03 Feb

Why I did Xenowealth: A Collection as a Kickstarter

Clay Kallam has nice things to say about the collection, and recommends reading the Xenowealth collection in the first regular review of Xenowealth: A Collection.

He does lead off with this:

The brave new world of publishing can affect even the successful, including Tobias Buckell, author of “Xenowealth” and “Arctic Rising” books, who now must resort to crowdfunding to get all of his works into print.

(Via Worlds Beyond: Tobias Buckell revisits his ‘Xenowealth’ world with a new collection of short stories – San Jose Mercury News.)

I’m grateful to Clay for recommending the books.

To dig into why I did the Kickstarter, as opposed to selling it to a publisher: I make more off the Kickstarter. I’d talked to one publisher about it, and they turned it down. And I’ve run the numbers. A mid list author like me, for a short story collection, can expect something like $1,000-$5,000. $5,000 is high for a short story collection. The received wisdom is that short story collections don’t sell. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

And to be fair, readers do seem to prefer longer pieces.

The reason I didn’t shop the project around any further was that I knew I could make more rolling my own. Xenowealth: A Collection got $7,105 on Kickstarter. Yes there were fees, shipping, printing costs, but there were also more preorders via backerkit. There were a lot of eBook preorders once I put that up as well.

When all is said and done, this will be a project that is looking likely to break $10,000, which leaves me quite delighted. Who would have offered me 10K on a short story collection?

The follow up question is: why don’t I do more novels this way?

Well, so far, there have been more advantages doing it the other way. Monetarily. But also growing my reach and audience. The Apocalypse Ocean is not the most I’ve made off a novel in all the publishing methods I’ve tried (crowd funding/direct digital/medium press/NY Publishing), but it’s middle of the pack. But, having roughly tripled what I could expect to have made on the short story collection, crowd funding is a tool in my kit that I can deploy if things ever flag elsewhere. If I have to flip that switch, I am happy to. I’m grateful to my readership for sticking with me in all the ways I publish things.

I made a lot of mistakes while doing this Kickstarter last. I’ve made due note of every single one. I was originally going to write a post called ‘All the ways I crashed and burned on my 3rd Kickstarter’ but that’s no positive learning and moving forward, it’s me feeling bad for myself. And the truth is, I don’t need more negativity. Mark what failed, avoid in future, learn. Always learn. The biggest error was a messed up print run using the wrong paper for the collection. After I sorted that out, I used the extra copies as advanced reader copies, sending them out to reviewers.

The fact that Xenowealth: A Collection is being reviewed by the San Jose Mercury News shows that there is a lot of potential, and the experience is ending up positive.


Xenowealth: A Collection

Xenowealth: A Collection

Series: Short Story Collections, Book 5
High concept, adventurous science fiction stories featuring the beloved characters and settings from Tobias S. Buckell’s popular Xenowealth novels. More info →
29 Jan

Why I Log

I don’t think I’m alone in this experience. Others have tried a similar diet, though perhaps for other reasons. Advocating for one particular weight-loss diet isn’t my point. My message is this: your weight is in large measure about your psychology. It’s about the hunger mood. Obesity is a crippling social problem, but to our detriment the research has almost uniformly ignored this aspect of the situation. Consider this to be a call to science to focus a great deal more on the psychology of the hunger mood.

In some ways, the hunger system is like the breathing system. The brain has an unconscious mechanism that regulates breathing. Suppose that system got shut down so that it was up to you to consciously control your own breath, adjusting its rate and depth depending on factors such as blood oxygen, carbon dioxide level, physical exertion, and so on. What would happen? You’d die in about 10 minutes.

(Via Hunger is psychological – and dieting only makes it ….)

I thought this was a fascinating article that Cory Doctorow pointed out on twitter.


I have some thoughts about it as I’m coming out of a long year of focusing on deadlines more than my health and trying to reverse a year of self neglect. By last October I’d gained twenty pounds free-basing skittles while sitting all day trying to make various deadlines. I wrote two novels, heavily revised a third, wrote two short stories in a year. I also doubled my freelance work in anticipation of Emily leaving her job.

I spent a lot of time in a chair last year.

And since I have a heart defect I couldn’t go run, or use high intensity interval training, or anything other than a mile or so of walking a day and diet. And I threw diet out the window as I ate my stress.

I’m a quantified self sort of person, and I’ve read a bunch about nutrition, so this was a cool article. One, I have some quibbles with it. But in general, I think it’s awesome because anyone who gives the advice ‘you shouldn’t be hungry all the time on a diet’ is giving fantastic advice.

