I remember the moment the concept for my first book, Like Father, Like Daughter, came to me, and I felt so inspired and enthusiastic. Since then, any time I read a really great book, I wish I could ask the author how they came up with their story idea. Do you ever feel that way?
Well, this week, on our blog, you’re going to get the opportunity to dive deep into the mind of renowned author, Andy Weir, who is the creative genius behind the book and subsequent blockbuster movie starting Matt Damon, The Martian.
Every author, whether they admit it or not, has the dream of seeing their characters come to life on the big screen or television. Admit it. You do the same. Well, Andy Weir is one of those writers who, with a combination of perseverance, creativity, originality, and a dash of luck, was able to watch that dream become a reality before his very eyes.
I recently reached out to Andy and he was gracious enough to sit down with me and answer some of my questions about his craft, his books, and his creative process. I tried to come up with questions that I know most authors want answered by our more successful colleagues, so hopefully, you will learn something from our conversation.
Without further ado, here is my interview with author Andy Weir.
Q. Let’s start with you telling everyone how old you were when you wrote your first novel, what inspired you to write it, and how you went from software engineer and self-proclaimed “space nerd” to someone committed to sitting down and making a go of novel writing.
My first novel was called “The Obeserver” and I wrote it when I was 22 years old. It was utter shit and I never even tried to publish it. But I think you’re more interested in my third novel – the first to be published – “The Martian.” I was 37 years old when I started it and 40 years old when I finished it.
I was imagining a manned Mars mission, putting it together in my mind. Naturally, you have to account for failure scenarios and have plans for what the crew could do. I realized those failure scenarios made for a pretty interesting story.
Originally the book was just a serial I posted a chapter at a time to my website. Once the book was done, people started requesting that I make an e-book version so they didn’t have to read it in a web browser. So I did and posted it to my site. Then other people emailed saying they want to read the e-book, but they aren’t technically savvy and don’t know how to download a file from the internet and put it on their e-reader. They requested I make a Kindle version they could just get through Amazon. So I did that as well. I set the price at Amazon’s minimum allowable price of $0.99. More people bought the book from Amazon than downloaded it for free from my website. Amazon has a truly amazing reach into the readership market.
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.
Q. You famously self-published your most popular book, The Martian, after traditionally publishing two previous books. And we all know how that turned out, which we’ll talk about more later. But I’m so curious to hear how you managed to gain so much traction with your first self-published novel?
Over the previous 10 years, I’d built up a reader base of about 3,000 people. Just by slowly accumulating them on an email list. Once I self-published “The Martian”, I had a group of 3,000 people recommending it to friends. It was the seed that started it all. I owe them everything.
Q. I’ve heard you say before that you believe writing is not so much of an art as it is a skillset that can be learned and sharpened. Is that accurate? And if so, talk to my readers about the importance of learning, practicing, and sharpening your skill, as well as persevering through rejections.
I think everything is a skillset that can be sharpened. The main thing is to do what you love. It doesn’t have to be your profession. I wrote “The Martian” while employed full-time as a software engineer. Your passion doesn’t have to be your source of income. As for rejection – that’s feedback. Make use of it.
Q. Every time I reach out to my followers and clients and ask them to tell me their biggest writing struggle, they almost always say “selling more books!” Is there any advice you can give to my indie author tribe that might help them see an increase in book sales?
I don’t know what to say there. I got extremely lucky on “The Martian”. And from then on I’ve been an insider. I don’t know what I did right, honestly. I wish I could give some winning formula for success, but I think there’s a lot of luck involved. But in the end, if you write a good book you’ll be successful. Maybe not lottery-winning lucky successful like me, but you’ll gain a loyal following, you’ll have publishers asking about your next book, etc.
Q. I think all authors have that dream of seeing our novels adapted for film or TV. Your book, The Martian, became a huge blockbuster hit, starring Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney. Tell me a bit what that experience was like, and I’m curious…how much say does an author really have in the screenplay, casting, etc.?
Mostly my job was just to cash the check. Though they did send me the screenplay to get my opinion. They weren’t required to listen to anything I had to say. They kept me updated on the production because they’re cool. And in the end, the film is very true to the book, so I’m happy.
Q. Your third book, Artemis, released in 2018 and your upcoming release, Hail Mary, which releases this coming May, were both published by Ballantine Books, which is a pretty well-known traditional publisher. I’m curious. Do you think you’ll ever self-publish again? And what was your decision process like when you signed with Ballantine rather than self-publishing these latest books?
I don’t want to self-pub again. It takes a certain personality type to be able to do that. I’m not a salesman nor a businessman. I’m just a writer. Other authors – Hugh Howey to name one excellent example – are good at managing a self-publishing business. I just don’t have that skillset.
I like traditional publishing because the pub houses have powerful publicity and marketing departments, as well as direct connections to reviewers and entertainment news folks to get your book on their radar.
Q. Speaking of Artemis, which I just ordered, by the way, it’s set in a space-based tourist town at the Apollo 11 landing site, which sounds fantastic right there. But to make this story even more interesting, your protagonist is a female, Jazz Bashara. Tell me what it was like to write from the POV of a female? I know a lot of other authors struggle with this, so I’m interested in your take.
I didn’t set out to make a female Saudi lead. It just evolved that way. Originally, Jazz was a minor character in a completely different story idea. As I worked on the plot and characters for Artemis, Jazz just kept becoming more and more prominent. Once I decided she would be the lead, she was already cemented in my mind as a Saudi woman. My imagination would have rebelled at me if I tried to change her at that point.
I was very nervous about writing a woman in a first-person narrative. I was constantly worried that she wouldn’t come across as believable. I did the best that I could, and I recruited every woman I know to read it and give me feedback. But in the end, Jazz comes from a rough-and-tumble frontier town and is a bit of a tomboy. So no matter what I did, she was going to come across as at least a little masculine.
Q. I read your interview in Writers Digest recently, and one of your answers in particular stood out to me. You were asked what the pressure felt like writing subsequent books on the heels of such tremendous success with The Martin. I know so many authors struggle with imposter syndrome, so talk to us about how you’ve experienced and, hopefully, overcome this distracting feeling?
Of course it’s stressful to follow up a success like The Martian, especially considering it was my first book. A success like The Martian comes once in a career for a writer, and I happened to get mine right out of the gate. It’s no surprise that Artemis wasn’t as popular. But people read it and said “I liked The Martian better, but this was still pretty good” so I call that a win.
Q. Do you have any parting wisdom to share with aspiring or struggling authors, who feel like their time will never come or maybe their writing is not good enough to ever be as successful as The Martian?
Well, they probably won’t have the luck I’ve had. But you don’t need that kind of success to be a successful writer. It’s not an all-or-nothing situation. Just give it your best go and see what happens. What have you got to lose?
Thanks again to Andy Weir for taking time out of his busy writing schedule to answer my questions. Stay tuned to this blog in the future for more helpful writing tips, tricks, and advice!
Talk soon, and in the meantime, go write your best book!