Category Archives: Writing

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 →
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 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.)

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…

21 Oct

Proofing Xenowealth: A Collection (slow and steady)

So I have files for Xenowealth: A Collection and have been creating the physical book. This has been trickier than normal b/c the print on demand service I’m using is a little spotty about getting graphics on the spine quite right (the templates they give suggest it should print a certain way, but I get extra bumped space and am learning how to adapt) though I’m happy about everything else (I settled on CreateSpace as I like the interior cream paper best and I really like the distribution possibilities).

But, here’s a close-but-not-quite picture of a copy of the trade paperback which will be up for general sale after I ship to Kickstarter backers.

IMG 0678

I keep bumping the spine text this way and then that and seeing how it comes back. Annoying, because every other little thing is perfect. I’m happy with the interior, outside, etc. The matte cover, if you have greasy fingers, collects prints a bit more than I’d like, but there you go.

Today another proof arrives, I’m hoping it’s the last. I really want to start shipping ASAP and get this baby out in the hands of folks. It’s well overdue.

That said, I’ve unintentionally learned a lot about POD, printing books, designing them myself through this process. Things I wanted to learn, just not while writing and freelancing more this year than ever before in my life, remodeling a part of my home, and making some life changes.

It’s been a wild ride, this year.

20 Oct

Today’s passive aggressive fan mail: reader will not read more of my books because I don’t speak English English as my first language

In today’s email:

I am reading Arctic Rising.
I am enjoying the plot and think the ideas are brilliant.
However i will not read another of your books as I am finding it hard to read.
I speak English English as my first language and am not over keen on American writers as their language is different.

I am finding it hard to read this translation of your book and am having to reread the sentences to get their meaning.

I feel your book may have been translated by the wrong person.

I wanted to let your know that I feel you are being let down by your publisher. Your ideas are very good and I am sure if I could read this book in your first language it would be a better read.

Hello reader:

Well, my mum was born in Middlesex, I’m not American, and I had an RP accent until I was 12 along with a Caribbean accent sometimes with friends.

That being said, you absolutely, definitely shouldn’t read my other books like Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, and Sly Mongoose. They include Caribbean dialects and people who speak in all manner of different ways. They would be far more challenging for you.

Thanks for writing!

On a side note:

Americans, you’ve been warned! There’s a reader who thinks books translated over to the UK are being poorly done!

I want to make so much more fun of this because, so many different fun ways to examine this, but alas, I actually need to get back to writing more poorly translated non-English English fiction.

14 Oct

Xenowealth: A Collection timelines for pre-orders and wider availability

I’m waiting for some more physical proofs of the Xenowealth collection so that I can trigger the final big order and get the physical books shipped for Kickstarter backers as I undo the logjam of this project. But several people have emailed asking how to get their hands on a copy if they didn’t back the Kickstarter.

Fear not Fans of the Xenowealth, for once I have delivered unto the backers their physical copies this month, I will then make pre-orders available.

Xenowealth: A Collection will go on sale sometime in December. A trade paperback and eBook will be shipping sometime in December.

But first, Kickstarter backers get their versions and for an exclusive period.

Then I’ll open up.

So stay tuned, and if you want a reminder, definitely sign up for my newsletter (look to the right, or just scroll down a bunch and it pops up) where I will post details.