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How Newmarket’s Podium Publishing discovered The Martian before Hollywood

Podium Publishing Andy Weir MartianGreg Lawrence and James Tonn were the first to see – or hear – potential in The Martian. Andy Weir’s debut novel is now a New York Times bestseller and, in October, will be released as a film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon. But before the film option and the 21-territory print deal with Crown Publishing/Random House, the co-founders of Podium Publishing, based out of Newmarket, Ontario, took a chance on its marketability as an audiobook.

Lawrence stumbled upon The Martian on Weir’s website, where the author originally self-published it as an unformatted scroll of text. Though hesitant at first, the duo decided to develop the book – a journal-style chronicle of an astronaut abandoned alone on Mars – as their first fiction audiobook in 2013.

“Weir had tried to get a traditional publishing deal,” Tonn says. “Greg sent me an email saying, ‘Check out this book, I just started reading it and it’s incredible.’ Before we even thought about the publishing implications in print, we thought this would be a cool way to do diary-entry-style narration for an audiobook.”

Podium contacted Weir after a few months of familiarizing themselves with the text and struck a deal. After increased attention on his website, Weir released a Kindle version, selling more than 30,000 copies in a matter of months. At the same time, the Podium-produced audiobook was on its way to becoming a No. 1 bestseller on digital retailer Audible, where it maintained a position in the top 10 for more than a year. It’s also Audible’s second-most reviewed title, and won the 2015 Audies’ best science-fiction audiobook award, and the Armchair Audies listener’s choice award, and was a runner-up for Audible’s 2013 science-fiction award.

“Sometimes you really like something and you’ve just got to do it, not knowing what the response will be,” says Tonn. “Obviously, the response has been overwhelming. Now it’s at the point where in probably the next month or two, I think it will be our bestselling audiobook of all time in terms of downloads.”

With 173 audiobooks now on the market, the partners stand strongly behind their unpretentious ethos to treat authors well and focus on high quality production and casting (“The Fairest of Them All” is the company’s motto).

“We made the joke early on that we were disrupting the publishing industry with fairness because it’s really tough to get a reasonable deal,” Tonn says. “We want to treat people well and keep every promise we make to an author to maximize the value that their book can have in the market by doing as much as we can on our side. We can’t promise bestsellers, but as high as the book can reach, we’ll make sure that we get it there.”