Episode # 46 – Writing Bestsellers While Commuting with Mark Dawson

In Book Covers, Business, Mindset, Series Writing by Julius S26 Comments

Mark Dawson cover

Mark Dawson is the British author of the John Milton series (among other works) which in the last year has really taken off. We look at his (rather complicated and very effective) structure for getting people into his different books, specifically how he uses permafree and newsletters to get people to cross series.

Most importantly we talk about how to write even if you don’t have the time. Mark works a full time job and has a young family, so we look at how he manages to write so many bestsellers (the clue is in the title).

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The Cleaner (John Milton series)

Amazon Profile – Mark’s self published and traditionally published books on Amazon.

Website – A stunning example of an author website.


ListBuilder from AppSumo – Great tool for building your mailing list.

Mention.com – Find out what people are saying about you and your books online.

Udemy Course – My course of building an author website ($49 usually, free to listeners through the link here)

BookBubGreat promo channel, Mark gets rejected as much as he gets accepted.

Darren Wearmouth’s episode – Mark took several of Darren’s launch strategies for his latest book launches, to great effect. Darren is another indie publishing pro who also has a full time job while putting out bestselling books!

MailChimpYou can use this to send out email automatically to people who join your mailing list. A mailing list is totally essential for any self publishing author.

Show notes:

Traditional Start

Mark began in the traditional world with a deal with Macmillan. He wrote two books and then started to work on a third which was “crap.” He found it very easy to find an agent for ‘The Art of Falling Apart’ and very quickly it was picked up by Macmillan.

The second book he wrote ‘Subpoena Colada’ didn’t draw the same interest and this knocked his confidence. It took many years for Mark to “get his mojo back,” and there were many years when he was writing, and the self-publishing world brought him back and now he is having more success than ever before.

He has shopped around one of his new series with his agent, but they weren’t picked up for a number of reasons. Mark didn’t mind at all and went the self-publishing route.

He does see the value of a publisher when it comes to things that he shouldn’t be worrying about, for example, foreign rights.

Series Writing

Mark writes series. In the back of the prequl novella he includes the first chapter of the main book. This has to be better edited than the main book, as you don’t want the reader to think that the book won’t be perfectly edited. There should then be a link to where the book can be bought – there should be very few points between this, so go straight to the Amazon page with the one-click buy option.

The structure of this is a bit complicated, so a diagram will describe this best (also look at those covers):


This diagram took quite a few follow up emails to get right. I was initially confused as to why the books on the left are leading to the current final book of the series on the right, rather than to one at the start, which most people would do with the hope of follow on buys. The reason is that the final book has the best stand alone quality – and Mark believes that the quality of the work will be enough for people to read the other books in the series.

Getting Attention from Amazon

Mark says that it is super important to get a push at the start as this will get you Amazon’s attention and they will start promoting your book themselves. This will be a huge boost to your sales and is the reason that Mark does launch promotion.

Mark emails his mailing list, runs a discount ($2.99 as he wants 70%), and does some promotion with the usual channels, BookBub, ENT. He still values his own mailing list over those channels though.

The Covers

Mark’s cover are stunning but he can’t share who is doing them because they work for a major publisher (and have designed for Stephen King and John Le Carre).

Going Full Time

While Mark is currently making enough month-to-month to write full time, he currently needs the stability of his day job income (he has two young children). He is also well aware that Amazon can just cut his income at any point from 70% to whatever they fancy.

Prepare for Financial Success

Mark made the mistake of not sorting out his tax structure before his books became successful he has a much higher tax bill as his books are now selling very well. If he had set this up before the books went live he would have saved himself a huge amount of money. It is not expensive to do and an accountant will often give you a free consult.


“If BookBub offers you anything, take their hand off!”


Leave a comment below or get in touch with Simon by email at simon@rockingselfpublishing.com

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Julius SEpisode # 46 – Writing Bestsellers While Commuting with Mark Dawson
  • markdawson1973

    Great stuff, Simon. I’ll keep my eyes open for questions, very happy to help if I can.

    • SimonRSP

      It was a great interview Mark, and thanks for volunteering to answer questions here!

