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!

Friday, July 30, 2010

My Kindle Journey: Part 5. It's Alive!

At last, Bitterwood is live in the Kindle store! I've downloaded the complete copy and the formatting looks beautiful on my Droid. It includes free a sample chapter of Dragonforge, "Judgment by Swine." Download a free sample of the project (or purchase the whole thing for a very modest $2.99) by clicking here.

I feel very much in control of my own destiny as a writer at this moment. I've loved working with traditional publishers, and very much want to do so in the future. There's something satisfying about working with professional editors and seeing the work produced by professional cover artists. But, on the flip side, the rewards are nearly outweighed by an endless string of frustations. For instance, there have been multiple times when the paperback edition of Bitterwood has sold out, and simply not been available in bookstores or Amazon. To me, it's difficult to imagine how this happens; it seems as if publishers might have some system to collect data on how many books are selling and be able to anticipate when to order a new print run? Of course, the whole data collection is an entirely different complaint. Almost all authors I know complain about getting any kind of sales data out of their publishers on a timely basis. In theory, I'm supposed to be updated every six months. In practice, I'm updated at random every 7 or 8 months with data that is several months old. In May, for instance, I recieved information on how many copies of my dragon books had been sold through November of last year. By putting my own work up on kindle, I can get updates on a daily, even hourly basis. And, I don't have to wait until some random time for payment... I can just have the money from the sales transfered to me at the time of my choosing. What a concept!

I still have my doubts about just how much of the market ebooks are actually going to win. But, my royalty rates on Kindle sales are 1000% higher than my royalty rates on paperbacks. That wasn't a typo, by the way. My royalty on a paperback is 7%; Kindle offers 70% royalties. If my e-books ever reach even 10% of paperback sales, I'll be very happy. And, with the proliferation of smartphones, and the Kindle heading even lower in price, the future looks positive indeed.

Republishing my already published work is a no-brainer. The big question remains, will the Kindle prove such a strong outlet that I start writing books purely for release on that platform?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My Kindle Journey Part 4: Gaining Wisdom

Based on feedback from Bullspec publisher Samuel Montgomery-Blinn, I revised the cover art to make certain the book looks like a fantasy novel instead of possibly historic fiction. When I first started Bitterwood, I was 30. My 45 year old protagonist seemed like he'd be pretty old. Now, I'm 46, and I'll be living the rest of my life with a book where I repeatedly label a character younger than myself an "old man." However, it saved me the trouble of having to find a model to pose as Bitterwood. All I needed to pose as my title character was a scowl, a towel, and photoshop. If any readers think you could pass as one of the main characters in Dragonforge or Dragonseed, let me know.
I uploaded Bitterwood to Kindle on Monday. The preview feature showed the font switching from times to courier in a couple of chapters. But, when I searched the html, I couldn't find any reference to courier, and it showed up as Times in both explorer and firefox. Reading the amazon forums, many people reported problems with the preview tool, so I just assumed it was a glitch. Wrong! When I downloaded the actual file, sure enough, it showed the font problem. This forced me to go back to my files and search for any differences between the changed areas. It turned out, I had two different word "styles" assigned to my ordinary paragraph text. One style was "normal" and one style was "plain." This was no doubt introduced by the fact that a I wrote Bitterwood over several years on multiple computers and multiple world processing packages (I may have started it in WordPro, to give you an idea of how ancient this project is). Anyway, even though I had selected all text and changed it to Times, the base font for the "plain" style was courier. I edited the style sheet and reuploaded this morning, and it now previews fine. Alas, the novel was available for sale on the Kindle store for over a day before I could alter the file, and I actually sold a copy. I apologize to whoever bought it, and hope the font problem isn't too distracting.
So, at this stage of my Kindle journey, I have two bits to wisdom to share:
First, trust the preview tool. If it shows a formatting error, take however long you need to fix it, since there's a lag between the time you publish a file and the time Amazon allows you to go back and edit that file.
Second, if you're working in Word, the very first step I'd recommend before you start editing the file for kindle is to select all the text and use the "clear formatting" command in the style bar. Then, just to be safe, save it as plain text, to make certain you've got rid of all the styles that Microsoft Word so helpfully auto generates. However, once you do have a completely clean copy of the text, styles can save a lot of time if you're applying them to scene starts and chapter titles.
It may take a few days for the revised file I uploaded this morning to go live, so if you want Bitterwood on your Kindle, I'd advise waiting a week. I'll update again once I feel certain that that product that can be downloaded is a product I'm proud of.

