Cory Doctorow On With A Little Help, For the Win, the Hugos and More

Hugo-nominated author Cory Doctorow speaks on his new project, With A Little Help (which is his self-published audio and print short story collection coming out soon), other upcoming projects, and crashing the Hugo Losers’ Party with Ben Rosenbaum in San Jose in this audio interview.

ML: All right, this is Mur Lafferty, here at Worldcon 2009, with Cory Doctorow. How are you, Cory?

CD: I’m a little tired, but I’m definitely having a great time. This is your classic Worldcon Sunday, where you haven’t slept much because of the parties, and it’s slightly compounded by the jet lag, and then compounded yet again by the fact that my wife took ill early on, I’ve been up with her while she threw up for the first couple of nights, which is fun. She’s feeling a lot better. She got strep throat on the way down, and they put her on an antibiotic that made her very sick, and she switched off of that onto a much nicer antibiotic that she’s now up in good sorts and off shopping in town, so…

ML: Oh, my goodness.

CD: Bit of a bummer, yeah.

ML: Yeah, no kidding, but I’m glad she’s doing better.

CD: She’s doing better, we’re catching up on our sleep. All is good.

ML: Good. Well, first I want to discuss your awesomeness last night, you had Neil Gaiman reading your story “The Right Book”?

CD: “The Right Book,” yes.

ML: And then you announced your new self-publishing venture. I’d like to talk to you a little bit about that.

CD: Yeah, I’d like to think of it more as a stunt than a venture, but…

ML: Okay.

CD: I don’t know what I’m going to call it, a project. So, with a little help, the idea is to kind of explore how you can take information, which has no inherent cost or weight, and create a bunch of services around it that have prices that range from zero to infinity, depending on what people are willing to part with, and so at the zero level, there’s the free electronic text and a free audiobook. You’re actually going to be recording some of the audiobook for me, as I understand?

ML: Definitely, and I’m excited.

CD: And then there’s donation, so donation for the audio, donation for the text, that’s kind of a pay-as-you-like. And then there’s a POD, print on demand, physical paperback, from Lulu, who you’re very familiar with, obviously, you used to work there. And because it’s POD, there are five covers, because you can, and it’s POD I’m also trying a bunch of other stuff that you can do that you can’t do with traditional print. I just can’t explain why no one’s done it before. One is that if you send me a typo, I’ll fix it in the next copy, that’s kind of a natural, but I’ll footnote you on the page. You’ll get a thanks on the page for you fixed the typo, and then I’m going to likewise, an appendix every month with all the finances for the book, and all the money, and the finances for the last short story collection, which came out from Thunder’s Mouth traditional publisher, and the idea is to start to get some facts on the ground, some apples and apples comparison. What is it a writer like me can do in situations and honestly, every writer is unique unto his or herself, but at least this gives you a sense of the range. And then there’s a premium edition, which is a hardcover that’s being hand-bound in lots of twenty, limited edition of 250 made in Incarcf and Wellmouth Cesar in London, and set into the cover is an SD card with the audio and the electronic book, and then every one of those has a unique endpaper I’ve solicited from writers who are friends of mine and whom I admire. They’re paper ephemera. And, you know, it’s been a really amazing gamut of things. I’ve got Kathy Koge’s third grade report card, I’ve got Jay Lake’s cancer diagnosis, and I’ve got Joe Haldeman’s watercolors.

ML: Oh, wow.

CD: And this is all the kind of paper that everyone has sentimentally sitting around, that no one wants to part with, but that no one has any earthly use for and would love to find a good home, and there’s a flickr set that accompanies those. And there’s a super-premium edition. For ten grand you can commission a story. That commission was actually already sold to Mark Shuttleworth from the Ubuntu project. And then there’s some advertising, because it’s POD, I can insert an ad or remove it, so the ads will run for a month or a quarter at a time, and I’m not sure how I’m going to work that, and sort of a bunch of ancillary stuff sprinkled around in the edges. I’m doing a Publishers Weekly column about it, probably a lecture tour off the back of it. I’m also looking at, say, a book about it. My agent really thinks he can sell a book about the project, through traditional publishers. So that’s kind of running the entire gamut. Jonathan Coulton is doing the introduction, he’s going to voice it.

ML: Excellent.

CD: My agent, Russ Galen, he’s, you know, a real kinda no-nonsense hard-bitten New York agent, represents the Phillip K Dick and Normal Mailer estates, is doing an outro to explain why he thinks that this is important and why as an agent who’s got a long history in New York he thinks that this is significant. So that’s the basic stunt, and you know the idea is to get some facts on the ground, cause facts on the ground beat supposition, a priori assumptions, a hundred and ten times out of a hundred, and just see where it goes.

ML: Do you have a title for it?

CD: With a Little Help. I’m looking for an imprint name, though. I haven’t got an imprint yet.

ML: It sounds like an awesome project. It’s definitely inspired and innovative. When do you think it’s going to come out?

CD: I’m shooting for Christmas, but I’m kind of my own boss on this one, and it is a interstitial project with some other stuff, like finishing a novel and having another novel come out and going on some tours and having a toddler and a bunch of other stuff, but I think Christmas is a pretty likely date.

