I recently read the following article: The Martian: How did a self-published novel become a top-grossing movie?
I read it mainly because I have had several conversations with Andy Weir and I was curious what spin this article put on things.
It’s a decent article, but I was a little bit disappointed in how it is lacking certain details and is even a bit misleading. As such, I decided to put together this follow-up to dive a little bit deeper on the story of Andy Weir and his book The Martian.
Every self-published author is curious about what the secret formula is to have their self-published book gain the attention of agents and publishers and have it skyrocket to the top of box-office charts. It’s a good topic and a great example. However, “how” it happened, is something that Andy himself doesn’t even know – because he wasn’t trying to do anything with it, none of his steps or actions were intentional. So for him it very much felt like a lottery win with no rhyme nor reason, or special formula that can be duplicated.
However, the reality is, that unbeknown to him, Andy had in fact followed a formula by accident and his “overnight success” was in no way luck – other than for the fact that he didn’t realize he was doing it right. A common reference that I’ve seen in articles is that part of what worked for Andy was the fact that he was serial posting his chapters on his website. Truth is, this was in no way the “cause” of his resulting success.
So, what in fact happened, is that prior to the serial posting of each chapter on his website Andy had created comic strips. Keeping in mind that Andy originally wrote The Martian about 7 years ago. Through the process of his comic strips he had accumulated quite the following – this was long before social media was a thing, but he did have a website. This following built over time, years actually. Andy also published other written works for his following on his website. By the time he posted the chapters of The Martian, he had a loyal fan base. One reader asked if he could get it on his Kindle, so Andy posted a digital copy, but the reader wasn’t techie and asked if he could just put it on Amazon. So Andy said sure and he posted it at the lowest price he could of $0.99 in 2012.
He then told his readers: you can read it for free on my website, you can download it for free on my website, or you can pay $0.99 for it on Amazon. Out of loyalty and support, his following descended upon Amazon, giving Andy the ranking boost needed in a short span of time to get attention on Amazon. Once a book has that kind of boost, if it’s any good, there’s very little that will stop its momentum.
Being a successful author is a decision, it’s not luck. The success of The Martian was in no way a “pie-in-sky” luck of the draw, lottery win. The only luck involved was that Andy managed to do things right and ended up following a valid formula, even though he wasn’t consciously aware of that fact. But the process itself didn’t involve even an ounce of luck. While Andy may not have been intentional in his actions, his actions were intentional to the process.
[Tweet “A solid and authentic following is critical to becoming a successful author.”]
What exactly was that process and formula?
He authentically built a large enough and loyal enough following over time, and he wrote a good book.
It really isn’t anything magical or secretive. But it is grossly overlooked by most authors. There are no fast tracks and quick fixes to make for instant success. It boils down to consistency, authenticity, value and engagement. Andy wasn’t “trying” to build a following – he had no desire to self-publish and do all the hard work it would require, he was simply doing what he did, something he enjoyed, putting it out there, slowly people gravitated to him, they liked his work, conversations would start and the rest is history.
Fortunately, since the inception of social media, it “can” make the growth process faster. Though it doesn’t always go fast and sometimes there’s little benefit to growing fast.
For example, let’s say you run a Facebook ad with a free recipe book giveaway if they sign up for your email list. The recipe book happens to be a mini-supplement to your full novel. And let’s say the ad does well and you get 1000 new subscribers within a couple of weeks. Because the list has grown so quickly, you haven’t had any time to nurture the list – to get to know the audience – to build rapport with them. So if you then immediately start sending them emails asking them to buy your book after they got their free bonus, chances are you’re going to end up with a higher unsubscribe rate than a buyer conversion rate. But if you slow down, and intentionally create some content that is of value to your new audience and you make the effort to encourage engagement and get some conversations going, then you’re going to develop a relationship with this audience and that will increase their loyalty to you. The more time spent nurturing those relationships, the stronger and more loyal the audience will become.
When it comes time to full out market your book, yes there are many different components and strategies that can be implemented to help. But regardless, the place to start is by building an awesome following and nurturing it. And nurturing a following is NOT sending out messages and posts that say “buy my book”. If I were to send you 3-6 private messages every single day basically saying “Hey please buy my book” (regardless of all the veiled ways I can disguise that message)… how long would it take you to block me? My guess is, not very long. Think about that when you start putting the effort in to authentically build a genuine and loyal following.
Building a strong platform – ie: a large and loyal following – is one of THE most important components of becoming a successful author. Very few authors will put the time and effort into doing it right.
Tanya Jones (Thibodeau) is the owner and publisher of the Gateway Gazette, a digital media news source. Tanya has 12 years of experience in publishing and marketing and 25 years of experience in various business sectors. While offering marketing services is not part of her business model, she has spent a great deal of time over the last 12 years researching and learning about the ins and outs of marketing, solely for the purpose of being able to pass that knowledge on to help clients. This passion has expanded into a new venture called Panoptic Foundations where they teach entrepreneurs (including authors) how to create and maintain a thriving online presence, with ease, even if you’re not techie.