The Hit Book That Came From Mars Nautilus

The story of Andy Weir is a strange mix of fact and fiction. There’s the fairy tale success of his book, The Martian, which he self-published on his blog for free, intended for the few thousand fans he’d accumulated over years of hobby writing. Some of those fans wanted an electronic book version, which he made, and then a Kindle version, which he made too, charging the minimum price allowable by Amazon: $0.99. “That’s when I learned how deep Amazon’s reach is,” Weir would later tell an audience. Within four months, The Martian had risen to the top spot on Amazon’s sci-fi best-seller list, and two months later he had signed both a book deal with Random House’s Crown Publishing imprint and a movie deal with 20th Century Fox. The book is currently number 10 on The New York Times’ fiction best-seller list. The motion picture, which stars Matt Damon and is directed by Ridley Scott, is due to come out this year.
Then there’s the story inside the book itself: An astronaut gets left behind on Mars in a near-future NASA mission, and has to survive until help comes. This he does through physics and chemistry, algebra and pipe fitting, botany and celestial navigation, all described in meticulous detail, some of it even simulated with software that Weir wrote himself. The lesson to writers is clear: Details give you authenticity, and authenticity gives you the reader. Having a great protagonist helps too: Mark Watney is casual, funny, thoughtful, and self-effacing—much like Weir, as I discovered in conversation.