While researching Company—I mean, while doing
unrelated things in the hope that something would happen that
I could use in the book—I heard lots of corporate horror stories.
Some funny, some terrifying, most in the same theme: it’s amazing
just how clear a company can make it that you’re completely unimportant.
Some of these stories went into my novel, but there are so many
others that I’ve created a new web site to capture them:
Tales of Corporate Oppression.
I want it to become a repository for the best, funniest, and most
appalling stories of everyday workplace inhumanity out there.
This is where you come in. If you’ve got a tale, help me get started:
jump on in and
If you don’t, you can still read other people’s tales and vote for them.
In other news, I’ve updated the Company
section of this site to include a description of what (more or less)
the novel is about. It’s relatively spoiler-free, so should be safe
reading… but if you’re one of those people who doesn’t want to know
anything at all about it, I applaud you. Assuming you’re motivated by a desire
to preserve the mystery, that is, and not because you have no intention of
ever reading it. If it’s the latter, I’m not so impressed.
has made up some Company coffee cups and Mission
Statement posters and I’m allowed to give five away. This is
fantastic, because usually this stuff goes to uninterested magazine
editors already drowning in book-related collateral, and not to fans,
who would stab their own mothers for it.
It’s like this: Company is set within a fictional
corporation named Zephyr Holdings, and Doubleday’s cups and Mission Statements have
Zephyr logos on them. There’s no mention of me or the novel,
which seems a little odd for promotional merchandise, but then it does
make them even more cool and obscure.
If you’d like to win a coffee cup and Mission Statement poster, all
you need to do is get yourself on
my mailing list.
You can uncheck the relevant boxes so you don’t get my blogs by
e-mail, if you want: the important thing is that you be
on that list, and have followed the instructions to validate your email address.
Don’t join multiple times, or I’ll disqualify you.
On Monday January 9th, 2006, I’ll randomly select five people from the mailing
list and e-mail them. If I don’t get a reply or at least a vacation autoreply
within a few days, I’ll draw somebody else.
Thanks to Doubleday for making this possible! It’s very cool of them.
(Note: I know from experience that a bunch of you are going to
write in saying how much you’d love a Company coffee cup
and you once had a Snoopy coffee cup but it got broken and through
some process I can’t quite follow only a Company cup will
make your life whole again so can I please just slip you one on the side.
But I’m sorry, I can’t: I only have five to give away.)
Update: To clarify, yes, naturally
everyone already on the list is automatically eligible.
A few months before a book is published, Advanced Reader Copies,
otherwise known as ARCs, start floating around. These are slightly
shabby-looking versions of the final book, mailed out to
people in the media so they can get a review into print by the time
the book goes on sale.
ARCs have “NOT FOR SALE” printed on them, but of course there is
a bustling mini-market, fed by critics who don’t
particularly want to hang on to dozens, hundreds, or even
thousands of books. So the ARCs find there way onto ebay* or into second-hand
bookstores. If you’re dying to get your hands on a particular novel,
these ARCs can look very tempting. But should you buy one, or hold out?
Let Uncle Max be your guide.
Neither the author nor the publisher sees any money from sales of ARCs.
This may not bother you, and I sure don’t consider it a hanging crime—if
publishers didn’t think
ARCs were a net generator of sales, they wouldn’t produce them,
right?—but you should be aware of it. I
know a few readers who shelled out big bucks for ARCs thinking
some of that money was going to end up with me. In fact, it doesn’t even
count as a sale. Your cash goes only to the retailer and the critic who
originally bounced it along.
(I have to admit, there is something annoying about the idea that a
critic might get a free copy of my book, write a crap review of it, and then—because
they don’t like it, you see—sell it on ebay to someone
who otherwise would have bought a real copy. That’s like gouging my eyes
and then kicking me in the nuts.)
The other issue with ARCs is that they’re advanced—that is,
they’re printed before the final round of edits. In the case of Company,
you get 99.5% of the story, but you also get a sprinkling of typos and clumsy
sentences I only fixed at the last minute.
I made around 50 minor changes in final edits, and while you’d struggle to
spot most of them, I made those changes for a reason. A few are reasonably
significant; I also inserted a new joke that, while perhaps not a world-beater,
Then there’s looks: the ARC has low-grade artwork that I did on
my word processor, while the real thing features slick stuff from Doubleday’s
art department. The ARC is also missing
that jacket copy I sweated over,
and is a somewhat fragile paperback, having not been designed for long-term use.
This shouldn’t prevent you from buying an ARC, if that’s what you want.
They make good collectors’ items, since, relatively speaking,
there are so few of them. (Even I don’t have a Syrup ARC any more.)