  • Bryan

    Almost all the way through this interview, and it’s very compelling. It’s always great to hear how someone else is using the permafree model. You’ve had such a cool career path, Mark, I’m sure that’s given you a lot to work with :).

    I wanted to comment before I forgot, thank you again for yet another shoutout, Simon! The Udemy course is looking good and 347 students already is great! Now you just need to bug folks for some reviews :).

    • SimonRSP

      Haha, sure thing Bryan! It seems to be every week that I have a reason to reference back to your episode, or something you are up to ;).

  • markdawson1973

    Thanks, Bryan. And, yes, it certainly has!

  • Harry A. Manners

    Loved this one, listened to the whole hour and bit with rapt attention. Some great advice, and heartening to hear from someone so successful who manages to fit it all in around such a busy schedule.
    Hoped you enjoyed the wine, Simon. Thanks for posting!

    • markdawson1973

      Glad it was helpful, Harry. Wine and gin make for a lubricated conversation!

    • SimonRSP

      I did indeed! Glad you enjoyed the show Harry! 🙂

  • Great podcast. The stuff at the end about tax was very interesting to me. In 2001 I set up my own imprint but didn’t incorperate. I am a bit worried now. Mark, when you mentioned transferring copyright, you actually meant RIGHTS not copyright… yes?

    • markdawson1973

      Hi Mark – yes, rights is more accurate: copyright in the books, rights to audio, film, etc. There’s no reason to worry – the only consequence is that you won’t now be able to transfer your rights to Mark E Cooper Ltd, and will have to account for them as a sole trader. It’s not tax efficient to do it that way (you’ll pay whatever your rate of income tax as opposed to cheaper corporation tax).

      But if that is relevant to you, you’re making good money already. It’s definitely a first world problem.


      • Haha, yes I know what you mean. I don’t know about you, but although it would be more work in one way, I wish we had something in the UK like the Americans have in their library of Congress and the copyright registration.

        Over here we have the copyright offices and British Library but no real registration scheme. Can you tell me for your future work, are you laying a paper trail so that should it be necessary, you can show your accountant or HMRC which books the company is liable for and which ones you are personally responsible for?

        • markdawson1973

          Mark – there’s no need to register copyright here. It accrues automatically and, provided you can demonstrate that it is your work (and for that I would recommend emailing a copy of the MS back to yourself) you’ll have no fears on that front.

          With regard to tax, if you set up Mark E Cooper Ltd you will be a director, shareholder and employee. It’s not difficult to demonstrate that your work was performed in the course of your “employment” by the company but, for belt and braces, I’d recommend drawing up an assignment whereby you confirm that any intellectual property rights in the manuscript (including the copyright) accrue to the company rather than to yourself.

          I’ll be drafting an assignment between me and my company soon and, once that is done, I’ll happily send it over for you to use (and anyone else who wants it).



          • My company Impulse Books UK LTD was simply the imprint Impulse Books UK before I went full time, and I realise in the UK copyright is automatic. I’m fine with that and have no fears regarding copyright.

            What I was trying in my way to say was that IF we had a proper registration system, we could use it to verify to HMRC things like tax on certain titles. What worries me is that HMRC may just decide that some work belongs to the company and other titles don’t, but not take my assertions about which those are. I would like to have a say on that and prove it with paper. haha! SO your assignment idea is the way I am going I think rather than simply leaving it to luck.

            Thanks for a great podcast and answering these comments. I would very much like your assignment template! That is a great help. Do you know if it would need notorisation by solicitors etc? I am guessing yes, but just a guess.

            Mark E. Cooper

          • markdawson1973

            Not a problem – I’ll send it over when it’s done (chase me if I forget).

            And it doesn’t need to be notorised – it’s just a contract, effectively, albeit an unusual one because you’ll be signing twice: once on behalf of the company AND once yourself!

          • Cool. I have to do stuff like that already for various things like cover art etc. In this digital age, it’s amazing how much paper is still needed!

  • Philip Harris

    Another excellent episode. I’ve been working through the old episodes over the last few weeks and I’m almost done but there’s so much good info I think I’m going to have to go back and listen to them again.

    Mark, I’m very interested in learning a bit more about how the multiple mailing list signups work. Do you keep multiple mailing lists and send the same mailings to each one or do readers end up on one list wherever they come from?