Friday, July 23, 2010

My Kindle Journey Part 3: Cover!

So, here's my non-artist attempt at making my own cover for Bitterwood. I used to do a lot of typesetting when I ran the old computer services department at Kinko's, so I may have gone a little overboard on the fonts--the "Bitterwood" uses three different fonts: Bart heavy for the B, Freedom 9 thin for the W, Dragon for the rest. The background, meant to resemble dragon hide, was a happy accident: The pattern I overlaid in photoshop was really muddy, with the red and black lines blurred, but when I exported it to a jpeg the lines got sharper, which is the exact opposite of what normally happens with a jpeg. Anyway, I liked it, though it may be a little busy.

The arrow is purely digital. My art skills are limited to drawing straight lines, but, hey, that's what an arrow is, pretty much. The stone was photographed at a graveyard in Georgetown, SC, and the blood is ketchup poured onto a white sink.

My biggest concern is the text at the bottom. I was going to use a quote from a review, but changed my mind and went with the quote I use to open the book, since I think it sums up the theme of the novel better than anything else. I'm not often influenced by quotes from other authors when I select my books, and actually like brief excerpts from the work on the cover material. But, maybe I'm in a minority here.

Does anyone have any thoughts or comments? I finished my kindle draft of Bitterwood earlier this morning. I now have some fiddling to do with the HTML, but I may be putting it up on Amazon as early as Monday. I'm probably going to include a chapter or two from Dragonforge at the end of the book as bonus material, and maybe the short story "Tornado of Sparks." If it weren't for needing to work on that, I'd probably upload it today.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

My Kindle Journey Part 2

So, at some point, this project turned into actual, you know, work. I spent much of last week reading through my last good file for Bitterwood. I've been reformatting as I go along, trying to put in some professional touches to the type so that it will look good on the kindle. I've also been revising the text to erase continuity errors with the later books. I really haven't had any of readers complain about the things I changed my mind on between book one and book two, and part of me feels like I shouldn't be tampering with a work that's already in print. But, on the other hand, another part of me feels like I owe the public the best book I can produce. Anyway, since I'm revising more than I had planned, I'm only half way through the manuscript, when I'd planned on being done by now.

I've also been trying to figure out what to do about the cover. I can't reuse the Solaris covers. Part of me is tempted to go with a very minimalist approach, nothing but text. After all, the people who will be buying it on Amazon are still going to see the Solaris covers on the main page for the book. The image just isn't going to be included in the file. But, I've also been playing around with a theme of using a bloodied arrow on the cover of Bitterwood, a tomahawk on the cover of Dragonforge, and a blunderbuss on the cover of Dragonseed. I'm thinking of doing actual photos of these weapons; the only drawback being I don't know where to get my hands on a real blunderbuss.

The funny thing is that the more work I put into this project, the more ambitious my plans become. I think I'm going to release the three novels one by one, but then collect them all as one file next year, along with short stories I've written in the Bitterwood universe, plus selected essays from my blogs about writing the series. We'll see. If I have Bitterwood up for a year and it only sells a dozen copies, my enthusiasm for the project may wane. And, there's something unsettling about spending so much time working on stuff I've already written. I'm eager to write some new material. My short story inventory has become especially low.

But, one nice thing about looking back at Bitterwood is, this is the first time since it's been published that I've actually read the book. I never read it when it came out; I was too busy plowing ahead with Dragonforge, and too nervous about the book having continuity errors. Fortunately, now that I'm in the thick of the book, I'm pleased to discover it's holding up pretty well. Three years is just the right amount of distance for me to see the book I wrote, rather than the book I remember. I can see mistakes I made, sure, but I'm also able to enjoy the book as a reader, since I no longer remember every twist and turn. And I'm discovering that it's not bad. Not bad at all.