Racing Andy Weir: On Running, Writing, and Being Realistic

“What are you doing?” my Laddie pants, pulling up beside me as I pause my Garmin.

“Book shopping.” Drawing the cold March morning into my aerobically scorched lungs, I approach the glass-fronted hutch beside the trail. A Little Free Library appeared in our neighborhood last year, and I’ve been a devoted trader. “Ooh, look! You might suspend your Kindle-books-only rule for this.” I pull out a pristine hardcover of Andy Weir’s new science fiction novel, Artemis. 

“Nice.” His characteristically even voice betrays a hint of enthusiasm–we’d both loved The Martian. “Are you going to run all the way back with that?”

Hand wearing sports gloves and a GPS watch holding a copy of "Artemis".

Run three miles clutching a hardcover book? Oh yes I did.

Presumably a rhetorical question, since he’s moved residences with me three times now and helped me schlep several metric tons of books on each occasion. I nestle the book between elbow and palm, its spine pressed gently against my forearm, and resume running. The flexed-wrist pose strains my muscles more than I expected–every few hundred yards I switch arms like a running back clutching the football on a fourth-down drive. But how could I turn down a prize like this?

When we reach the trailside fitness station, my Laddie leaps for the monkey bars and I plop onto the curb to skim the book’s opening paragraphs. Astronauts on Luna race for the habitat airlock while air streams out of one of their suits…that sounds awfully familiar.

“You should tweet at Andy Weir and say ‘hey, thanks for the review copy!'” he teases, dangling his long legs. “You follow him, right?”

“No.” I close the book with a sigh. “Too jealous.” It’s not a comfortable duality to explain. Authors like Weir embody the ultimate indie author Cinderella fantasy: a humble self-published story captivates exponential hordes of readers, who propel it to unimaginable success. Tales like that kindle my beleaguered hopes, and I genuinely applaud those writers for beating the odds, but I’d be a liar to deny my simultaneous twinges of envy.

“You like Andy Weir, but you’d like him better if you made more money than he does.” My Laddie riffs on the latest eTrade commercial with a snicker.

“It’s not about money. All I need is enough to replace my day job salary and write full-time. I don’t need millions of dollars in royalties or a movie deal starring Matt Damon.”

“Oh, Damon can just get a side part?”

“Honestly, I’d rather have Jennifer Lawrence.”

“She’s too old to play Skye,” he says as we start back along the trail.

“I know, but she’d make a badass Lily!” I savor that brilliant bit of casting for the next quarter mile before the old discouragement returns. By the time any of my books attract Hollywood notice, my girl J.Law will probably be old enough to play octogenarian Madurai–she’d still be amazing, of course, but that’s not really the point.

How do stories like The Martian (originally a web serial) or Wool (which began as a Kindle novella like my Syzygy series) transition from indie obscurity to popular phenomena? Is it pure persistence? This May marks the third anniversary of my debut novel Blue Karma and my foray into publishing. I read statistics suggesting that most financially successful indie authors have been in business for at least five years, so I’m still a bit shy of that threshold. But there must be more to it than just uploading a book and flipping calendar pages. Is it the quality of writing or storytelling? Hard for any  artist to be objective, but given some of the schlock that sells these days (especially in YA speculative fiction), I think I’ve got a fighting chance on that score.

What about visibility? I can’t ride a tidal wave of reader support if they never know my book exists, right? Marketing is essential for indies, but it’s also one of the hardest and most time-consuming parts of the gig, at least for me. I work a full-time day job, which doesn’t leave much time for befriending legions of internet bookworms or  inserting myself into Twitter chats at all hours to talk up my titles. I barely have time to write the darn books, much less promote them. But if I don’t promote them, then no one reads them, so why write them at all? It’s like running on a treadmill, working hard but making no progress while the Andy Weirs of the world seem to sprint by in the next lane.

Maybe I need to try a different route.

Back home, I place Artemis near the top of the teetering TBR pile on my desk. Stretched and showered, I settle down with my laptop to start a new marketing project: my first-ever book trailer. It’s not going to turn Syzygy into an overnight bestseller, but it got me thinking more creatively about book promotion than I had in a long time. I undertook indie authorship knowing it was a marathon with neither mile markers nor finish line. But like any other race, the key is simply to keep moving forward…and remember that my biggest competitor is myself.

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