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Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Tue 16
Aug
2005

The Book of Revelations

Company I have this novel, Company, due out in January, and the author in me wants you to read it without knowing a thing about it. Not who the characters are, not the theme, and definitely, definitely not the big plot revelation that comes about a quarter of the way through. The author wants you totally blind, so everything’s a surprise, just as it should be.

The marketer in me, though, wants to tell you everything. Because if you don’t know anything about it, you might not buy it, and then where am I? Selling computer systems for Hewlett-Packard, that’s where. The marketer will spoil the whole plot if that’s what’s necessary to arouse your interest.

This wasn’t such an issue with Jennifer Government, because the biggest plot development happened in the first few pages. But Company starts with a mystery, and you don’t find out what the book is really about until you’re a way in.

I’m resigned to the fact that practically every review of the book will give this away. It would be too hard to describe it otherwise. But here is my dilemma: do I put it on the back of the book?

(Yeah, and you always thought blurbs were written by someone else. In truth the author usually writes it, or at least tweaks it. For example, the current draft of the US hardcover flap copy currently says Company is “bitingly funny.” I didn’t add that bit, but I bet I could delete it. And I’m not going to.)

It’s an odd transition when you go from trying to write the best story you can to trying to sell it. But around this time is when it happens. I think I need to give away my plot twist, although I’ll be as vague as possible. And hope that people who have already decided they’re going to buy it will avert their eyes.

(P.S. No baby yet. But it’s a day-to-day proposition. Maybe next blog!)

Comments

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Joel Kelly (#1517)

Location: Canada
Quote: "www.ingenioustries.com"
Posted: 3164 days ago

I gotta say I never understood putting plot on the back cover at all. Even if I know nothing about a book, I rarely read the whole blurb, just to make sure it isn't spoiled. My system is to read the first line or two (to figure out what kind of book it is -- satire, thriller, mystery, etc) and then the first page or two. If it's caught my attention, I buy.

Rod McBride (#688)

Location: Gardner, KS
Quote: "www.MidwestRockLobster.blogspot.com"
Posted: 3164 days ago

Don't do it, man. I'm already buying the Company on the strength of your past two novels. I might get burned, I didn't care much for the connective material in 'Haunted,' which I bought based on enjoying Palahniuk's earlier work.

As a rule, I don't buy a book I can borrow from the library. But then, after I'd read 'Syrup' from the library, I not only had to buy a copy, I had to go out on eBay to get the one with the cool cover. Sorry man, but the reason it didn't take off isn't the nutrition information, and it isn't the guy on the cover. It's a first novel, and word of mouth isn't always that fast. If anything, I like it better than Jennifer Government, it's the one I push on friends more.

But I had to have that cover with the nutrition information. The one they went with in the trade paperback doesn't even make sense to me. That's not who I picture when I picture Scat and 6.

One of the things I find inscrutable about the publishing industry is that they seem to think that if they follow some formula they can just invent a Harry Potter type thing. Even Grisham's first novel tanked initially. And he's the kind of writer they're looking for more of to squeeze the midlist out of existence.

If they wouldn't remainder or pulp a book after a few months, an author would have a chance to develop an audience.

The past few weeks, I've really had a crisis of faith when it comes to the business end with my own first novel. I haven't lost faith in my novel (though it still needs massive amounts of work to be anywhere near ready for publication). I've lost faith in publishers: I want to give my baby that I've worked on for four or five years to someone who's going to drive it out to the country and abandon it if it doesn't potty-train in a day or two???

Henry T. Monkeypimpenstein (#1212)

Location: Wellington, NZ
Quote: "Monkeypimp: Geeky enough to use his lame NS forum name here too."
Posted: 3164 days ago

Right, so when I get company I'm not reading any reviews, or looking at the back of it?

Emily (#609)

Location: New York
Quote: "When in doubt, fuck it. When not in doubt, get in doubt!"
Posted: 3164 days ago

I DUN'T WANNA KNOW!!!!

