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March 15, 2017 BOOKLIST
Find more The Strange Journey of The Martian
The adage “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” describes both debut author Andy Weir and the hero of Weir’s The Martian, Mark Watney, a NASA astronaut presumed dead and left behind when the first Mars landing team must abort their mission. Weir combines dry wit with a disarming emotional depth that propels both readers and listeners through shifting perspectives, from the lone American on Mars, to crew members traveling toward Earth, to the NASA team desperate to save the castaway. A software engineer and self-described “space nerd,” Weir spent three years researching his first novel, incorporating existing technology and mathematical accuracy to create Watney’s nerdy engineer skills. During that time, the novel was posted, chapter by chapter, on Weir’s website and was freely available for online critique. With revisions in response to reader feedback, he crafted a reluctant hero who incorporates Weir’s admiration for the Apollo 13 astronauts and reflects his own tongue-in-cheek humor. Would-be online readers with limited tech skills requested that Weir self-publish The Martian in an easier-to-access Amazon Kindle version. Weir acquiesced, setting a 99-cent price point (the lowest price allowable by Amazon) and eventually sold more than 35,000 copies.
The best-selling Kindle sales attracted the interest of Podium Publishing, an independent audiobook company focused on the changing publishing landscape. Although Weir had not pursued audio publication, Podium convinced him to publish an audio version of The Martian. Weir notes that, “Meanwhile, Crown’s editor, Julian Paviar, was interested in The Martian for mainstream print publication. Paviar told David Fugate, a literary agent he’d worked with, that he was planning to make an offer and that I could probably use an agent. So David approached me. Now he’s my agent.” Crown Publishing, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House, acquired the print rights and began the editorial process.
When the audiobook of The Martian, superbly narrated by R. C. Bray, was published by Podium in March 2013 as a download-only Audible title, it topped the science fiction best-selling list and was nominated for the Audio Publishers Association’s Audie Awards. The Crown print and download editions, now first available for library purchase, were released in February 2014, with the hardcover debuting at number 12 on the New York Times best-seller list. The Martian immediately garnered fans captivated by Watney’s self-mocking journal entries, which address the reader with consummate sarcastic assurance, tossed-off asides, and casual profanity, beginning with the oft-quoted first line, “I’m pretty much fucked.”
Podium Publishing and R. C. Bray entirely re-recorded the audiobook to match the Crown edition of The Martian, distributed as an MP3-CD audio edition by Brilliance Audio in 2014, available for library purchase. Bray reflects on repeating his tour de force narration, “I tried to keep it as similar to the original as possible because of how well it was received. I was so nervous I’d blow whatever I’d done to make people like the audio version so much. But with writing like Weir’s—it’s kind of hard to blow it!”
The Martian is an indie success story, from digital to print to audio and then to mainstream print and audio again, capped by a film version directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain, scheduled for release in November 2015, a fitting conclusion to the lucky but well-deserved path followed by its 42-year-old debut novelist, whose preparation met opportunity. I asked Weir how the changing publication options available to first-time novelists will affect the availability of those novelists’ works to library customers, who remain locked out of some distribution models. “I’m not sure what the future holds for books and libraries. Certainly, as long as there are print and audio editions, they will be available at libraries. But many authors release solely in digital form because they are unable to find a print publisher for their work or because they want more control over business and distribution. For digital works, libraries and authors/publishers will have to work out some system. There are many such systems in place, but until a standard becomes universal, things will be sloppy.”
Here’s hoping that the efforts of other debut authors will be found on library shelves and through download providers, as we prepare to incorporate the Wild West of digital publishing into the established models of library acquisitions.
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