Unable to find work after graduating from the Zürich Polytechnic with a teaching diploma, he wrote to his sister and said that it would have been better had he never been born.
Can you imagine?
The job he eventually got as a lowly clerk at the patent office in Bern gave him what he really needed besides a paycheck: time to think. He put his time there to good use, indulging in his thought experiments, and writing the three papers that changed how we understand the universe. Even after these papers were published, they weren’t universally accepted. It took time. Many years, in fact.
The key thing was, he never gave up.
For those of you still waiting tables or tending bar or working retail, hang in there. If you have talent, the only other thing you need is a belief in yourself. And a little patience.
I haven’t read it, however.
I’m sure the plot is thrilling, but what fascinates me is the other story here: how the book became a book. Then a movie.
It goes pretty much like this:
The author, Andy Weir, wrote the science fiction novel about an astronaut stranded on Mars, waiting for a rescue that will take four years. It’s all about survival.
He originally posted the book, chapter by chapter on his no-frills website. His loyal followers were clamoring for somewhere on the Internet where they could download the whole thing in Kindle for free.
It turned out, there was such a place: Amazon e-books for self-published authors. It’s called Kindle Direct Publishing. But it wasn’t free. Amazon, required authors to charge a minimum of 99 cents, with Amazon getting 64 pennies per book, and him receiving 35.
He posted the book on Amazon for 99¢ and a miracle happened. Sales started slowly, but they soon climbed. Then took off. Within seven months, over 35,000 copies had been downloaded, even though the book was still available for free on his website (which required a little technical know-how to download it).
Throughout all this, he tried to get a literary agent, but no one would touch his novel. He approached publishers, too. No one was interested. He tried for three years.
A publisher, seeing the success of the book online, approached him and asked if he had an agent. When he said no, they suggested one. A short time later, he signed with agent David Fugate. Within four days, he was approached by a movie studio who wanted to option it. The movie premiered in October 2015, with Matt Damon starring and Ridley Scott as director. The rest is history.
Andy Weir writes full time, now.
He wasn’t the first author to take this self-published path to success. Author Hugh Howey did the same with his science fiction Wool series. Fifty Shades of Grey author E. L. James started on her own. Beatrix Potter self-published, too, with her Peter Rabbit books way back in 1901.
The moral of the story here isn’t that literary agents and publishers often can’t see a gold mine when it’s staring them right in the face. Or that the traditional path to getting a book in front of readers has being overturned.
It’s that these authors had an unshakeable belief in the tale they wanted to tell.
For me, that’s the real story.
This short video is an amazing example of a touching, powerful story, cleverly told. It makes you appreciate what a simple and overwhelming gift it is to be able to look up at the stars. And actually see them.
Went to see Amy yesterday at the Arclight Hollywood, even though I knew very little about her or her music. Tragic self-destruction-story aside, I liked that the movie (at least the first part) concentrated on her music and where that music came from. And how electrifying she could be on stage. I had no idea that she first started off as a jazz singer. And an extremely good one, too.
Most tender moment: when she and jazz great Tony Bennett sing a duet in a sound studio. He handles her wavering self-confidence like a newborn kitten.
This happened on the Academy Awards way back in February of this year, but it hasn’t lost its impact. While everyone else was busy thanking some deity, producer, director, or dress designer, Graham Moore had Academy members standing on their feet cheering. To take a line from his brilliant and deserving screenplay:
“Sometimes it’s the people no one expects anything from who do the things no one expects,”
Well said. It’s the people who take the risks, who dare to think differently who change the world. Or perhaps, manage to put a dent in the universe.
If you’ve never seen this video, watch the first 11 minutes of this speech given at Harvard University. JK Rowling hits it out of the ballpark, talking how the epic failure in her life led her to put all her energy into the only work that mattered to her. Harry Potter was the result.
I listen to this speech when I need a good boost and to remind me that leaving real estate to concentrate on my writing was a blessing in disguise.