MaxBarry.com
not dead yet

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.

  • Syrup: movie tie-in
  • Jennifer Government: US hardback
  • Company: US hardback
  • Syrup: US hardback
  • Jennifer Government: German large paperback
  • Company: US paperback
  • Syrup: US paperback
  • Jennifer Government: Italian paperback
  • Company: German paperback
  • Syrup: Australian paperback (Scribe)
  • Jennifer Government: Spanish paperback
  • Company: Dutch paperback
  • Syrup: Chinese paperback
  • Jennifer Government: Dutch paperback reissue
  • Company: Brazilian paperback
  • Jennifer Government: Brazilian paperback
  • Company: Polish paperback
  • Syrup: Australian large paperback
  • Jennifer Government: Taiwanese paperback
  • Company: Spanish paperback
  • Syrup: US Audio
  • Jennifer Government: Swedish paperback
  • Syrup: Australian small paperback
  • Jennifer Government: Swedish paperback
  • Syrup: German large paperback
  • Syrup: German small paperback
  • Syrup: French paperback
  • Syrup: Israeli paperback

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Tue 08
Dec
2015

What It’s Like To Run NationStates

What Max Reckons

Hey Max, Could you remove my copyrighted image from the banner on your amphibian distribution page. It is the cool frog you lifted from the cover of the Journal of Biogeography (far right photo in your banner). If you are going to make money from your web site, you should pay the people whose content you steal. Also, that species does not even occur in Brazil.

Thanks,

Elizabeth Everman (the person whose copyright you are violating)

This is a NationStates question. I figured that out by asking myself, “Do I have any idea what this person is talking about?” Whenever the answer to that is “no,” it’s about NationStates.

You should know I tracked Elizabeth down on Facebook and we identified the frog in question and now everything is fine. But I’m posting because I’ve been meaning to tackle an ASK MAX question on what it’s like to run NationStates, and this one came along and gave me a good answer. It’s like trying to figure out what an amphibian distribution page is and why it has an illegal frog on it.

NationStates is amazing. Don’t get me wrong. I love NationStates. I made a little web site in 2002 and poured way too much time into it and now it’s this whole big thing. It just means there’s too much to keep track of. Also, the one percent of any group of people who are trying to do something stupid or psychotic at any given moment is big enough to be a significant number. Put those things together and you have people angrily contacting me about something I’ve never heard of but which they assume I was instrumental in bringing about.

So a disproportionate amount of time goes into a small number of extreme cases, like the guy last month who felt something on the site was racist so he contacted PayPal and lodged claims against us for credit card fraud. Or people who get banned from the site for whatever reason and decide to extract revenge in poorly thought-out ways, like threats or editing Wikipedia or DDoS attacks. The site has volunteer moderators, thank God, who deal with the vast majority of this kind of thing, but if it’s weird enough, it involves me.

There’s always something, so I know if I have a spare twenty minutes and want to grapple with a highly charged debate over something ridiculous, I can check in. This week, for example, there is a 100-post discussion amongst moderators over Angela Lansbury’s bosom. A player set his nation’s flag to a photoshopped image of Ms. Lansbury with one breast on display; this was removed, and the nation deleted for violating site rules, but then the player begged forgiveness based on his five-year clean record, and the image was more comedic than pornographic, so what to do? The discussion has so far traversed the nature of obscenity, art, rules consistency, and the specific weighting of player records.

What I like doing most on NationStates is making new stuff. Programming is really satisfying. It’s like fiction-writing plus puzzle-solving for me. This kind of programming, anyway, where I get to build whatever I feel like, and there’s a community giving instant feedback. That’s fun.

I don’t really play the game for enjoyment, in the same way I don’t read my own novels recreationally; it’s kind of spoiled when you’ve seen the insides. But I do have a secret nation no-one knows about, which I check into from time to time. Most of the daily issues nations encounter today have been written by volunteers—there were 30 when I launched the site and there are over 450 now—so they’re new to me.

