I Suck at Being Interesting: An Interview with James Jakins

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Austin James: Wanna be interviewed for Silent Motorist Media?

James Jakins: Sure! I suck at being interesting in interviews, but that never stops me.

Why’d you add “in interviews” to that sentence?

Because I wanted to pretend that I’m interesting some of the time.

Yeah, making people want to read this will be tough. Might be enough to get me fired from SMM.

Haha, I wish I could argue with that. Well, sorry for getting you fired, dick.

Meh, it’s a non-profit gig anyway. Haha. Anyway, we’ve actually got all sorts of things to talk about. Where should we start?

So many options… anthology?

Alright. So I hear you’re involved in putting together some sort of anthology?

Yeah. I’m working with a couple of assholes on it. But I’m really excited for it. It’s a multi-genre/genre-less collection of stories. The only requirement we had was that the stories feature dragons in some way. We have an amazing lineup of writers and I cannot wait to share all their badass art with the world. Proceeds from book sales are going to be going toward supporting suicide prevention and awareness. But, you knew all that already… that was just for your readers.

[Interviewer’s disclaimer: I’m one of said assholes]

This anthology sounds fantastic. In fact, having read the stories and seen the artwork, I know it’s fantastic and I’m also very excited to unleash this thing into the world. Want to tell my billions of fans when this thing releases?

Hi, all five of Austin’s fans! The book will be releasing in February of 2019.

Six fans. Six. Asshole.

Yeah, but I’m one of the six. I can’t very well address myself. That’s just weird.

(Sigh)

But, yeah. This book is awesome. Amazing artwork, killer stories. Even a couple of poems. It’s going to be amazing.

Should we get super exclusive and drop the official TOC?

Oh man… yeah! I think that’s actually super fitting, considering you’ve interviewed a bunch of them already.

Exclusive TOC reveal of (super amazing charity anthology benefiting suicide prevention and mental health awareness):

Ashley Dioses

Benjamin Anthony

Betty Rocksteady bringing her interior artwork game (read her SMM interview here)

Bo Hernö

Christine Morgan

Christopher Lesko

Dani Brown (read her SMM interview here)

Dav Crabes

Garrett Cook

Fiona Maeve Geist

J. L. Mayne

Justin Burnett

Maxwell Bauman

Melanie Bowling

(note 1: the two of us will also have pieces in this anthology)

(note 2: there may be a couple late additions to the team, but this core group is our starting line-up!)

Jakins: I don’t want your head to get too big… but you did a great job wrangling up that lineup.

Well, all of the contributors were awesome enough to accept the invite, so I barely did anything. Okay, so there’s a badass theme (everyone loves dragons), that these artists have experimented with in various styles and genres. There’s a noble cause. There’s a badass line-up of creators, including Miss Rocksteady’s personal artwork for each piece. There’s amazing cover art by Luke Spooner (to be revealed at a later date). Only one ingredient you haven’t told us about yet: what’s the title of this beast? Surely something amazing to live up to the rest of the content…

Goddamn it, Austin. You know the answer to that!

But our readers don’t.

Are you really going to make me decide on the title in this interview? The truth is, we haven’t settled on one yet. I’ve always sucked at titles, and the pressure to make this one perfect is a little overwhelming…

Fine. Loser.

Hey, where’s your suggestion, “Executive Producer?”

Anyway… should we move onto another topic, or should we continue to pat ourselves on our backs some more?

You can just edit in whichever awesome title we actually end up with, right?

Probably not.

Fair enough…

Alright, what else do you want to talk about?

Ask them questions.

You’re right, you’re too boring. Thanks for the interview attempt.

… Wow. Thanks.

Haha. Jokes aside, you’re somewhat of a self-publishing specialist.

A little. Three releases so far. I think I’m getting pretty good at it.

Want to tell us about them?

Sure. My first release was a little Urban Fantasy called Jack Bloodfist: Fixer about an orc that fancies himself a Private Investigator in a small city in Virginia. He has to try to save his family from an angry paladin and his vengeful god when his father’s past catches up with him. It was a finalist in a little competition this last year, the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (or SPFBO if you don’t want to type all of it).