Man, I'm glad to know that's not just me. Of course I've never gotten to the point where I can even THINK about marketing a book yet, but I love to ponder the future, and I always wonder what in the world I'm going to put on the back of my books, because I love plot twists and I would never ever want to give them away, but sometimes logic demands it. The same goes with the movie trailers I want to eventually put together. At some point I'm going to have to resign myself to not being able to keep everything a surprise. *sigh*

Here's one reader who won't be looking at reviews or the back, though, I can tell you that much.

Good luck with the the babeh! :-)

-Em

Moonie (#1518)

Location: Indiana
Quote: "If someone tries to kill you, you try and kill 'em right back."
Posted: 3164 days ago

I've always preferred the authors who give little to no information away on the back of the book. If you feel you just HAVE to say something to catch someone's attention, stick it in the jacket. Most of the people you can hook by revealing a plot twist will invariably read this before making a decision. It's never as good of a read when you find yourself just waiting for the plot twist the back of the book already told you about...

Melissa (#888)

Location: WI
Quote: "When you can't run anymore, you crawl, and when you can't do that, you find someone to carry you."
Posted: 3164 days ago

I know that no matter what, I'm going to buy this book. If possible, don't give away your plot twist, I love those parts. I'm so looking foward to this book, I havn't read a good book since JG and Syrup. : )

Adam A. (#256)

Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Quote: "Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that." -George Carlin"
Posted: 3164 days ago

It's obvious that everyone here will buy a copy without knowing a thing about it, other than there may or may not be a company involved somewhere. But for Joe 12-pack, he may need a little worm on a hook to get him in. But definitely don't put too much on the jacket. Find the happy medium of just enough tantalizing info to peak someone's interest without giving away too much. On the other hand, it's not like it's a mystery and you're saying who the killer is right on the back. If the plot twist is fairly early, there's not too much risk of spoilage. But me, I'd like to know as little as possible and have the whole thing fresh. It is indeed a fine line of pleasing fans and aquiring new ones. Good luck with that.

Austin (#814)

Quote: "You might be stretching."
Posted: 3164 days ago

Even if you told us which character died, or who was whose father, or if such-and-such a character was actually a werewolf (who knew?) I would still buy it. Having been a spoiler - I hesitate to say junkie - for, oh, the formative years of my life, the only thing I'd get mad about is finding out how the Crucifixion ends. I mean, does Jesus die, or does he pull out some Messianic kung-fu and go all son-of-God on them?

I think we all know what *should* happen, but I guess I'll just have to read to find out.

Tim Ashwood (#595)

Location: Sydney
Posted: 3164 days ago

You want the "Why?" on the backcover, and the answers inside. I check out the back to see if it piques my interest, then a couple of paragraphs to see if I've read it before (happened more than once, I can tell you that without embarrassment).
So: Who's the guy, who's he work for, the fact that no-one knows what the company does; these are questions for the outside.
Mind you, I do that for new authors only, or authors who's prolific work I can't keep straight (Pratchett, Francis, Ludlum). Novel #3 does not count - I'm buying it anyway (and hoping Sneaky Pete makes a cameo).

Sophie (#891)

Location: Devon
Posted: 3163 days ago

Er .. I have a guilty secret. I've already about the plot twist in another article. But on the upside, I thought it was awesome and am definetly buying the book it when it comes out.
I think Tim A is right - just put the questions on the back of the book, and hopefully people will be so intrigued to find out the answers that they'll buy the book. I've been duped in to reading some truly crap books before just because they had some mystery on the back cover and I wanted to find out what happened inside. So its a good strategy.Even though I know your book will, of course, not be truly crap like the other books I read that did that. In fact it'll be uber awesome (*waits excitedly for Company to come out*).

Hobbie (#1359)

Location: Cornwall, England
Quote: "There was a little man in his hair!"
Posted: 3163 days ago

Perhaps you can do a Sir Humphrey Appleby. A Rhodesia solution. Tell people, but not in any way that they would realise you've told them. You know, so that they don't hear you.

