11 Mar

Check out the Cover for Halo: Envoy, Latest Halo Book Launching in April

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The new cover came out not many days ago on a panel at Emerald City Comic Con for my next novel. It’s a Halo novel that I’ve been working on for over a year, and I hope any one who enjoys the video game will check it out. I’m digging the new look of the artwork.

Halo: Envoy gives us the return of Gray Team, the team of Spartans I fleshed out more fully in Halo: The Cole Protocol. It also explores the world of Carrow, which I first showcased in the long short story Oasis in Halo: Fractures.

It’s been a great deal of fun to return to the Halo universe for these two projects and I hope everyone enjoys the craziness that ensued. The book will be out April 25th, which is now almost a month away.

Here is the summary:

It has been six years since the end of the Covenant War…and yet on the planet Carrow, a world on the edge of the Joint Occupation Zone, a decisive new battle suddenly erupts. Human colonists and the alien Sangheili have already been living a tension-filled co-existence in this place, with Unified Earth Government envoy Melody Azikiwe attempting to broker a lasting peace between their two species. But as civil war now engulfs the Sangheili settlers, Melody must act on an additional covert assignment courtesy of the Office of Naval Intelligence: find a way to free the SPARTAN-IIs known as Gray Team, held in stasis since the end of the war by a cunning Elite fleetmaster consumed with vengeance. And none can anticipate the ongoing violence leading to the discovery of an even greater, unstoppable threat—one hidden for eons below the surface of the planet….

09 Mar

Cover reveal and what the table of contents for my short story collection ‘System Reset’ will be

So I’m working on putting together my next short story collection, which I have titled System Reset.

In the past I’ve done successful Kickstarters for these. But this time I’m doing something different. System Reset will be available as a mobi, ePub and PDF to Patreon subscribers (at any level, from $1 all the way up) six months before anyone else can buy it.

What is Patreon? It’s a new of supporting a writer where you subscribe to them for varying amounts and you get fresh content in your inbox like brand new short stories, snippets of as of yet unpublished work that will come out much later, and other cool stuff.j

Here is the cover:

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And here is the table of contents, featuring 9 stories and over 60,000 words of fiction:

Pale Blue Memories
On The Eve of the Fall of Habesh
Jungle Walkers (w/ David Klecha)
A Tinker of Warhoon
The Found Girl (w/ David Klecha)
A Pressure of Shadows
Ambassador to the Dinosaurs
Sundown
System Reset

08 Mar

I Moved My Office Back Into My Basement: Here Are the Pictures and What I Did

I promised every one on twitter a comprehensive post about the basement office project. There are a few tweaks I want to do still, but now that I’ve spend a week working out of it, here you go:

My basement and I have a complicated relationship.

In 2007, it was mildly flooded during the great 2007 flood. Mold ended up taking off and it ended up costing us whatever was stored down there and paying a professional crew to rip out all the old wood paneling and do water damage remeditation and mold killing. They installed a sump in a canning room that kept seeping water and causing water to pool on the basement floor.

In 2008, while working on remodeling the basement to reclaim it I had a cardiac event that put me in the hospital for a bit and was how I found out I have a genetic heart defect. The damn basement almost killed me.

In 2012, I think, I hired someone to clean up the bare brick walls and floors and install some doors and lights in hopes of reclaiming the basement. But we mainly used it for storage and secondary space while I used a room upstairs for primary writing.

Spiders used the basement as an office, mainly.

Recently one of my daughters started advocating for a room of her own. She had a lot of good reasons, but we didn’t bite. It wasn’t until said daughter explained to me her plan to move into the spider-filled basement on her own (she explained how she planned to clean it up, and where she would keep her stuff, and how we could get the mattress down there) that I realized she really, really was all in on the room of her own department.

I told her I’d figure out what it would take to move out and give her the room, whether staying upstairs and carving space out of lesser-used living room. She started sleeping on my office couch right away.

I spent a couple hours staring at the basement. Some of the fluorescent tubes we’d installed five years ago had gone out. But last summer we spent a large chunk of money to have our front yard landscaping all pulled out, on the theory that the previous owners fancy large beds up against the front of the basement were keeping water against the basement, increasing the water seepage. Over the last year, as far as we could tell, the seepage had decreased a great deal.

Enough for me to make the basement not a storage place for stuff but my primary working environment again?

I like being up near the large windows as I work on sun. Being away from the sun depresses me.

But since regrading the front lawn, the windows along the sunward side of the basement were dropping more light into he basement. And if I put in some replacement fluorescents, even though I hated the flicker, I realized I could do something.

