Having been a successful London lawyer for ten years, Mark Dawson’s career was developing along a well-established path. In his heart, however, he had always wanted to be a writer. “For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed writing stories,” Mark recalls. “Growing up in Lowestoft, my teachers were very encouraging and allowed me to use the school’s only computer during lunch breaks to work on my stories, giving me great feedback.”

Mark continued to write in his spare time but settled on the law as a more viable career choice. “Being a media lawyer was great. I met some amazing people and handled some fascinating situations. This also helped with my stories as it provided some useful ideas. Writing wasn’t easy, though, as my day job was keeping me very busy.”

Finding readers and seeing how quickly I could turn new ideas into published books was inspiring
Mark Dawson

His persistence paid off and Mark’s creative career developed in parallel with his legal work. In his late twenties, at the turn of the millennium, Mark found himself with a traditional publishing deal as well as working as a lawyer in the film industry. He remembers: “Publishing my first two thrillers was a valuable experience to a point. I’d had a good advance and some great reviews but my books got very little exposure beyond this and the momentum petered out. My dream was to hear from readers who had enjoyed my writing, but that didn’t seem to be happening.”

Taking control

Focusing on his legal career, Mark put writing on hold for a while. Then, in late 2011, when he heard from a friend who had published a book via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Mark realised that he had an alternative. “It was motivating to see how simple the process was and how much control I had. I decided to have another go and publish independently.” Sales for his third novel, The Black Mile, started well and things really took off when Mark decided to try the promotional tools available through the KDP Select programme.

“KDP Select promotions, like making my book available for free for a short time, helped me reach new readers. The first time I tried it over 15,000 people downloaded my book over a weekend. I was blown away. This was beyond anything I’d achieved before. Finding readers and seeing how quickly I could turn new ideas into published books was inspiring, so I kept going.”

A new career

While Mark’s motivation had been the fun of storytelling, he soon found that he also had a lucrative career at his fingertips. “I was putting in a lot of work alongside the day job. By 2014 I reached the point where I was earning more as an author than as a lawyer. I enjoyed both careers but decided that writing was the path I wanted to follow full time. It was a nerve wracking decision but it felt right.”

Mark has never looked back. “I manage my own time and how it is split between my family and writing. I also work hard to balance the creative and business sides of independent publishing. I enjoy being in charge of how my books are published, alongside developing strategies to get them into the hands of new readers.”

Finding readers

Engaging with readers has been important for Mark in several ways. “I have great interactions with them through reviews and my mailing lists. Plus, I have a group of beta readers who offer invaluable feedback as I’m drafting each story.” Feedback from betas has proved precious to make Mark’s novels as realistic as possible. “For example, I wanted to write a prison breakout scene and a U.S. Marshal in my beta group offered to provide me with first-hand experience to draw from. The support blows me away and seeing readers’ reactions to the finished script speaks volumes.”

Mark tries to keep on top of his growing inbox. “Interaction with readers can be very humbling. I once received a Christmas card from an American gentleman which included a $20 note. He wanted to buy me a drink as a thank you for getting him back into reading after 40 years of hardly touching a book. It’s amazing, really. Discovering independent publishing has given me so many new opportunities, and yet it feels like I’ve only just started. I have many more ideas for the future. I’m looking forward to the next chapter.”