My next book has gained not one but TWO covers: one for the US & Canada
and one for the rest of the English-speaking world. They’re super different.
This means either that one publisher is making a big mistake or that each
understands the tastes of its own market best and those tastes are quite
different. Or else that art is subjective. It’s one of those.
I am happy with these covers. I especially like the boldness of the American
version. Although maybe I’m biased because my name is freaking huge. It’s
hard to dislike that.
I would like to name and thank the cover designers, but I don’t know who they
are. I’m going to find out and update this post. I assume it’s someone.
Lexicon is due for publication in June 2013.
Update! The US/Canadian
cover is by Will Staehle,
who has a really amazing portfolio there, and
the UK cover is by Ben Summers.
Thank you Will & Ben! Unless my book tanks, in which case it’s all your fault.
(Unless you want to completely avoid spoilers. As in, you
haven’t read the book. And you don’t intend to. But you really want to see
the movie. And you’re browsing my site. You’re a strange person.)
Amber Heard as 6, Shiloh Fernandez as Scat:
Scat gazes skyward while a machine lurks ominously in the background:
Kellan Lutz as Sneaky Pete:
Now for some ANSWERS to COMMON QUESTIONS.
I don’t believe there’s an official release date yet, but it can’t
be too far away now, can it? Not with these STILLS. So I’m guessing
within the next six months.
seen the film; I am waiting until I can see it in a cinema.
Because having a novel turned into a feature film, that’s
kind of a big deal. I don’t want to watch the end result of that on a DVD.
I want to sit in a theater and crane my neck and eat popcorn. Right?
The movie doesn’t strictly follow the plot of the book. I can say that
without seeing it because I wrote many screenplay drafts,
and they didn’t strictly follow the plot of the book. I don’t think movies
should be like books only with all the parts you’d normally imagine filled in.
I think they should do their own thing. They should be true to the core
of the book but express that in whichever ways work best.
Also, you know how I rewrite my novels to death? Oh. Well, I do. I change
a lot in each new draft. So imagine me adapting my own novel. It’s a miracle
If you missed it before, here is
I think it’s awesome. I was so happy when I saw this. I watched it
about thirty times in a row.
Somehow an Amber Heard fansite got hold of a “Syrup” teaser that
had been made up for distribution people, and posted it to YouTube.
This is the same teaser I saw in February but wasn’t allowed to show
anyone. But now it’s out there!
If you want a second-by-second analysis of exactly which lines are from
the book and which I wrote for the screenplay and which they added and
where I was standing when they filmed what, I am totally prepared to do that.
1957, a psychologist named B. F. Skinner decided to see what happened
when you put a rat in a cage with a lever that made food come out.
He discovered that if the food came out whenever the lever was pushed, the rat
would settle into a healthy work-life balance of pushing levers and running
hamster wheels. But if the lever only delivered food sometimes—if
it randomly might or might not—the rat would work that lever like there was
underpinned much development of poker machines and gaming.
Now Diablo III reveals what happens when the rats have
internet access: they bitch about drop rates.
The Diablo series of games are simple:
you run through dungeons, hit monsters, and collect the items that fall
out. Usually the items are crappy, but sometimes, randomly,
they’re awesome, and allow you to fight even more powerful monsters, which can
randomly drop even more awesome items. The game ends when you starve to death
in your apartment surrounded by empty soda cans.
Actually, that’s not true: there is an end-game. Your character can’t progress
beyond level 60 and there’s a hard maximum to the potential quality of items. So there is
a diminishing returns thing: early in the game, you find better
items often, but as your equipment approaches the theoretical
maximum, your odds of finding something better become decreasingly smaller.
Diablo III had a few problems when it launched,
and there was
much bitching on internet forums. A great deal of the bitching was about
drop rates; that is, how likely food was to arrive when you pressed the lever. Players
thought drop rates were too low, if you were wondering. They
wanted food to come out more regularly. A very popular proposal, one
mentioned in almost every discussion, no matter how relevant, was
that more situations should deliver “a guaranteed rare,”
a “rare” being a high-quality item. That is, instead of food only coming
out sometimes when you pushed the lever, it would come out every time.
This feedback around drop rates was offered to the developers in the form of an unholy maelstrom
of teenage-grade internet fury that raged for many weeks. Players railed against the bitterness of
a life of inadequate drop rates, expressing their incomprehension that such
stupidity should exist and turning viciously against their former idol,
game designer Jay Wilson, who was now revealed not as a benevolent
provider of sometimes-food but rather the very face of evil,
Diablo himself, as it were, He Who Made The Lever Not Work Often Enough.
