By Zoe Nathan
When people think of books, they think of bookstores, libraries, and even school textbooks. All of these books went through different publishing houses and had many people working on them, advertising them, making sure everything was just as it should be before the book made it onto a bookstore shelf to be judged by the general public. A lot of people think that this is the only way to get a piece of writing out into the world, but some novels have humbler origins.
Andy Weir, a software engineer, is not the kind of guy to come to mind when thinking of successful writers, but he is the author of the highly successful novel and film, The Martian. He wrote it with the intent of writing a science fiction novel as scientifically accurate as possible. He started by putting it up on his own personal website in 2011, without any expectation that it would be read by many people, especially since his previous attempts to get a book published were constantly shut down by publishing companies.
While self-publishing isn’t new to the history of writing, it’s a lot easier to be recognized with today’s technology. Most people think of it as something to do as a last resort, the only way to get the work noticed, but for the first time, in 2008, there were more self-published than traditionally published books. And in 2009, 76% of books released were self-published.
There are several ways to self-publish, electronic, print on demand, and vanity publishing. Electronic is a very popular form, and most people are aware of Amazon Kindle, so authors tend to lean towards that platform. Print-on-demand is another option, where the author will only print high quality versions of their books as they are asked for, unlike large publishing companies, which will print hundreds or thousands of books. And vanity publishing, in simplest terms, is where the author would pay a publisher to publish their book.
After a while, the people who frequented his website, were asking Weir to make a Kindle version of his novel, and feeling that not that many people would want to read his book, Weir set the price of it to ninety-nine cents, the lowest amount possible. This is where The Martian started to get some recognition. Views skyrocketed, and caught the attention of publishing houses, and Weir signed over audiobook rights to Podium Publishing in January 2013, and then printing rights to Crown in March 2013. Also in 2013, Twentieth Century Fox optioned the film rights.
Weir had started research and writing in 2009, working on his novel for two years before self-publishing it on his website. It was another two years before editors recognized its potential and published it in print. Even though things escalated for Weir relatively quickly, there are a lot of works that remain in the self-published phase for a lot longer, or even indefinitely, and are successful.
The Martian started with humble beginnings and a lot of time and effort put into it. And while the decision to self-publish stemmed from self-doubt, it might have been exactly what this particular novel needed to become popular. The initial small, but dedicated readership that lead to a larger platform, and therefore a larger audience, is what propelled this novel forward, and what helped make it what it is now.