RAF pilot becomes high-flying author with a charming future

Mark Robson, 39, who began writing when bad weather grounded his DC10 in the Falkland Islands, has been snapped up by the publishers Simon and Schuster who are to publish his novel, Imperial Spy, in the spring.

But unlike most newly signed writers, Mr Robson has already published more than 30,000 of his books himself - after his first attempt at writing was rejected by every literary agent and publisher he sent it to seven years ago.

Encouraged by friends and family who loved the story, The Forging of the Sword, Mr Robson found a printer, commissioned an illustrator and proof-read and typeset the book himself.

"I had some money in the bank, I thought I'd do it as a hobby, not something that would make money. I was aware that self-publishing fiction is suicide," he said.

But he turned the venture into a triumph by adopting a marketing strategy thought to be unique. Offering himself as a free floor-walker to bookshops near his RAF base at Brize Norton, Wiltshire, he would engage shoppers in conversation about their tastes.

If they wanted a dictionary, he would take them to the reference section. If they liked Lord of the Rings, he would tell them of his own fantasy offering, written for teenagers, with crossover appeal to adult readers.

He routinely sold between 50 and 100 books a day, a figure that would not shame established writers doing traditional signings.

His total sales now exceed more than 31,000 copies of what became a four-part series, The Darkweaver Legacy, a figure to rival the output of a small independent publishing house.

Yet it was only when he unknowingly approached the head buyer for Waterstone's who happened to be in a bookstore in Windsor that British publishers were persuaded to take notice.

Scott Pack advised Mr Robson to update the covers of his titles, which he has with illustrations by top fantasy artist Geoff Taylor.

But Mr Pack also sent copies of the book to publishers and agents and finally won a publishing deal for his next book, an offshoot of the current series.

Mr Pack said he was won over by Mr Robson's enthusiasm. "But he has actually written a very good series of books. It's mature and intelligent and he's got strong female characters as well as strong male ones.

"But I think his story is on a par with [the writer] GP Taylor, whose Shadowmancer was originally self-published."

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