be fewer bookstores to buy books from. The megachains of Barnes and Nobles and Borders drove a lot of small bookstores out of business. There are plenty of small towns in North Carolina that simply don't have any bookstores any more. People in small towns now drive to bigger towns to shop at Borders... except, there's a very real chance that Borders is going to go the way of Circuit City before the year's end. We may be moving into a world where the only national bookstore chain left is Barnes and Noble. There will be fewer places to go browse for books, and when you do go to browse, you'll find fewer new releases on the shelves. Eventually, Barnes and Noble will have little more variety than the book section at Target.

Obviously, I hope I'm wrong. Some people have put forward the hopeful theory that as the economy turns downward, people return to simpler passtimes, and this includes doing things like reading more books. And, while Borders may vanish, there are other chains that might move into the gaps. Books a Million seems to have found a successful model for surviving in smaller cities, for instance. You may even see the return of mom and pop bookstores; there's a lot of empty stores out there just waiting for small businesses to jump into the gaps.

But, this is all long term hopefulness. For this summer, bookstores are ordering fewer books, and publishers are putting less money into promotion. It's into this real world environment that Dragonseed is going to be hitting the shelves... assuming it does hit bookshelves. Last year, I could go into any Barnes and Noble and find copies of Bitterwood in the months before the release of Dragonforge. Lately, I've had the disturbing experience of going into some Barnes and Nobles and not finding my books. The books sold just fine for their category, but they weren't best sellers in any sense of the word. There's a very real chance that Dragonseed may appear in only a fraction of the stores that the first two books showed up in. The titles will, of course, be available on Amazon, but shelf presence matters more than anything else for book sales. If the book isn't on the shelf, it won't sell.

So, this is a naked, blatant appeal to fans of the Dragon Age: You will be doing me an immeasurable favor by going to your favorite bookstore soon and preordering your copy of Dragonseed. If bookstores see a book preordered, they are likely to stock additional copies. If a bookstore chain sees hundreds of preorders, the title is more likely to show up throughout the chain. If Dragonseed gets into bookstores, I think it will sell. You can help make that "if" happen.

Obviously, I don't want you to order Dragonseed just as an act of charity. I'm happy to report that Dragonseed is the best installment of the series yet. Bitterwood, Jandra, Burke, and Hex are all back for further adventures. I've got some of my best villains yet in the form of a sky-dragon named Vulpine, the Slavecatcher General, and his brutish earth-dragon enforcer, Sawface. We finally get to see Atlantis! The humans have gunpowder! The dragons have something worse! And as cool as the good guy/bad guy fights are, the good guy/good guy fights are even better. Ragnar versus Burke. Anza versus Bitterwood! And, right at the center of the book, Hex versus Bitterwood in a two chapter slugfest that may be the third best fight scene I've ever choreographed. The first and second best fight scenes come later in the book, as our heroes stand against the gods themselves in Atlantis and the fate of all mankind and dragonkind is finally resolved. All this, and I've not even mentioned Blasphet's master plan, or the sea serpents, or the story of why Harry Potter is thought of as a historical figure, or the return from death by ... but I should say no more.

Seriously, Dragonseed is the book I dreamed of writing when I started this crazy mish-mash of dragons, robots, steam-punk and superheroes. I promise it's worth every penny of your money, with more action, humor, and sensawonda than you're likely to find in books twice its size. A good bargain at double the price. Buy now! Save the economy. Long live the Dragon Age!


Izgad said...

I just looked online to order your book and I found that I could order it in paperback. Is Dragonseed not being published in hardcover?

James Maxey said...

Izgad, I appreciate your desire for fine binding on fine literature, but, no, alas, there have been no hardcover editions of by books yet. A hardcover release is actually one of my career goals now, but it's something I have very little control over. However, the big advantage is, since my books are mass market paperbacks, I feel like I almost definitely get more readers willing to take a chance on a fairly unknown author. So, for now, take the money you save buying my books in paperback and go buy a cup 'o java, or some other beverage of your choice. It's on me.

Izgad said...

I certainly like the idea of your books coming straight out in paperback. But this is the first time I have seen this with something that is not pulp fiction. (Maybe I just have a higher opinion of you than the publishers do.) You are not Star Wars (Though some of those novels are quite good, particularly the ones written by Timothy Zahn.) and I do not see Fabio on your cover (Though I think Bitterwood is far sexier.). So why don’t we see more books come out straight to paperback?

James Maxey said...

I think we will see far more straight to paperback releases in the future. Hardcovers are expensive to produce. They do have a higher profit marging built in, but newer authors don't always generate enough sales for the profits to kick in. There will always be hardcover releases for best selling authors, but you're going to see debut authors coming out primarily in paperback or trade paperback, since it's less of a financial gamble. You may also see more initial releases as e-books down the line. If a new author on e-book fails to meet some threshhold number of interest, then they won't get an actual print release. That's just speculation, though. I think the book industry is facing many of the same problems as the newspaper industry. It's getting harder to sell words when so many of them are given away for free online.

For instance, the real moneymakers in the book industry are non-fiction books. Cook books, biographies, travel guides... all used to be good gambles for a publisher. Today, though, people can go to the internet for free recipies, more information than anyone needs about history, and detailed travel information down to satellite photographs of the streets you'll be walking on.

It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out twenty years from now. Of course, I imagine whip and buggy manufacturers said the same thing back around 1900....

Izgad said...

I am not that concerned about the possible death of the professional writer. Throughout most of history writing has been the province of gentlemen of leisure, writing for the fun of it. Like many readers I have a novel sitting in my head. I have started putting it into writing and posting it on my blog. (http://izgad.blogspot.com/2009/04/asael-iii.html) As I move along I figure there are three possible ways this can go. One, enough people, whose opinion I respect, will tell me that I am embarrassing myself so I will stop this project. Two, this will make for a fun running feature for Izgad. Three, the story will catch on a get a following causing me to sit down and start taking this seriously as something that might eventually be put into print.

Matt Septer said...

I got an update from Amazon stating that Dragonseed was available for preorder a few weeks ago. And of course, I just had to do it!
I'm currently rereading Bitterwood, then Dragonforge, so that the FREAKING GREAT STORY will be fresh in my head and I'll have the new book waiting to be picked up to continue.
I'm not going to read your posted chapters, because I want it all to be new. CAN'T WAIT TO GET IT! YOU ROCK!

James Maxey said...

Thanks Matt! Your wait is almost at an end. I know that the books are flowing out to stores right now. In fact, I finally got my copies from the publisher this week. Starting next week, I plan to start giving some away. Stay tuned.