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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

Mon 04
May
2009

Machine Man update

Machine Man Finlay wearing basket shoesSeriously: I’m making this story up as I go. I didn’t say that just to lower your expectations. It’s a work in progress. I haven’t plotted it out in advance. I write each page a few days before you see it.

I’d like to believe the reason I keep getting emails like, “Come on, tell me: how much of this have you written already?” is that people think Machine Man is so amazingly brilliant that no mere mortal could dream it up on the run. Unfortunately, I have to face the fact that you just think I’m shifty.

So look, I swear: it’s for real. I’ll show you the blank pages I haven’t written yet.

Anyway. Six weeks in, I’m thrilled. I like the story, I like checking the latest comments about each page, and 2,700 people have signed up for it. The unsubscription rate is 7%, meaning 93% of people who try it out via email stick with it, which I couldn’t be happier about. Well, I guess I could. 100% would be better. But maybe that 7% just changed email addresses. Or someone close to them died and they couldn’t handle any contact from the outside world for a while. You can’t rule that out.

Now some news:

  • Machine Man is going to be a book. You know, a real one. My Australian publisher, Scribe, decided there was no need to wait to find out whether the rest of the story—i.e. most of it—would be any good, and offered for print rights. That’s some pretty good blind faith right there. I’m touched but slightly afraid.

  • I did an interview on Machine Man for LiteraryMinded.

  • I’m enjoying this enough to see it though, so the end of the free feed is nigh. I’m thinking Chapter Ten; i.e. the last free page will be 43. That’s eight and a half weeks in, which seems about right. Actually, page 33 would have been a good place, story-wise, but I hadn’t gotten around to setting up PayPal. Soon, anyway, you’ll have the opportunity to pay $6.95 for the rest of the story. If it helps, you can think of me using that seven bucks to buy shoes for Fin. Look at her! Right now she has to walk around in baskets.

And a few thoughts:

  • My favorite chapter so far is Chapter Five, which contains my favorite page (20), which contains my favorite line (“Don’t do that thing.”). I realize this is something no self-respecting author should ever admit, but that line made me giggle like a child.

  • Biggest surprise was the reaction to page 23. I forgot that nobody but me knew that Lola was into prosthetics. I mean, really into them. And people liked this development. Which was great to discover, you sick bastards.

  • At the risk of disappointing you by revealing its very mundane origins: Page 21 is more or less the original idea I had for this story. I was walking along one day when I saw an unattractive man in a beautiful car; I had a notepad with me and wrote down: The cars are better than the drivers. I thought about this while waiting for the train, at which point I added: I want to be a train, which is essentially page 2. The rest follows naturally, I’m sure you’ll agree.

P.S. In case you’re worried about that picture, we don’t actually force Fin to dress from head to toe in pink and put on a tiara. We just can’t stop her.

Comments

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Machine Man subscriber Myke (#2316)

Posted: 3150 days ago

Awesome, that means I now own an uber-first-edition print of Machine Man. Does this mean I can sell my email account to a hole-in-the-wall, second-hand bookstore?

Simon (#3192)

Location: Melbourne
Quote: "I'd rather be arrogant than wrong"
Posted: 3150 days ago

Same with my 3yo. Although the wire-baskets-on-the-feet is a new one.

towr (#1914)

Location: Netherlands
Posted: 3150 days ago

I'll be a little disappointed when I can't read it for free anymore. But I'll wait for the book to come out, rather than subscribe. I'd buy the book anyway and it'd be a shame to pay twice.
(Besides, if I started handing out money online for worthwhile content, there's several hundreds of webcartoonists that have dibs on my money first. So I'd need an actual job to support my debt to the online community first.)

Jak (#2464)

Quote: "The Straight-Jacket makes it hard to type."
Posted: 3149 days ago

An idea for the print version: Make it a like a 365 day calendar. You tear off a new page each day.

Machine Man subscriber Ian Manka (#3916)

Location: Los Angeles, California (school) | Akron, Ohio (home)
Quote: "Though I am not naturally honest, I am so sometimes by chance."
Posted: 3149 days ago

@Jak:

Holy crap, that's ingenious. I nominate you to get a free, signed, first-edition copy of the calendar. Then I get a free one for liking the idea. I think we contributed an equal amount in this idea, no?

@towr:

I, too, am a bit divided on what to do. Do I purchase it once online? Do I purchase it once in print? Do I purchase it once as a calendar (no, I'm getting that one free, *cough* *cough*)? Do I purchase it multiple times? Do I get a discount if I purchase the digital version?

I was planning on purchasing it online anyway, but now that there's going to be a print edition for sure, I might wait it out, even though it'll be awhile.

