Killer move: Mark had his third book rejected by publishers so decided to go it alone
Thriller writer Mark Dawson says the best financial decision he ever made was choosing to self-publish his own books.
He started writing his John Milton assassin thriller series while on a 90-minute train commute, never expecting he would ever earn enough to give up his day job after his novel was rejected by publishers.
The former lawyer then chose to self-publish six years ago. He now lives in a £1 million house, drives an £80,000 Porsche and earns nearly £1 million a year from his popular e-books.
Unlike most authors published by traditional publishers who get allocated just 7 per cent of the cover price of their novels, Dawson takes home 70 per cent, albeit of a smaller sum.
His first novel in the John Milton series, The Cleaner, is currently on special offer for 99p on Amazon.
Now 44, Dawson lives in Salisbury, Wiltshire, with wife Lucy, 41, and children Freya, six, and Samuel, four. The Skripals’ poisoning in his hometown has inspired the plot of his next thriller which is set for release next month.
What has it been like being a thriller writer in Salisbury?
I was in town the day the Skripals were poisoned. The day before it was cordoned off, my daughter had her school picnic in the park that is being investigated as a crime scene by police. I used to walk through there every day.
With such a big story happening so close to home, I had to use it as the basis for my next novel which is about a poisoning – although it is not set in Salisbury.
It has been interesting as a writer to witness the police investigation unfold. But it has not affected me personally or stopped me going into town. There have been lots of reports that Salisbury residents are terrified. It is not like that at all. Everyone here is just getting on with life, but businesses are struggling because tourist visits are down.
What did your parents teach you about finance?
To be careful with money. I come from a working-class family and money was tight when I was growing up. My dad worked as an engineer fixing machinery and my mum worked in the office of a holiday company.
One of the early memories from childhood is my mother balancing her cheque book every month which she did to the last penny. That kind of self-discipline with money is a quality I have inherited.
What was the first paid work you ever did?
Working after school in the mail room of the holiday company my mum worked for when I was 13. I cannot remember how much I got paid but it was enough to buy myself a few computer games and have a lot of fun with my friends.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
No. I am not extravagant and I have never had to worry too much about money. Straight after university, I qualified as a lawyer and got a job in the City.
Have you ever been paid silly money for a job?
Yes. Last year, I was asked to go to a conference in America and give a talk about how authors can reach their readers. The organisers arranged a speaking package worth more than $10,000 (£7,600). My talk only lasted a couple of hours.
Plot: The author is based in Salisbury where the Skripals’ poisoning took place
What was the best year of your life in terms of the money you made?
It was 2016. I made a high six-figure sum – close to £1 million. I was not surprised to discover I had made that much. My income had been gradually increasing every year. In a good year, I write and publish a new book every three months, but I also earn money from all the novels I have already published. I made money from about 20 books in 2016.
When did you start making money from your novels?
My income – and my life – changed totally in 2014. In January of that year I was making as much money from my books as I was from my day job, but by autumn I was probably making five times as much from my novels. I started writing because I used to have a 90-minute commute to my job in London and back again.
That period of my life was the most productive I have ever been. I had three hours a day with no distractions and no internet. I would just put my headphones on and concentrate on writing.
What Is the most expensive thing you have ever bought yourself just for fun?
It was a red Porsche Macan for £80,000. It is big enough to fit two kid seats in the back – I take my children to and from school – but it is also a very powerful car.
Powerful: Mark spent £80,000 on a Porsche Macan in which he takes his children to school
What is the biggest money mistake you have ever made?
Not investing in Bitcoin last year. I considered it. I know people who have made quite a lot of money from it and I could very easily have done that too, but I was too cautious.
What is the best money decision you have made?
Self-publishing my own books. My first two novels were published by a traditional publisher and I tried to get my third book published that way too, but in the end no one went for it. So, in 2012 I thought I might as well self-publish. The advances paid by traditional publishers are much lower than they used to be.
If you are lucky, a publisher will pay you 10 per cent of the cover price as a royalty, plus your agent will take a cut. Before you know it, for each £10 book that sells, you could be looking at earning just 70p or less – effectively, around 7 per cent of the cover price. With Amazon and self-publishing, I get 70 per cent of the cover price.
Do you save into a pension or invest in the stock market?
Yes. My wife and I are investing quite heavily in pensions because they are tax-efficient. We are putting in a lot – not far off the maximum we can – and we are also maxing out our Isa allowances and investing in the stock market and venture capital trusts.
Do you own any property?
Yes, we recently bought an old vicarage to be our family home. It has got six bedrooms, a library and pool in the garden for the children. We bought it late last year for more than I imagine I could have spent a few years ago. I do not want to say exactly how much it cost, but it was in excess of £1 million.
How much cash do you typically carry?
Good deal: Mark’s first novel in the John Milton series, The Cleaner, is currently on special offer for 99p on Amazon
Almost nothing. I pay for everything using cards or Apple Pay – I have got an Apple Watch so I like to use that when I can. It is fairly magical to put your watch over a reader and pay for something. I also find it quite amusing when shopkeepers ask: how did you do that?
What is the one little luxury you like to treat yourself to?
Travelling business class on aeroplanes. Until a few years ago, I had never done that. But once you have flown that way, it is difficult to not carry on doing it if you can afford to.
If you were Chancellor of the Exchequer, what is the first thing you would do?
I would look at introducing tax incentives to support young entrepreneurs who want to get started in business. I would also look at closing some of the offshore tax loopholes. Rich individuals are able to take advantage of schemes that require high level financial and legal advice not accessible to the general public. That does not strike me as fair.
Do you think it is important to give to charity?
I do and I always have done. I have been able to give a little more in the past couple of years. I also wrote a novella, Phoenix, and donated the proceeds to a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant.
She made the incredibly selfless decision not to have any treatment until she had given birth to her son Phoenix.
The delay meant her only chance of beating the cancer was experimental immunotherapy which was not available on the NHS and would have cost more than £40,000.
Together with her friends, I was able to help fund her treatment. I have promised I will give her everything that Phoenix ever makes, so she still gets regular cheques. Her son is nearly two and she is still alive and on the drugs.
What is your number one financial priority?
Security for my family. I want to give my kids the best possible start they can have.