Another thing had been bugging me the last few years. I moved away from physical books to eBooks on my phone. But, as my kids were getting older they were assuming that time I spent reading books on the phone was me ‘playing’ on the phone. So I’d started ordering physical books to read so that they could see me reading a lot.

To my surprise, I found that I was enjoying being away from screens. No distractions or temptations, just a book and me and a moment of time.

Which meant that the 80% of my library that I’d donated I now missed. I wanted books on shelves again. And I wanted all my own books that I’d been published in, or published, to be around me. I’d had all those books stored away. With a large basement, I could have a lot of shelves.

Plus, now that I was playing frisbee outside and walking more I was getting sunlight. Maybe I could risk a basement office again. Then a friend of mine gifted me a 4K monitor large enough to display full editing documents side by side on, and a sitting to standing adjustable desk.

So three weeks ago I got busy and took a broom and cleaning supplies down into the basement to do battle with the spiders.

I scrubbed walls, attacked webs, and killed many spiders on day one.

I took out sixteen or so bags of things that could be put on the curb or donated.

In the canning room where the water seepage was the worst I purchased quick dry mortar repair and stuffed all the gaps I could find. I then painted two coats of DryLock paint over the walls in there. I also sealed the wooden ceiling of the canning room with Thompson’s water seal. So here we go from open cinder block and spider heaven to clean and dry to the touch:

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I went over the walls where I planned to put my office with primer and sealant where moisture had seeped through and discolored the paint.

Then I cleaned the windows. That actually boosted the light into the basement a bit, they hadn’t been cleaned in over a decade, I had to scrape dirt off the outer glass. So 50% more sunlight comes in now. I also went outside and pulled the metal wells free, giving more sun a chance to come through.

Of six four-foot flourescent tubes, four were still working. I found out that LED lights are being made for those same fixtures. I ordered them off Amazon.com. Not only did I get a boost in light from getting the two missing light tubes installed, but the LED lights are like 20% or so brighter than the fluorescents were. It feels like the artificial light doubled. Also, the light doesn’t flicker and feels ‘bright’ to me. On days when it’s dark and gloomy in Ohio outside, I’m often not noticing in the basement until I look out the window.

I was on a tight budget for this, I had been hoping to get the entire remodel done for under $500. That was my goal. But as I looked at bookcases everywhere I realized quickly that I wouldn’t be able to get rows of shelving for books and all the things in my office to sit on easily for that.

After wracking my brains for a while I started thinking of affordable shelving that people wouldn’t anticipate for books. I spent some time in food service, and I knew that NSF certified chrome shelving was sturdy, easy to assemble, and cheap. Further, the chrome shelving would fit with the industrial look of the basement, with the exposed ductwork and brick walls. I could get a sort of aesthetic that all fit together.

Along the 13″ back wall I decided to use an eighteen inch wide NSF chrome shelf that was almost as high as the basement ceiling, which came with six shelves. I would use two shelves to create an ego shelf and one shelf to create a desk area against the wall. I then figured out I could use pieces of a shorter fourteen inch wide shelf to create the legs that two of the other shelves left over could create another desk and general storage area on the right. Then I could use some hooks to create a desk in the middle.

Here it is:

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I then had four shelves left over from using the legs to create that eighteen inch deep area, that meant I could take the four shelf, fourteen inch chrome shelves and make them all five shelf shelves perfect for books:

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The wires run the length of the shelves, so books sit very nicely on them. If I do get worried, I can eventually cut and stain wood planks to add some warmth and sit over the wires: just drill a one-inch wide circular hole on each corner of the plank.

Here’s a closer look at the desk behind my computer desk:

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I purchased some cheap plastic sheets that sit on top of the wires for these shelves, as the wires run in the same direction as the books. They can fall through on the eighteen inch deep wire shelves, so that’s necessary.

On the first shelf I have books that I have published an original story in for the first time. They’re in order of year. Underneath are my novels, book ended by bookends made out of Bermuda Cedar, which is rare to get. Those were a gift from the government of Bermuda Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, and I’m super proud of them. Under the shelf I have hooks and binder clips holding some quickly drawn art that says “CREATE.” Emily is designing some more colorful letters for me shortly!

To the right is an extra desk where I keep some office stuff, a spare chrome book that the kids use, my iPad, and hanging above it is art from my first novel, Crystal Rain, that Todd Lockwood gifted me a print of and that I’ve always wanted to have hanging but didn’t have a place for. Until now!

