As previously mentioned, occasionally some wacky marketing stunt I dreamed up for one of my novels comes true. Films as advertisements, logo tattoos, naming people after corporations; no matter how outrageous I try to be, real-world marketers are scampering along right behind.
But this is something else. First, a few lines from Chapter 1 of Jennifer Government:
The Johns smiled. “We started selling [Nike] Mercurys six months ago. You know how many pairs we’ve shifted since then?”
Hack shook his head. They cost thousands of dollars a pair, but that wouldn’t stop people from buying them. They were the hottest sneakers in the world. “A million?”
“Two hundred million?”
“No. Two hundred pairs.”
“John here,” the other John said, “pioneered the concept of marketing by refusing to sell any products. It drives the market insane.”
700 pairs worldwide, 140 in the US only
The next step, in Jennifer Government, is to throw open the warehouse doors and try to shift as many pairs as possible before the aura of exclusivity wears off. Also to shoot a few customers to make it look as if demand for the shoes is so hot that people are killing each other for them. If that turns out to be Nike’s plan in real life, too, I’m putting in a call for commission.
The other day some money inexplicably appeared in my bank account. This intrigued me. I wanted to know more, like: Who put it there? And: Could they send more? It turned out it was from my agent, Luke. “Oh, that’s royalties,” he said. “Jennifer Government earned out the advance.”
Authors earn money in two ways: royalties and advances. Royalties are the cut the author receives from the sale of each book (usually around 10% of the cover price, but can be much higher or lower depending on the edition, country, and how much more famous they are than me). An advance is a payment made to the author before the book goes on sale. It can take a year or more for a book to hit the shelves after a publisher has accepted it, and months or years to sell significant numbers of copies, and six months on top of that for it to show up in a royalty statement with a check attached. So if there were no advances, authors would turn up to bookstore readings with their possessions in a shopping cart. Because this would be embarrassing for all concerned, the publisher makes a kind of bet: they guess how many copies they’ll sell, and pay the author the equivalent of a year or two’s royalties. The author doesn’t earn anything else until actual royalties exceed the advance.
You don’t have to pay back an advance even if the publisher over-estimates, which is fortunate because otherwise I’d be washing dishes in the Penguin Putnam cafeteria. They expected to sell more copies of Syrup than they did, so my royalties have never earned out the advance. On the one hand, this makes me one lucky asshole, because I got overpaid. On the other, it’s largely the reason why Penguin dumped me from their list, so I think it mostly works out.
Anyway, the point is this is the first time I have earned actual royalties. I’m so excited about it. I feel as if I am a real author, not just a guy with an attack-dog literary agent. I’m making a living from telling stories!
It was a slow day in Germany, so Ralf Heinrich decided to whip up a few mock Jennifer Government posters. (Click for larger versions.) Ralf is quite the wiz with Photoshop, so lest anyone be deceived: no, these aren’t official. Officially, teams of screenwriters have been locked in the Warner Bros. dungeon and are being flogged daily until they produce something the studio execs like.
Until that happens, I have to amuse myself with posters like this. That’s Jennifer Lopez on the left and Keira Knightley on the right. The J-Lo one is especially appropriate, because originally I thought she’d be a good Jennifer Government, but then I was quietly informed that since Out of Sight, she and George Clooney (whose company is developing the film) don’t get along so well. So I’m glad I didn’t unknowingly toss that one up to George. That could have been awkward.
I told Ralf this and he said:
I selected J Lo only because of her pretty look and not because of her talent as an actor… so I’m happy to hear she won’t starr in the movie.
Aw, now when she reads this she’s going to get all upset. But I’m actually more disturbed by the Keanu Reeves references. Whoa.
Just wanted to drop you a note saying that Jennifer Government was my favorite book of 2003, and was a finalist for the Campbell Award for best SF novel of the year.
Naturally, I assumed Chris was deranged. Sure, he has excellent taste in literature, but the Campbell Award was presented almost two months ago. If my book had been a finalist for one of the world’s leading science-fiction prizes, that’d be the kind of thing I’d have heard about, don’t you think? Well, apparently not. I e-mailed my publisher just in case, and it turns out Chris isn’t a mentally unstable nutjob with a penchant for fooling people into thinking they’ve qualified for major awards: Jennifer Government really was a Campbell Award finalist.
Not a winner, alas, which means I’m feeling honored, humbled, and a deep, burning rage toward Jack McDevitt. But still! This is awesome. Now I just need to go apologize to Chris.
I’ve received a bunch of foreign-edition Jennifer Governments lately, which is always cool. There’s a Finnish version called Jennifer Valtiovalta, a wicked little Japanese version called something your computer probably doesn’t have the correct font to display, and, my favorite, an Italian Logo Land. The groovy thing about that is they’ve gone with the original cover design, but re-shot it for no apparent reason. It’s the 1998 Psycho of book covers.
And speaking of covers… and… um… posters, this thing to the left comes courtesy of Rob Treynor, who responded to the Fark.com challenge: “Photoshop a scene from the next movie that Hollywood will make that butchers a good book.” Oh yeah!
(Now I know I’m going to get mail about this otherwise, so for clarity: no, Drew Barrymore has not been cast in the movie. This is just one guy’s amusing vision of hell.)
The Jennifer Government B Format hits shelves across Australia today—B Format being a smaller, cheaper paperback edition. The theory behind releasing multiple editions of the same book is that it’s already sold as many copies to actual interested readers as it’s going to, so the only way to generate new sales is to make it price-competitive with bird cage liner. Although the first edition of Jennifer Government in Australia was thirty bucks, so this time around it’s really just price-competitive with other books.
