Featured Author: Self-Publishing with Lavinia Thompson
Wacky Writers had the wonderful opportunity to interview Lavinia Thompson, a self-published author, to talk about the trials and triumphs that come with writing and releasing works into the market as a self-publisher. We sent Lavinia a list of questions about self-publishing and how she has navigated the journey!
We would like to thank Lavinia for sharing with us insights into the self-publishing world. You can find her on her social media here:
(some parts of the interview were edited slightly for clarity)
What’s your favorite book to movie adaptation?
I actually don’t watch many movies, so I couldn’t say. I much prefer books over movies.
If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I equate this with “if you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life” question – how do you pick just one?? I’d have to say anything “Sherlock Holmes”, or any book by Ann Rule. Give me something about true crime and I’ll always be entertained!
Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what kind?
I am a music addict. My Spotify has almost every genre, and it’s organized into book and character playlists. What I listen to depends on my writing. My mystery series, “Beyond Dark” is a mix of dark music. There’s metal, like Lacuna Coil, Cradle of Filth, Motionless in White, In This Moment, to rock like Sixx A.m., Shinedown, or Pop Evil. It mixes with Lana Del Ray, Eminem, Madonna, and Stormzy. The “John Luther Character Album” by Idris Elba has been played many times in my writing sessions. There’s also some gangster rap for the mafia storylines, and some old school mafia music from soundtracks. Each book in the series has a different vibe to it, so their playlists are the same.
What inspired you to begin writing? What continues to inspire your writing?
Stories and books have always been a part of my life. My grandfather was a Shakespeare fan, a highly literate man from England. He loved reading things that made you think. He had a collection of books about the paranormal and unsolved mysteries of the world, and then he had other books on animals I loved looking through. My mother always read books to us as kids. I was exposed to books and information continuously throughout my life. On my own, I read a lot of fantasy and that was the first genre I began writing.
At first, it was just something else artistic I did as a kid, but soon became much more to me. I survived a decade of abuse, and writing was a massive part of that. The escapism of creating other worlds while living in the chaos of my real life, became therapeutic to me. Something about words and characters and weaving it all together gave me an outlet during and after the abuse. Even 16 years after it all, writing is still a huge outlet for my PTSD and depression – it’s why adversity and survival are often themes in my books. It’s what I know.
If you simply wait for inspiration, it may never come. Constantly working on your project, be it plotting, character profiles, or just writing, all keep the creativity flowing.
What made you decide to self-publish your work instead of seeking a traditional publishing deal?
I decided on self-published early on in my writing career. In college, I began reading up on how to get published and traditional publishers, and came across an article about the upsides of self-publishing. Intrigued, I did some more research and what captured my interest is the ability to keep creative control over cover art, editing, and the story. I took journalism in college, so formatting, layout, and editing were things I already learned. If I already had the ability to do many of those things myself and could save up money for a professional editor, then why would I wait up to two years for a traditional publisher to do what I could in a much shorter time?
Describe the work you had to put in to put your book together to get ready for self-publishing.
I am currently getting a book ready for self-publishing. The first book in my “Beyond Dark” series, “Belladonna”, just came back from my editor doing his first pass. Editing, of course, is the time-consuming part of this process. I start looking at cover art early on to get an idea of what I want. I usually get pre-made covers, though depending on what I want, I might also hire someone to do a custom cover. With “Beyond Dark 1”, I had such a specific serial killer I wanted to be represented on the cover, I couldn’t find a pre-made that fit my vision, so I hired an artist to the cover art.
How much have you used Wattpad to drive your self-publishing journey?
I used Wattpad up until mid-2020, when I moved to Booksie. Wattpad was a great starting point for me, in giving me somewhere to post my writing and then the ability to network with other writers. It connected me to some amazing friends at a very low point in my life, so in that way, it will always have a special place in my heart. It definitely gave me a spot to start building a fan base for my books and learn how to have an online presence. I slowed down on writing and my publishing dreams when I got married. After the marriage ended, I became active on Wattpad and dove back into writing. That life change brought me back to my dreams of publishing books.
What do you do if you hit writer’s block?
I don’t believe in writer’s block. I always say that consistently getting ideas is a matter of making writing a habit. If you simply wait for inspiration, it may never come. Constantly working on your project, be it plotting, character profiles, or just writing, all keep the creativity flowing. And if you find you’re that hard up for ideas, step away for a day or two to think about it. Even though I stepped away from a prior book before I started my current series, I still revisit it and play with different ideas for it. It’s my offline project.
What has been your biggest setback in self-publishing so far, and how did you overcome it?
This pandemic, honestly. It both helped and hindered me this year. I was laid off from my job for two months, which allowed me time to edit “Beyond Dark”, but it also set my editor behind (EVERYONE was finishing their books while in lockdown and needed editors) so I am still in that editing process whereas I was hoping to have it released [in 2020]. Now it looks like it won’t be until . But, life happens, and part of self-publishing is going with what comes. We cannot always control the circumstances, so we have to work with them. I also want to release the best quality book I can, and won’t release this until I feel it is at that point.