I think the monkish self-hating of the body is super spread out in our modern world. Dieting becomes a form of self-scarification and exercise in self control in modern culture. I hate so many of its manifestations, as it leaves people who don’t succeed thinking of themselves as failures at a goal instead of on a particular journey.

I knew I was going to have to spend November and December restyling my life when I started down the path I did earlier this year.

And I have. I’ll blog about it some time. I’ve twittered a wee bit about it.

But, back to this article. You shouldn’t be hungry. Yes.

The author’s impression of ‘calorie counting’ is a bit off though:

But the most insidious attack on the hunger mechanism might be the chronic diet. The calorie-counting trap. The more you try to micromanage your automatic hunger control mechanism, the more you mess with its dynamics. Skip breakfast, cut calories at lunch, eat a small dinner, be constantly mindful of the calorie count, and you poke the hunger tiger.

This is where I’m like ‘no no no.’

Calorie tracking. Just track. Not after the day (where he says ‘most people don’t remember what they ate enough to track) but before it goes in my mouth.



But also, to manage hunger and eat the things I adore.

Because here’s the thing. Go on a low carb diet, it’s one of the coolest hacks for lost weight I’ve ever seen (and the article does link to something that dispels the whole ‘ketones’ and ‘chemistry’ and low-carb=magic chemistry woo woo bullshit I hate). I learned low carb first from a weightlifter who said to me ‘two weeks to supercharge weight loss at the start of a program and psyche yourself up and then the last two weeks before you’re on a stage, but the rest of the time, you need simple carbs.’

But the thing is, after that magic period…

Chocolate cake and Lil Debbie Nutty Bars still exist. And they’re manna. And you know it. Those are my favorites.

So you either have to become religious about it, cycle up and down and on and off low carb. Or you have to figure out how to eat the things you do love that aren’t protein and veggies.

Low carb works, as far as I can tell from years logging data, not because of magic chemistry, but because it takes a ton of protein to match the calories in bread. When tracking calories, when I eat mostly protein, I almost struggle to eat above my base metabolic rate. So when I see that I’m eating too much, I strip out the carbs for the next few meals to feel full and dispel hunger.

And I do this so that I can do things like eat donuts and Lil Debbie Nutty Bars every day (cheesecake with dinner).


But no matter what approach, starving one’s self is horrible. Everyone has a Base Metabolic Rate (BMR). I use the scale and a rough calculation. It means I make sure to never eat less than a certain amount. One of the things we talked about on a panel recently about apps is how they can push negative things, and most logging apps don’t set a minimum you should not go below, so I am hacking them to focus on tracking and positivity and mindfulness. But a lot of the apps need to refocus how they educate and encourage folks.

There’s such a simple correlation between my health and when I’m mindful through logging before I pick up the food that I am directly regretting the 9 month lapse last year. That was a bad decision on my part LOL.

But I agree starving one’s self is always a horrible proposition, and enjoyed the article.

15 Jan

Xenowealth: A Collection available today in trade paperback and eBook

Imagine me twirling around in a rain of confetti made by left over packing material…


…Xenowealth: A Collection is now available as a trade paperback and eBook.


I made a promise to myself to get the much delayed limited edition hardcovers out before today, and I just barely got them all slipped into the mail yesterday and a last few stragglers in early this morning.


But that’s not why you’re here.

The general eBook has been in the hands of early Kickstarter backers for a while now, and the trade paperbacks went out a while back too.

All of you who missed the Kickstarter are wanting to get your hands on it. The limited edition hardcover will only exist for the Kickstarter backers (plus some extras I have on hand in case anyone gets a mangled one and I need to do customer service), but the eBook and trade paperback are now available to all.

The full Xenowealth book page is here, but you can click the summary and buy link below to access all the versions:


Xenowealth: A Collection

Xenowealth: A Collection

Series: Short Story Collections, Book 5
High concept, adventurous science fiction stories featuring the beloved characters and settings from Tobias S. Buckell’s popular Xenowealth novels. More info →


Amazon hasn’t fully merged the eBook and paperback’s pages yet, but if the popup confuses you, here is a direct link to:

the paperback


the Kindle eBook

So there we are.

As I mentioned in my newsletter, books live and die by word of mouth, so all signal boosting is super appreciated…

13 Jan

Honored to say I’ll be an Author Guest at the Virgin Islands Lit Fest 2016 (along with Salman Rushdie, Earl Lovelace, Jamaica Kincaid and others!)