A typical e-mail is this one, from Meghan:
I have one question for you: What kind of dog did they get? Did they get it? If not, I’ll be very grumpy.
While Jonn assumes the worst:
I notice Kate never got her puppy, you heartless sod.
For those of you who haven’t read the book, what the hell is wrong with you? No, sorry, I mean: for those of you who haven’t read the book, there’s a little throwaway scene where Jennifer promises to buy her daughter Kate a puppy. Then she gets distracted by having to save the world, as you do. There is, I think, every indication that Kate will get her puppy, but you never actually see it happen.
This is mainly because having my characters wander through a pet store hand-in-hand and fall in love with a brown-eyed Beagle named Floppy didn’t strike me as the greatest way to finish a fairly brutal thriller about corporatization. Even a line like, “Now let’s go get that puppy,” threatened to engage my gag reflex. I think most people will be with me on this one. But still, I have to admit: I have a dangling puppy reference.
Closure is very important. As Jerry Seinfeld said: “If I want a long boring story with no point to it, I have my life.” Novels have to end, and when they do they’re meant to wrap up all their loose story threads. I realize this; in fact, the main reason Miranda Hewlett-Packard disappeared between drafts three and four was that I couldn’t tie her story thread neatly enough to the others. So don’t tell me I’m not prepared to go the hard yards for closure. It’s just… well, I never thought so many people would care so much about that puppy.
I wonder if there’s some group I could join. “Hi, my name is Max and I have a dangling puppy reference.” (“Hi, Max.”) You know, that feels good. The first step is admitting you have a problem.
The Dutch edition of Jennifer Government is out, and it’s a whopper. It’s 405 pages compared to 321 in the US paperback, but because it’s been printed on paper as thick as carpet samples, it’s three times as big. I like that; it makes it seem more significant. If it were up to me, you’d have to carry my novels out of the bookstore on a forklift.
Publishers routinely alter a book’s paper thickness, font size, and spacing depending on whether they want it to appear light, fun, and fast, or weighty, serious, and important. This makes it tough to judge which are genuinely longer than others. War and Peace, for example, is really just four paragraphs printed on pages as thick as wet towels.
I always find it awkward when someone asks me how long one of my books is, because the conversation goes like this:
Me: “It’s about eighty thousand words.”
Them: “So… what’s that in pages?”
“It depends a lot on how they set it. But somewhere around three hundred.”
“Um… is that a lot?”
“So you want to know how thick it is, is that it? You want to know whether it’s a thick book?”
But then, I’m very touchy.
The other interesting thing about the Dutch edition is that they’re running some kind of barcode competition as a promotion. There’s a web site where you type in the barcode that comes with your copy of the book, and if you’re lucky you win… actually, I don’t know. They never told me that. Books, I guess. I assume that if the prize was a date with me, they’d have to notify me first. Although now that I think about it, I haven’t read my contract that closely.
There is something odd about using a barcode as a symbol of consumerism in an anti-corporate-ish novel, then having a corporation use that symbol to sell copies of the book as part of a marketing campaign. At some point there, I’m thinking, “Wait a minute… that’s not ironic. That’s just a promotion.”
I did say that people who join my site could win stuff, right? Right. So here we go. A couple of years ago my publisher made up some honest-to-God Jennifer Government barcode tattoos — the idea, I think, was that bookstore sales staff might wear them. (We’re talking stick-ons, not permanent, just in case you were wondering.) I never heard any reports of this occurring, so possibly it was one of the world’s less effective marketing stunts. But still, they’re kind of neat. If you had one, everyone would be jealous at your next anti-globalization rally. So that’s what I’m giving away today.
I couldn’t decide whether to do this randomly or based on whose quote made me laugh the most, so I’m going with one of each. The random selection is Kareem Badr of Austin, Texas, and Jamie of Auckland, New Zealand scores for tapping into one of my pet hates with this quote:
Anyone still spelling “internet” with a capital “I” is probably struggling with the complexities of their new-fangled electric typewriter.
Ahhhh, yes. Stupid dictionaries. They have words from 1682 but when I want to put down HYPERLINK in Scrabble, it’s not in there. How unfair is that? But I digress. Kareem and Jamie, e-mail me your postal address and I’ll send you some tattoos. Oh, the excitement!
Jennifer Government has been beaten for the Borders Original Voices in Fiction 2003 Award by Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. I haven’t read this, but according to the blurb it’s “an unforgettable, heartbreaking story of blah blah blah.”
Pfff, as if there weren’t enough unforgettable, heartbreaking stories already. I mean, really.
Apparently this was announced a couple of weeks ago, but I only found out today, when I thought, “Hey, I wonder if they’ve announced who won that Borders award yet? I should find out.” This is one of the problems with being an author: no-one gives you bad news. Or maybe it’s just me. My author pic is kind of scary.
Right now I’m in a Seattle hotel room, having just finished the last bookstore appearance on my US book tour. It’s been such a blast; thanks to everyone who came along! I hope it was good for you too.
Borders has announced the finalists for its 2003 Original Voices award, and Jennifer Government is one of them! I’ve never felt so warm and fuzzy toward a chain store. Although I can’t help but wonder if the idea of going after Barnes & Noble with a private army really tickled Borders’ fancy.
The winner is announced in March, so I have that long to arrange horrible accidents for Monica Ali, Mark Haddon, Khaled Hosseni, Audrey Niffenegger, and Julie Orringer. No, wait! That might trigger a sympathy vote. Maybe I should toss myself down some stairs.
Only a week or two now before my US book tour! I talk, I read, I sign books, I answer questions; it’s like a wild and crazy party for librarians. You should come along.