Decisions, decisions.

Machine Man subscriber Michael Crider (#3054)

Location: Colorado, United States
Posted: 3149 days ago

Great to hear you'll be getting some immediate revenue out of this, Max. 6.95 USD is reasonable, since it's about the price of a paperback and we'd have to pay hardback prices to get the story as soon as it's published. Two questions:

1. Will i still be able to get updates via my RSS reader (Google Reader), or will the subscription authentication force me to switch to email?

2. WHAT HAPPENED to The Exceptionals? You mentioned that you weren't satisfied with what you had, but are you scrapping the book altogether? Might we see a serialized version in the future? Inquiring minds want to know.

Michael (#3884)

Location: Here
Quote: "Wait, what?"
Posted: 3149 days ago

It's all very good news, but the cheap bastard side of me is a little peeved. I'm glad the book is getting noticed (and it should because it's great), and the price is really good for a book. But there's always the library...

What to do?

Machine Man subscriber Lisa (#2587)

Location: Enfield, Connecticut USA
Quote: "outside of dog a book is man's best friend...inside of a dog it's too dark to read--Groucho Marx"
Posted: 3149 days ago

$6.95 is sweet at the price. However, the online subscription rate will drop. My mom is also signed up and we're going to share a copy! It may not be fair, but it is the lending librarian in me. I promise not share with anyone that hasn't given birth to me...

Lyndon (#3977)

Location: Melbourne
Posted: 3149 days ago

$6.95? That's a little steep considering the wealth of quality free content available online. Any chance of subscribers getting a $6.95 discount on the paper copy?

Machine Man subscriber coolpillows (#3749)

Location: new york general sort of vicinity
Quote: ""It's not working" -- Joseph Clark"
Posted: 3149 days ago

Sign me up, np. Face it gang, if Max started off w/a price at day one or tossed out a week of pages then said "pay up," I don't think there'd be many takers at all. But now, I wouldn't be surprised if about 93% buy it.

At the same time, we helped Max find a publisher for the book. It's one thing if you go to a publisher and say, "Look my friends like this book! Look what they say." If you have all of these accumulated comments and, uh, metrics...well they just get all weepy over the numbers.

Machine Man subscriber Yannick (#3858)

Location: Heist, Belgium
Quote: "he reads things"
Posted: 3149 days ago

For 6.95, Machine Man is probably the best book you'll buy. Ever.

Then I'll buy the printed version, so Max can't just randomly decide for me where I'll stop reading!

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 3149 days ago

I decided this disclaimer was the best part of the whole interview...

"(Readers: the facial hair thing is a Max Barry blog-reader in-joke)"

-adam

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 3149 days ago

Ha! That calendar idea had occurred to me too. I would love that. I'm not sure it'd sell more than ten copies. But I'd buy one.

@Michael Crider:
> Will i still be able to get updates via my RSS reader (Google Reader)?

Yep. It'll work exactly the same as now. The only difference will be that your RSS feed URL will change (i.e. it will have your subscriber key in it).

> WHAT HAPPENED to The Exceptionals?

Shhh. I have secret plans for it.

@Lisa:
> the online subscription rate will drop.

Yes, a lot! I'm guessing maybe 10% will pony up. But that should include many of the active posters here, so I hope there'll still be page comments. Because those are cool.

@Lyndon:
> Any chance of subscribers getting a $6.95 discount on the paper copy?

Unfortunately, I don't think I can talk the world's bookstores into that one.

@Yannick:
> For 6.95, Machine Man is probably the best book you'll buy. Ever.

I'm putting that on the cover. Or would, if it had one. You see that print ad some studio did for a movie that hadn't been released yet, where they filled it with comments from YouTube users who'd only seen the trailer? "LOOKS AWESOME CANNOT WAIT TO SEE." It'll be like that.

towr (#1914)

Location: Netherlands
Posted: 3149 days ago

@Max
> Unfortunately, I don't think I can talk the world's bookstores into that one.

While a $6,95 dollar discount would be difficult, I have had books that had a card inside granting access to special online content and stuff. So what you might do, is have your publisher add a card that allows people to get a refund for their subscription. Or maybe give free access to your next webnovel, if you keep it up after this one.

Machine Man subscriber coolpillows (#3749)

Location: new york general sort of vicinity
Quote: ""It's not working" -- Joseph Clark"
Posted: 3148 days ago

Maybe I should've phrased it as a question. Did the commments, subscriptions and overall traffic help at all when pitching to the pubs? Or was it pretty much, "Mr. Barry!? A new book!? Here's a check!"