Some of the angst was understandable. Diablo III introduced an in-game
Auction House, which meant that
instead of throwing your old items away as you found new ones, you could
sell them to other players for gold. The marketplace being virtual
and therefore operating with a degree of efficiency rarely seen in the real
world, it was soon a lot easier to find good items on the Auction House than
to go around hitting monsters hoping that one would randomly fall out.
This in turn allowed players to obtain items approaching the hard maximum
quite quickly after starting the game, and rendering their chances of
thereafter seeing anything better randomly drop from a monster close to zero.
After sufficient buffeting, the developers decided to increase drop rates.
They also created more
“guaranteed rare” situations. This was very warmly received by
the community. It wasn’t enough, though, and since then drop rates have been raised
again, and “legendary” items radically overhauled to make them much
better, i.e. more like food. At the same time, a new reward system was introduced
called “Paragon Levels,” which periodically deliver such an enormous explosion of
congratulation to the player that it almost feels sarcastic. This has quieted
community angst, although at this point it’s hard to tell how many of them are left.
I suspect a lot have stopped pushing the lever.
The interesting part about the rats who like to gamble is that they don’t do
it for food. They don’t press the lever only as many times as required to deliver the
same amount of food as when food delivery is guaranteed: they press it more often
and more rapidly. They like to see if they can win. Although “like” could be the wrong
word; it may be more accurate to say that the uncertainty creates stress, which
they feel the need to resolve. I would imagine there are some pretty pissed-off
rats, when they press the lever a bunch of times and still nothing happens. They
would rage on the internet if they could. And they’d be justified, since it
wasn’t their choice to get in the cage.
Somebody put them there, who knew what would happen.
I’m almost finished the final round of major rewrites on the new
book. That’s what I’ve been doing, if you’re wondering. It has been
more fun and less like pulling my brain out through my nostrils than
usual, so that’s good. I am feeling productive.
In a few weeks, I’ll be ready to start my next book! That’s exciting.
Except I have no ideas. None. I don’t even know which genre it’ll be.
By now it seems like I should have some sense of my own
place in the literary marketplace, but I don’t. Apparently
I do a kind of comedy-sci-fi-thriller-satire-romance thing.
But I don’t know where you shelve that.
I mention this because it occurred to me that I have this
web site, and you read it, so I should data-mine you for ideas.
There is possibly a less exploitative way for me to say that. But I mean,
if you’re on this site, I bet we have all kinds of things in common. Like
favorite authors. And being interested in what kind of book I’m writing
next. You’re basically me, with more perspective.
I don’t want story ideas, because those are personal.
You could have the best story idea in the world and
I wouldn’t like it because it wasn’t my idea. I’m very small
like that. Also, imagine the legal ramifications. Nightmare. But
I would like to know the very broad reasons you might pick up a book with
my name on it. Is it for yucks, is it for a page-turner, is it to snip out
the author photo for identity theft? You know. Broad strokes.
Then the next time I think, “Hey,
how awesome would it be to write a comedy about a sentient
toaster,” I might remember your comments and think, “Mmmm,
not that awesome.” This would be more efficient than
my usual process, which is going ahead and writing the book
and nine months later having my agent explain why it’s unpublishable.
In other news, I have been playing a computer game,
This is one of the few games I’ve put significant time into
since my first child was born seven years ago, just as an FYI for
anyone thinking of having kids. The game is pretty fun, but what’s
fascinating to me is how much video games have changed.
When I was a kid, they were coin-munching sadists
designed to ruthlessly punish anything less than autism-grade
concentration. But now they are colorful piñatas for the
easily bored who will rage on Twitter if anything is too hard.
If I finish this rewrite and don’t have an idea for my next book,
I’ll post a review.
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA: Mr. Jeremy Frost, proprietor of the area’s newly-formed Irony
Certification Agency, wears blue overalls. “People expect someone in a nice suit,”
he says. “But I want them to see that irony is just a facilities problem. Like
a leaky pipe.”
Mr. Frost’s business has been operating for eight months. In that time, he
claims to have rendered services to some of the state’s largest employers,
including a tech giant and two major insurers. But he’s unable to name
“People don’t like to admit they had an irony guy in,” he says. “They see
the results. But they don’t like to talk about it.”