But if you’re after the story, I think you should wait for the real thing.
Don’t pay ten or twenty or (dear God) thirty bucks for an ARC. For that kind
of money, you shouldn’t settle for a draft.
* (Some sellers on ebay don’t make it clear that they’re selling ARCs. There are
two right now that make no mention of this at all. But they are, because
the real things haven’t been printed yet.)
Doubleday has nailed down my Company US book tour, so
if you’re interested in listening to me orally mangle my novel and
write amusing things on your copy, you’re in luck! Providing, of course,
you live in one of a very small number of cities:
- Los Angeles, CA
Wednesday January 25th, 2006
- San Francisco, CA
Thursday January 26th, 2006
- Seattle, WA
Saturday January 28th, 2006
- Portland, OR
Monday January 30th, 2006
- New York, NY
Wednesday February 1st, 2006
[ Tour Details Here ]
If you can’t make it, here’s the one-line summary: I’m taller and more Australian
than you expect.
(Wow, she’s an effective little time sucker. Sometime soon I am going
to have to get my life back.)
First reviews! Two are in for Company ahead of the
January ‘06 release, and they’re pretty great. Kirkus Reviews
gives me a starred review, which means they think the novel is
“of unusual merit,” which I’m assuming is a good thing. They didn’t
star up Syrup or Jennifer Government, so this is
my first one, and, clearly, a sign that certain dunderheads in the
editorial department have been fired. Kirkus says:
A raucous black comedy… enters some sublimely Kafkaesque territory
while Publisher’s Weekly says:
As bitter as break-room coffee, the novel eviscerates modern management
I always wanted to eviscerate something. But, perhaps oddly,
even more important to me than these is an e-mail I got from a long-time
reader who somehow managed to get his hands on an advanced copy. Jason
Just wanted to drop you a line and say that I just finished reading Company.
I gotta say that at first, I was afraid you’d lost it. The spark that was
there in Syrup and Jennifer Government wasn’t there for me, but then, out
of nowhere, you did it again. I read the book over three days (only because
I had to sleep at some point). You were right, the plot isn’t there from the
beginning, and I think that’s what got me at the beginning. In the other two,
there was a hook, in this one, if you wanted to know it you have to wait.
Anyway, bravo. I loved it.
It means a lot to me that I delivered for this guy. Reviews are important,
and will do a lot to determine what sort of career I have, but they’re written
by people who read me as part of their job. The people I want to impress
are the ones who found me on their own, and saw a connection. When someone
thinks, “I liked his last book, I’ll hope this new one is good” and shells
out their hard-earned, I fervently want that person to be thrilled.
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
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
new Company cover!
And it’s… remarkably similar to
the old one.
In fact, all Doubleday did is go down to the
staff cafeteria, buy a donut, photograph it, and whack it
on the cover in place of the stock photo. Unless you look
closely, it’s the same cover. If you do look closely,
you might notice that Doubleday’s donut is a little soggier,
but that’s about it.
I am not quite clear on why changing one donut for another,
near-identical donut, helps anybody, but apparently it’s
something to do with image rights. Although that begs the
question why in the first place… no, no, that way lies madness.
I also have an on-sale date, at least for the US and Canada:
January 17, 2006! It’ll be a hardcover with a RRP of US$22.95,
although I see Amazon.com will already let you
for US$15.61. What nice people.
Yesterday I got a mention in Publishers Weekly, because of the
possibility of a Company film deal. Here’s the snippet—although,
because this is a trade mag, they give away far too much of the plot.
So I’m blanking bits.
Satire may have a pretty dismal record at the box office, but at least one
studio won’t be dissuaded. Paramount has made an offer for Company (Doubleday,
Jan. 2006) the latest corporate satire from former ad man
Max Barry (ne Maxx Barry).
In the novel, a new employee at a faceless conglomerate can’t figure out what the
company actually produces. Since he has very little to do all day, he makes it his
mission to find out. He discovers that he and his co-workers are ___ ___ ____ in
an __________ _____ run by _______ company ______ human behavior __ _ corporate
environment—___ ______ ____ set in __ ______ park. Perhaps Paramount is mindful of
another send-up of cubicle culture, 1999’s Office Space. That cult favorite by
Beavis and Butt-head creator Mike Judge flopped in its initial theatrical release,
but went on to become a huge earner in its DVD afterlife. It still ranks as one of
Fox’s bestselling DVD titles of all time. Luke Janklow of Janklow & Nesbit and
CAA’s Brian Siberell represent Barry.