Finalist? Do tell!

That little tidbit is for your readers who only want to read books that have a little bit of acclaim attached to them.

Haha. Seriously though, that’s pretty cool. Tell us about SPFBO, and what it took to have a novel be a finalist.

So, for those unfamiliar with the competition: there are 300 openings a year. 10 blogs are given 30 books each and they treat them like a publisher’s slush pile. Each blog picks one from their group to send forward to the finals. Every blog then reads and rates all ten finalists. The highest average score is declared the winner. Jack came in a perfectly respectable 5th place.

Top 5 out of 300?! That’s quite a feat!

Yeah! But, beyond just the ranking, I got lucky with a lot of free advertising. 10 pretty high traffic blogs wrote in depth reviews about my novel. Got some great blurbs out of it, if nothing else.

Plus that sweet, sweet exposure! Did it boost sales at all?

Ah, exposure, the dreaded word. The day it was announced my book was a finalist I saw a pretty good boost. It tapered out as the competition went on, but I’ve come to terms with that.

For those of us that are naive about some of these things, what’s a “good boost” look like?

I think that just depends on the individual, honestly… there are days anymore where I’m just excited to see one sale. I won’t give specific numbers but it was the most sales that book had seen in a while. Nothing record breaking, but it was good for me.

Nice!

It was nice, Austin, it was nice. Anyway… that’s one of my books. I also have Son of Thunder. Which is my more traditional epic fantasy.

I have a copy of both books, actually, although I am less familiar with Son of Thunder (enter whiney comment about massive TBR pile, blah blah). Tell me about it?

Yeah. That’s why I haven’t finished your super short book, either. Thunder features teenagers going on a beach vacation and getting into trouble with a crime boss. It has electric dragons used as generators, magic assassins. Unique world building and a bunch of well-developed magic systems. It’s the first of a planned trilogy. And, if you need further convincing: it was also a semi-finalist in that fancy SPFBO competition I mentioned earlier.

Semi-finalist?

That just means it was one of four or five that its particular judge was considering to put forward.

Oh shit, that’s cool. So both books were well received in the competition, it seems.

Yeah! There was a day or two where I was expecting both to make it to the finals, but then reality decided I needed to be humbled a little.

Haha, still thorough, having a finalist and a semi-finalist is something to be proud of! Better than most.

I like to brag about it when appropriate.

Do you consider what you’ve done thus far in this interview “bragging about it”, or would you like me to open up a window for more? Like, “oh, well by all means, this seems like an appropriate time to brag”…

I don’t know? Have I not been insufferable enough? I know it’s important to be proud of your writing, but I always have a hard time gauging how much is too much. Anyway, I will brag a little more. Both those books are fucking awesome and everyone should read them.

Good job. Fucken blowhard. Haha.

Hey, I calls ’em like I sees ’em.

What about your third piece?

Yes. I also have a little novella. First Fixer. It’s a sort of prequel to Jack Bloodfist: Fixer.

It’s actually the book I usually recommend to people when they ask which one they should try first.

Oh yeah? Why’s that?

It very much has my voice. It’s fun, fast paced, and, most importantly, it requires the least time investment. If someone isn’t sure they’d enjoy the other two, this one should inform them if they’re going to be able to put up with my writing for more than two hundred pages.

I do feel like I should warn people, though… all my books are very different from each other. I’ve had reviewers say that if it wasn’t for the fact that my name was on the covers they would have guessed that the Fixer books and Son of Thunder were written by different people.

Do you think that’s a bad thing?

Not at all. I’m actually kind of proud of it. It probably does mean that both series have different demographics that would enjoy them, but I’m okay with that.

Kind of nice not to box yourself into a specific genre or feel, I’d guess. Which of those three is your personal favorite?

Oh man… I don’t know if I can answer that. Depends on the day. I’m slightly more proud of the writing in Son of Thunder, but I think that Jack‘s story is more fun. Not that Son of Thunder isn’t fun, just that Fixer is more fun.

What in the writing are you more proud of? The prose itself?

