Today, we’ll be speaking with award-winning author Mark Lawrence, best known for his Broken Empire trilogy. He speaks to us from across the pond in the UK.
Mark was born in the United States and moved to the UK when he was young. Along with being a fantasy novelist, he works as a research scientist in the field of artificial intelligence. He has held secret level clearance with both US and UK governments.
Mark won the David Gemmell Legend Award in 2014, was on the Barnes & Nobles Best Fantasy List for two years in a row, and also was a finalist for the Goodreads Choice Award three separate years. He also has been on the Sunday Times Bestseller list.
His work has been translated into over 20 languages.
The interview today is on the topic of how Mark became published.
Ryan: Thanks for joining us, Mark. I appreciate your time to be with us today. By the way, I have your book Prince of Thorns on my bookshelf, waiting to be read as soon as I finish the series I’m currently on.
Mark: I hope you enjoy it.
Ryan: What surprised you most about your path to becoming published?
Mark: The ease and swiftness of it. I don’t consider writing Prince of Thorns or all the writing that came before it to be part of that path because I wasn’t writing to get published and never thought I would be. It wasn’t an ambition of mine.
When I was finally “bullied” into sending my work to an agent, I assumed, as I always had, that my odds of success were tiny–in part because the competition was so good, and in part because I had never networked, gone to conventions, played the games required to get stories in the higher profile magazines, etc.
Ryan: How did you find your publisher? Can you tell us a bit about that?
Mark: Once I had an agent, he took the manuscript to various publishers. I wasn’t party to any of it. My agent, Ian Drury, told me that the publishing industry moves at glacial pace and not to expect to hear anything any time soon.
Six weeks later, I had a three-book deal and every major fantasy publisher in the UK (and many in the US) had taken part in the bidding war. I had a large advance and two more books to write.
Ryan: Fantastic. Prior to that, did you encounter any/much rejection before you received that “yes”?
Mark: Well … from book publishers … [none]. Previous to that, I had written to one agent a month, working my way down a list of agents who dealt in fantasy books. I wrote to four of them, then gave up. A couple of months later, the 4th contacted me and signed me up. A few weeks later, I got a form rejection off the 1st. The other two must still be considering me as they have yet to reply.
I did send a bunch of stories to a lot of magazines over the course of 18 months or so a few years earlier to prove to myself I could get published. I had lots of rejections then–probably ten or more for each acceptance.
Ryan: If you could go back and reconstruct your writing career all over again, what might you do differently?
Mark: Well, I wanted my career as a research scientist, and I’ve enjoyed it, so I wouldn’t really want to change much. I suppose I could have sent Prince of Thorns out when it was written rather than letting it lie for several years–then (if it met with the same good fortune) it would have come out around the same time as Joe Abercrombie’s first book, and I might have ridden the same wave.
Ryan: Have there been certain markets/countries that have received your books better or worse than you had anticipated?
Mark: I didn’t really have any expectations so not really. It’s certainly true that the success (or otherwise) of the books has varied wildly from country to country. I suspect that the quality of the translation is a big factor. Another important decider is the state/stage of the fantasy market in the country. If fantasy is seen as “for children” or the tastes are similar to those in the UK in the 80s … then I might not do so well.
I also note that the books do better in general where the publishers opt to keep the original title.
The books have done really well in France and Hungary, Poland, and Brazil … not so well in Spain and Italy and the Netherlands. Many of the 20+ languages I have no figures for, yet. Apart from the things I mentioned before, I’ve no idea why the variation is the way it is.
Ryan: Do you read/avoid certain books or genres that might have an influence on your writing?
Ryan: How do you come up with your plot/story ideas?
Mark: Generally, I just start typing and see what happens. I like to take an idea/character and follow where it leads.
Ryan: What was the largest misconception about being a successful author that you had as an aspiring writer?
Mark: I don’t think I had any–largely because I never spent any time thinking about being a successful author.
Ryan: What advice would you give to the aspiring author who hopes to one day crack into the industry and become a success?
Mark: Try to focus on enjoying your writing. If you don’t enjoy it–give up. If you do enjoy it, well there’s your success right there. Anything else is a bonus.
Ryan: What book/project are you working on now? And where can we find your books?
Mark: I’ve just finished the third and final book in my second trilogy (The Red Queen’s War) and now I’m at that stage I was a couple of years ago where I’m starting various things and seeing if they go anywhere. I’ve no idea what I’ll write next–no contract to fulfill, no deadlines–I’ll just see if the magic happens again.
My books can be found in lots of places. Hopefully people will pick them up in real bookshops. Failing that, there’s always Amazon.
Ryan: Again, thank you for your time. We’re glad to have you on.
For those interested, click here to check out Mark’s website.