Okay, so here’s the office as you entire the basement and turn to the right:

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I created a little area for reading, thinking, and editing on work. I have a surprisingly comfortable slatted (not uncomfortable rods) futon that converts into a queen for visitors or passing through family. It used to be upstairs, but now splits the office into two different parts and functions. My friend Ross Kaufmann came over to help me move it downstairs. A cheap $15 rug from a dollar store really ties the room together. At that point I had been over budget, so I don’t have a rug for the computer desk area or for along the bookshelves. One day, though!

Again, a Todd Lockwood print hangs by the futon.

Here’s the angle from the walkthrough area:

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I’m hoping to get a tiny dorm fridge to put soda water and protein bars in that little space along the wall there down the road.

I keep all my currently reading and magazines on the little red table that I appropriated from the kids. One of the kids is reading Muse and left it down there, so I’m not the only one using this is a reading zone.

I was super psyched to get this extra shelf from my friend Brandon Rhodes, python programmer extraordinare:

I unpacked all my extra author’s copies and loaded the shelf up. Again, this was stuff all packed away in storage that I had no idea what I had and what I didn’t.

The basement is divided into half with the use of a Kallax four cubby by four cubby shelf on casters (I will be getting casters for all the other chrome shelves, so that walls are easy to get to and clean, spider kill, and dust, but again, I went over budget slightly and will get to that in a month or so) next to another two by four Kallax on casters.

I ordered a sheet of Shoji paper to cover the back of the Kallax and let some light through as it’s translucent.

Side note. I had always thought rice paper was made of actual rice, why else call it that? Turns out it’s ‘rice’ paper like a Japanese car is a ‘ricer.’ It’s seems to be a western ‘we use rice to describe anything Japanese’ thing. Ugh. So it’s actually called Shoji paper, I found after a minute or two of looking for the paper, and it’s made of mulberry bush (Kozo). It should be called Mulberry paper, if anything.

Here’s the other side:

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Anyway, here’s the desk where I work:

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I’m hoping to add some art, cool books to the cubbies. I also have five plastic stands along the top of the divider, and I’m hoping to add W R I T E in colorful letters to them. Behind them is some Ivy, known for helping clean the air. To the left the other side of the basement is peeking out, a bunch of stuff is stored there that I need get to the curb/donate and clean out so that I can start to use other side for a small gym.

Here is the writing area with the standing desk up. I’m going to put in a glass dry erase board along that wall under the window there when the budget gets back in my favor. And a rug for my cold feet.

I’m pretty excited about the desk, as Skype sessions should be more fun. I can stand for them, and the area behind me will be framed by my written books and some colorful art. CREATE!

Another thing I might toy with is seeing if that one duct by the window can be flattened with a rectangular duct there to give me a little head room and allow more light in through that window.

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I pulled this together in a little over a week and a half. It’s full of light, clean space, and I’m really happy with it. I spent a day going around smearing essential peppermint oil and spraying it wherever there had been spiders two weeks ago, and they’ve taken the hint. Plus, it smells very refreshing down here! I also purchased an ozone generator and have run it to kill anything down here like mold, mildew, annoying small insects. I’ll run every once in a while to keep the air fresh.

I’m hoping to make this the center of my operation to launch a whole new act of writing great things from down here. I’m surrounded by books, my achievements, and lots of great creative space.

21 Sep

Anthology Halo Fractures is available, contains my Halo story ‘Oasis’

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Halo Fractures, which includes stories by me, Troy Denning, Matt Forbeck, Kelly Gay, Christie Golden, Kevin Grace, Morgan Lockhart, John Jackson Miller, Frank O’Connor, Brian Reed, James Swallow, and Joseph Staten, launched yesterday for sale.

Launch once more into galaxy-spanning conflict and legendary heroism…shards of an ever-expanding journey where human and alien alike find their finest hours in facing their greatest challenges. These scattered stories span untold millennia, from the age of the ancient custodial race known as the Forerunners…to the aftermath of the Covenant’s bloody war against humanity…and even the shocking events surrounding the resurrection of the mysterious Guardians. Halo: Fractures explores mythic tales of bravery and sacrifice that blaze brightly at the very heart of the Halo universe.

You can buy from all the usual locations. Like Indiebound, here’s an Amazon, or BN.

30 Jul

My short story Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance to appear in Cosmic Powers, a new John Joseph Adams anthology

I’m super psyched to be a part of this anthology that comes out early next year. The anthology was just announced at the B&N blog:

From the Golden Age to the modern day, from Lensmen, to Star Wars, to Guardians of the Galaxy, nothing has served as a more ready signifier of what science fiction can do as a genre than the space opera. Futuristic weapons and instellar warfare in fantastical, pan-galactic settings: it’s truly the stuff dreams are made of. Next April, Saga Press and accomplished editor John Joseph Adams will celebrate all the subgenre has to offer modern readers with Cosmic Powers: A Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies, an collection of 17 brand-new space opera stories from a fascinating assortment of familiar and up-and-coming writers.

