Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, February 14, 2014

New Worlds To Explore in Publishing

I'd been intrigued by a review I read last week of The Martian by Andy Weir, but I was even more fascinated reading this WSJ piece on how the novel came to prominence and then publication:
He got the idea for "The Martian" in 2009, and spent three years working out the details of the story. He drew on a real NASA proposal for a Mars mission called Mars Direct, which involves sending supplies in unmanned ships to Mars ahead of the crew, then sending astronauts in a lighter, faster ship. He'd been rebuffed by literary agents in the past, so he decided to put the novel on his website free of charge rather than to try to get it published. A few fans asked him to sell the story on Amazon so that they could download it to e-readers. Mr. Weir had been giving his work away, but he began charging a modest amount because Amazon set the minimum price at 99 cents. He published the novel as a serial on the site in September 2012. It rose to the top of Amazon's list of best-selling science-fiction titles. He sold 35,000 copies in three months. Agents and publishers and movie studios started circling.

Mr. Weir signed with literary agent David Fugate, who sent 'The Martian' to Julian Pavia at Crown, pitching it as "Apollo 13" meets "Castaway" and Crown bought it last March for six figures.

Mr. Weir signed with literary agent David Fugate, who sent 'The Martian' to Julian Pavia at Crown, pitching it as "Apollo 13" meets "Castaway" and Crown bought it last March for six figures. The same week Crown pounced, Twentieth Century Fox optioned film rights, beating out several other studios and producers. Fox hired screenwriter Drew Goddard, who wrote the sci-fi film "Cloverfield," to adapt and direct "The Martian."

Mr. Weir says he never expected the audience for "The Martian" to grow much beyond the handful of fans who read it on his website. He's a bit stunned by all the hype. He's already got nearly 1,200 five-star reviews on Amazon.

"I keep thinking, is this some kind of long-term scam or con that someone's running on me?" he said. "If it is, it's a really bad one, because they keep sending me checks."
It's always kind of fascinated me that a lot of the great novels of the 19th century were written and published as serials and only then put out as a single book. The advent of the web means that now serialization is easier than ever, and it's also very easy for word to spread about something the people love to read, even if it's not out from a major publisher. Of course, the flip side of this is that there is a veritable flood of self-published works, whether published on the web or via ebooks or print on demand publishers, and the vast, vast majority of it never breaks out in the way that Weir's book has. Watching my sister's novel launch, I've been incredibly impressed with what a mainstream publisher can do in order to get a book talked about and visible.

However, since we've made our own little forays into serializing novels online, and I'm hoping to do the same in a slightly more organized and polished fashion with my next project, I can't help being deeply fascinated with the story of The Martian's publication history.


Jenny said...

Did you see this article about self publishing this week?

Darwin said...

No, I didn't. Very interesting read.

It did strike me that it glosses over why publishers take a large percentage of the profits on mainstream published books: Because they put resources into marketing books, as well as deal with the risk of printing books up front and shipping them out to bookstores.

So far as I can make out, self publishing works best for books primarily sold as ebooks and marketed by word of mouth.

Given that I never read ebooks, I'm not entirely sure how to think about this. All the recent novels I've read I've read either by buying a hard copy or getting one from the library. However, I know that I'm an outlier among frequent readers in this respect. And ebooks are certainly consumed heavily by a lot of frequent readers.

On the marketing... I suspect that having a mainstream publisher can both take a lot of the self-promotion off your plate, and turn what would otherwise be a 5,000 copy book into a 20,000 copy book. Mainstream publishers also get a big seller out of the gate faster.