This is what they should do with all my radio interviews: take
the small number of clear, semi-intelligent things I say,
dump everything else, and mix them up with some boppy background
has condensed 40 minutes of me rambling on about
Jennifer Government, corporations,
and culture into a quick, breezy
you can download from
My least favorite part is when I read from the book.
I’m really bad at that. I should hire
that guy who
version to come around with me; I could stand there and nod
approvingly while he reads. That would be cool.
Dear Max Barry,
after visiting Nationstates.net i decided to read your book, Jennifer Government. While reading, I read something which made me think: “What would you get if you scanned the barcode?” Is it simply a random arrangement of numbers, or does it have meaning?
~A Jennifer Government Fan
Well, A Jennifer Government Fan, that’s a good question. The answer is long,
convoluted, and filled with heartbreak. Well, no, not really. It’s just long
First, the barcode on the book’s cover doesn’t match the one in the story.
That is, while Jennifer Government in the novel has a barcode tattoo for a particular
product—which nobody is going to give away in the comments here,
lest I smite their account—the barcode under Jen’s eye on the cover
is for the book itself.
More specifically, it’s for the US hardcover edition.
Or so I was told at the time.
The truth, I was to discover, ran deeper.
During cover design, I didn’t care much whether the barcode matched up to what
was in the book, partly because I had very little say in it,
partly because I was so grateful to get a cover that didn’t suck balls I
was weeping with joy, and partly because who the hell would ever know?
But upon hearing what Doubleday wanted to do, I thought,
“That’s cool. You could take the book up to the counter and buy it by
scanning the front.”
I went around telling people this, until about a year later
a guy with more
knowledge of barcodes than is really healthy,
exposé on the Jennifer
Government cover. It’s a very interesting piece, if you’re me or
unhealthily fascinated by barcodes. Here’s a taste:
“But wait!”, I hear you cry, “You said it’s an EAN-13, not an ISBN, and
as everyone knows they have incompatible checksum digits!”
Todd uncovered the non-match between the story and the cover, and that
was just his warm-up. He also discovered that while the barcode digits on the
covers of many editions of Jennifer Government
are for the US hardback, one of the few that doesn’t match is…
the US hardback.
For some reason, in a last-minute change, the barcode number on its
front cover was altered: instead of ending in a 2 (like
here), it ends
in a 3 (like
This means it matches the book’s ISBN, but not its barcode.
Why? It’s a mystery. I can only presume that somebody thought
they were catching a typo just before the print run.
Todd Larason wasn’t done there. His final observation was that
according to the official EAN-13 standard, the
barcode’s bars don’t match its numbers—nor the ISBN, nor anything
else. It’s not actually a valid
barcode. It’s just funky-looking black lines.
(P.S. If you’re interested in seeing how the cover evolved,
take a look at the
A riot outside a shoe store as customers
fight each other
for limited-edition Nike sneakers worth $1,000 a pair? Who’d a
I often get asked what’s happening with the Jennifer Government
film, because—well, you know, movies are cool. And it’s been about three years
since Steven Soderbergh & George Clooney optioned my book, and
so far not much has happened. On the one hand this isn’t so
surprising, because making a movie is a major logistical challenge:
you have to get the right people interested, and all available at the
same time, and happy to work with each other, and then you need to pay
them all stupid amounts of money. There are
plenty of films that took ten or more years to make it to the screen.
I really hope mine isn’t one of those, but I’ve held off
getting measured for the tuxedo I’ll wear to the premiere.
What’s mainly happened so far, I think—and bear
in mind that I am not involved in this process, because no
film-maker or studio exec wants an author hanging around,
wringing his hands over changes to his masterpiece—is that Section
8 has talked to writers. At first I
thought they were actually hiring writers, then not
liking what they produced, but I have since discovered they were
just having meetings. Lunches, mostly, I believe.
Until now! Writers have been actually
they are, I’m assured, typing words out and everything.
They are Louis Mellis and David Scinto, who wrote the extremely
(Seriously, it’s great. And Ben Kingsley will give you
You should see it.)
Obviously the idea of having a bound screenplay I’ll be able to rub my hands
over and say, “Ahhh, it’s not as good as the book,” is very
exciting. Also exciting is that Section 8 and Warner Bros. have
asked to renew the option, to tie up the rights for another two years.
This, coincidentally or not, would take us up to the point where
Clooney & Soderbergh’s contract with Warner Bros. expires. What does
this mean? I don’t know. But the next 24 months should be interesting.
occasionally some wacky marketing stunt I dreamed up for one of my novels
comes true. Films as advertisements, logo tattoos, naming people after
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
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.”
This green thing
is an invitation to the launch of
new range of Nike shoes that has gotten coolhunters drooling
down their buttoned silk shirts. And what’s that down the bottom?
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
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