Publishing a book is challenging regardless of whether you go through the traditional or self-publishing route. In this series of articles, we’ll explore four authors who made it possible to shift from self-published to traditionally published.
Part one of our series starts with Andy Weir’s bestselling novel, “The Martian.”
The Martian Summary:
The book is set in 2035 when a NASA Ares 3 mission crew arrived in Acidalia Planitia, a plain on Mars. The team intended to stay for a month. However, plans soon changed when after six sols (“solar days”), an intense dust and wind storm appeared on the horizon, threatening to destroy their Mars Ascent Vehicle or MAV. If this happens, it’ll leave them stranded on the planet with little tools and resources for survival.
During the evacuation scramble, Mark Watney, the main protagonist, is presumed dead when seemingly impaled by a torn antenna from the storm. This occurrence flung him out of sight while also disabling his spacesuit radio. Presumed dead, his comrade, commander Melissa Lewis, takes off without completing the search for Watney as the MAV struggles to fight against the storm.
Later, we learn that Watney is not dead, as his seemingly fatal injury was minor. However, his communication line is destroyed with no working radio, and he must learn to rely on his ingenuity to survive.
The book then follows Watney’s ways of survival while NASA soon realizes that he was alive all along. As his fellow astronauts devise ways to rescue Watney, the latter must also repair his communication line back to Earth if he ever wishes to return home.
The book deals with several themes, particularly human ingenuity and resourcefulness, the will to survive, the need to connect, and the human instinct to help those in need.
The Story Behind the Book’s Publication
The author, Andy Weir, is a son of a physicist and engineer. He has a computer science background and started working on his book as early as 2009. With various scientific backgrounds, he has done intensive research to portray the events as realistic as possible with today’s technology.
Despite his hard work in finishing the manuscript, he has been rebuffed by countless literary agents during his attempt to get the book published.
With no publisher willing to pick up the manuscript, Weir decided to post his book online in serial format. This move resulted in him garnering online fans and readers who loved his story. After considering his fans’ request, Weir then made “The Martian” available on Amazon Kindle, which eventually rose to the top of the site’s best-selling science fiction books, resulting in around 35,000 sales in three months which was more than the amount of its download when it was uploaded for free.
Since the book’s success on Amazon, many traditional publishers began to express interest in purchasing its printing rights. In 2013, Weir sold the print rights to Crown Publishing, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House.
The book’s hardcover version debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list in 2014 in twelfth place. The same year, its paperback version also made it in the paperback trade fiction category, debuting at number eight.
In 2015, a film adaptation by Ridley Scott based on the book was made, which starred Matt Damon as Mark Watney. The film became a financial and critical success, earning $630 million with its $108 million budget. It also received multiple nominations, where it won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy.
What Can We Learn from Andy Weir’s Success?
Facing rejection from multiple literary agents is almost routine for many authors. However, what made Weir stand out from others was his practice, persistence, and patience.
Despite not attracting any literary agent willing to give his work a shot, Weir decided to work on making something he wanted to read for himself. By serializing his stories on a simple website, he was able to attract like-minded people who enjoyed the story until its very end.
Aside from posting it for free, Weir also cultivated an online dynamic where readers have pointed out some possible plot holes in the story. Taking these suggestions as feedback, he redid many chapters until they became cohesive. The Martian was praised for its realistic scenarios and science-driven narrative, so Weir using both experience and readers’ feedback helped him in the long run.
Lastly, there will always be an element of luck. Sometimes, the best success comes with the right time, work ethic, and support from the readers. While it’s not a guarantee, there will always come a time when certain publishers are willing to give you a chance, so long as you try to get your best work out there.
Some Key Takeaways:
- The Martian by Andy Weir is a best-selling 2011 sci-fi novel that depicts a man stranded on Mars after an accident with the planet’s dust storms.
- The book deals with multiple themes, including human ingenuity and resources, perseverance in the face of hopelessness, and the depths humans will go to save a fellow being.
- While The Martian is considered a success, it sometimes started differently. Weir had trouble finding an agent willing to give his manuscript a shot.
- However, instead of letting this obstacle stop him, Weir took the unconventional route and uploaded his book in serialized format on his website. Since then, he has garnered genuine interest from people who enjoyed the science-driven narrative.
- Publishing chapters online also gave Weir valuable feedback, where he took some of his readers’ suggestions to improve his narrative—thus making it a cohesive read.
- The enthusiasm of his fans led Weir to have his story published on Amazon Kindle, which then became a success on the site.
- After achieving relative success thanks to his fans and effort, Weir attracted several publishers interested in acquiring the book’s print rights. After deliberation, Weir sold the print rights to Crown Publishing, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House.
- The book’s success and interest quickly led to a movie adaptation by Ridley Scott starring Matt Damon. The film became a box office and critical hit, where it earned beyond its initial budget and a Golden Globe award.
- While patience, persistence, and perseverance played a part in Weir’s success, we also can’t discount luck and how a single act or decision in the right place at the right time can lead to a book’s success.
- Self-published authors can learn from Weir’s experience by writing without expectations. While it’s normal to want to achieve success, sometimes, some things are beyond our control, so the best thing is to continue writing anyway.