Oh, so the frog. On NationStates, you can issue dispatches, which are official communications from your nation. Some people use these to write about their nation, describing its history or fauna or political stance or whatever they like. There are 402,000 of these, so you can see why I didn’t notice the frog. But it was there, a hotlink in a player-created dispatch, and that was what Elizabeth saw. There is a “Report” button on these pages, which I mention in the hope of steering similar issues to the moderators, but it’s small and easy to miss.

So that’s NationStates.

Tue 01
Dec
2015

Royalties on Paper and eBooks

Writing

Hey Max, I see that there’s digital and physical versions of your books and I was wondering, which sell more copies, and which makes the more money for you?

Matt

If you’re asking because you want me to have more money, then I applaud that sentiment, but you should buy whichever you prefer. You having a better reading experience is worth more to me than the extra 75 cents.

Paper books sell more, for me at least. It’s around 2:1 on Lexicon. But with each book, the electronic share gets bigger. Syrup (1999) is 6:1.

Royalties vary, but ebooks usually sit somewhere between hardcover and paperback. From the average Lexicon sale to date, I have seen:

Hardcover: $2.65

Ebook: $1.70

Paperback: $0.95

It’s less outside the US & Canada. And this only applies once the book has earned out its advance, which is the payment authors get up-front. For example, Penguin thought Syrup was going to sell its socks off and paid me a big advance, and then it didn’t, so I’ve never seen any royalties. But each sale is still good because it washes away a little more of my shame.

My ex-agent Todd once told me that publishers usually break-even on a book before the advance earns out. I hope this is true.

If you self-publish and charge more than a few bucks, you get a much higher return on your books. But you also have to persuade people to buy them, which is hard. Publishers are pretty good at that.

Wed 25
Nov
2015

Whatever Happened to Paul Neilan

Writing

Do you know what happened to Paul Neilan? You blurbed his book (deservedly, as it was absolutely brilliant), but then he disappeared.

-kd

That is a good question. I have no idea. I mean, I can guess: He probably fell into that bottomless abyss of despair and self-loathing where novels live sometimes. Again, just a guess. But it seems to me that any time you try to write a novel, you are a lot more likely to psychologically self-destruct than succeed, so probably that.

I mean, I’m not projecting or anything. This has nothing to do with me. And I’m not saying writing is hard; I mean, you just have to type stuff. How hard is that. I’m just saying maybe Paul found it tough to juggle the competing demands of blogging for eager readers awaiting his new novel and working on a literary hellspawn trying to devour his soul. So he probably pulled the plug on one or both, at least for a while.

If you are out there, Paul, I hope you’re still writing, and not worrying about how long it takes, and chasing the things that make you happy. Also hurry up, man, I need a new book.

Tue 17
Nov
2015

Will the Real Lee Bob Black Please Stand Up

Lexicon

Hello Mr.Barry, I was required to read your book Lexicon in my college literature class and enjoyed it very much. However, I’m forced to create a presentation about Lee Bob Black. So my question is: Who the hell is Lee Bob Black? All I’ve found is his website with a bunch of links to his blog. Which would have sufficed if my teacher didn’t think you were this ingenious wordsmith wizard or something. She thinks you made him up basically. Something to do with marketing and illusion. Can you help me out? Is Lee Bob Black a persona you made up or are we digging a dry well here? Thanks. Maybe.

Taija

Lee Bob Black is an actual person. Sorry. That website with his work on it is completely legit, not a carefully constructed piece of reality augmentation for the book. There are a few pieces of reality augmentation floating around, but Lee isn’t one of them.

Basically I needed a lesser-known poet. In the book, people get poet names based on rank, so Woolf and Eliot and Yeats are serious headkickers, while Lee Bob Black could be a younger guy working the streets. The real Lee I had met in St. Kilda sometime around 2001 when his friend graffitiied my house. Artists. Anyway, we got talking and then he moved to New York and we lost contact, but I remembered his great little poems.