(Via Announcing Cosmic Powers, a Space Opera Anthology from John Joseph Adams and Saga Press — The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.)

Check out this amazing cover by Chris Foss:

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Even cooler, they have the full wrap around for people to see:

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My story in this, Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance, is a story I’ve wanted to write for almost six years. I’m so excited I had a chance to write it.

29 Jun

How to collaborate on fiction in 2016 using pair programming, Skype, and Google Docs

I just finished a new collaboration. It’s a short story of nearly 10,000 words that will be in Bridging Infinity (you can pre-order here), edited by Johnathan Strahan “The latest volume in the Hugo award-winning Infinity Project series, showcasing all-original hard science fiction stories from the leading voices in genre fiction.”

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The writer I collaborated with was Karen Lord, who currently lives in Barbados (author of Galaxy Games, Redemption in Indigo, you’re reading her, right?).

There are a lot of different ways to collaborate. I’ve done many of them. But for seamless and rapid writing, one method stands out to me that was first introduced to me by Karl Schroeder.

In 2007 Karl and I spent a weekend in Toronto writing a short story called ‘Mitigation.’ The story would eventually spark my time spent on the novel Arctic Rising a couple years later. To write this story, Karl invited me to spend a three day weekend at his home while we worked on the story (also a 10,000 word story).

We spent the first night there drinking scotch and spitballing ideas, and the next morning in a diner scribbling ideas on the backs of paper mats. The fun, world building stuff that could go on and on.

But back at Karl’s office the work started. Karl had a plan, one he said he’d done with another writer before, where we would share the keyboard. One of us would write a single sentence. Then the other would revise that sentence, then write a next one. Other writer would revise that sentence, then write another.

Starting can be the hardest, but with one line at a time, swapping in and out of the chair, we soon had a few paragraphs. In fact, it was starting to get hard to stick to just a single line. Karl commented that once we started being unable to stick to a line, we’d switch to paragraphs.

This had the effect of blending our styles. It also forced us each to check in with each other, live, line by line, on what we thinking and trying to do. Get stuck? Jump out of the chair and usually the other writer could jump in.

We did this until we had 2-3 pages in short order. We broke for lunch and spitballed some outline ideas, coming up with upcoming scenes.

At that point, we then each took alternate scenes, not paragraphs, concurrently. I’d work on my laptop, Karl on his desktop, and email the scenes into a final document and edit them. In three days we had a clean, tight, 10,000 word short story that ended up being in a Year’s Best anthology.

I’ve done many other forms of collaboration. Handing the document back and forth, outlining for others to write, muddling through it on an ad-hoc basis. But Karl’s method really jumped out at me and I proposed trying to use it despite the fact that Karen and I are thousands of miles apart.

The methodology we used is something programming friends of mine indicated were similar to the idea of ‘pair programming.’ According to Wikipedia:

Pair programming is an agile software development technique in which two programmers work together at one workstation. One, the driver, writes code while the other, the observer or navigator,[1] reviews each line of code as it is typed in. The two programmers switch roles frequently.

While reviewing, the observer also considers the “strategic” direction of the work, coming up with ideas for improvements and likely future problems to address. This frees the driver to focus all of his or her attention on the “tactical” aspects of completing the current task, using the observer as a safety net and guide.

Karen was willing to try it. To write the document we used Google Docs as we could both use it at the exact same time, creating that concurrent use atmosphere and live ability I found so fascinating when I worked with Karl.

To get the live Pair Programming aspect, we used Skype. To write like this, I really found the live ability to talk to a partner to be killer. The reason is this, in past collaborations, I’ve found a lot of communication can be lost in text, emails back and forth, and people going around in circles without realizing it.

I found that just talking live to the person, I can see their face the moment I suggest an idea and more accurately assess whether we both truly love it, or whether they really love it and I don’t, or whether it’s something we’re both ‘meh’ on and should keep talking about. There is so much more you can figure out, and faster. You can tell when someone is just spitballing, as opposed to really hung onto something.

Karen and I spent a two hour Skype spitballing ideas on the first day, from which we came up with a skeletal idea for plot, some world building, and what we wanted to accomplish from the story.

The second Skype session was a half day of using the same method I described Karl and I did, but with Karen and I meeting over Skype and using Google Docs. One of us wrote a line, the other edited it and wrote the next. Then the other would come on and edit that then write the next. Soon we were doing paragraphs. Then sections.

The next two days we traded off sections, and then we did a series of revision passes that were not done live on video.