Jason Anthony, Publishers Weekly, July 11, 2005
I received the copyedited manuscript of Company.
This means someone at Doubleday has gone through it with a red pencil
and pointed out everything I did wrong: spelling, grammar, continuity,
the fact that someone takes their sunglasses off twice without
putting them back on in between, and so forth.
This is intimidating enough, but on top of that they
do it using arcane symbols that would look more at home if Gandalf
was reading them off a scroll.
Fortunately I know a little Elvish, so I can usually work out
what they’re saying. And they’re mostly right, so I tend to leave their
But if I want, I can overrule them, with the awesome power of STET.
“Stet,” I discovered while
editing my first novel, means, “Put everything back
just the way I had it.” (Accompanied, one suspects, by the subtext:
“Idiot!”) How good is that?
When I discovered this word, it was like a gnawing, hollow place in my
heart had finally been filled. Looking back, I can’t work out how I ever
made it through a day without it. “Max, I tidied up your desk for you.”
“No! Stet! STET, dammit!”
Copyediting also reminds you just how archaic the publishing process
is. When I write a novel, I use
a word processor,
nice, proportional fonts, curly/smart quotes, etc, so it looks more or
less like the final book. But for submission to my editor, I have to
strip all this out, double-space it, change the font to that butt-ugly
Courier, and, get this, convert the italics to
underlines. This manuscript then gets
scribbled on by various
people (that’s me in the green pencil), and finally some poor
types it all back in, thus creating a document that looks
near-identical to the one I had to start with.
You wondered why it takes 12 months for a book to get published, right?
I used to, too.
And after I made all those little icons, too. I’ve just learned
that my gorgeous
has to change.
It all began with
Google News. A while ago
I discovered that Google lets you customize a News
page, so you get headlines on whatever topics interest you.
Naturally, I immediately created a “Max Barry” topic and stuck
it right at the top. This is how I discovered the
evil Todd Bunker article,
and about a week ago there was a new one: the shocking revelation
that Company has
exact same cover art as another book.
The other book is non-fiction, and British, but still.
And what’s worse, his is coming out
first. I e-mailed Bill, my editor—who, sadly lacking a
“Max Barry” Google News topic, had no idea. He was less than
thrilled. A few days went by while
what to do (and, presumably, tightened up their licensing
agreement with the stock photography people). Then this
morning, Bill e-mailed me:
While we haven’t been able to ascertain whether the American
edition of that other book will use the same donut, we’ve decided
to play it safe and shoot our own donut. Any preferences?
Chocolate frosted? Apple cinnamon?
This is the silliest e-mail I’ve ever sent, but in keeping with
the spirit of the book, eh?
It is. It’s spooky. The book opens with a donut-related
crisis, and now I have my own.
morning Doubleday shocked the hell out of me by sending me
the book cover for Company.
I didn’t even know they’d
started work on it, which was crafty of them. If I had, I would
have been all over them, raising concerns and highlighting
issues. Because I’m helpful like that. Instead: bang! Here it is.
And I like it! The majority of novel covers, in my
humble opinion, blow like crazy, so I’m hugely relieved to get
one that’s clean and cool and kind of intriguing. The design is
by Michael Windsor, the same guy who did
Jennifer Government cover,
so if you noticed a certain similarity of style, well done you.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “Well, Max, that looks all
right, I guess, but… I dunno, what’s the donut for?” To
which I am happy to tell you: oh, you’ll find out.
Oh, man. I’ve done it. I’ve finished my new draft of
I think what I’m feeling now is relief. I’ve been editing this
thing for more than a year, on top of the year it took to write.
I actually had the initial idea in 2001, and took at least three
stabs at initial chapters in that year and the next. It has been
a very long road to here.
I’m relieved that I can think about something else for the next
two or three weeks, while I wait for my editor to give me feedback.
And I’m relieved at finally being done. But mostly I’m relieved
that I think I finally managed to do justice to the idea that’s
been bouncing around in my head for the last four years.
I’ve always had a lot of faith in the central concept, but I
sometimes wondered if the characters were up to the job. I tried
all kinds of variations.
I threw people out and auditioned alternatives. In the last
draft (hello, number eight), the biggest rewrite of them all,
I gave the two main characters complete personality overhauls.
Brain surgery couldn’t be this messy. I had bits of people everywhere.
But ohhhh, it’s so much better now.
About a month ago Doubleday told me they were pushing Company
out to 2006, since I was taking so long on the edits.
I cringed. I have been trying to build up the courage to
announce this since then. I’m really sorry—I wish this book
could come out this year. But I’m really glad it’s not.
I hate the old version of Company now. I love my new book.