That’s something Mr. Frost aims to change. “Getting that first meeting,
convincing them I can help them, it’s tough,” he admits. “But once I’m
in, I’ve never left a customer disappointed. I figure if I keep doing
what I’m doing, people will eventually get comfortable enough to share
their irony problems.”
“Irony problems,” according to Mr. Frost, occur when places or objects
build up irony over time, and then trigger ironic situations.
He explains: “Say there’s a grocery store and they give
me a call. I might find a guy to take in—Mike Slipper, for example, or
Amanda Fall. I’ll have them walk up and down the aisles. Now, if
Mike Slipper slips, or Amanda falls, that’s a pretty good sign we’ve
got a source of irony somewhere nearby.”
It’s not always that simple. “I ask myself: what’s
the most ironic thing that could happen? Because even a little
irony nearby can be enough to set something off, if it’s potentially
very ironic. One time an insurer had me visit this guy—he was
a little accident-prone, and on a big, big policy. At first, everything
checks out, but I’m just not comfortable with his car. It’s more
likely to lock with the keys inside when you’re running late, the battery
went flat when I tried to drive it to the store to buy batteries…
nothing outside normal tolerances, but still, on the high side. Well, then I find out the
guy has been writing letters to the paper saying we don’t need seat-belt
laws. I can’t tell you the details of how that turned out, but let me
just say that insurer saved a ton of money.”
Once Mr. Frost identifies a source of irony, what does he do?
“Well, bear in mind, I do Irony Certification, not Irony Disposal.
If you’ve got a restaurant on Ebola Avenue, I can check the premises
over and tell you whether you’ve got a problem,
but I can’t relocate your business.”
This is particularly the case when the source of irony turns out to be
a person. “It is awkward, yeah,” he admits. “You have someone who’s been
a long-time model employee, she owns a dog named Buster, and suddenly you’re telling
her she can’t work in the accounting department any more. It’s not her
fault. We still don’t know how the build-up of irony happens. We just
know it’s there.”
Mr. Frost is straightforward about the skepticism he receives on the
job. “Everyone has an opinion about irony,” he says, a touch wearily.
“I do get people coming up to me, saying this isn’t really ironic, or that other thing is.
Sometimes, a guy comes up, and three words in, I can
tell from his accent where we’re going.” He shrugs. “But it
doesn’t bother me. When you’re an Irony Certification Officer working
on an irony-laden site, people telling you you’ve got the definition
of irony wrong is just part of the job.”
Why does it take a year for a book to go from a draft
to bookstore shelves? Is it to build anticipation?
Because publishers are modern-day Neanderthals, trying to
make e-books by rubbing sticks together? Because authors
are so precious?
The correct answer is: yes! In more detail, it’s because this*:
The editor and the author kick things off
by exchanging emails about how happy they are to be
working with one another. The editor prepares an EDIT LETTER,
which is a document describing how fantastic the
book is, and how even more fantasticer it would be if
the following thirty or so issues were addressed.
I put EDIT LETTER in caps because it’s very important.
The author considers this. There is some back and forth
over any parts of the EDIT LETTER that the author requires
more clarification on to fully understand what
kind of universe the editor must be living in to say such
The author rewrites. How long this takes
depends on how much rewriting is required, and how depressed
the author gets. All books have been through
at least a couple author-driven drafts before they’re picked up by
a publisher, but obviously another pass is needed,
because why else editors. An editor who says, “Fine as is!”
might as well go panhandle.
Also, books at this stage really do need rewriting.
In my case, I did a lot of rewriting for my editor on
Company, and the publication process took 22 months.
I didn’t do much on Syrup, and it took nine.
So there is possibly a causal link there.
The art department begins fooling around with cover ideas,
under strict instructions to not share them with anybody,
The editor approves the rewritten draft and
shares it internally with salespeople, the art department,
and unrelated editors’ assistants. I’m not sure why assistants; I
just know every editorial assistant I’ve ever met has
read all my books.
The editor and author begin seeking people to provide a
blurb/cover quote. The first edition can’t
have actual reviews on the cover, because those
will be received too late. But you need someone
to say “MAGNIFICENT… STUNNING,” so you have to hit up a
The copyeditor prints out the new draft
and scrawls arcane markings on it by the light of tallow
candles using quills.
This ensures the book can no longer be shared electronically, and
all subsequent changes must be done by hand. This five-hundred-page
monstrosity is photocopied and e-mailed to the author.
