Machine Man Blog

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Mon 04

Machine Man update

Machine Man Finlay wearing basket shoesSeriously: I’m making this story up as I go. I didn’t say that just to lower your expectations. It’s a work in progress. I haven’t plotted it out in advance. I write each page a few days before you see it.

I’d like to believe the reason I keep getting emails like, “Come on, tell me: how much of this have you written already?” is that people think Machine Man is so amazingly brilliant that no mere mortal could dream it up on the run. Unfortunately, I have to face the fact that you just think I’m shifty.

So look, I swear: it’s for real. I’ll show you the blank pages I haven’t written yet.

Anyway. Six weeks in, I’m thrilled. I like the story, I like checking the latest comments about each page, and 2,700 people have signed up for it. The unsubscription rate is 7%, meaning 93% of people who try it out via email stick with it, which I couldn’t be happier about. Well, I guess I could. 100% would be better. But maybe that 7% just changed email addresses. Or someone close to them died and they couldn’t handle any contact from the outside world for a while. You can’t rule that out.

Now some news:

  • Machine Man is going to be a book. You know, a real one. My Australian publisher, Scribe, decided there was no need to wait to find out whether the rest of the story—i.e. most of it—would be any good, and offered for print rights. That’s some pretty good blind faith right there. I’m touched but slightly afraid.

  • I did an interview on Machine Man for LiteraryMinded.

  • I’m enjoying this enough to see it though, so the end of the free feed is nigh. I’m thinking Chapter Ten; i.e. the last free page will be 43. That’s eight and a half weeks in, which seems about right. Actually, page 33 would have been a good place, story-wise, but I hadn’t gotten around to setting up PayPal. Soon, anyway, you’ll have the opportunity to pay $6.95 for the rest of the story. If it helps, you can think of me using that seven bucks to buy shoes for Fin. Look at her! Right now she has to walk around in baskets.

And a few thoughts:

  • My favorite chapter so far is Chapter Five, which contains my favorite page (20), which contains my favorite line (“Don’t do that thing.”). I realize this is something no self-respecting author should ever admit, but that line made me giggle like a child.

  • Biggest surprise was the reaction to page 23. I forgot that nobody but me knew that Lola was into prosthetics. I mean, really into them. And people liked this development. Which was great to discover, you sick bastards.

  • At the risk of disappointing you by revealing its very mundane origins: Page 21 is more or less the original idea I had for this story. I was walking along one day when I saw an unattractive man in a beautiful car; I had a notepad with me and wrote down: The cars are better than the drivers. I thought about this while waiting for the train, at which point I added: I want to be a train, which is essentially page 2. The rest follows naturally, I’m sure you’ll agree.

P.S. In case you’re worried about that picture, we don’t actually force Fin to dress from head to toe in pink and put on a tiara. We just can’t stop her.

Wed 25

Lessons from the Machine

Machine Man A writer friend emailed me about Machine Man:

I’ve managed to get to the FAQ, but am I REALLY supposed to believe what you have posted there?

I think he means that writing is a good way to send yourself insane before you ask everyone in the world to watch you work and post comments. True, it’s not a method I’d generally recommend. It’s essential to stay excited about a work-in-progress, and there may be no better way to deflate yourself about a promising story than to show it to people before it’s ready.

But I am a big boy. And I did set expectations before I started: this isn’t a plotted, edited, polished book. This is me caught in the act of making sausages. I think everyone understands that.

Ha ha ha! No, of course they don’t. And nor should you: all that really matters is whether the story is worth reading.

One week in, this is what I’ve found:

  • You people don’t miss a thing. Upon posting Page 4, I was immediately slammed by multiple readers for being repetitive, unimaginative, and suggesting that straight hair can dangle. This is slightly terrifying, because no doubt Page 4 is a lot better than some others I’ll serve up. But it’s also instructive. I think Machine Man is good training for me in the same way as a boot camp commander who makes you crawl through mud while screaming insults about your mother. They’re both… uh… character-building.