At some point I emailed him:

You are in my novel-in-progress. I needed the name of an obscure real-life poet and you sprang to mind. I was intending to change it, but since here you are, I will ask if I can use it. Context: there are characters in the book who adopt the names of real poets, and the one who uses your name is cool but sleazy. So do not feel compelled to say yes.

I’m a little shocked by that now because I wouldn’t describe the character as “cool but sleazy.” He’s outright despicable. He does things that you wouldn’t want to be associated with in any way. But Lee, not knowing this, was delighted and honored. And I was happy, right up until the book was published, when I suddenly realized I had done a terrible thing and Lee was going to freak right out when he read it.

At a reading in New York, I looked into the audience and surprise! There he was. I had to stop and check whether he was about to serve me with legal papers. But no. He was incredibly gracious about it.

I understand your teacher thinking Lee Bob Black must be fictitious, because no author would be stupid enough to name that character after a real, living person. But actually I am that stupid.

Thu 12
Nov
2015

My review of The Girl With All The Gifts

Writing I noticed people are “following my reviews” on Goodreads. This is great but must be unsatisfying because I don’t write any. I don’t think I should review books unless I love them, since that feels too cruel to an author who surely doesn’t deserve it, because writing books is hard, man, respect. And if I do love the book, I don’t want to say anything about it that might be a spoiler, because the book is so wonderful, you should just read it without knowing anything. It’s a pickle.

Anyway. “The Girl With All The Gifts” by Mike Carey is my favorite read of 2015. In lieu of saying anything about it, I will tell you thoughts I had while reading it. Also I will list my thoughts out of order, not chronologically. Enjoy.

“That’s cool.”

“That’s really cool.”

“OH MY GOD.”

“OH MY GOD THAT’S AWESOME.”

“Oh it’s that kind of book.”

“I wonder what happens next.”

“That character dynamic is backward.”

“I was wrong.”

Buy from Amazon.com Buy from an indie bookstore

Tue 27
Oct
2015

Robots Wrote My Book

Writing Last week I did an interview on Reddit and was asked about my new novel, “The Ascension’s Mirror.” This was a surprise because I didn’t know I wrote that. But Goodreads had it listed, saying I was the author. There was also a reader review:

I’m a big fan of Mr Barry’s work and was happy to see this new offering. I’m having a little trouble getting through it, because of the language. He is replacing words and phrases. For example “She laughed at my futile endeavours in the direction of identify some type of popular flooring with her,” means (roughly) She laughed at my attempt to seek common ground with her, or something like that.

I’m hoping that it will eventually be worth it. . . .

There was a second novel by me, “Cry in the Redemption,” which I definitely didn’t write, either. Both were for sale on Amazon as Kindle books.

At first I thought there must be another Max Barry out there, writing books. I know there are a few Max Barrys around, such as Better Max, and some other Max who can’t remember his email address, so I’m always getting notes from his grandmother and warnings from his ISP. Seriously, Max. Get it right. The other day your boss sent me a stern note, asking why I hadn’t responded to his earlier note. The reason your life is in tatters is because I get all your important emails.

But no, other Maxes were not writing novels. In fact, no-one was writing these, I realized, because the writing is not just awkward but nonsensical. From its official description on Amazon:

We can’t inform oneself considerably unless be mindful just after oneself examine this. They are waiting around for us towards adhere our necks out and deliver a miscalculation, and your self may well accurately contribute them in direction of us. Your self include been warned.

This reminded me of a piece of text run twice through Google Translate, once to turn it into a different language, once to turn it back. I’d heard of web sites doing this to steal content, because the end result is different enough that it doesn’t look so much like plagiarism.

I asked my agent about this, and they asked Amazon, and within a day the books were gone. Poof!

So apparently this happens: Bots auto-generate novels under the names of real authors and put them up for sale in the hope of confusing readers. Which is kind of cool. Not for us, of course. Not for humans. But I always knew the robot apocalypse was coming, and have been looking forward to seeing what shape it takes. I didn’t think they’d be writing novels.

P.S. The real question is what the original text was. The bots auto-translated something. I don’t know what, though.

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