I’m totally psyched to note I’ll be an author guest at the Virgin Islands Literary Festival and Book Fair in St. Croix this April.

This’ll mark the first time I’ve been down the VI (where I went to high school) as an author.

Other guests include Salman Rushdie, Earl Lovelace, Jamaica Kincaid, Elizabeth Nunez and more!

So that’s a thing that’s happening…


15 Dec

Ecotones launches today

I have a reprint out in the latest anthology, check it out:


Ecotones is the fourth annual SFFWorld.com anthology, a project which has been bringing together established authors and eager newcomers to promote their writing. It presents fourteen stories of environmental conflict, and feature three great cover stars in Ken Liu, Lauren Beukes and Tobias S. Buckell.

(Via Ecological Stories from the Border Between Fantasy and Science Fiction.)

09 Dec

The Transformers/Gobots Christmas Surprise

For his 12 blogs of Christmas Paul Cornell asks:

Have you, in your life, a mishearing that you’ve persisted with, from
a song or a movie or anything, that you prefer to the original, or
that has special meaning for you?

So it’s the 80s, I’m a little boy growing up in Grenada, WI and money is tight. Some of my friends are super into Transformers. I live on a boat, so I don’t get TV, I’ve never seen the cartoon. I’ve seen some of the toys being played with.

In a move rare for me, I do fall for brand marketing and talk up Transformers to my mom. And so, one Christmas, I pick up a package and remove the paper, and then another layer of paper, and then more tape (this was my mom’s things, heavily wrapped gifts that took a while to get to the bottom of) and lo and behold I got…

…a Gobot!


See that little blue-legged one with the big wheels on the shoulder? That was my Gobot.

They were off-brand Transformers, basically. I was pretty devastated. Mainly because the Gobots were hard as fuck to transform, the wheel on the shoulder came right off in no time, and I remember the joints being rubbery and imprecise.

So, I don’t remember if I was charitable or gracious. I do remember that I knew mom had done her best. I wasn’t angry at her, per se. I was angry because in my mind, if I couldn’t have the Transformer, I wouldn’t have minded the money just going towards more Legos instead of a Gobot. It was a one two punch, see? We didn’t have much money, so I knew that the Gobot had sucked resources away.

Then there were the kids. “What is that?”

“A Gobot?”

“So, not a Transformer?”

“Apparently not.”

“It can be a bad guy that we melt on the stove. Hold its hand over the flame and make it confess.”

Eventually the Gobot, after taking some abuse, faded away. As we couldn’t afford Transformers I developed a reflexive avoidance of all things Transformers and Gobots as a form of psychological self defense. So again, I didn’t own any, didn’t have any marketing material, had never seen the show.

As a result, I’d never actually *seen* the phrase Transformers: Robots in Disguise (the tagline for them).

But I was living in the Islands. I was *hearing* a lot of friends playing with Transformers and singing the line “Transformers: Robots in Disguise.”

But linguistically, a lot of my friends had accents that blurred the TH and D sounds. So it’s not as simplistic as saying they said ‘Da Skies’ but when sung quickly ‘The Skies’ in a Caribbean accent and ‘Disguise’ sounded awfully damn close and so I thought, honestly, that the tagline was:

“Transformers: Robots in the Skies!”

Remember, if I was singing that out loud, I would also have a little bit of an accent with many friends, so they had no reason usually to correct me.

Until one fateful day when I was with someone who had the unholy combination of a) having Transformers b) my saying I didn’t want to play Transformers because I didn’t like them made no sense at all to him and c) he was a white kid.

So imagine us playing Transformers. He’s flying them through the air. I have no reason NOT to think that Transformers DON’T fly through the skies.

He sings “Transformers: Robots in Disguise” and I’m like, yeah, cool, and in a very formal English: “Transformers: Robots in the Skies!” And I’m all Received Pronunciation on ‘THE.’ You can fucking tell it’s a TH.

And he pauses and looks at me. “What did you just say?”

Me, trying to rewind what he just sang. “Transformers: Robots in the Skies?”

Him. “What?”

Me, hesitantly, like walking along the abyss and realizing something horrible is about to happen. “Transformers… Robots…” yeah, okay, so far so good. So they ARE indeed robots, I’ve inferred correctly there. “in?” Yep, they’re definitely *in* something. “the…” awww fuck, it’s going all wrong… “skies?”