Sorry, that was a typo. I mean mailed. You know. Mailed. When
they physically transport something. The author
reads this by light of a virgin moon, which is the only time the
unicorn ink becomes visible, and accepts some changes while giving
others a jolly good
stet. This can be a difficult
time for the author, who must defend grammatical errors
as stylistic choices in order to not look stupid.
The editor emails the author a scan of the finished cover art, saying,
“Everyone here loves this!” The author may object to aspects of
it, if he is an ungrateful asshole who thinks he knows how to
publish books better than a, you know, publisher.
The book’s layouts are developed: the internal artwork, including the
fonts, spacing, and style of chapter headings.
Publicity plans are developed, and final-ish decisions made on things
like price and publication dates.
The manuscript is transformed into a galley, which is the
final, copyedited version embedded in the layouts. When I say
“transformed,” I mean someone sits down with the five-hundred-page
copyedited manuscript, which by now has
been scrawled on by at least two and probably four different people,
with additional pages inserted here and there, and some of the changes
stetted and then destetted and maybe redesteted again,
some of which are impossible to read because I had to use a green pencil to
signify which changes were mine and I couldn’t find a sharpener and I was trying to squeeze
between the printed lines and thought I had enough room but didn’t.
This person types all that out. I have never met them,
because, I assume, they are kept in a basement and fed raw fish.
The author is sent galleys of forthcoming books by authors who agreed
to consider giving a blurb, in case he wishes to reciprocate,
while maintaining artistic integrity.
The Advanced Reader Copies are produced, which are like galleys,
but one step closer to the finished version. They’re for
reviewers and various promotions (a lot of Machine Man
ARCs were given out at Comic Con last year), and are essentially the finished
book, minus any late editorial changes, printed on cheap paper,
and possibly with different cover art.
The author reads the latest galley/ARC and notices several horrendous
errors that somehow escaped previous notice. He writes in with
The audio version is developed.
The author corresponds with translators attached to various foreign
publishers, who want explanations for odd word choices. These will
probably be published many months or even years later, and look
The publisher pitches its quarterly list to large bookstore chains
and buyers. I believe they actually sit down in a room, and the editor or
marketing manager or whoever says, “Now THIS is a title we’re very
excited about, it’s OH GOD PLEASE BUY ME by Max Barry,” and they
have a little discussion about the author’s sales record and whether
people are really interested in that kind of book any more, so
that the bookstore chain/buyer can decide how many copies to stock.
If they choose a low number, the book is essentially dead, because
no-one will see it, and the publisher will scale back its marketing
plans, because why spend money promoting a book no-one knows
about. But if it’s a high number, there will
be renewed excitement and high-fives and a little extra marketing
budget for things like co-op (payment to bookstores for
favorable shelf placement). The author can tell which it is because
if it is a low number, the publisher won’t tell him.
Thanks to the
amazing new website
Random House has for its authors, I know they call this process
“working with the accounts on an ongoing basis to estimate initial
The ARCs go out to newspapers, blogs, magazines, and anyone else who
wants a copy and has an audience of more than three people.
Interview and feature requests begin to come in and are scheduled
by the publicity department. Early reviews come in and are
forwarded to the author, unless they’re bad.
An e-book version is developed via a process involving priests and goats’
blood. Not really. It’s really done by re-typing the entire
book from the finished, typeset manuscript. Nah, I’m still kidding.
They take the last electronic document and just try to reimplement
all the manual changes made since then by hand. You can decide which of those
Due to piracy concerns, the e-book is closely guarded, so often cannot
be reviewed by the author. Instead it is
distributed to anyone with a blog and a
More reviews come in, and early interviews/profiles
are conducted. The author, who has spent the last two years alone with a keyboard,
begins spending large parts of each day talking or writing about himself,
sowing the seeds for future personality disorders.
The publisher does whatever it is that needs to be done to ensure
that tens of thousands of physical copies end up in the right place at the
right time. I assume that’s something.
The book is published! The author catches the bus to the nearest bookstore
to discover they’re not stocking it. Calls to agent ensue.
The author may go on tour, which could involve dozens of cities over
many weeks, or just popping into local bookstore and
plaintively offering to sign copies, if they have some, like
out the back or whatever.
During a book reading, the author notices a horrendous error that
somehow escaped the editorial process.
The author wakes three-hourly to check his Amazon.com sales ranking.
And that’s about it.
* Note: Blog may represent one-sided author’s view
of a process he actually knows little about, with gaps in knowledge
filled with speculation and lies.
