The man made me really, really care about taters. Now I am already a lover of potatoes, but it's kind of a generalized love—to quote Samwise Gamgee, "Boil them, mash them, stick them in a stew." But in The Martian, author Andy Weir got me super-duper-intensely emotionally invested in a specific group of potatoes. And darn, that was unexpected.
My nephew, a self-proclaimed history and space nerd, recommended I read The Martian. Said nephew breaks my heart a bit generally, as I am a writer and he is not a fan of fiction. Le sigh. But he LOVED the book. I read The Martian in about 6 hours straight, putting it down only occasionally to text my nephew to share my emotional angst and connect over hysterically funny bits. Then there was one quite vehement and animated phone call during which I insisted I had been duped and that Mr. Weir had made a writing choice that worked, dammit, but that cut me to the very writerly core because it is one of those things writers are taught not to do (hence, he should not have gotten away with, but, dammit, I was already harnessed in for the ride, so I was totally gonna let it slide after a moment of futile wee-fist-shaking).
After reading the book (and recommending it a-go-go), nephew started telling me more about Mr. Weir's story. He wrote it and shopped it around. Publishers passed. He put it up via Amazon Kindle for $0.99 and it BLEW UP (in a way safe for Watney). He got a traditional publishing deal and sold the crap out of the book. And now nephew and I eagerly await the major motion picture. And my favorite part of it all is that Mr. Weir, from everything nephew tells me or I see or hear of him, is having a freakin' blast, full of gratitude and excitement.
Mr. Weir's success with The Martian is a rare (in terms of the extent of his success) but fine example of how publishing is evolving. A decade ago in my MFA program, we received the conventional wisdom that entrance into publishing followed a few well worn formulas: Get published + get agent = get more published. Or get published + get published + get published + get agent = get more published. And sometimes, very rarely, write + submission barrage = get publishing deal = get agent.
But the writing world today is evolving. Sometimes the conventional formulas described above work just fine. I'm not knocking 'em. But as Mr. Weir and others (like Jen Lancaster, one of my FAVES) have proven that the interwebs, blogs, and social media provide artists more ways to gain a fanbase, get their work out there, and that sometimes translates into professional opportunities and publication. I hope those writing now and teaching about writing now can see this change and embrace it. In the meantime, "Godspeed, little taters."