Neil (#943)

Location: Manchester, UK
Quote: ""Democracy is the worst system, apart from all the others." - Churchill"
Posted: 3163 days ago

Blurbs are written by the author? Then why do a significant of them show utter ignorance of the contents of the book? (Present company not implicated, I hasten to add.)

Anita Heiney (#292)

Location: Richmond, VA USA
Quote: "I came. I signed up. I got an error."
Posted: 3163 days ago

Max(x),
Don't do it!! Can't wait to get & read the book. Don't GIVE anything away on the back - make us PAY for it! Speaking of the new book, I can't help but wonder, are you still going to use that same, wonderful picture of you with your tongue up your nose???

Machine Man subscriber David (#1456)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Why are the pretty ones always insane?"
Posted: 3163 days ago

Why not just use the blurb you have for Company on your website already? It made me want to read it.

Oh I guess you could add to it and say something like "But that's not really what this story is about, oh no. There's some really weird shit that goes down partway in that'll knock you up like a pregnant rhino. If we told you about that here dude we'd have to, like, kill you."

No, don't give the twist away, please! Any reviewer that does should be immediately reported to the authorities as a terrorist suspect.


Zerbe (#1358)

Location: Pennsylvania, The States
Quote: "I'm just a-goin' to the top-a the hill."
Posted: 3163 days ago

Have you ever read any of Charles Bukowski's books? There are never blurbs. It is better that way. Don't ruin the surprise!

Erin (#1481)

Location: Seattle
Quote: "Living is easy with eyes closed"
Posted: 3163 days ago

I don't want anything spoiled for me, and while reading your post I was scared for a moment that you were going to come right out and say it. I'm glad you didn't.

Anyways, whatever you put on the back, I want you to know that I won't be reading it. At least not until after I've read the whole thing. Then maybe.

If you _have_ to put something on the back, make it a sort of red herring or a half-truth. Just tell them enough to pique their interests a bit. That or else write about how awesome the reader will feel when they know what happens and no one else does.

Kalle (#1278)

Quote: "Sex is herital. If your parents never had it, chanses are you'll never have it either."
Posted: 3162 days ago

This is off-topic, but I haven't seen the Swedish version of the JG cover on the site yet. It's been released, and it features a CGI Jen posing with a gun, with a huge barcode in front. It's quite ugly, and they even bothered to translate her name. (Jennifer Staten) I can't find a big version of the cover, and I'll be damned if I buy the translated version!

http://www.bokus.com/book_pics/919/754/9197543306.jpg

The blurb(back to topic!) is incredibly stupid too. Literal translation:

In the future the trademark is more important than your passport.
In the future marketing is a form of war.
In the future you change surname when you change jobs.
In the future we shoot you if you buy from our competiters(sp?)
In the future we shoot you if you got the wrong credit card.
In the future we shoot you if you have the srong shoes.

Jennifer Staten is a hard and breathtakingly funny thriller.
The government agent Jennifer is struggling against baby-sitter problems in the same time as she has too save the world from aggresive marketing methods like torture, mass murder and strategic nukes... A satire from the wonderful world of the big companies, not too unlike from our own...
The 32-year old bestseller author Max Barry is probably the worst that ahs happened to the big compaines since Michael Moore.
He is definatley the best that has happened too SF-satire since George Orwell.

Sucks, doesn't it? They probably hasn't read it.

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 3161 days ago

Fri Aug 19 2005

I'M ALL WASHED UP...

Well, it appears that I have nothing interesting left to say(not that I ever have), and my stories were failures. I don't think that anyone even reads my blogs. I have just been riding on the glory of when Max blogged about me on May 13, 2005(which was so long ago that I had to open up another tab just to check the date). It was a glorious day when my friends from school who were with me from day one of metablogging came to me and said,"Hey, dude, did you see that Max Barry blogged about you!" Then I was like,"You are such a bad liar," but by this time another one of my friends had overheard the conversation and said something to the effect of,"Dude, you're the metablogger. I noticed the name but it didn't dawn on me that it could be you." I wanted to instantly run to the back of the classroom and log on to the internets, but it was to risky. So had to instantly wait a couple of hours, and then the moment of glory...Max Barry quote,"So, moving on. For a while there I had a metablog: in late March, a guy called Adam left the comment:

Max Barry has inspired me to start my own blog, and since I don’t have a website, I will start writing on the comments of max barry’s blogs. It will pobably be really boring and have a lot of grammatical errors because I am not a professional writer.