“Robots in Disguise.”

“Yeah, man. Robots in the Skies. Totally.”

“No. Disguise.”

Understanding dawns. It’s out. It’s clear I haven’t watched the show. I don’t really know what the fuck Transformers are. I’m a fraud. I’m ignorant. There’s only one way out of this, a Hail Mary pass that will let us move past this and forward. “Fuck Transformers. They’re dumb anyway. Let’s play Legos.”

My antipathy toward all things Transformers and Gobots lasted for many years, and were not improved by the Michael Bay films in any way.

And if I sing the tagline out loud, to this day, in my head, it’s still ‘Transformers: Robots in the Skies!’

06 Dec

How do I find focus when writing my novel or story?

Katherine asks me to write about finding focus.

I fear that my answer will be even more subjective than normal. Straight up, my neurochemistry seems slightly different. I’m ADHD. So things I say about focus aren’t necessarily going to be universally adaptable.

Then again, who better that someone who struggles with attention to talk about focusing attention? So let’s see how this goes.

There are two places to lose focus. One: yourself sitting down to do the work. Two: inside the work as the work itself loses focus. I’ll tackle number one, as I think that was what was being asked.

Caveat: I believe most writing advice is only as valuable to someone as it works. In other words, I believe all writing advice is a hack to get you to a finished draft and help you find tricks to get there. You try something. If it works, it goes in your toolbox. If it doesn’t, you mark it as not currently effective and move on.

Some ways to find more focus while in the act of actual writing:

1) Create a structured time that you always write in. We are creatures of habit. Repeat the same time and see what happens.

2) Write when you feel like it and are not pressuring yourself to come up with something.

3) Build a space that is dedicated to writing and where you only write.

4) Go write somewhere new and see if the old space you were writing in has become stale and is becoming associated with negative results. Like a coffeeshop!

5) Write in a new media (switch to paper, use a notebook, get a different laptop just for writing, use a new pen, try narrating)

6) Write in a new style (only write dialogue, skip dialogue and write action, only write narrative exposition)

7) Switch your POV to make it more exciting (you can change it back when revising)

8) Set word count goals that break the project down into smaller chunks to make it seem more manageable, focus only on hitting those

9) Don’t set word count goals, just write whatever you can write on the project

10) Set purposefully small word count goals that are easy for you to hit so that you feel accomplished and keep on writing past them

11) Don’t tell anyone about what you’re writing about before sitting down to do it

12) Tell someone how cool what you’re writing about is right before sitting down to do it

13) Change the tense of your verbs to make it seem more exciting (you can change it later in revision)

14) Write only the bits that seem cool and fun

15) Force yourself to write everything in order, give yourself permission to write crap. Revision can fix it!

16) Listen to music!

17) Sit in dead silence!

18) Make your font larger, it seems like you’re writing faster or change the font

19) Format the manuscript so it looks exactly like a book

20) Light a candle every time before you start writing to create a prewriting ritual

21) Don’t do that ritual crap, just start

22) Go for a run or walk

23) Write with a friend writing nearby

24) Write alone

25) Write really late at night so no one bothers you

26) Write really early so no one bothers you

27) Have a detailed outline for what I’m going to write and accomplish that day

28) Jump in and discover what I’m going to write as I do it

I have used well over half of all these at any given time to help myself, at times using different strategies on different projects back to back.

In general, I find that focus for me comes from having a detailed plan of action, a repeatable time of day, and a small ritual (usually music and noise-canceling headphones) before beginning with realistically achievable daily goals broken out of a rational break down of the larger project into easily achievable small bite sized lumps that I can tackle. For example, one page in the morning of a novel and one page in the evening being drafted.

And yet, I’ve found immensely productive writing sessions coming out of a noisy passenger seat of a car with the family on the way to an event while I was under a tight deadline and convinced I was writing the worst but was just pushing on.

Creativity is messy stuff. I’ve read some very good books about the nature of work as it pertains to creativity. There are certainly strong signs in research that over-expectations and too much time can hurt the quality of a project and that a sense of play and discovery is important. It turns out exercise (like daily walks) before creative work have a big boost. There needs to be a careful balance between trying to tackle too much and flaming out. However I tend to believe the best way to discover yourself is to try different things and log the results and see what happens.

As a result of over 10 years of logging my daily word counts and examining how I work best (clear schedule, clearly defined goals, walks for exercise, writing first before all other items of the day) I’ve figured out my best practices. I don’t always follow them, but I know what has to be done when push comes to shove to nail that certain deadline…

01 Dec

How do I know when to trunk my story or novel?

