Andy Weir. Author of The Martian, an out-of-nowhere instant classic that got adapted into a film almost sooner than it hit the shelves (ok, that’s exaggerating… but not by much – the book deal and movie deal were technically signed in the same week).
If you’ve been tuning in, in my last post we asked, Who knows publishing in 2017? In this age of real-life “cyberbooks” and other technology formerly relegated to science fiction, we took a look at some of the ways the landscape has been shifting for authors and publishers.
How appropriate to now take a look at one of the most recent and timely bestsellers, itself a work of science fiction, about a seemingly not-too-distant future of humankind’s first attempts at Martian colonization.
This time, we’re going to stop and examine the case of this particular modern author, his process, and his rise to fame.
Quotes from an interview with the author on Goodreads.com.
Weir Tip 1: Research hard, but crowd-source your way to high-definition.
While writing, did you find yourself doing a lot of scientific research in order to avoid technobabble?
Hey Andy, great book. How much of the science did you have to figure out before the novel really started coming together? What was that process like? Were you researching and revising previous material with new info?
Just tons and tons of online research. I didn’t need to revise that much.
When I originally wrote the book, it was a serial I posted to my website one chapter at a time. And I have a lot of scientifically-minded readers. So they would email me when I had a mistake. It was a great “beta reader” process. :)
So what we’re hearing from Andy is, just do lots of research. Actually, “tons and tons,” to be precise. But something else is happening here.
To build the book to its highest magnitude of perfection, to ensure every detail in the masterpiece is reviewed, checked, and fastened steady in place, the work must be aired in a public court of kindred hypernerds, ready to check and balance your technical writing to perfection.
We also see that there is a serial approach to releasing content, turning it into a ritual very much resembling the regularity of a blog. In fact, we can pretty much say with confidence that the serial online format of the novel is a blog. And the modest yet growing viewership of this blog is a key ingredient in Weir’s recipe for success.
This group of reviewers becomes not only essentially to keep the output from the author’s research razor-sharp, but also serves as a core of die-hard and loyal fans of the work. This becomes important when we move on to Weir Tip 3 and make lots of money by giving these people our book for free.
Yep, we give them the book for free. That’s how we sell lots of novels and get a motion picture deal. Keep reading…
Weir Tip 2: Get Matt Damon to play the lead role in the Hollywood movie version that you sign the same week as the book deal:
Ahem, seriously though, who gets the motion picture deal in the same week as the book deal? There are a couple of things to take away from this:
Andy Weir is still incredibly lucky. Follow his formula, hard work and all, and it’s still probably a long shot that you’ll wind up with this sweet a deal this quickly.
The life cycle of the actual book has changed in relation to the motion picture, and even in relation to the traditional book. The paradigm used to be that books were written first, had a shelf life as a book and then got picked up as a movie sometime a little later after fame had built as a book. Now, content can have a whole beta life to it before it even becomes available in commercial form, and by the time the content reaches the new, digital reading market, it is halfway bound for the silver screen already, because its reputation has already been building virtually.
In this case, Andy’s book was available on Amazon.com well before any real book deal was in place.
Weir Tip 3: Give it away, give it away, give it away NOW!
Perhaps the Weirest tip of them all, Mr. Weir teaches us that you should make your work free for people to download off of your website. Yes, that’s right.
The book sold very well and made its way up various top-seller lists on Amazon. That got the attention of Julian Pavia at Crown. He told his colleague David Fugate (a literary agent) about it. David ended up becoming my agent and Julian offered me a book deal. It was a whirlwind of activity because 20th Century Fox optioned the movie rights that same week.
So, we see here Andy’s approach is to make a copy of the manuscript downloadable on your website, which primarily gets traffic from your inner circle of true followers, contributors, and ever-present critics. Anyone who is savvy enough to come to your authentic website and download a file from it in order to enjoy the novel is welcome to it for free. The fact that they would digest the novel in this way speaks to their dedication to the work itself.
For most average consumers out there looking for an above-average American novel to enjoy, what we learn from Weir is that the Amazon marketplace is a pretty effective platform for selling your work. Provided, that is, that your work is, you know… not total crap.
Though really, what we see here is a two-pronged approach: there’s free and high-quality publicity because an inner circle of contributors has really bought in to the concept, excited to each share with their own networks. This inner circle is patient enough to read the developing and final manuscript in a PDF file or as a series of blog posts.
But the average consumer (that is, the millions of consumers one would ideally like to put one’s work in front of) will gravitate not toward the PDFs, blog posts and other more ethereal yet cheap and direct ways to consume the work, but rather toward the version that is commercialized, perfectly packaged to run on the platform of the lowest common denominator for consumer reading entertainment. And now, companies like Amazon are making sure it is their ereader products that consumers are reaching for.