Machine Man subscriber David (#1456)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Why are the pretty ones always insane?"
Posted: 3148 days ago

Hey that's great news about Scribe. I'm up for buying a copy from them given what I've seen so far, I'll probably subscribe for USD 6.95 too. Yes Max, I like your work that much (though your daughter's fashion choices are clearly still developing. Good luck with that by the way--the shoes will only get more expensive, trust me).

So... you write the pages *several* days before we see them eh? Hmm, if someone could crack your PC they could see stuff before anyone else, maybe two or even three pages no one else has seen yet! If that's not an incentive to crack I don't know what is, I hope your firewalls are patched and running!

Thor (#2305)

Location: New Zealand
Quote: "I didn't SAY that, but i meant it anyway"
Posted: 3148 days ago

Oh man, Max you are my crack dealer - you give me a taste of the good stuff for free and now I'm hooked you ask me to pay for more.

Good on ya mate, loving the work and knew the free ride had to end some time. I'm another who will likely buy the final product too.
Go figure - I'm a fan of your greatest fan.

Hobbie (#1359)

Location: Cornwall, England
Quote: "There was a little man in his hair!"
Posted: 3147 days ago

I'm going to have to go in the camp that will wait for the print version... which is a little annoying, because I'm really enjoying Machine Man as much as when I first read Syrup. But on consideration I would rather have the physical, papery version, and I really can't afford or justify buying it twice with my current economic situation, as much as I would like to. You've definitely proved my initial cynicism wrong, Max. Not only have you managed to pull it off, but for my personal taste, you've also been putting out your best work in a long time... not that Jennifer Government and Company were bad books, but they never really managed to match Syrup in my eyes, whereas Machine Man is already on it's way to surpassing it and you've not finished. Try not to balls it up between now and the end. Please? No pressure there at all...

Michael G Swifte (#3802)

Location: Brisbane
Quote: "h"
Posted: 3147 days ago

I've followed machined man from the beginning and found it awkward and more suited to developing a screen play. Now that I know it's supposed to be a real book I'm rather dissapointed.
Page 36 left me unable to suspend my disbelief anymore. I just couldn't swallow the idea that a research scientist with a desire to preserve his own life, no matter how much he was carried away with his new toys, would be so clumsy with his testing protocol. I'm finding the regular leaps in character and technological development tiresome and too heavily reliant on elisions.
I had hoped that the text would receive much rewriting before it would satisfy either a screen play or a fiction novel brief.
It would make a great screenplay!

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 3144 days ago

I don't think my publisher plans to put this out as written. I should maybe check that. But I'm pretty sure they want an edited manuscript, so the print version of Machine Man will be different to this one.

(My agent just said the online version-in-progress is like a live album, compared to the "studio recordings" of my published books. That's a great analogy. I'm going to pass that off as my own from now on.)

How much different, I'm not sure. Some of my novels went through a dozen or so major rewrites. I always think, "Not this one!", though, so obviously not this one.

Machine Man subscriber Christopher (#3809)

Location: Unincorporated Harris County, State of Texas, United States of
Quote: "For Poland!"
Posted: 3139 days ago

Well I bought my copy!!

windsfury (#4064)

Quote: ""Where there is light, there will be shadows""
Posted: 3136 days ago

Well, I ll definetally try to buy a copy if it comes out.....Maybe I ll blackmail someone from Australia to buy and ship me one, since I doubt I ll be able to buy it from here, Greece....

It's a shame I can't read this one anymore....unless I could send you the money through mail

Machine Man subscriber Yannick (#3858)

Location: Heist, Belgium
Quote: "he reads things"
Posted: 3134 days ago

@Max: I don't think musicians make up their songs and lyrics on the spot on stage, though!

Machine Man subscriber Jarrad (#837)

Location: Hobart
Posted: 3134 days ago

Has it been a few days since the last update or is it just me?

Machine Man subscriber CrystalR (#4160)

Posted: 3128 days ago

To all the people balking at the thought of buying it twice: I think of it this way. 7 dollars is about what you'd pay for chips and a drink for lunch, if you're feeling fancy. (I generally bring my own lunch, but still.)

I'm liking the novel so far, moreso than I'd like chips and a drink. Especially since this novel's been going on for more than a month. After the first week, the chips would start getting all wrinkly and horrible.

I dig Max's work, and I would totally buy him lunch if he wouldn't find it creepy. This is just a non-creepy way of showing appreciation.

Machine Man subscriber Shola Gordon (#3902)

Location: London, United Kingdom
Quote: "We are all history's middle children."
Posted: 3126 days ago

$6.95 is well cheap.

At the exchange rate it's something like £4 quid. How could I not?

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