Just a little more sophisticated. There’s more going on in the story, multiple POVs that feel unique (at least to me) and the third person does allow for a little more freedom with the prose than first person does.

Makes sense. Have any of these three felt “more successful” to you?

Son of Thunder has been my most successful of the three. At least sales wise. So if that’s the metric, that one.

Out of straight up curiosity, if you are comfortable answering, what kind of sales numbers does your stuff see? I know there can be a stigmata towards self-publishing, which I think is bullshit if the art is true. Hopefully your answer will help dispute that (if not I’ll edit this whole thing out as a failure and disgrace to self-published authors everywhere).

Without giving straight up numbers, because that’s frowned on for some reason, Both Fixer and Son of Thunder did pretty well when they first released. Just to give an example, I have both books available in audio. Son of Thunder‘s first month for sale in that format “earned out” everything I’d spent to get the book ready for release, including cover art, editing, and paying the narrator. It held strong for a few months. Sales do slow down eventually, though. My last release, First Fixer, has not sold nearly as well. I’m hoping the next full novel release sees a return to form, though.

Goddammit Jakins, you’ve given me the perfect segue for two different topics. Now I have to pick. Jerk.

I do what I can to make your life difficult.

Yeah, I can tell. While I decide, maybe you can tease us a little: do you have any books that have sold more than 1000 combined copies (paperback, eBook, and audio)?

Yes. Son of Thunder definitely. Fixer is pretty damn close.

Wow! That’s great! Which format seems to sell more?

Audio. Though eBooks have been catching up to it. Paperback is depressingly low.

I’ve actually been curious about audiobook, might pursue it someday for my novella. Is it something you recommend?

I definitely recommend it. Mostly because I just love the format. It’s also an awesome experience to hear a professional read your own story to you.

Why do you think audio books are so popular?

I don’t know if I can speak for the people that bought the books, but I like to think it’s because I wrote some entertaining books that were made even better by getting two amazing narrators to read them. Audio is already a popular way to consume books, so I’m just happy that my books have found an audience there.

Yea, I work with a few people who have a 30-40 minute commute and they listen to them all the time. Makes sense.

People have less time to read traditionally, so making it easier for them to consume your story is never a bad thing.

Same can be said with eBooks I suppose. I can’t say I am immune to them, although there’s nothing like a beautifully crafted hard cover or paperback!

I agree with that, actually. I love audio books, but there’s something about holding the real thing…

You mentioned an upcoming novel?

Yes. Should be dropping in the next few months, if all goes according to plan.

Sweet! Wanna give a plug?

Yes. Here, have a cover.

I like that cover art—kind of a professional water color feel to it.

Knights of the Dead God is a pseudo-sequel/spinoff to my novel Jack Bloodfist: Fixer. It will not require having read Fixer to enjoy. It’s a new, stand-alone story that just happens to feature a few characters from that book. It’s inspired by my love of Tabletop RPGs, sword and sorcery novels, and the movie John Wick.

And, yeah. I love the cover, too.

Did you do that cover art yourself, or did you procure it from somewhere?

That is actually a premade cover. It’s a popular option for self-published authors. Much cheaper than getting a custom cover. This is the first book I’ve used a pre-made for, but I thought I’d try it out. One of the biggest complaints I receive about Fixer is about the cover, so I figured I had nothing to lose by trying this route.

Does that mean someone else could potentially have this cover on one of their books?

It’s possible that that image might pop up somewhere else, yes. But the site I bought it from won’t resell it. Maybe someone else will find the stock art and use it. It was cheap enough, though that I’m willing to risk it.

I personally don’t think the Fixer cover is bad. What kind of complaints have you gotten?

More just observations from reviewers and the comments in said reviews. I take those seriously, though. The one that stung the most was something along the lines of it being “naïve”. I still have no idea what they meant by that. I still feel like it’s the perfect cover for the book, but I’ll probably rerelease it with a new cover at some point. I’m debating relaunching the series with a more “appealing” look when book 2 is ready.

So Fixer is a more than the first novel and a sequel novella—but an actual series?