ML: Okay, speaking of those other projects, it was really funny for me as a reader of yours, it’s like, you mention For the Win as like a extension of your short story “Anda’s Game,” and I loved that story. I’m really looking forward to For the Win and I hear that you’re coming out with Makers, that’s serialized on right now, and you’ve got something else coming out, so when do we hit For the Win?

CD: For the Win‘s almost done. It’ll be, I think they’re saying May 2010? Or March, one or the other. A month that starts with an “m” and is in the spring of 2010, provided I can turn it in on time, which is like the end of this month, I’m a little late with it. They’ve given me a little extension. It’s coming along pretty well and it’s nearly done, I’m just writing the climax now. And I’m pretty excited with how it’s turned out.

ML: And that’s YA like Little Brother?

CD: Young adult novel, like Little Brother. It’s a book, as you know, about union organizers who use video games to evade the restrictions on labor organizing in the developing world and special economic zones, and who organize gamers, gold-farmers, who then go on to unionize factory girls and so on. And it uses this conceit to explain some macroeconomic, cognitive economic, and behavioral economic ideas, in the same way that Little Brother used its conceit to explain cryptography, security, statistics, and risk.

ML: Great! Makers is being serialized right now. When is it coming out?

CD: That’s end of October.

ML: Okay.

CD: So that’s pretty soon.

ML: Will it be done with the serialization before it comes out?

CD: No, the book comes out two thirds of the way through the serialization, so you can find out how the serial ends by—well, we’ll have the free e-book as well, but by going and buying the physical object. It’s a Christmas title, so the idea is that maybe people will ask for it for Christmas, having enjoyed it on the serial.

ML: Excellent. So, tell me how Worldcon is going for you, besides unfortunately the sick spouse?

CD: This is probably the most business-oriented Worldcon I’ve been to. This panel that I’ve just seen half of is the only panel I’ve attended that I wasn’t on, basically. It’s been interviews, business meetings, one very lovely social event—my dear old friend Carl Levesque, a notorious Montreal anarchist, who I haven’t seen in twenty years, and the last three times I’ve passed through Montreal, he’s been abroad, or we missed somewhere or another. We saw each other yesterday for lunch for two hours, which was just glorious. But apart from that, I’ve basically just done business from morning till night. And that’s how it’s going today, too! You know, no rest for the wicked. Now, this is a lovely probleem to have, to be scheduled on amazing program items, to have lots of people who are interested who want to talk to you, to have lots of business to do at the con. I’m not complaining by any means. I do wish that there was another one of me, I could fork another instance of myself that could go and attend some of the incredibly awesome programming here.

ML: Yeah, I’ve kind of been in the same boat. I haven’t managed to get to any panels and I’m a little disappointed about that, but it’s been fantastic just meeting people and seeing Worldcon. It’s such a different animal than any other con I’ve been to.

CD: Have you been here before?

ML: No, this is my very first.

CD: Oh, my gosh.

ML: So, you are up for the Hugo tonight.

CD: Twice.

ML: Twice.

CD: Not that I’m counting.

ML: No, no, of course not! Yeah, there’s a ceremony thing you’re going to tonight, they might call your name. So, good luck with that.

CD: Thank you. I’m really excited. We just went to the rehearsals just before coming here and I started to tremble.

ML: Oh, gosh.

CD: I’m all a-twitter. I’m really, really excited about it.

ML: Yeah, I can’t wait to go to the ceremony. It’s going to be fantastic. You’re in an amazing category, there’s so many good books.

CD: Yeah, it’s hard to be upset about whoever wins that, because out of the four other nominees, three of them were invited to my wedding, and the other one—and Stephenson would have been invited to my wedding, but I don’t know him socially very well. But my experience of him socially suggests that if, you know, if we ever went out for dinner we’d probably enjoy it, so it’s pretty hard to get upset if one of your wedding guests wins the Hugo instead of you. That kind of counts as a win for the team, no matter who gets it.

ML: Right. And, I’m sorry, what’s the other one besides novel?

CD: It’s the novella, it’s “True Names,” which I wrote with Ben Rosenbaum, who’s just like a wild talent. Unfortunately, he can’t be here, he’s in Switzerland, but we started writing that story—the impetus for that story was at Con Jose, the Worldcon in San Jose, and we were at the Hugo Losers’ Party, which we both snuck into, with the Locus people, sitting on the carpet, having this kind of ferocious argument about where you’d put the heat sink for the singularity. And, you know if all of the universe was recruited to computronium and began to grind, where would you put the entropy? And would the universe eventually run down once you’d computed it too much? And that’s what spawnd this story that we’ve been working on. We worked on it for like, three years off and on. We got very frustrated with each other, and then made each other laugh a lot, and then finally finished just before the baby was born, podcasted it, and sold it to Lou Anders.

ML: And now it’s up for the Hugo, so, awesome!

CD: Now it are one. We should explain—the applause is for the Charles Brown Memorial panel, the Locus panel over there.

ML: So that’s it for me. We can find you at

CD: And

ML: Right, okay. Well, thank you so much, Cory!

CD: And I’m the first “Cory” in google, if you ever lose track of me. Thanks, Mur.

Mur Lafferty is an author and podcaster. She is the host of I Should Be Writing and the author of Playing For Keeps, among other things. You can find all of her projects at


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