- one literary property (written but not owned by you)
- one arguably enforceable end-user license agreement (can be custom-ordered from an intellectual-property law firm or cribbed from software packaging and/or online terms-of-service agreements)
- one Second Life user account
- one United States Federal Reserve note or other tangible piece of currency (optional)
- basic bookbinding materials (available at most art-supply stores)
- 10 hours minimum for assembly
- 12 hours for drying
- 2-3 years prep time.
Step 1: Write and publish a book
Most importantly, it can't be a self-published book. Don't get me wrong: I've done my share of self-publishing, and I'm all for it. Truly, there is nothing like the clean-all-over feeling of creative autonomy you get from controlling the means of your own intellectual production. But clean-all-over is not what this project is about. Not-quite-right; sort-of-questionable; deeply-yet-elusively-alienating -- that's more the vibe you're going for here, and for that sort of thing, you really can't beat the traditional publishing arrangement.
If you've ever been party to one, you know what I'm talking about. But if this will be your first time signing with a commercial publisher, I want you to close your eyes now and picture it: Publication day. Thousands of books going out into the world with your name in big type on the cover. The name says the work inside is yours, and so does all the effort you put into it. You wrote it. You said it. And now, according to copyright law, nobody else can say it again. Only here's the catch: Neither can you. Because in order to get all those words of yours out into the great wide marketplace of ideas, you signed away your exclusive right to to ever write them down in the exact same order again -- your copyright. The publisher owns those words now, and strictly speaking you aren't allowed to communicate them to another person again without the publisher's consent.
Step 1, in other words, requires you to enter into a relationship that on close examination turns out to be among the most perverse in modern commerce. But trust me, you won't regret it: In the end, this very perversity is what's going to give your handcrafted virtual commodity fetish object that hauntingly pallid glow of the uncanny that marks it as a work of true craftsmanship. Plus, keep in mind some authors have actually made serious money with this traditional-publishing stuff. You could be a winner!
One other thing: This is an achingly self-referential virtual commodity fetish object you're making, don't forget, so you'll want to choose the book's subject matter carefully. And sure, I know what you're thinking: Why, right? Aren't intellectual properties themselves so peculiarly virtual, commodified, and fetishistic by their very nature that a virtual commodity fetish object made out of a copyrighted book -- no matter what the subject -- is pretty much self-referential by definition? Well: yes. But you know what? There's self-referentiality and there's aching self-referentiality, and what you really need to ask yourself is this: At the end of the project, when you're holding the final product in your hands for that one last once-over, will you honestly be satisfied if its self-referentiality is anything less than almost literally throbbing like a bee-stung fingertip? If the answer is no, then there's no cutting corners: You will want to build your virtual commodity fetish object from a book about virtual commodity fetish objects.
Fortunately, that's one topic book publishers just can't seem to get enough of. For this walk-through, we'll be using my own book on the subject -- Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot. Released in 2006 by mainstream trade publishers Basic Books (a member of the Perseus Books group) Play Money is a nonfiction book about the toy economies of online virtual worlds and their increasing spillover into the real global economy, but that's just one way to get at the topic. Nonfiction not your style? Hey, plenty of science-fiction writers, from William Gibson to Neal Stephenson to Cory Doctorow, have published novels and stories about virtual worlds as annexes and/or allegories of contemporary capitalism -- and so can you! Trade publishing too low-brow for you? Steal a page from Mr. Commodity Fetishism himself, Karl Marx (or any of the long line of critical thinkers who have worked that same patch of Marxian turf, from Georg Lukacs to Guy Debord to Jean Baudrillard), and scribble up a wad of social theory any academic publisher would kill to get the rights to.
The possibilities are endless. Let your imagination run wild, then go out and get yourself a book contract. It may take as little as two years from proposal to publication, it might take as long as ten, and either way, it will sometimes feel like it's taking forever. But that's when you'll need to remind yourself what getting that book shipped is all about: Moving on to step 2!