Yeah. I have four Jack Bloodfist books planned. Potentially two more novellas. I do try very hard, though, to make sure that each one is completely stand-alone.

Good god, man. Does that mean you’ve got like 72 current WIPs?

I could probably count them… hang on… I have 12 projects that probably count.

Geez! Do you find that distracting at all?

Sometimes? I work in the same way Isaac Asimov did. Work on one project until I hit a wall, then move to the next one that interests me. It’s great when I hit one that I can finish in one shot. Knights of the Dead God was like that. I think I finished the first draft in a month. I have a couple finished drafts of other books just waiting for me to find the drive for a rewrite.

Any of them that we might see this year?

Hopefully. One of them is a little novella I wrote for my sister as a Christmas gift last year. I’m actually going to submit that one to a publisher first, but depending on what they say, I might release it myself. And, I really want to have another release ready by the end of the year.

Submit to a publisher? Tired of the self-publishing game?

Not at all. It’s more just a bucket list thing, you know?

To be published through a publisher, or this specific publisher?

The specific publisher. I don’t want to name names, just in case, but it’s a publishing house I’ve always wanted to be able to say bought one of my books.

You’re probably gonna have to write something that’s good first, yea?

Says you.

I’m just joshing you, bro. I actually like your work!

You like my popcorn fantasy?

Is that how you describe it?

It is. Light, kinda fluffy, but you’re going to enjoy it.

And then feel kind of gross the next day because of all the processed liquid butter?

Yeah. I personally spend a few hours just shitting every time I finish reading one of my books.

I don’t think anyone else has had that problem, though…

That’s too bad. You could’ve offered a free roll of double-ply for anyone that buys all three books.

Ha! That’s not the worst idea, actually.

You can use it for a mere 10% net sales. Or you can go with triple-ply for 12%

Gotta go with the high quality stuff

Haha. Anyway, tell me about this Robber’s Dog Pub thing…

Sure. Robber’s Dog Pub is my personal publishing imprint. It’s the imprint I use for all my books and the one we’ll be using for that little anthology.

I stole the name from my dad. He used to always accuse the family dog of looking guilty of something, that she was a “Robber’s Dog.” He also joked about how it would be a great name for a pub. So when I decided I wanted my own little personal publisher, I thought it was the perfect name.

Eventually I’d love for it to grow beyond just my own projects and the few others into a real little publisher, but for now I’m happy to use it for the few projects I really believe in.

Alright, so let’s go way back into your marbled past. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

When I was ten. My class all had to write a story. I wrote some utter garbage about two kids in a race with some monsters. Apparently it was good for a fourth grader because I was praised for it. That was when I knew I wanted to write. I’m basically just chasing that same high.

That’s cool! Was that back in South Africa?

Nope. My family moved to the states when I was six, so this was in the tiny little town I grew up in.

Do you miss the rains down in Africa?

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti

You just googled lyrics didn’t you?

Shut up. You can’t prove it.

Fair enough. Back to the interview: have you been chugging out stories ever since that fateful day in 4th grade?

I wish… I spent a good part of the next decade just telling people I was going to be a writer when I grew up, but never actually did any real writing. I used to create a new word doc and try to write a book, usually starting at the table of contents, because ten year olds are stupid. I did manage to get a few stories done before I turned twenty, some I even still kind of like, but most of my real writing has only really been done in the last decade or so.

Have you ever considered revising some of those shorts you “kind of like”? Put your more experienced touch to them?

I have. I’ve actually scavenged from some of them. A lot of the world building in Son of Thunder I stole from a stupid fantasy novel I tried to write when I was 15.

That’s cool. I kind of do the same thing—steal that one good line or paragraph to insert into something better. While we’re not on the topic, do you write many short stories?

I used to write a lot of short stories. I don’t really write many anymore. I think I’ve written one short story in the last two years. I don’t know why I stopped…

Published any of them, or sent any in to be published?

I sent a few to some university publications when I was in school. Never had one accepted.

Haven’t tried recently.

Any particular reason you haven’t?

