Hi everyone, welcome back to A Writer At Heart! After a short hiatus, I’m back for more writerly goodness! Please note that starting today, the posting schedule will be once a week every Sunday. This will give me Friday night and Saturday’s to write new content for you all :) And now, on to today’s post!
In recent years, the movie The Martian has garnered considerable attention. Based on a novel by Andy Weir, the producers and director of The Martian went to great lengths to ensure (mostly) scientific accuracy, working with NASA on an unprecedented scale, and creating what some critics call one of Ridley Scott’s best movies.
The novel itself was becoming a success before the options for the movie rights were sold in 2013. However…what if I told you The Martian was self-published?
And not even self-published in the ‘traditional’ way, but in a rather unique way.
Chapter by Chapter – For Free
When Weir started working on the idea for The Martian, he had already been rejected by traditional publishers for other works, and decided to go a different route. He published The Martian, for free, chapter by chapter on his website.
It was only when his growing number of fans asked him to publish the novel on Amazon Kindle that he started charging, at only 99 cents (the cheapest KDP allows authors to publish their novels.) Within three months, he’d sold 35,000 copies! In 2013, an audiobook publisher and a print publisher both bought rights to The Martian.
So how did he go from an unknown, posting his story for free on the internet, to making hundreds of thousands of dollars, and getting a multi-million dollar movie adaptation?
I’ve not actually read The Martian myself, but a part of it I think has to do with the quality of the story (based on reviews.) Weir went to great lengths to make his novel scientifically accurate, and from some articles I’ve read online (including, yes, Wikipedia) he listened to what readers of his chapters said when they corrected scientific inaccuracies and had suggestions about characters.
Perhaps this is part of it, too. Not only does he have a compelling topic in his novel, one which is growing in everyone’s mind as NASA prepares to send humans to Mars in 2030, but he listened to and engaged with his readers. He didn’t dismiss them. He didn’t belittle them.
To quote a character from Stargate SG-1, “Never underestimate your audience. They’re usually sensitive, intelligent people, who will respond positively to quality entertainment.”
What do you all think? What was the secret to Weir’s success? Is there another element that took him from an unknown to a best-selling author through self-publishing? Curious minds want to know :)
In just a couple of months, this blog, A Writer At Heart, turns 3! I’m excited that I’ve kept this going for all of that time! There’s been ups and downs, and I know I haven’t always been able to keep up on posts, but it’s been an enjoyable medium to write in.
I know I’ve talked about this before, but one of my goals that I wanted to work towards when I started writing this blog was that I was going to make a living off of writing within 2 years. 3 years later, I’m nowhere close to achieving that goal.
Despite that apparent failure, my attempt to achieve that goal is why I worked so hard and was able to self-publish 2 novels in 2 years, and finish writing The Orc War Campaigns within a year (even if barely).
I may not be raking in the cash, but I am so much more accomplished as a writer than ever before!
Still, I’ve wondered lately, is it even possible to make a living off of writing? Can only the big names make it, the ones who make the top sellers lists and make millions? Was it a lofty, unobtainable dream of mine? Should I let that dream go?
The Market Has Changed
With this question in mind, I decided to do a little digging and research. Just going to google and typing in the question “Can writers make a living off of writing” yields apparently mixed results, or so I thought at first…
There were a lot of articles that enthusiastically said “Yes!” and a lot that unequivocally said “NO! It’s a pipe dream!” Who was right?
But the content of the articles, as well as their dates, is what started getting me to wondering about it. You see, most of the ones that said it was a one in a million occurrence for a writer to live off of writing were either, A: 7 years old or older, or B: were talking about traditional publication only.
The ones that said it was possible? They pointed out the change in the market. Everything began to change as the internet grew and took on new characteristics. eBooks changed the market, because suddenly you didn’t have to do a huge print run. Self-publishing was a rare and very risky thing, and cost a lot of money up-front before eBooks.
Furthermore, as things continue to evolve, print-on-demand suddenly is no longer prohibitively expensive, and in fact is at a point where it can compete with traditional print runs.
Suddenly there are all of these avenues, and just about anyone can get published with little or no up-front cost!
Does This Mean Lower-Quality?
I want to state something important before I continue: I am neither bashing nor supporting either method (traditional or self-publishing) above the other. In fact, even being a self-published author, it is still my dream to get picked up by an agency and publishing house.
Having said that, I’ve been scoffed at by some traditionally published authors in the past. They think of self-publishing as an evil, and the most common reason behind it: “Anyone can get published without even trying, so a lot of garbage makes it onto the bookshelves.”
I respectfully disagree, this is something that hasn’t changed. Before the internet, eBooks, and Print-on-Demand, there were a lot of good books that were published, true…but there were also plenty of bad. No, I’m not going to cite examples, but I’m willing to bet you can think of a few on your own.
Despite the risk publishers took doing print runs, and therefore despite how careful they were in who they published and the content of their publications, not everyone in the world agrees on what is a quality piece of work. And many trade publishers followed the market. One of the articles I found while researching this topic said it right: a lot of bad books were published for this reason, and a lot of quality books were overlooked for any number of reasons, such as not being right for the market at the time.
So now that it is easier than ever to self-publish, what does that mean? It just means more of both – the good and the bad. Lots more.
So is this bad, then? Does this market saturation mean readers are more picky, because there’s too much, and therefore it is harder for all writers to live off of writing?
Strangely enough, it seems like the answer is no. I’m not an expert, but I have a lot of theories as to why things are better than ever, rather than worse, and the biggest one is: audience.
If you get published by a trade publisher, your book goes out to stores. Depending on how much your publisher likes your work, it may just be your local market, or it might be out to a handful of countries, depending on what international deals they have setup.
But now? Well, I’ve had people from all over the world read my books! I only know this because of how Kindle Direct Publishing tracks sales and royalty currencies. I’ve seen Canadians, Australians, Brits, and a few others buy my eBooks and even some print copies.
Suddenly it’s not just specific locations. It’s whoever has an internet connection and the means to the right kind of currency. Suddenly there are billions of potential readers rather than millions.
On top of that, people who are voracious readers don’t have to worry about physical books taking up space or waiting for them to be delivered. Most people I’ve talked to outside of friends and family have read my first book in a single sitting.
Voracious readers are, if you’ll pardon the pun, eating up the increased volume of works to be read!
The Bottom Line?
The bottom line is that it is possible to make a living off of writing, more than ever! However…that does not change the fact that it requires hard work. A LOT of hard work. You don’t have to have that one best-seller anymore like you used to, but from what I’m reading, those who DO live off of it, write a great volume of stories.
And that is no guarantee, either. That’s an important thing to remember about writing: it doesn’t matter how good you are, you are not guaranteed to succeed. In fact, Picard once said it perfectly in Star Trek The Next Generation:
“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life!”
So what should you do?
It all boils down to one thing: do you love to write? Is it your passion? Your calling?
If you can answer yes to that, then my advice is the same advice I’m giving myself: don’t give up. Don’t stop. Keep going. Never stop.
Trials and triumphs of writing, finding an agent, and publication.