Max Barry is the author of seven novels and the creator of the popular online game NationStates. He also once found a sock full of pennies. He lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his wife and two daughters. Sometimes he coaches kids' netball.

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Wed 09
Jun
2021

How do they choose book launch dates?

The 22 Murders of Madison May

At this point, “22 Murders” comes out a month from now. Does that mean the book is completely finished, and the publisher is simply waiting for the optimal time to release it, or there’s still some work to be done on it?

Basically, I’m asking how does a book’s release date get determined, and how far in advance?

Mario

It’s totally finished. Publishers usually schedule about ten months in advance, in my experience. About half of that is for editorial things like rewrites and copyediting. But that leaves a big chunk of time when the manuscript is done but there’s no published book yet. They figure out the release date like this:

  1. It has to be on a Tuesday. No-one knows why. But everyone expects books to be published on Tuesdays, so, what, you’re going to be the maverick coming out on a Thursday? Come on.

  2. It has to be in the summer (northern hemisphere), because I am a summer author. I’m not totally sure what this means, but I’ve heard it said. Most of my novels have been published in the summer. Providence wasn’t, and look what happened. That’s right: a global pandemic. Luckily The 22 Murders of Madison May is scheduled for July 6.

  3. It has to leave enough time for all this:

    • Cover design. I’m a fan of this cover. At first, I wasn’t sure about the running woman, because I was like, “Could that not be a little more subtle and intriguing?” So I mocked up a few ideas, which were way worse. It’s quite a static cover without the running woman. You need the running woman.

      The 22 Murders of Madison May

      amazon.comBarnes & Noblebookshop.org
    • Flap copy. My brilliant editor Mark came up with some really solid copy to put on the book flap, then at the last minute, I was like, “Hey, the first paragraph is about the Felicity character, but doesn’t it make more sense to start with Madison, since people will pick up the book wondering about her?” And Mark was like, “Good catch,” while wondering why I couldn’t have mentioned this before five minutes until deadline. Then it got changed. I like to be helpful.

    • Sending advance copies to authors so they can provide a juicy quote, like, “Better than the Bible,” or “Something something Harry Potter.”

    • Sending advance copies to reviewers so they can schedule their hit pieces to run at launch time.

    • Sending advance copies to influential readers so they’ll write GoodReads reviews and build up word-of-mouth. You can get a whole lot of free books by being a prolific GoodReads reviewer. You can be swimming in books. Then one day you wake up and wonder when reading became a chore, not a fun escape. Like when did THAT happen.

    • Booking online events. I will be doing a couple of these, and they are the closest you and I are going to get to being in the same room for a while, so look out for dates.

    • Creating the audio edition. I used to stay away from these, because listening to people read my books made me want to curl up and die. Not because of the narrator, you understand. Because of the words. But now I’m better and only get, like, slightly nauesous. Madison May will be read by Helen Laser, who I’m proud to say I hunted down personally, not literally, and I think she’ll be fantastic.

Aside from that, there’s marketing, which is trying to figure out how to make people notice you have a book out. It’s all fine and well to have a good book. You also have to make sure people notice it. This is a challenge for me at the moment, as I’m trapped on the other side of the world to most of my readers. I basically have to be extra obnoxious online. So apologies in advance for that.

Fun Fact: You can pre-order The 22 Murders of Madison May right now! And not just for yourself! You can give it to people! Like for birthdays! Or just because they’re special! Here are some links!

amazon.comBarnes & Noblebookshop.org

Wed 26
May
2021

My Take on Citizen

Jennifer Government A few people have asked for my opinion on the excellent new app/dial-a-vigilante service “Citizen.” I’m qualified to speak on this, because Citizen is a lot like The Police from my novel Jennifer Government, only more app-y.

If I have this right, you subscribe for $19.99 per month and in return you get the ability to dispense violent justice to your enemies. They don’t actually say that. They say you get a digital bodyguard to monitor you plus an instant emergency security response, which may include a cool custom-branded attack car, to your location. If I’m paying $19.99 per month, though, I expect them to take my side in any kind of he-said, she-said situation. I’m the customer. So if they want my continued business, I don’t want to hear any, “Actually, that man lives in the neighborhood and has a right to be there” nonsense. I want them to get in there and start intimidating.

My main concern is that these subscription models can be hard to exit. You know how it is: It’s easy to sign up, but when you try to cancel, there are all these extra steps. Sometimes you have to talk to someone on the phone and explain yourself. I worry that process is extra awkward when you’re dealing with a company that feeds on your fears and knows everything about where you go and what you do. When I unsubscribe, I don’t want to have to wonder whether Citizen is out there, in the dark, feeling aggrieved.