My fifth novel will be out in mid-2013. If you’re wondering
how I manage this breakneck pace, with Machine Man
gracing the shelves only last year, it’s because I
haven’t been updating my web site or going on Twitter or
Facebook. It’s amazing how much time that leaves. Also, I broke
my usual pattern of following good novels with
unpublishable ones. It’s a bold new strategy but I’m optimistic
that it might just work out.
The new book is Lexicon. If you’re the kind of
person who doesn’t want to know anything more, because you
have already decided to read it and want your experience to be
untainted by any hint of a spoiler, then (a) thank
you, (b) I am right there with you, and (c) you may skip
ahead to the next paragraph. For everyone else, it is about
a secret persuasion society that builds and deploys words as
weapons. The people who wield these words are known as poets;
the story centers around a young woman who is recruited
into their ranks, and the man she falls in love with. Which
you are not allowed to do, as a poet. I could explain why,
but I’m not going to. Just trust me.
I began writing this book about five years ago, although it has changed so radically
from my early sketches that I may just go back and write a second,
completely different book from the same original idea. Usually, I
start a novel with a particular situation in mind, but this time
I had a concept, and unfortunately a concept is not a story. A concept is
somewhere for a story to live. So I ended up writing a lot of words,
looking for the story inside this concept. I always take a
kind of sick pride in the number of words that don’t
make it into my final drafts; the notes, doodles, experiments,
deleted scenes, et cetera. I usually have at least as many of
these as published words. This time, I have far more: 197,788.
Actually, that is a little appalling. I hadn’t totaled that
up before. But I’m still proud, because those words led to good ones.
Lexicon will be published by The Penguin Press in
mid-2013 in the US and Canada. Details to come on other countries.
Blogs are dying. Not this blog. I mean in general. This blog’s
just fine. Okay, yes, it has been a little while since the last post,
but that’s just because I was busy writing. Well. Rewriting. It’s like
writing, only with less visible progress. With writing, you can
feel reasonably assured that what you put on the page is
better than what was there before. Not always! But mostly.
Rewriting, though, you can spend a good six hours on a scene,
sit back, and think, “Yep… that’s worse.”
Anyway. Blogs are OUT. They’re too long. That’s the problem. No-one
has the time for them. The middle is hollowing out.
Everything is polarizing. We want
things to be very. It doesn’t matter what. Whatever it is, only very.
There’s no place for mid-length writing any more. There never was,
of course. But blogs used to be short. Then Twitter. Now blogs
are like One Day Cricket.*
But here we are! And it’s already been more than 140 characters. So
let’s continue. This blog will summarize what I’ve been thinking
about over the last few months, while I was busy making my new
book not worse.
The first one or two were kind of shocking to
me, like a thought come to life. The next few were
disappointing, like repeated plot points.
we’re at, what, the seventh Nike sneaker riot? When
does it become less likely that they’re continually being surprised
by this kind of thing happening and more likely that they’re deliberately engineering it?
That’s just a question. I’m just wondering.
Now in post-production.
I have been shown a teaser-trailer thing and it is
heartbreakingly beautiful. I’ve watched it three hundred times.
I’m not joking. The only thing that sucks about the Syrup
movie is I’m not allowed to tell you anything. But soon. Soon…
This interests me because privacy is obviously very
important for reasons nobody understands.
Generally, there’s a much stronger incentive for companies
and governments to want to know things about you than for you
to keep your data private. That leads to an interesting place.
This is the most valuable skill in the world,
right? People who are good at persuading others
become rich and successful; people who are easily persuaded
by others do not. But nobody really thinks about this. Very few
people actually go out and learn how to be better at persuasion,
or more aware of its forms. Why is that?
Also, the US as a culture is very advanced at soft persuasion (i.e.
the forms of persuasion that don’t involve threats of bodily harm).
It is great at selling stuff. We have the Internet and free access
to vast stores of information but we’re still buying products with
the cleverest ads, and electing politicians with the most reassuring
voices. I wonder what happens if a culture becomes so good
at persuasion that there is no longer an incentive to produce
products that are just objectively good, as opposed to well-sold.
Privacy + Persuasion.
It’s easier to persuade people if you
know more about them. And if you can persuade them, you can
get more information from them. That’s an interesting dynamic, too.
But this is too depressing for now so I’ll blog about it later.
That’s a lot of Ps, for some reason.
(* This analogy works because even if you don’t know cricket, you
know it is stupid and anachronistic.)