Mark Lawrence is married with four children, one of whom is severely disabled. He now writes full-time. Formerly he was a research scientist focused on various rather intractable problems in the field of artificial intelligence. He has held secret level clearance with both US and UK governments. At one point he was qualified to say ‘this isn’t rocket science … oh wait, it actually is’.
Between writing and caring for his disabled child, Mark spends his time playing computer games, tending an allotment, brewing beer, and avoiding DIY.
He has two trilogies in print, The Broken Empire, starting with Prince of Thorns, and The Red Queen’s War starting with Prince of Fools, concluding in June with The Wheel of Osheim. The first book in the Red Sister trilogy is due for publication in 2017.
Introduction: Tell us who you are, why you decided to be an author and where you’re at right now in your career.
I’m Mark Lawrence, fantasy author. I never really decided to be an author, I just wrote books for fun, and when I got ‘bullied’ into sending one to an agent I rapidly got a publishing deal. Currently I’m finishing off my eighth book and I stopped having a day-job a year ago.
What was the hardest thing about balancing writing with a day job? What is the hardest thing about writing for a living now?
Without wishing to sound obnoxious, I didn’t find anything hard about writing while having a day job. If they hadn’t closed down the entire research department I would probably still be there. To write a 100,000 word book in a year you only need to write 300 words a day. I can easily write 300 words in half an hour.
Writing while not having a day job is even easier. I guess the hardest thing is not letting Facebook and twitter eat my day. Weep for me.
Tell us about your schedule and habits back before you made the move to full-time (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).
I don’t really have a schedule or habits other than those imposed on me. Most of my time was taken up with work and looking after my very disabled youngest daughter. I did my writing when she went to bed. If I don’t feel like writing then I don’t. Fortunately, most of the time I opt for writing over the alternatives.
I’ve always been very relaxed about writing – it’s something I did for enjoyment, and I still enjoy doing it. I’ve never sweated over a piece of fiction.
If you don’t mind, would you tell us how your sales first started out? How many books did you have out before you started seeing traction?
I was lucky enough to be published by big six (five) publishers (Penguin and Harper Collins) and by imprints that focus on a small number of authors (Ace and Voyager. Their releases tend to generate a decent amount of buzz and they have the clout to get their titles in bookshops. Additionally some elements in the online genre community did me the enormous favour of getting outraged by my first book and writing the sort of scathing reviews that generate great interest (I don’t think anyone ever believes they will sink someone’s career with outrage). So I had traction from day 1.
At what point in time did you make the decision to support yourself/your family as an author?
I had enough income to quit my day job but no great inclination to do so. The entire 200-strong advanced research department at the aerospace giant I worked for was axed out of the blue in an internal political move. So now I’m full time.
Do you support yourself completely from writing books or through a variety of work? If so, what else do you do to pay the bills?
Just writing. A great many authors on the shelves of any high street bookshop will need a day-job to keep the lights on. I’m very lucky that my decent sales (a million books in five years) and modest life-style mean that I can support my family on my writing income.
Was there ever a point when you felt like quitting writing or didn’t think you’d ever become a full-time author?
I never did think I would become a full-time author and it was never my goal. I never thought about writing in terms of quitting or not quitting because I wasn’t writing to achieve some goal – I was writing because I enjoyed it. If I stopped enjoying it I would have stopped doing it, with no sense of guilt or failure. I would have called it starting whatever replaced it rather than quitting writing.
What’s one thing about your author career that not many people know?
Some people seem surprised that I don’t listen to my audio books … it’s a medium that doesn’t work for me, so I’ve never listened to more than the first couple of minutes of the first book.
What’s the single best piece of advice you have for authors who can’t support themselves with their writing yet? What should they be focusing on?
Again this question feels odd to me because it’s coming from a very different mind-set. I had the luxury of a job I enjoyed. As a child I wanted to be a research scientist. As an adult I was one. Making money from writing wasn’t a goal.
I could say to write for its own sake. If you enjoy writing then whether you’re published, or sell widely is just a bonus. The truth is that the vast majority of people who write will make very little money from it, so to me it’s sensible to only do what makes you happy writing-wise and if you luck out, great. Other people have very different approaches.