Tobias Buckell on the (New) Art of The Xenowealth Saga

1 Sep

In 2006, I came out with my first novel in the US, a somewhat hard-to-categorize (I’m told, I think it makes perfect sense, I wrote it after all) science fiction novel with Caribbean peoples settled on an alien world that have long since lost touch with their home world. That was Crystal Rain. I alternated between calling it Caribbean steampunk (a few years early, I think, for steampunk) and Caribbean SF.

It had a cover I adored — created by the amazing Todd Lockwood, a well known fantasy artist who’s work is amazing. I have a print of the art framed on my wall:  an airship above a verdant forest being chased by another distant ship. But when the novel came out, booksellers emailed me to say that the cover looked like the book was a fantasy, creating confusion among casual browsers. Core SF readers didn’t want to pick up the book. Fantasy readers put it down when they realized what it was.

By 2008 I’d built a dedicated core audience who loved the Xenowealth series, consisting of Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, and Sly Mongoose. But our sales never grew. A combination of bookstores not carrying the books, and my audience buying them directly online. Each book earned out and made me some royalties, but I was having trouble getting the growth I wanted in my career. I switched to writing a series of near future thrillers for Tor (Arctic Rising and Hurricane Fever, the latter of which just came out).

The fourth Xenowealth novel I Kickstarted directly with core readers online in 2011. It was an amazing experience; it did well, but neither direct digital sales nor crowd funding beat the money I make from pairing up with a publisher, alas. The fourth book, The Apocalypse Ocean, is still an important part of my backlist, though.

Earlier this year, Tor, which owns the rights to the first three Xenowealth books, decided it was going to reissue the books in Trade Paperback format. Crystal Rain will be launching in January, with Ragamuffin in March and Sly Mongoose in May.

For this re-release, they worked closely with me to re-imagine the books with more clearly SF-nal covers. And they pushed them out to the eBooks that are selling right now, so the line got a nice refresh visually. I’m very much looking forward to this January, when they come back to stores and a new generation of readers (hopefully). Booksellers have reached out to me to tell me they love the new look, and reviewers have also noted that they’re looking forward to reading the books that came out before they got involved in reviewing (or in some cases, missed the first time around).

I adore what I was able to do with the Xenowealth series. Big space opera, SF with Caribbean elements — it represents a large portion of ten years of my life writing. I put so much of myself into them, while also being able to pay respects to writers I admired in the field like Ian Banks, C.J Cherryh’s Merchanter’s series, and writers like Octavia Butler. Do I dare hope they’ll do better a second time around?

But one of the oddities in this relaunch is that Tor has chosen not to pick up The Apocalypse Ocean, the fourth book. No hard feelings here. In a perfect world, I would have wanted them to be all in on this relaunch, but we’re getting the first three into bookstores again with all new covers. They’ll get all new pushes. But it does leave me on this end with a puzzle:  how do I best serve readers collecting these books?

Obviously, my agent and I have spent time canvassing other publishers, but selling the fourth book in a series is a tough one. The biggest response is that sales of a #4 most benefit #1, or the series as a whole. We’ve had a nibble, but with 5 months before the relaunch to go, the event horizon is rapidly approaching.

So I had a new cover made for The Apocalypse Ocean that is similar to the look of the other books. That way, anyone buying eBook versions of the new Tor versions will get something very similar. And, as things get closer, I will need to consider looking into adapting the files I have for the limited edition hardcover I did for Kickstarter patrons into a new trade paperback that matches the Tor edition of Crystal Rain as closely as possible with this new cover.

Jenn Reese, at Tiger Bright Studios, was the person I turned to.

An additional complicating factor:  we’re only talking about US rights. UK rights are still open. Over the last two visits to the UK, I’ve talked to a lot of publishers about the Xenowealth series and had no takers. UK is having a tough time selling straight SF right now, and other than existing house names, one editor flat out told me recently ‘house policy is only to buy SF if we can get world rights to the struggling sales here. Other than that, it’s Fantasy only.’ Maybe I was being let down gently, but I feel I’ve also run out of options there as well.

On top of all that:  all new audio editions are being done, and will coincide with the launch. These will be world English. I’ve been working very closely with the company doing that to make sure we get accents done better on this release, and it’s been a very incredible experience.

That means I need to strongly think about the way in which everything clicks into place at this re-launch. Tor doing the first three, new format, new covers. Me doing the fourth book. Audio editions world-wide in English… which means I also need to think about UK and Commonwealth additions!

Again, there are some nibbles my agent is dealing with, but nothing firm, and that event horizon is approaching. I have the English rights to Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, and Sly Mongoose throughout the world.

As a result, I’m planning to be able to launch the Commonwealth versions of the books myself (particularly since I sell books really well when I go down to the islands, and they often buy via Commonwealth). And that means… new covers.

Jenn Reese at Tiger Bright also did these. So, here are the World Edition Covers for any books that I will happen to be launching myself come the new year, for the first time seen outside my hard drive, all together, along with the cover for The Apocalypse Ocean:

Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell Ragamuffin by Tobias BuckellSly Mongoose by Tobias BuckellThe Apocalypse Ocean by Tobias Buckell

Having done Kickstarters and delivery myself, I am committed to making sure these books will exist out there in the world. I’d love it if I had a publishing partner, as juggling all these details is not my strong suit. But as I mentioned, the Xenowealth has a dedicated readership that keeps growing over time since that first book. I’ll be doing my best to make sure the books are out there.


About the author (from his website):

Called “Violent, poetic and compulsively readable” by Maclean’s, science fiction author Tobias S. Buckell is a New York Times Bestselling writer born in the Caribbean. He grew up in Grenada and spent time in the British and US Virgin Islands, and the islands he lived on influence much of his work.

His Xenowealth series begins with Crystal Rain. Along with other stand-alone novels and his over 50 stories, his works have been translated into 17 different languages. He has been nominated for awards like the Hugo, Nebula, Prometheus, and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Author. His latest novel is Hurricane Fever, a follow up to the successful Arctic Rising that NPR says will ‘give you the shivers.’

He currently lives in Bluffton, Ohio with his wife, twin daughters, and a pair of dogs. He can be found online on his website.


One Response to “Tobias Buckell on the (New) Art of The Xenowealth Saga”


  1. Portadas de los relanzamientos de Tobias S. Buckell | Fantástica – Ficción - September 19, 2014

    […] un interesante post sobre los el relanzamiento de su tetralogía Xenowealth, aparte de hablar sobre el intrincado mundo de los derechos de autor en distintos países (destaco […]

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