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 submit your story. 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.
Doubleday 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, amuses me.
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
If you can’t make it, here’s the one-line summary: I’m taller and more Australian than you expect.
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 techniques
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 says:
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 in.
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 blog!)
There’s a 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 pre-order 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
On Monday 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 changes alone. 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 schmuck 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 Company cover 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 the 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 Doubleday decided 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.
This 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 the 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.
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.