    • markdawson1973

      Hi Philip,

      We didn’t really get into that. I have multiple lists and am evolving them as we go. For example, from next week, if you sign up after reading GHOSTS the order will be this: (1) intro email (2) after one day, email with links to free stuff (3) after a week, a reminder that the story continues with IN COLD BLOOD, together with blurb, sales links and a further extract (there will also be an extract of that book in the end matter for GHOSTS). Auto responders are powerful tools and I am finding lots of cool new ways to take advantage of them. Not having a paid account with Mailchimp (other providers available!) is a false economy in my opinion.


      • Philip Harris

        I agree. I went straight to the pay by email account so that I could get autoresponders and I’ll switch to the paid account once it becomes the cheaper option. I hadn’t thought of using multiple lists though, that’s a great idea..


        • SimonRSP

          Autoresponders take a bit of time to set up and cost a little money, but in terms of a time investment, they will pay off for a long time to come. Shame we didn’t have time to get into the multiple lists thing as I’m sure we’d have a lot to talk about there (as it’s something I also do for RSP).

          • I use mailchimp for my newsletter and I’m very satisfied with it. I haven’t really found a use for the auto-responders though. I don’t offer freebies to sign up. I prefer people who REALLY want my books to sign up because they REALLY want them, not a freebie. Having said that, if there was a compelling use for them… but I can’t think of one that wouldn’t just cause accusations of spam.

            You know I LOVE SPP and the guys there, but already their use of auto responders is pissing me off. I know why they are doing it, and it’s a short term thing while Fiction Unboxed is going, BUT despite that I cannot help feeling this way. It smacks of the early years of spam to me. These days my inbox is pretty clear of rubbish. To see these things again reminds me of days gone.

            I don’t like it.

          • SimonRSP

            I know I’m a different case to an author, but I try and use my autoresponder to direct people to my best stuff and learn about my audience (I don’t sell anything in it).

            Email one asks what people want to hear, and who they want to hear it from. That gives me a huge bank of guests to potentially contact (in fact, Mark, you were one of the suggestions!), and interesting questions I could ask them. Perfect for planning when I am not struck with inspiration.

            Emails 2 and 3 suggest a couple of popular episodes each (the autoresponder largely assumes the new person on this list is also a new listener). 4 and 5 mention mailing lists and author websites, for which I direct people to my free course.

            Of the thousands that have been sent out, the unsubscribe rate is 0.35%, and 60.54% of all emails are opened.

            I think whether it’s spam or not totally depends on the content. For me it’s a way to talk to the listeners, and I think it gives me a really good pulse for what everyone wants to hear 🙂

          • I agree, Simon. It’s the content.

            There is a HUGE distinction though between auto responders asking for something (donations, buy my book, something else I can’t think of right now) and auto responders that are informational. At least in my mind.

            An auto responder that informs me of where to find a podcast about xyz isn’t spam to me. One that asks me to go download a new book, even a free one, is marketing in an effort to sell something.

            It’s just me.

            Information = good.
            Selling/marketing = bad.

            I shouldn’t probably think of responders from my pov but from a readers pov. Still, I AM a reader too. I think if I used them to sell my books, I would get the same response as the twitter authors who use it to tweet “buy my book” all the time. Lots of unfollows.

            Mark E. Cooper

  • Mat Morris

    Been playing catchup on some episodes and I actually put this one off for a while based strictly on the title. I’m *so glad* I finally got around to listening to it, definitely one of the more informative episodes in my own recent history. Wish there was something better to title it, because there is so much more value here than how to make things work while you’re commuting.

    Thanks again, both Mark and Simon!

    • SimonRSP

      Oh man, really? I’ve got to work on my copy, I thought it was a compelling title. People have commutes, people want to write bestselling books…

      Hard to change titles in iTunes (well, not hard, but iTunes has such a strong tendancy to mess things up that I don’t mess with it).

      • Mat Morris

        I understand that. This could be a case where it just wasn’t hugely applicable to me, so I didn’t prioritize it high enough. Generally I’m good about tuning in every Thursday and listening to whatever you put out, but I fell a few (a lot of) weeks behind. Super glad I checked it out, was definitely one of my favorites. I may have to go back and give it another listen here soon!

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