How far would you go for a novel?
Andy Weir wrote a computer program. Not one that would write the novel for him, mind you. This would spoil all the fun. But one that calculated the flight routes on Mars so that his story would be as close to reality as possible.
His story of success is remarkable, but it takes an extraordinary author to write The Martian and self-publish it for free. So I was fortunate enough that I could pick his brain about the process, the publishing, and the future. Let’s dive right into his interview.
Diana: First, I wanted to ask about your process.
I know that you used your professional experience plus conducted a lot of research for your books, including a computer program you wrote to calculate flight routes on mars (which is so fascinating!). I wanted to ask how your research process works: do you have an idea, do the research, then the first draft, or the first draft and then the research, or both at the same time?
Do you write an outline or just come up with the story as you go? And how important do you think thorough research is for a good science-fiction book?
Andy: Usually I start with the research.
Because usually, my ideas are scientific in nature and it takes a while to come up with a cool story to surround them. For The Martian, I was working out how we could do a manned mission to Mars. I did a bunch of research on that, then I started thinking of failure cases, and that led me to a story idea. For Artemis, I wanted to design a moon city. Only after I'd come up with all the science and economics to make the city exist did I start thinking of a story to put in it.
As for the research itself, it's just a bunch of Google searches.
Diana: Now a little about your publishing experience.
For many indie authors, it sounds like a dream come true: you publish the book yourself and it becomes insanely popular, so popular that it gets you a deal with publishing houses and even a movie deal. But how did it really work for you? Why do you think the book was rejected first but did so well when you published it yourself?
Andy: My experience pretty much was that fantasy. "The Martian" was never rejected by anyone. I see that online once in a while but it's not true. I think it's confusion based on interviews I've done where I talk about all the rejections I got before The Martian.
The Martian was my third full-lengthed novel. The first book I wrote was so bad I didn't show it to anyone - I knew it sucked. The second book I wrote I was really excited about and I tried to get it published, but I couldn't get any traction. It's the same tale of woe every writer has. No agent was interested, no publisher wanted it.
So, while "The Martian" did really well right out of the gate, I definitely had years and years of rejection beforehand. I paid my dues, so to speak. 🙂
“I definitely had years and years of rejection beforehand. I paid my dues.”
Diana: For writers who start out right now (especially in sci-fi) – what’s you advice in general? How can writers still gain an audience today and live their dream as authors?
1) You have to actually write. Daydreaming about the book you’re going to write someday isn’t writing. It’s daydreaming. Open your word processor and start writing.
2) Resist the urge to tell friends and family your story. I know it’s hard because you want to talk about it and they’re (sometimes) interested in hearing about it. But it satisfies your need for an audience, which diminishes your motivation to actually write it. Make a rule: The only way for anyone to ever hear about your stories is to read them.
3) This is the best time in history to self-publish. There’s no old-boy network between you and your readers. You can self-publish an ebook to major distributors (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.) without any financial risk on your part.
“Open your word processor and start writing.”
Diana: What’s coming in the future – for both you and the publishing industry (in your opinion)? After this crisis, things begin to change. How can we as (aspiring) authors surf this wave of change? And what are your own plans for your writing?
Andy: My next book, "Project Hail Mary" comes out Spring of next year. It's complete, edited, and even copyedited right now. But things got delayed because of the apocalypse and all. I'm already considering what my next project will be. I have two or three serious ideas I'm considering and I'm developing them all. I'll eventually have to pick one and run with it.
I don't think the pandemic will have much of an effect on the publishing industry, honestly. Aside from the general damage that it will do to the economy. Books and other forms of cheap entertainment are fairly recession-proof. And if anything, ebook sales went up during the pandemic (for fairly obvious reasons).
Most novel development is already stuff that can be done from home. From the initial writing to the editing. The physical printing pipeline will have been disrupted, but it'll get back to work as soon as they're allowed to. But writers have continued working on their novels during the lockdown and editors have continued making writers cry. 🙂
“ This is the best time in history to self-publish.”
Diana: One last question: What’s you favorite story and why?
Andy: If you ask me that on any given day, I'll probably give you a different answer. It's based on my mood. But overall, I'll say Asimov's "Caves of Steel" trilogy. I just really enjoyed that.
In the video above, you'll find my 8 takeaways from the interview.
What are your takeaways?
Let me know in the comments below!