It’s crucially important to be professional and to be able to distinguish between the artistic and commercial imperatives that are equally important to success.
Tell us a little about your writing process
I’ll usually start with something I’ve read in the news and then I’ll start to think what might happen if one of my characters was involved in the story. I’ll often start in the middle of the book and work forward and backward from there. Once I have a first draft, I’ll go back and layer in the detail that I’ve skipped; this tends to be when I do my research. After that’s all done, the book is copy edited, read by a team of talented and experienced beta readers, and then proofed. Only after the end of the process is the book published. And then I start all over again.
What did your first ever book cover look like (and can you show us)?
It was for my traditionally published debut, The Art of Falling Apart. I was published by Macmillan and I believe they commissioned an artist to paint the cover. I think it would be fair to say it wasn’t my favourite, and – together with the book not being very good – it didn’t help with sales.
What was the last book you bought?
I’ve been enjoying The Folio Society editions of the Game of Thrones series. I don’t read enough outside of my work and I thought that if I had something really beautiful – and these really are, with illuminated capitals and illustrations – it would help me to pick the book up instead of doing something else before going to sleep. It has worked; I’m almost at the end of A Storm of Swords and I’ll anxiously waiting for the next to be published.
And what sealed the deal: The cover, the blurb, or something else?
It was the package – a gorgeous hardback, with all the bells and whistles – and the author. The cover wasn’t important in this case since the books are so well known.
Should a book cover stand out or fit into its genre?
I used to think the former, but I’m more of a convert towards making sure that the tropes are hit. The only really striking thriller cover that goes beyond the usual that I can recall over the last few years is Terry Hayes’s I Am Pilgrim. That looks to me to be an exception rather than the rule, and I’ve had more success when following convention than trying to buck trends.
Which three authors (past or present) would you invite to a dinner party and why?
Charles Dickens, Bret Easton Ellis and Enid Blyton. Apart from a riotous mix of personalities, Dickens is probably my favourite author, Ellis was very influential when I started to write and I have a children’s series out next year and Blyton was an inspiration for it.
Have you ever bought a book purely because of its cover?
I can’t recall now, but almost certainly.
What is the most important lesson being an author has taught you?
It’s not easy and you need to work hard at it. It’s crucially important to be professional and to be able to distinguish between the artistic and commercial imperatives that are equally important to success. I make art in the mornings and sell ASINs in the afternoon.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
What is your top tip for budding authors?
Success isn’t going to magically alight upon you – you need to go after it with a club.
Mark's latest novel, Never Let Me Down Again, is the 19th in his John Milton series.
Published 25th June 2021
Cover design by Stuart Bache