In late 2009, I wrote a short story called “The Egg.” I’d been writing short stories for quite a while at that point, a good 10 years, and I’d been slowly accumulating readers to my website. “The Egg,” which I banged out in 40 minutes and is only 1,000 words long, seemed to really resonate with people. I didn’t expect it to be a hit when I made it, I thought it was just one of the many short stories I wrote and uploaded to my website, then called it a day.
People liked it because it was a good digestible size for the internet audience. It was only 1,000 words long, it only takes a few minutes to read, which is about as much effort as you’re willing to put into a random link that your buddy sends you. You can take the entire content of the story and post it in a blog post. It can get around easy, it’s got good communicability. It became a minor meme. Millions and millions of people came to my website to read it. I had a mailing list with a modest number of people on it and that grew — up to about 3,000 people total. I already had maybe half that amount before I had “The Egg” out there, but it definitely increased my readership.
You may wonder why this matters to The Martian. While I was writing The Martian I had these loyal readers, which had now just doubled, sending me a lot of encouragement, a lot of feedback, and a lot of fan mail, basically. That really kept me going because I am driven by having an audience, that’s really important to me. It’s really hard to get motivated to write. Anyone who’s ever tried to write will tell you that the hardest part of writing is writing. It’s easy to sit around and imagine a scenario but it’s really hard to sit down and actually type it out. Having people cheer me on every chapter was a big help.
Also the people who were sending me these emails were very scientifically minded people. They’re the sorts of folks that I’ve accumulated over the years. That means nerds. So they would send me corrections to my math or they said, “you did the chemistry wrong there, or whatever.” That helped make The Martian more accurate. I did a lot of research and scientific accuracy was very important to me. Having this core group of nerds watching my every move… As a nerd myself, I can tell you there’s nothing we love more than telling someone they’re wrong on math — it’s just something that’s makes us happy deep down inside.
I had 3,000 fact checkers, it was awesome.