  • I am getting a lot of love for this project, which is flat-out wonderful. It’s thrilling to watch a page go up and read comments about it. Scary. But thrilling. There is usually a gap of several years between me giggling to myself in my study over a line, and anyone outside my immediate friends and family reading it. That immediacy of reaction is kind of addictive. Thanks.

  • Long-time meta-blogger Adam wrote:

    I wonder what would happen if every day I tried to predict what will happen on the next page. I feel like it would really screw with Max as a writer.

    Ha ha ha! It sure would! Although that is a fascinating thing for me: I have always wished I could stick probes in your brain to see how you react as you read my stories. Are you buying this particular subplot? Do you care? Did you notice that foreshadowing before; was that too obvious, or too subtle? Usually I have to bug Jen about these things. Here I feel closer to getting an answer to the eternal question: How does this book look when it’s inside your head?

  • Quite a few people seem frustrated at the one-page-per-day drip-feed. I’m not sure whether this is good frustration (“I love this story so much, I can’t wait for pages!”) or bad frustration (“In the 24 hours between each page, I totally forget everything that happened!”). I guess a little of each. I’m enjoying this format very much, but will wait and see how well it works for readers over the long-term.

  • GMail is really popular. Which is not particularly relevant, but wow: almost half of all subscribed email addresses are at Hotmail is a very distant second. There are about 1,500 people signed up to Machine Man at the moment, with… huh. I just double-checked my numbers, and it’s exactly 1,500 people. That’s a little weird. Anyway, 1,500 people, with three-quarters getting it via email and the rest via RSS. There might be others reading pages on the site without subscribing.

Since it’s been a happy beginning, I’ve decided to start a new Machine Man feed every Wednesday. So if you only stumbled across this concept today, you can still get Machine Man delivered starting from Page 1! Feel free to tell your friends about that.

Tue 17

Machine Man launch

Machine Man Machine Man launches tomorrow! Which is also my birthday. Yeah, thanks for noticing. No, no, don’t try to make excuses. It only demeans us both.

Speaking of which: Machine Man! I hope you’re signed up for this spectacular venture into real-time serial fiction. I say “spectacular” because “I wound up writing a 200-page story for eight interested readers” would qualify too, albeit not in the sense I’m hoping for. But either way.

Because the original concept wasn’t self-destructive enough, I decided each Machine Man page will accept your comments. That way, my eight interested readers can not only bankrupt me financially, but also destroy my creative confidence. There’s a very real chance here you may see me totally disintegrate as a human being. And I’ll throw that in for nothing.

Get Machine Man here.

P.S. I have to confess: I’ve cheated a little already. I got ahead of myself and built up a little stack of pages, which are now ready to go. It has been fun. There is something very satisfying about a solid, ninety-word scene. I think I like this medium. It’s like a novel with ADHD.

P.P.S. I got a spam email from “Mal Awesome.” That’s the best name I’ve ever heard. Next time I need a character name, I’m trawling my Junk folder.

Wed 04

This is the something

Machine Man I’ve never loved the idea of reading a novel online, because novels aren’t meant to be read that way: they are designed to envelop you. Anything I see on the web, by contrast, I give my attention for a maximum of eight seconds before checking Reddit for videos of laughing dogs. Don’t say that’s just me. It’s how the internet trains us.

So rather than trying to shoe-horn a novel into a web-friendly format, I thought I’d write you a real-time serial. That means a continuing story that turns up one tiny page at a time in your inbox. It is titled “Machine Man.”

I say “real-time” because I will write it as you read it. I’m warning you about this up-front because it’s going to be a little chaotic, and Hemingway was right. Also there is the possibility that it will go so badly I nuke this part of the web site and pretend it never happened. But it’s the web, right? So I will release early and release often.

Right now you can sign up for free. If it goes well, I’ll turn it into a subscriber thing where you can buy the whole thing for $6.95.

Pages start Wednesday March 18, 2009. You can find out more here.

I hope you like it.

P.S. I’m not sure if anyone’s done anything quite like this before. If they have, and it was a disaster, please don’t tell me.

P.P.S. Special thanks/blame to Ian for haranguing me into doing this.

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