Today, while waiting for my new office chair to be delivered I asked twitter to send me some questions. Mike Douton on twitter asked:

This is a tricky one to answer. The thing is writers have a variety of approaches and the trick to knowing this is to actually figure out how you work best. I have a pseudo-framework for thinking about this:

I have several writer friends who are what I would call Tinkerers. They write via a method of creating something, then they continue to tinker it into perfection. It’s amazing to watch, and as a result they often have skills for rewriting that are hard to match.

Some, like me, are more Serial Iterators. They do better writing something new, incorporating the lessons of a previous work. They depend on a lifetime of practice and learning. They lean more toward abandoning a project that hasn’t worked to move on.

So to know whether you’re going to abandon a draft, you’ll need to Know Thyself, Writer!

If you’re going to be a Tinkerer, it’s useful to know that about yourself. That means you shouldn’t be frustrated if you sit on manuscripts and keep tinkering. I’d recommend Tinkerers not send stuff in over early until they feel very good about what they have in hand. That’s subjective, but part of an Tinkerer’s genius is that knowing something isn’t working is a huge part of their process. The decision to trunk something isn’t actually something an Tinkerer does, they just park things for different lengths of times.

Serial Iterators are more likely to use the market, or reader feedback, to make this call. They might have a sense something is not quite right, but if they can’t identify it quickly for a fix, will send it out to see if they are possibly wrong or to have something or some one external explain the issue. Serial Iterators will use a workshop (so do Tinkerers) or beta readers or a trusted reader to check their instinct. If that filter deems the story bad, the Serial Iterator will trunk it and move on from the project forever, investing time and effort into something new. If the Serial Iterator thinks the project is not obviously trunk-worthy, they’ll send it in.

Which way is right? I don’t know. There are pros and cons to each.

Let’s say this. Tinkerers will often write a story, tinker until it is amazing, and send it out. A Serial Iterator will write ten stories and the ninth or tenth one might be amazing. Each will sell that amazing story. Who did it right? I couldn’t say.

Cons? Tinkerers can get caught up in Zeno’s Paradox, each draft moving the story 50% closer to perfection like a turtle trying to reach the other side. Serial Iterators can skimp on quality and not learn because they’re iterating too shallowly. I’ve met Tinkerers who stop sending stuff out because they become too critical or obsessed with the perfection of that One Project. I’ve met Serial Iterators who are writing the same basic shit they wrote 10 years ago with just a few tweaks. For iteration to be successful, you do have to learn something each time.

Smart writers of either side steal from the other. I have learned a lot from Tinkerers. But because I really try to not get lose in rewrite hell, I hope I’ve been able to pass on a few tricks about preparation, structure, and swerving flaws into cool things as you go.

When I wrote 150 short stories at the start of my career, I abandoned over 100 of them to the trunk. I did this by knowing I was interested in iteration and not interested in trying to rescue them. I had an intuitive sense of how long it would take for me in hours, manpower, to try and rescue a story, versus how many it would take to make a new one. That came with practice, trusted readers opinions being compared to my own impressions of the writing, and editorial feedback. But I am very aware of the fact that I’m not a Tinkerer.

There are a lot of myths about how to Be a Writer. Sometimes we internalize things. For a long time I hated my approach. I thought I was a shitty writer because I preferred to nail a draft, or hit a story on landing (or within a few drafts thereof, I’m not in any way advocating not rewriting or making drafts better, mind you), rather than go back in and sweat over 7 or more drafts until PERFECTION as I was sort of taught by various lovers of literature in my schooling days.

Once I understood my process, I started becoming a lot more honest. I focused harder on iterating, but while also making sure I learned something so that I didn’t iterate shallowly. I abandoned things rapidly that didn’t work as they gave me no joy. I sent things out as quickly as I could to get feedback and I welcomed rejection as part of the process of iteration (telling me whether I’d done well or not).

It’s harder with novels, the feedback cycle is vastly slower and I’ve had to fold in some Tinkerer practices (can’t toss out a whole novel that doesn’t work), but I’ve learned to iterate chapters and scenes and I’ve learned how I work.

So figuring out when to trunk something is intensely personal, and it depends on your approach and style. Figure out your goals, your working system first, then you can create your own rubric for ‘should I submit this just yet or work on it some more.’

I hope that helps…