But it wasn’t! I was enthralled with whether Adam would ask Jennifer to the prom, and what would happen to his simmering rivalry with Eric, even if this was all clearly fictional. And damn, he made some good points: why isn’t 2% milk called 98% milk? Unfortunately, Adam seemed to lose enthusiasm in April, and then he stopped posting. So my metablog is no more: I’m back to just a regular blog."
I even showed this to my English 11 teacher, Mrs. Sheets and said to her,"Well, it appears your class is paying off. I am getting proffesional recognition for my writing abilities."

Unfortunately, I now realize that the only time that I was blogged about was when I stopped metablogging.

THIS COULD BE THE LAST METABLOG BY ADAM of morristown, Indiana.

So I have reached the conclusion of the first week of my senior year at Morristown High School. Nothing to exciting has happened. I don't really like Jennifer anymore, but there's this new girl whose name will remain annonymous at the time(for my friends will read this) who is pretty cool. I don't know how to say that I like her though, but I have developed a plan. I will ask one of her friends to talk to her and see if she likes me. It's a flawless plan!

There may be an update to my situation in the near future.
Stay tuned...

Adam

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 3161 days ago

Wow, I don't believe that the blog above could have been any worse or longer.

Adam

Pineappleman (#1527)

Location: Saratoga Springs
Quote: "If someone were to make something idiot-proof, the world would make a better idiot."
Posted: 3161 days ago

Hi Max. This post has nothing to do with your blog entry, but more just some random pondering. I recently purchased your book Syrup off of eBay for 72 cents, it has not yet arrived, as I hav literally just now confirmed the order, hopefully it arrives next week sometime. But on to other matters, I read Jennifer Government, and I loved it, in fact I tell everyone about it, so if I like Syrup as much as Jennifer then I am definetly buying Company as well. So far it seems pretty interesting so I can't wait til it comes out in stores (hurry up by the way) anyways Max, I think you are an awesome writer, keep up the good work, and you need to write at least a dozen more books in the next year, and here's why. I am in the Navy, in a years time I will be done with my training and will be heading to my first submarine, I need things to read Max, please give me things to read.

Ruth (#288)

Location: Bath, United Kingdom
Quote: "Only the insane have strength enough to prosper. Only those who prosper may truly judge what is sane."
Posted: 3160 days ago

The worse movie trailers are the ones that give away the entire plot. They don't just annoy me, they make me not want to see the film - what's the point, if you know what's going to happen? It's not usually as common with the back of books, but can be even more annoying. The best back bits hint at the genius but any kind of information on the plot is only the kind of thing you properly understand once you've actually read it. Like Hobbie's Rhodesian suggestion (although please don't do a Mugabe on us!)

Keely (#1602)

Location: easy-peasy-24.livejournal.com of course!
Quote: "I always wanted to see the lights of Broadway... but then you get there and they're really kind of annoying."
Posted: 3118 days ago

DON'T DO IT, whatever you do. The other day in school, we had to give these "booktalks" (we had to give a presentation that we had prepared, about a book we had read over the summer). This one person did the latest Harry potter, and they told everyone all about Horcruxes. I had already read the book but I was still really pissed off because now everybody already knew!! Then, he wouldn't tell something that I personally thought was far less important.

Ahem. Anyway. Just talk about doughnuts. And mention a few vague terms (a scandal, a big surprise, he investigates).

By the way, I read Jennifer Government and it's my favorite (-est) book in the whole wide world. That's enough of a reason for me to get "company". (And "syrup" too, now that I think of it.

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