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Jennifer Government
Book Cover

The world is run by American corporations; there are no taxes; employees take the last names of the companies they work for; the Police and the NRA are publicly-traded security firms; the government can only investigate crimes it can bill for.

Hack Nike is a Merchandising Officer who discovers an all-new way to sell sneakers. Buy Mitsui is a stockbroker with a death-wish. Billy NRA is finding out that life in a private army isn't all snappy uniforms and code names. And Jennifer Government, a legendary agent with a barcode tattoo, is a consumer watchdog with a gun.

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Jennifer Government Blog

Displaying blogs about Jennifer Government. View all Max's blogs

Thu 03
Mar
2005

Max on the Air

Jennifer Government 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 music. Australia’s SBS radio has condensed 40 minutes of me rambling on about Jennifer Government, corporations, and culture into a quick, breezy audio piece you can download from their website (or here).

My least favorite part is when I read from the book. I’m really bad at that. I should hire that guy who does the audio version to come around with me; I could stand there and nod approvingly while he reads. That would be cool.

Mon 28
Feb
2005

The Jennifer Government Code

Jennifer Government Barcode

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 and convoluted.

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, Todd Larason, wrote an 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 here). 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 Jennifer Government Extras.)

Wed 23
Feb
2005

I’m just sayin’

Jennifer Government A riot outside a shoe store as customers fight each other for limited-edition Nike sneakers worth $1,000 a pair? Who’d a thunk it?

Tue 01
Feb
2005

Movie Update: We Have Writers!

Jennifer Government 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 hired, and they are, I’m assured, typing words out and everything. They are Louis Mellis and David Scinto, who wrote the extremely cool British film Sexy Beast. (Seriously, it’s great. And Ben Kingsley will give you nightmares. 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.

Mon 15
Nov
2004

Who do I sue?

Jennifer Government Invitation to launch of Nike Mercurys... uh, I mean ZvezdochkasAs 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.”

“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 a 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 commission.

Mon 01
Nov
2004

I’m a real boy!

Jennifer Government 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!

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