It took about four or five days to create a 10,000 word story called The Mighty Slinger for Bridging Infinity. Calypso singers, hard SF megastructures, idea SF. It was a hell of a lot of fun to write and I’m pleased to see that for a second time this process of ‘pair writing’ in a near-live situation works well, and that fact that it can work over great distances was a pretty amazing experiment, I felt.

Writing can often feel isolating. Being able to spit ball ideas and gain energy from another writer’s enthusiasm over the project made this a great experience.

28 Jun

Dear new writers: you do have the power to speak

Several times a year I encounter moments where a writer, or a new writer, or a writer yet to be, is reluctant to write an essay or talk about a position they are passionate about. This is doubly so if it’s political. They believe that they’ll be blackballed from publishing or their career will falter.

Since it’s a political election season, I’d like to note:

The ‘industry’ of writers/critics/readers/etc are not nearly monolithic enough to blackball you. It’s easier to die quietly in a midlist spiral. Or to never get noticed at all.

This fear of blackballs existed when I was an egg as well. I was told a lot of things to do when I joined up by older writers.

Don’t talk about politics, you’ll lose readers. Don’t talk about controversy, you’ll lose readers.

Don’t lose readers!

Don’t be too ‘strident’ or no one will want to work with you.

I’m not going to lie and say you won’t get labeled. I’m not going to lie and say that you won’t lose readers.

But…

Most readers aren’t online, they’re aren’t involved in the bubble of who’s saying what unless you’re being quoted in major magazines. Most readers want to be entertained. Most editors want to sell a book to readers that will do well. (and, ps, you’ll also *gain* readers).

Speaking up doesn’t preclude a career. If so, some of my favorite writers today wouldn’t have one. And some of my least favorite as well.

Yes, you do have to pick where and when you’ll fight. Choose where to spend your energy. I try to invest most of my energy into the fiction.

Yet, the blackballing thing keeps coming up. Over 15 years observing, this is one of those things that people believe that I try to dissuade. Obscurity is far more a threat to a career than blackballing. You’d also be surprised at the number of voices that people in the field become aware of due to speaking up.

So if you really want to, tell us what you’re thinking. Really.

09 May

Today I’m celebrating 10 years of being a freelancer

Ten years, man! Ten years! I’ve been freelancer/writer/whatever for 10 years now, sailing my own ship:

Ten years ago I had just published my very first novel. It had been out a few months. But I never got to enjoy or dwell on my first novel experience because I learned just a couple days before my book was to launch that I was going to be out of a job by the end of summer.

I spent that February, March and April:

-finishing the manuscript of my second novel, Ragamuffin, in a panic. I didn’t know if I would be working a McDonald’s or what later in the year. I wanted to have written two novels, so that no matter what mess came next I would have at least done that.

-looking for a new day job. Turned out there were no tech jobs within a decent commute at the time. I was underwater on my mortgage in a house I’d just moved into and had to stretch to afford.

-working freelance gigs that appeared as I announced my availability and impending job loss. I still remember that my boss read my blog post announcing that I was being laid off and ‘encouraged’ me to take it down and I was like ‘I don’t even understand what you mean’ because my focus was on letting the world know I needed to start something new.

By May it had become clear that I had enough lined up that I could take the leap into just working as a freelancer and author.

Ten years. Wow.

There have been a lot of ups and downs. I became a New York Times bestseller thanks to the Halo novel. I went on to write book 3 of what became the Xenowealth series. Agreed to put #4 and #5 on hold after the Halo book and wrote Arctic Rising and Hurricane Fever. The freelance gigs have shifted and churned around a bit in the background. I’ve had some banner years in terms of fiction earnings, but not enough I would stop freelancing.

My wife, Emily, has joined me to help out with the freelancing. So the business has grown. We haven’t killed each other yet being home all the time.

I almost died just a few years into freelancing. Found out I had a heart defect. Spent years recovering and learning how to manage a whole new life.

Had twins. Still trying to figure out this dad thing. Very much a learn as you go.

I have published 9 novels in that 10 years, 2 under a pseudonym. There are two more written as of yet unsold as well. I’ve also done 4 collections, 5 novellas, and sold 36 short stories.

My income streams shift and change, but overall everything is growing.

I’m looking out over the next ten and thinking very hard about how I want it to look. I’m in the middle of a great deal of change right now. But… if there’s one thing I’ve learned from 10 years of being a freelancer you have to be comfortable with a great deal of variability.

Does it ever become normal?

I wouldn’t want it to.

What’s next on the horizon?

I’m hoping to nail all that down here soon. You’ll know as soon as I do.

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.

Forward!

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 →
Buy now!
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…