With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer/blogger Cherise Hensley-Jenkins present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
AUTHORNOMICS Interview with Mark Dawson
Mark Dawson was born in Lowestoft, in the UK. He has worked as a DJ, a door-to-door ice cream seller, factory hand and club promoter. He eventually trained as a lawyer and worked for ten years in the City of London and Soho, firstly pursuing money launderers around the world and then acting for celebrities suing newspapers for libel. He currently works in the London film industry. He is presently writing two series. The John Milton books involve a disgruntled British assassin who is trying – without much success – to put his past behind him. The Soho Noir books, beginning with The Black Mile and continuing with The Imposter, follow the glitz and glamour of criminal life in London’s West End from the 1940s to the present day. Mark lives in Wiltshire with his wife and two young children, plus a dog and two cats.
You have a varied professional background, from being a DJ to practicing as a lawyer. How did you first get into writing as a profession?
I’ve always been a writer, ever since I was very young. It was only when I started to publish my own stuff that I really made a breakthrough, though.
You’re often lauded as one of the great success stories of self-publishing. Can you tell us a bit about your experience in traditional publishing in comparison to self-publishing? What advice do you have for authors considering going the indie route?
Getting a traditional deal felt like a huge moment for me, but sadly getting the deal was the highlight. I felt my books weren’t being marketed as well as they could and I ended up shelving any hopes I had of a writing career.
It was frustrating but I didn’t know what to do about it. I was in the publisher’s hands with nowhere to go. So my writing career, if you can call it that, fizzled out.
Fast forward to a moment in 2012 when a work colleague mentioned that he was having success self-publishing direct to Amazon. I looked into it and immediately realized that this was what I was waiting for – a chance to take control of my career.
When you think about it, self-publishing makes perfect sense for lots of writers. Let’s face it: no one will work harder to sell your books than you! And with the significantly higher royalties on offer, it’s possible to make a living with fewer sales.
In terms of advice, I would simply say that you have to accord the ‘publishing’ side of your work as much importance as the writing. Take the time to drill down into the various ads platforms available and understand in detail how to make them work for you.
Maintaining steady sales is something a lot of authors struggle with, but you’ve had incredible success with running FB ads, and even created a course teaching other authors how to run their own successful ad campaigns. With ways to market books constantly changing, can you explain a little about FB ads, Amazon Ads (AMS) and now BookBub ads? What do you see as the next big up-and-coming venue for advertising?
Facebook Ads are still the main driver of my revenue. The incredible targeting options mean that I can run very efficient campaigns where every dollar I spend is laser focused on readers interested in my genre. More exciting still is the advent of Amazon Paid Ads, now available to all of us. The platform is developing but the early signs for me are extremely encouraging and I have added a specific module on AMS ads to my Ads for Authors premium course.What’s next? Who knows! Using content to drive traffic to your list is an area authors could exploit more. Services like OutBrain can help you get the attention of potential readers in otherwise hard to reach places, such as newspaper websites.
BookBub Featured Deals are probably the next best thing. I’ve had many BookBub pushes and they always make a great return for me. However, you can’t rely on being selected every time you apply, and so paid ads are required to build a steady income. BookBub’s own paid ads platform is definitely an option, too, with lots of potential.
What inspired you to create a loyal readers community through the creation of a targeted mailing list? How often do you email your followers, and what content do you use to keep them engaged?
I was actually late to the mailing list party. When I first published my book on the Kindle, I simply wasn’t aware of the importance of gathering readers’ email addresses. I still wince when I think back to how many people I gave my book to without asking for their email address in return.
Today, my mailing list is central to my marketing activities. It serves many purposes including providing me with a crack advance reader team, which helps shape the book and helps me launch the books into the Amazon charts, getting the all-important algorithms working for me.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see authors make when using social media to promote their books?
Asking for something rather than offering something is a classic mistake. So we teach students of my courses to advertise a giveaway of a book (preferably) in exchange for an email address. Of course, always allow readers to opt-out of emails if they want to. That way, the people who stay on your list will be loyal readers.
Another mistake I see is poor targeting. Without focusing your targeting, you are wasting you advertising dollars.
Along with James Blatch and John Dyer, you created The Self-Publishing Formula. What prompted you to start your own online course? What are some of the rewards and challenges of teaching indie writers about self-publishing and marketing?
I saw a few other courses out there that were doing well and I thought I could do it just as well. I know just about everything there is to know about advertising books for indie authors and so I felt motivated to put together a detailed course to share that knowledge.
The course has done extremely well, but even better is the community of indie writers we now have in the Self Publishing Formula. We’re a 100k strong army of writers, all sharing our experiences and supporting each other.
Do you have future plans for The Self-Publishing Formula? What kinds of courses would you like to include in the future?
We’re working on ways of making the community work better for the individual member. We’ve just started experimenting with cooperative mailing list pushes and we’ll most likely announce some new initiatives later this year.
Your most recent series, the Isabella Rose Thrillers, have been published under Thomas and Mercer, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. Amazon Publishing has often been described as neither a self nor wholly traditional publisher. Do you agree with this assessment? Are there advantages to going with an Amazon Publishing imprint vs other major publishers or even self-publishing?
They are more akin to a traditional publisher, just with a much better grasp of data. They are super professional, they love books, and they know how to sell them. And, as an Amazon company, they are customer focused – providing the best products for readers and the best experience for writers. I am impressed.
What’s next on the horizon for you both as a writer and a teacher?
It’s been tough for me to combine my writing with the Self Publishing Formula business, but I managed to get a book out earlier this year and once again broke my own launch records. So more books, including a new series, are in my mind.
In terms of teaching, we want to make being a member of the SPF community a valuable asset in a writer’s life, so I’m thinking about how we develop that in 2017.
Thanks for interviewing with us, Mark!
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Cherise Hensley-Jenkins has an M.A. in English from the University of Idaho, where she taught composition courses. She graduated from Whitworth University with a B.A. in English and marketing and also has a copy editing certification from UC San Diego. She has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management as well as the Rock & Sling literary journal and has been involved in the production of other print media such as newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks. Cherise is a teacher, an editor, and a writer, who loves discovering new books to distract her from everyday life.