Nothing specific. Anytime I’ve found a publication I’d like to submit to, I never actually have anything fitting, or the drive to write something appropriate.

Ok, well let’s cut this shit. Wanna tell me what this is all about?

Huh? Well… I was answering your questions, and some other interviewer sent me a list of questions. I didn’t know we were exclusive…

Some other interviewer”?? You “didn’t know we were exclusive”?! Does this fuck know about me?

Probably not… I mean, I didn’t tell him about you.

……..

Besides, how many other writers have you interviewed recently, huh? A lot, Austin. A lot.

Seven. But I was open about every single one of them. And you’re the only one right now.

Right now? What about yesterday? Was there someone else then?

No. Never another while I’ve been with you.

What do you want me to say? I thought you knew what this was.

Bwahahaha! Well, now that no one is left reading this interview we can both be thankful all the good stuff was already covered. Anyway, if I ask you a serious question, will you be 100% honest with me? For the readers (if any are still around)?

… Sure.

Who’s better at interviewing? Me, or the aforementioned “other interviewer”?

You’re both great in different ways. You, because I can call you a bastard for asking that question, and him because he’s actually read all of my books.

So, it’s a “he”, huh? Tell me about him. Is he fun? Intellectual? Are his questions relevant to the contemporary reader? Are your relations with him going to be pleasing to your fan?

I am only going to address one of those questions. And I’m going to answer in the form of a question. You really think I only have one fan? It’s gotta be at least ten by this point, man.

Where’d you meet him (your other asshole interviewer… or your fan)?

Well, the blog he writes for gave my book a very favorable review once. We just hit it off.

Oh, so some asshole with prestige and power. Probably one of the fancy judges with your little blog-off competition. Seducing young, thirsty writers.

Actually, yeah. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I answered his questions to advance my career.

I never took you as someone who would just go interview with someone for a little more of that sweat, sweat exposure.

Some of us have to interview our way to the top. It’s not pretty, but that’s the game.

You, sir, sicken me. And although this is extremely amusing to me, there’s a decent chance this whole interview will get shit-canned after I turn it in.

Yeah. I really hope you have a good editor. Just keep the part about the anthology. That’s all that really matters.

Seriously though, man, that’s badass that the blog-off landed you an interview with (what I’d assume to be) a “big name” SF/F blogger.

It’s a pretty big site. At least in my circles. That blog-off is a great thing. Even if I hadn’t entered it I’d follow the competition. I’ve found some of my favorite books from some of the past years.

Sounds like a great place to enter a hyperlink. Care to share?

This year’s competition just started, so here’s a link for anyone that wants to follow along: https://mark—lawrence.blogspot.com/2018/06/spfbo-2018-phase-1.html

Awesome! While we’re doing it, wanna drop some links of own? What time is it? It’s #shamelessplug time!

Booyah! Let’s see, you can follow me on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/jamesjakinsauthor/

Twitter here: https://twitter.com/bethteva

Easiest place to find all my books, in whatever format you choose, here: https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B015QRBO7Y/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true

Don’t you also have a shitty blog?

I do have an incredibly shitty blog that I haven’t posted to in over a year. Here it is: http://jamesjakins.com. Just ignore that first post because circumstances have changed and my release schedule has gone to hell.

Why don’t you just delete it?

The post or the whole blog?

Does it really matter?

Good point… I don’t know. The post because I just haven’t and the blog because I like having it there in case I want to post something.

Ah.

If nothing else, it is a nice place for people to find some of my short fiction.

Oh yeah, cool. What about the Patreon? Come on, share the Patreon…

Feel super weird sharing this one, but hey, if anyone wants to give me money I won’t argue: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=4403102

Well, Jakins, there’s no easy way to say this. But sometimes interviews burn strong and hot for a while and then, I dunno, just kinda cool down. I mean, well, it’s just that…

It’s okay… you’re just ready to move on to the next one. I know. I’ve known this moment was coming for a while.

An ended interview is like a broken mirror. It is better to leave than to risk hurting yourself trying to pick up all of the broken pieces. You know?

I have never heard it put that way, but okay? I guess I’ll just go?

Good.

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