The list of wildly successfully authors who initially accumulated piles of rejection slips from publishers is a long one. Count J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, Stephen King, Agatha Christie, and James Lee Burke among the members of this elite group. Some took to self-publishing to circumvent the lack of interest, including Marcel Proust with his classic work, In Search of Lost Time, over a hundred years ago.
The course of writing careers in this era of epublishing can be dramatically different. A case in point is Andy Weir, a modest, self-effacing programmer who was unable to find a publisher for his novel, The Martian, a sci-fi tale of survival, ingenuity, and a cool head in the face of danger. Andy says that he modeled the protagonist, Mark Watney, on himself. But, as he confessed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly: “Just so we’re clear, Mark Watney is who I want to embe/em. He has all the qualities I like about myself magnified without any of the qualities I dislike.
To counter the lack of interest from the mainstream publishing world, Andy began posting chapters of The Martian on his website in late 2009 and was surprised by the swell of interest in the story. Encouraged by readers to make it available on Amazon, he released it as an ebook for 99 cents and the juggernaut was set in motion. The book soared to the top tiers of the Amazon sci-fi bestselling list within four months, with sales reaching 35,000 copies.
In an interview with Amazing Stories, Andy framed self publishing as an entry point to the industry, not the end goal, but admits some authors are fine businessmen, as well as writers.
Indie publishing has removed the barriers to entry in the publishing world. Now, anyone can write a book and put it out there for people to read. If it’s good, it’ll sell well. If it isn’t, well at least they got to try. I think it’s fantastic. That being said, I consider self-publishing to be a starting point, not a goal. It gets you in to the industry, but I don’t think you should stop there. I definitely prefer traditional publishing. Publishing companies have centuries of experience in how to market and sell books. Whether you’re motivated by money or motivated by accumulating readers, traditional publishers are better at making either one happen.
If you go it alone, you have to be your own marketing and publicity department. Some people are good at that (Like Hugh Howey, who is a good businessman as well as an excellent writer). But I just don’t have those skills. I’m happy to have professionals take care of all of that for me.
With a built-in readership earned through his self-publishing venture, Andy choose Crown Publishing as the entry ticket into the mainstream. As of December 27, 2015, the title was sitting comfortably at number 3 on the paperback trade fiction list of The New York Times. The improbable success story takes an even sweeter turn as the movie rights were acquired by Ridley Scott and production of a film version of The Martian has begun in Budapest. With a star-studded list of cast members—including Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, and Chiwetel Ejiofor—the movie is slated for release in November of 2015.
All of this is quite an amazing achievement for a self-professed geek with a deep fear of flying.