I also worry about backing the wrong horse. Sure, today, it’s just Citizen, but what about when there are two or three of them? Now I have to worry that Vigilantes R Us is going to see my Citizen bumper sticker and slash my tires. Because obviously it makes sense, from a marketing/PR point of view, to get the idea out there that your competitors aren’t quite as capable of delivering a full-service violent defense. If people start thinking that Citizen can’t even protect its customers’ tires, that’s a selling point for Vigilantes R Us. I’m not saying that Vigilantes R Us would go around deliberately attacking Citizen clients or anything, of course, or that we’d wind up in a full-scale armed corporate conflict. I’m just saying, that would be a free market solution.

On balance, I’m excited. The main problem with traditional law enforcement, of course, has been that you can’t pay more money to purchase a superior service. Well, you can. Let’s be real. But this new model allows us to dispense with the charade and go right ahead delivering tiered justice, where a little money gets a little justice, no money gets no justice, and a lot of money gets special premium justice.

Of course, Citizen and the like would naturally target the most profitable forms of justice, so what’s left to departmental police forces will be the costly parts of justice that don’t bring in money. Then there will be sinkholes in public budgets and restless taxpayers wondering why public law enforcement is so expensive when they could pay $19.99 to sign up to a professional organized justice syndicate. But that’s progress, baby.

Wed 12
May
2021

Have I Told You About My Robot Vacuum Cleaner?

Writing

It’s a chunky black hockey puck that whirs around the floor sucking up dust and cat hair. It can even monitor my heart rate. I was surprised by that. I was digging around in the app menu and there it was, my heart rate. And I was like, Wait, my heart rate? Because I hadn’t authorized it to sync with my watch or anything. So I wasn’t sure how it was getting that information.

It’s great on both floorboards and carpets, and can even climb stairs, by shooting out little black tentacles that grab onto the banisters. That was a heck of a shock for the cat. She didn’t like the robot vacuum cleaner at first, especially when it started clattering up the stairs after her. But they figured out their differences. Now I find them hanging out together in the sun room, thick as thieves.

It filed my taxes. This took me a while to figure out because they were done and I didn’t know how. My accountant said, Sure, I got your info from your robot vacuum cleaner. They’d been exchanging emails. I said, It can do that? And she said I should expect a nice refund. It’s effectively paid for itself.

My only complaint, and I hesitate to bring it up, is that the more extra stuff the robot vacuum cleaner has been doing, the less it’s cleaning. The other night, I came home and my wife was enjoying a candlelit dinner with the robot vacuum cleaner but there was cat hair all over the hallway. So I asked to borrow the robot vacuum cleaner for a minute, and my wife said the robot vacuum cleaner had been cooking all afternoon and now they were having a nice conversation, so why didn’t I get a broom, it’s not a big area. And, okay, I did that, but it didn’t feel right, me sweeping in the hallway while I could hear my wife laughing in the next room with the robot vacuum cleaner. I mean, I bought it to clean the floors. That’s why it’s here.

They’re so popular now. A few weeks ago, I caught up with a friend for coffee, and he said, Hey, have I told you about my robot vacuum cleaner? And I was like, Have I told you about my robot vacuum cleaner? And we both laughed. Then we stopped, because we realized his robot vacuum cleaner was outside, watching us through the plate glass.

I’d give it four stars. It would earn a fifth star if it cleaned more often, and if it stayed in its housing, instead of coming into the bedroom at night to watch me sleep. One morning I found my clothes strewn all over the front yard and I’m pretty sure that was the robot vacuum cleaner. There were tread tracks on my shirts. Once I heard noises in the night and went downstairs and found my clothes scattered everywhere again, and by the time I got back to bed, the robot vacuum cleaner was in there, on my side, emitting white noise to help my wife sleep. I had to sleep on the sofa. The next day, the robot vacuum cleaner spent the whole day sitting in the corner of the living room, charging.

If you’re thinking about getting a robot vacuum cleaner, this one can do practically anything. It can even find its way home. I mean, you can drive to the ocean and toss it in, and three nights later, it’s back in your house, dripping wet. There’s no way to lose it. Believe me. It’s indestructible, too. You can hit it with a hammer. Like, over and over. And it’ll just sit there, then quietly trundle away, leaving you to wonder what your wife is going to say when she sees those dings and scratches.

You know what? I take back my earlier rating. Five stars. Now I think about it, I don’t want to give this unit anything less than the maximum score. That wouldn’t be fair. Or smart. Five stars, for sure. Five stars. Five stars.

Wed 05
May
2021

On Paperbacks and Alternate Covers

Providence This time last year, I was all like, “Sure, it sucks to miss out on a book tour, but I’ll definitely be out there in 2021, once this pandemic blows over.” WRONG. I am still stuck in stupid Australia. Australia isn’t stupid. I take that back. Australia is terrific. It’s like the rest of the world but with the volume turned down. There are lots of problems with people, I’ve decided, that only emerge once you put enough of them in one place. If they can fill an entire news cycle with stuff that’s bananas, everyone starts feeling like everyone else is totally bananas all the time, and maybe they should be bananas, too.

