Mark Dawson is a writer and an author, but more importantly he’s an entrepreneur who’s built a self-publishing empire on the back of his wildly popular, John Milton thriller series.
We connected with Mark recently to pick his brains about self-publishing, writing and how anyone can combine the two to find success as a full-time, paid author.
Some Facts About Mark
Before we get stuck into the interview, here are some interesting facts about Mark:
- He’s published more than 25 books and has had more than 2 million copies downloaded;
- He got his big start on Amazon (where he earns a 70% royalty on each sale);
- He publishes a book every four months; and,
- He writes full-time now, but he started off writing on the train to and from work (writing 3,000-4,000 words a day).
1. Mark, give us a quick and early dose of hope — writers can make a good living from self-publishing their work, right?
Hell, yeah. It’s not easy, but the simplicity of publication and the demise of gatekeepers has led to a democratisation of the process and the ability for writers to reach out and find their tribes.
2. Should self-publishing aspirants start with Amazon as their distribution platform?
It depends on the author. You could say that it makes sense to learn how the platform works because, at the end of the day, Amazon is the market leader (at the moment).
On the other hand, I sell very strongly on all of the other retailers, and Apple is pushing Amazon hard to be my biggest store right now. There are benefits to being exclusive to Amazon with promotional strategies and other income streams (Kindle Unlimited, etc), but there is a cost to that.
Being exclusive means you are tying yourself to one retailer who could very easily change the playing field. Selling on other channels is insulation against that.
3. How much of your time is spent writing new books vs. promoting your existing books?
About half and half. I write in the mornings and then work on the business in the afternoon. Writing takes a different type of energy to marketing; you just need to work out what works best for you.
4. In a recent article you mentioned that you’ve had to employ some specific tactics to promote your books — Can you give an insight into what promotional tactics work best?
I am well known for being one of the pioneers in using social media ads to sell books. I have spent over $250,000 on Facebook ads in the last twelve months, for example.
That sounds like a lot of money – it is a lot of money – but it’s easier to understand when you consider that I made back twice what I had spent. I teach other authors how to use social media to sell books over at www.selfpublishingformula.com.
5. Is one of the key ingredients to self-publishing writing enough books for a series or an author to build traction with an audience?
It definitely helps. It is easier to market a continuing series that one book or a series of books that are all standalone.
6. Most writers battle with doubts over the quality of their writing — Is that something you struggle with and, if so, how do you compartmentalise the negative thoughts to keep up the motivation to keep on writing?
Of course. Everyone does. It’s not something that bothers me too much now because I have a large back catalogue of books that have all sold well, with lots of great reviews.
A good tactic is to start to build up your followers on social media and, especially, with a mailing list. Every time you get a new signup, that is a fresh affirmation that people enjoy your writing. And you’ll start to get emails thanking you for your books. That never gets old.
7. Do you or have you ever had anyone, professional or otherwise, read your manuscripts before publishing them to get objective feedback?
Yes, of course. I have a professional proofreader and copyeditor look at them because, for all the will in the world, I won’t spot my mistakes. I also have a team of several hundred advance readers who pick up errors that have slipped the net and factual mistakes that I might have made.
A tip: if you are writing about guns, and selling mostly in the US, make sure your details are correct… I made mistakes in the early days and got hammered for them. My advance readers pick those mistakes up now.
8. What are your views on the debate between traditional publishing and self publishing?
I am agnostic. They are just two ways of delivering stories to readers. I am published traditionally in translation, but I can’t see a circumstance where I would sell my English language rights.
At the moment, it feels to me that nimble indies are ahead of the trads when it comes to marketing. They are catching up, but we are able to pivot quickly and go in different directions. I find that incredibly exciting.
9. For those starting out as an aspiring author, should they disregard the traditional publishing route and double down to try and succeed as a self-published author?
I wouldn’t worry too much about traditional deals right now. The data shows that new authors who have published in the last five years will make more more if they go indie than if they take a traditional deal.
There will always be outliers, but this is a business for me. I want to make money and entertain readers. It’s my opinion that going indie is the best way to do that.
10. Is one book enough, or should they only embark on their self-publishing journey once they have two or three under their belt?
More books will increase your odds, but I don’t see any reason to wait. Start building your tribe.
11. What would be your number one tip for aspiring self-published writers?
Write the next book.
12. What would be your number two tip for aspiring self-published writers?
Write the next book. (No, seriously… start a mailing list IMMEDIATELY. It will be your most valuable marketing asset, bar none).
Mark’s Top 20 Book Cover Templates
Because we’re a graphic design company, we were keen to get Mark’s thoughts on what goes into the perfect eye-catching book cover. For him, it’s these three things:
- Follow genre tropes. What’s selling? Emulate it.
- Typography is vital. Nothing else can cheapen a cover like a bad font.
- What does it look like as a thumbnail? That’s the way browsers will see it.
We asked Mark to choose 20 of his favorite book cover templates from the Canva library. If you’re ready to design your book cover, click on any of Mark’s favorites and they’ll open up in your own Canva account for you to customize with your own book title and details.
Mark helps writers of all experience levels thrive in the world of self-publishing over at www.selfpublishingformula.com.