MaxBarry.com
too cool for school

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Wed 29
Sep
2004

Ban This Book

Syrup Last March I discovered that for some reason Canadian sales of Syrup were somewhat weak. By this I mean that in the last six months of 2003, I sold 6 copies. After I posted about this on my site, several Canadians e-mailed me promising to snap up the book, so I’ve been looking forward to a big spike in my next royalty statement.

And here it is! My latest statement shows Canadian sales have increased an incredible 183%. So that’s 17 copies.

Now, I don’t want to seem ungrateful. J.K. Rowling would kill for sales growth like that. And, I suppose, cause the world to be completely deforested. But come on, 17! In other parts of the world, parts just on the other side of your border, Canada, it’s selling great. In fact, it’s in its fourth or fifth printing, and the fact that one of those times was because the publisher pulped a whole bunch of copies before realizing my career wasn’t dead yet doesn’t matter.

The way I see it, there are three possible parties to blame:

  1. Me
  2. My publisher
  3. Canada

I’m going with #3, because I have to work with #1 and #2. Pissing off Canada, on the other hand, means—what, they’ll stop buying their 23 copies a year?

Actually, this gives me an idea. Given I have so little to lose, what I need is to get Syrup banned there. Banned books attract publicity and protest groups, and when the ban is finally and inevitably lifted, they sell like gangbusters. Plus, being the author of a banned book would give me all kinds of literary cachet. I could get invited to top-class cocktail parties and tell Salman Rushdie about the time I used him as an example of a red-hot writerly stud muffin.

Surely it can’t be that hard to get banned; I just need to take a sentence or two out of context, tell some hyper-twitchy group that it’s aimed at them, and sit back and wait for Time to call. The Church of Scientology, for example. Surely there’s something I could find in Syrup that would offend them?

Thu 16
Sep
2004

Marketers Probe Squishy Bits

What Max Reckons The secret object of women's desireI stumbled across an article in New Scientist magazine on a remarkable new development: neuromarketing. The idea, apparently, is that if you study what happens to people’s brains when they’re making a buying decision or watching an ad, you get all kinds of insights, such as that despite their protests, women really do find grossly over-muscled men like The Rock attractive (I knew it!).

Joey Reiman, CEO of a marketing consultancy firm—and may I just say how sad it is that you so rarely see a CEO named Joey outside of a marketing consultancy firm—explains the reasons behind neuromarketing:

What if you could, for example, show a company that their moral and ethical behaviour has a bigger influence on consumer preference than the color of their packaging or their tag line?

Bwahahahahaha! If you could—hahahahaha! Ethical behaviour! Ohhhh, that’s funny. No, now I see it: I was thinking marketers would mainly be interested in working out how to trigger the synapses that make you open your wallet, but as Joey says it’s really a noble scheme to improve the moral behavior of corporations by… showing them there’s a buck in it. Now I feel all warm and snuggly!

This is just another example of marketing bravely going where genuine scientists went a long time ago, only this time for profit. For example, 17th century physiologist E.H. Weber was the first to develop a way to measure how small a difference you could make to an object before anybody noticed, but it was marketers who applied that knowledge to shrink candy bars. Yet who gets the Nobel Prize, hmm?

Neuromarketing experiments suggest that a particular part of the brain is related to product affection—that is, it gets busy when people look at products they like. So if marketers can find a way to stimulate that part of the brain, consumers will start drooling and fumbling for their credit cards no matter what crappy product they’re being offered—the Holy Grail of marketing! No doubt there is money being poured into research on lasers or special chemicals. In the meantime, though, I think we should all be on the lookout for sales assistants with small drills and sticky fingers.

Sun 12
Sep
2004

Max against the e-mail

Max I started answering my e-mail again today. As regular readers of this site already know, I am a long way behind on this. I have a page that lets you know exactly how long, and this has been standing firm at 12 weeks. Which is heinous enough, right? Except when life got a little crazy a couple of months ago, I stopped replying to e-mail and stopped updating this page, too.

So when I sucked it up and came back to my Inbox today, I knew it would be bad. But when I saw exactly how bad, I was dumbfounded. I am now 23 weeks behind.

This makes me feel very ashamed. What kind of person takes five months to respond to an e-mail?

So to everyone who wrote to me, I’m really sorry. I’m getting back into my e-mail now. And if you’ve been waiting for an answer since early April, you’ll be hearing from me any day now.

Wed 08
Sep
2004

More fantasy Jens

Jennifer Government Jennifer Lopez-GovernmentKeira Knightley as Jennifer Government 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.

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