Anyway, my space book, Providence, hits paperback in the US and Canada today. It is actually a very nice-looking paperback. With hardcovers, publishers try to be all coy and unusual, but with paperbacks, they’re more like, HERE’S THE FREAKING BOOK. It’s more subtle this time around because the publisher is trying a bold new thing where they don’t completely throw out the hardcover design, but still, contrast and compare:

←Hardcover • Paperback→

Also, just for fun, here are some covers I mocked up myself from back when the publisher asked, “Do you have any cover ideas of your own?” I always have cover ideas. Not good ones. But I have them. So, since I can’t tell the difference between politeness and a genuine question, I mock things up. Like this:

   

You might notice that all my ideas involve putting my own name in really big type. That’s just coincidence.

Finally, I have seen this but don’t know what it is. Large print edition, I’m guessing. Ironically, the image is tiny and difficult to see clearly.

If you don’t have a copy of Providence, and want one in paperback, you can find some buy links here. If you aren’t sure whether you want one in paperback, here is a list of amazing reviews. The Daily Mail says it’s “such a blast you almost overlook how clever it is,” and they’ve never been wrong about anything, so there you go.

Update: I missed one! There is also this German translation, which releases June 14, 2021. The Germans are usually pretty bold with their covers, but in this case they’ve gone for the tried-and-tested “honking big spaceship”. I have to say, I’m not a big fan of those lines that are supposed to show it’s moving really fast. I think we could do without those. But it is a neat-looking ship. The word “roman,” by the way, means “novel,” to make it clear that we aren’t actually sending AI spaceships off to fight aliens in real life.

Note: The background images in my mockups are:
• Planet background possibly by BelleDeesse
• “Space Girl” by Alex Cash.
• American doll astronaut Luciana Vega.

Thu 29
Apr
2021

The Ship With No Name

Providence

In PROVIDENCE, did the main ship have a name? If so, I somehow missed it :( Several other Providence-class vessels were named.

StarMan

You’re right! It surely has a name, but we never find out what it is. Everyone calls it “the ship.”

This is one of those oh-so-clever arty author choices, so sorry about that. The idea is to make the ship feel a little more mysterious, more like the fabric of the environment (like “the earth” or “the air”), and also emblematic of the whole collection of AI ships in general. Because, not to get too spoiler-y, there is no real difference between one ship, all the ships, and the corporation that makes the ships. I encourage you to view them all as a single entity.

That goes for the salamanders, too. And maybe the humans! The crew are individuals, but they’re also cogs in the wheel of a military war machine, which grinds toward a particular outcome regardless of the hopes/dreams/desires of each person. So from the perspective of a salamander, or a ship, there may be no practical difference between the people, either.

I’m not a big believer in oh-so-clever arty author devices, because I feel like the worst thing you can do to a reader is remind them they’re reading a book. But if I can slip in something like this without you noticing, I’ll do it.

Providence is out in sexy-looking paperback in just a few days! Find a copy here.

Thu 22
Apr
2021

Who Deserves Better Healthcare

What Max Reckons

Do you think young people should get better care or be prioritized in hospitals? For example, let’s say there is a 20 year old and a 75 year old who both have COVID and are in need of a ventilator. But there is only one left. Who would you give it to?

Abrum Alexander

Great question. The easy answer, of course, is to give it to the 20-year-old, since s/he has more years of productive life left, which can be extracted and sacrificed to our corporate overlords. But consider this: Perhaps the 75-year-old is a CEO, or sits on the board of a major company. In that case, he or she is probably capable of stoking capitalism’s engine room with hundreds or even thousands of lives.

So it’s not as simple as it appears. I also have to consider whether the 20-year-old might notice I’m carrying a ventilator and physically wrestle it from me before I can apply its life-giving grace to the shriveled husk of the 75-year-old Chevron board member who’s spent his/her life trading away the planet’s climate for profit. I mean, it’s unlikely, since this 20-year-old needs a ventilator. I can probably fight off someone who can’t breathe properly. But it would be truly humiliating if I failed, and had the ventilator ripped from my hands, under the watery, yellowing eyes of a corporate titan.

Of course, these are the kinds of tough decisions our brave front-line medical workers have to make all the time. Let me tell you, I don’t envy the doctor who has to decide whether a sick patient has enough economic potential to justify the patent-inflated cost of a life-saving medicine. That must be hell. But I suppose you don’t get into that field unless you’re willing to look a patient in the eye and judge their net worth.

Bottom-line, I just hope that one day we have technology to free us from this kind of heart-wrenching dilemma. I imagine a future in which patients can submit their economic potential statements over the internet, thereby saving them an expensive and time-consuming trip to a hospital in the event that the algorithm calculates they represent a negative cost-benefit healthcare scenario. I know what you’re thinking: “But Max, the time and financial hit to economically unproductive citizens is of no consequence. If anything, it’s mildly stimulating to the transport sector.” Still, I like to hope that one day things might be different. Not soon, obviously. Not if it will cost us anything. But let’s keep hoping.

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