This story first appeared in a special awards-season issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Andy Weir’s The Martian debuted at No. 12 on The New York Times hardcover fiction list in March 2014, topped Amazon’s digital list and has been a NYT paperback trade fiction best-seller for 55 weeks. But the author’s journey to his current success was as unlikely as his protagonist’s survival alone on Mars for more than 500 days. In the late 1990s, Weir, a computer programmer by trade, attempted to make a career out of being a writer after AOL laid him off. “I had a pretty good severance package, and I had some stock options, and I realized I could go about three years without having to work,” says Weir, 43. But he couldn’t get any traction with his sci-fi novel, titled Theft of Pride. “It was the standard story of woe that you get from any author. I couldn’t get an agent, no publishers were interested,” he says. “So after three years, I went back into computer programming and I decided writing would just be a hobby.”
Then, in 2009, Weir started writing a book about an astronaut stranded on the red planet, infusing it with extensive research. He spent three years writing the story, posting a new chapter every few weeks on his website, where readers could catch up on the trials of Mark Watney for free. After a small following started to build, Weir got a request to put it on an e-reader, which he did (also for free), and soon after, fans asked for it to be put on Amazon. He sold it for the lowest possible price: 99 cents.
Over six months, 35,000 copies were sold, with Weir earning 30 cents on each one. Then, Random House came calling, and Weir signed a six-figure book deal for The Martian, along with a deal with Fox for the film adaptation. Now a full-time writer living in Mountain View, Calif., he’s working on his next sci-fi novel (due in 2016) while regularly visiting Hollywood for meetings about potential film and TV projects.