For the inaugural “From the Trenches” interview, I am very pleased to introduce Mark Dawson. We have had the honor and privilege of working with Mark from the start of his self-publishing career, when he first got back the rights to some books he had published though a publisher. From those small beginnings, Mark has become an extremely successful full-time author, selling hundreds of thousands of books and coming to the attention of TV and movie producers. Time will tell if we will be seeing his stories on the big (or small) screen in the future – fingers crossed!
Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview, Mark. To start with, can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got started writing?
I’m Mark Dawson, the author of the John Milton and Beatrix Rose books. I’ve been writing for 15 years. I was originally traditionally published, but I’ve found success by going straight to readers via Amazon and the other self-publishing platforms.
Marketing is definitely one of your strengths (along with writing amazing books, of course!) Did you originally sit down and try to map out a marketing plan for your books, or did it more develop organically over time?
I wish I were as organised as to be able to develop a plan! It has accreted over time. I keep an eye out for new developments and, if I think something is worth looking at, I’ll experiment. If it works, I’ll add it to my list.
How important do you feel it is to focus on building an author “brand”, verses focusing on just the books?
They do not need to be exclusive. I do have a brand – covers and website all match, for example – but you can’t take your eye off the ball when it comes to the quality of the books, either. A brand isn’t much use if the product is bad.
In broad terms you can break book marketing down into three stages – promotion of a new book before it’s launch, promotion of a book at it’s launch, and ongoing promotion of your book after release. Do you tend to focus on just one or two of these areas, or do you work on all areas fairly evenly?
I focus on them all equally. I have a carefully tested launch strategy that can usually get the book off to a great start, but, once it’s out there, I’ll advertise regularly to keep sending traffic to its retailer page.
Can you talk us through your activities for each stage of marketing with your books?
Before release: I have a large Advance Team who will read it a month or so before release and then review quickly when it is available.
At release: the Advance Team will leave reviews and often buy the book, too. I have 25,000 readers on my email list now, too, and so I will fire out a series of emails to tell them about the book, too. I might also advertise to them with Facebook ads.
After release: I’ll use services like BookBub and I’ll run Facebook ads on my boxed sets.
It’s interesting that you mention Facebook, as I’ve heard a lot of negative opinions on them from other fiction authors. What tips do you have on how authors can make it work for them?
Facebook is the most powerful ads platform for authors today. They are not easy to get right, which is why I produced a course for authors at www.selfpublishingformula.com. There are free videos on the site that will teach you exactly how to use ads to build your mailing list (more than enough to get started without needing to buy the course).
You also mentioned your Advance Team earlier. How did you go about building this group initially, and how do you continue to build it?
I build the team by sending out recruitment emails to my mailing list. I have stopped for the last few months because I have a good number of advance readers, but, should I need to refresh them, it’s just a question of switching the email back on again.
How important do you find relationships with other authors is when it comes to book promotions?
Not very useful, really. I have picked up some great tips from others that work really well, but I don’t do any joint promotions.
How do you encourage or lead readers to read your backlist if they come in to your books with your latest release?
I’ll have calls to action in the front and back of the books that encourage them to join my mailing list, and I’ll email them about backlist titles (as well as giving them a few for free). Apart from that, I have a bibliography in the back of my books and I make sure that my Amazon author page is pristine.
You mentioned the (rather large!) mailing list you have. What (and how often) do you send to them so they remain interested in staying subscribed and listening to what you have to say?
I don’t email much – only when I have something that I think they might like to know about. That could be a new book, a promotion, or some other piece of news that I want to share with them. Mailing lists can work for everyone, and they should be the first thing that a new author develops.
Which social media site have you found to be the most effective in connecting with your readers?
Facebook – by far. I spend around $400 a day on Facebook ads, and will usually make a 50% profit. I also have a very active Facebook page with a lot of interaction with readers. I’m working on developing Twitter, too. Good early signs there, and I have a few thousands followers. I haven’t had much to do with other sites.
What is the most costly mistake you’ve made while trying to promote your books?
I don’t see anything as a mistake. It’s all a chance to learn. That said, I have been lucky so far and haven’t lost significant amounts of money on any of the things I have tried. It’s all about research and preparation.
Do you do much tracking of your marketing efforts, to see what’s working for you and what isn’t?
I pay close attention. I review my sales numbers every other day and my Facebook campaigns every day. I have several very large spreadsheets with all the data I could ever want.
What methods for promotion did you used to use (that worked well), but no longer use because they stopped being effective for you?
Some of the smaller ad sites don’t deliver enough bang for my buck these days; it’s not that they won’t deliver DLs, because they do, it’s just that it isn’t worth my time to apply for the promos when I’m only going to get a modest return. I have to be quite careful with how I spend my working hours now.
Have you found things have changed over the past few years, as the indie author market has grown so quickly?
The tone on some of the boards I used to love has changed, and not for the better, and that’s a shame. There’s a lot of bitterness from those who discover that there is no such thing as a Kindle gold rush, and that hard work is needed to make a career in this space. It is harder to get noticed amid all the noise, but there are ways. Facebook has been a game changer for me, and has added 20-30% to my profits over the last six months.
What is the most common mistake you see other authors making when promoting their book?
Shouting, “buy my book”, ad nauseam, on Twitter. No one is listening.
I know what you mean! What resources have you found the most helpful in learning what you know about book marketing today?
Forums, back in the day. Then self-pub podcasts. Latterly, I’ve been broadening my scope to include Internet marketing resources.
I spent several years “playing” in the Internet marketing world – I wish you all the best in retaining your sanity 🙂 If you could travel back in time and speak to your young self just before you were about to write your first book, what piece of advice would you give them so that they would be further ahead now than you currently are?
Build a mailing list from Day 1. I was about a year too slow to take that seriously. It’s the most important tool in a new writer’s arsenal.
I agree. Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview, Mark – I know how busy you are these days!
Featured in Forbes, The Financial Times, and across the BBC, Mark Dawson is the bestselling author of the John Milton, Beatrix Rose, Isabella Rose and Soho Noir series.
The John Milton books feature a disgruntled assassin who aims to help people to make amends for the things that he has done.
The Beatrix Rose series feature the headlong fight for justice of a wronged mother – who happens to be an assassin – against the six names on her Kill List. The Isabella Rose series continues that story.
And Soho Noir is set in the West End of London between 1940 and 1970. It has been compared to The Sopranos in austerity London.
Until recently, Dawson worked in the London film industry. He now writes full-time.