I believe the better an author can edit, the better the book will be. We as the author, publisher and marketer, are responsible for that quality.
How did you get the word out about your self-published novel?
I do a lot of blogging on my own site, I discuss it writing conversations, I keep stuff pinned on my social media profiles. I don’t always do marketing posts, but I just discuss my process or what is inspiring me at this time. I share music I write to, research info that doesn’t make it into the books (and there’s a lot). For example, I am writing a spinoff to “Beyond Dark” called “Beyond Cover”. It’s about undercover agents and how their stories tie into the main series. My female MC, Emily, is undercover as a jewel thief. So I did a bunch of reading up on a real international jewel thief group. An inspector in the UK named them the “Pink Panthers” after the movies. I have a long blog post on my site about that. It was a fascinating topic. I find the best type of marketing is simply giving readers a glimpse into your world, your writing, and engaging instead of throwing promotional posts everywhere.
Did you design your own cover and other design elements or hire someone to do it? Why did you decide to go that route?
I tried doing my own covers at first but was never happy with what I came up with for the first book in the “Beyond Dark” series. “Belladonna” had such a specific serial killer case, even any pre-made covers I found didn’t quite match up. I finally hired someone through a Discord writing community and she came up with the current cover for “Belladonna” and I cannot gush enough about it! She did an exquisite job. Usually, I make my covers when I am only posting online to Booksie, though I go with pre-made covers when I am actually publishing. I went custom this time since I wasn’t happy with any of the other options. That’s the thing about self-publishing – you need to keep your options open. Don’t limit yourself to the habit of doing one thing.
How many times did you edit (or even rewrite) your novel before you decided you were ready to self-publish? Did you have any editing help?
I am currently still editing this book. It’s gone through four rewrites, then an extensive developmental edit by myself and my beta reader. I don’t even know how many times we went through it together. It also went to an editor I hired, and it just came back from his first editing pass, which I am working through. Editing is one thing where many self-published books fail. Some authors believe they don’t need to hire an editor, and I assure you, you do. You can get away with self-editing poetry or short stories, but for novels, always do as much self-editing as possible then hand it off to a trustworthy editor to go over, even just for a copy edit. Mine is going through a copy/stylistic edit hybrid. My editor fixes everything to align with the Chicago Manual of Style, which means it will be up to industry standard when he’s done. The stylistic side means he picks up on small style edits, like unnecessary head-hopping between characters or small sentence structure changes. He picks up on things all of my rewriting and editing did not, and is making it of industry quality. That touch makes for a professional book.
On top of my college classes, I also studied self-editing on my own. I believe the better an author can edit, the better the book will be. We as the author, publisher and marketer, are responsible for that quality. It’s so important to have a standard on par with traditional publishers, which is why hiring a professional editor is so important, even for someone who does much of their own self-editing. A professional editor adds that touch of quality to a book that readers receive from publishing houses.
What would you say, other than self-publishing your book, was the proudest moment in your writing career?
Honestly, I am proudest of my writing career where it’s at right now. I spent six or seven years fretting over the same book during the same time I got married, then divorced. I really struggled after the divorce to even write or focus on a project. I still haven’t finished that prior book. I started “Beyond Dark” in January 2019. The change in genre and story brought back the joy and love of writing for me. I am really proud of the character building and development in these books, of how far it has come and how much the readers enjoy it. I didn’t think I’d do well at a mystery series, but it’s actually become my favourite genre.
Do not ever be afraid to ask for help. You will have friends who love your work, who would love to help. Listen to ideas. Be open to ideas. You might start out doing everything yourself, but you’ll gain helpers along the way.
Do you self-impose deadlines for self-publishing? What are your plans for the timeline of subsequent novels or sequels?
I do self-impose deadlines, but they aren’t always set in stone. Nov. 1 was what I had in mind for my original book release, but life happened, and it’s still in the editing process. I know for next time to plan way more ahead and allow a lot more time for the production side of things. I have no tentative deadline for “Beyond Dark” at current, but aiming for perhaps a February release. Setting deadlines is important, but don’t be too hard on yourself if things happen. You’ll get there.
Right now, I am focused on getting “Belladonna” released. I am hoping to release one book of the series a year, and if finances allow it down the road, make it two a year. So “Beyond Dark 2” may not be out until 2022, but it gives me tons of time to edit it and make it the best it can be.
How do you market your novel, primarily? Which marketing strategies have been the most successful?
Engaging with readers, even potential ones. I do this via social media and blog posts. We are human beings, not promotional robots. Constant promotional posts don’t sell books as effectively as being a human being and connecting with other people. Twitter is big for me. I get many readers from there who go to my Booksie profile and read the series.
- Posting online is also part of my marketing. It’s how I build up an initial audience I can later hopefully turn into book buyers. It gives me an idea of how the book does with an audience. I also paid for Booksie Premium, which gives far more in-depth stats on who is reading and where from. It offers demographics so vital to finding my ideal reader and knowing who to market to, instead of just throwing promos into the void and hoping for the best. Marketing comes with some investment. Down the road when “Belladonna” is released I’ll look into experimenting with social media ads. I’ve been told by others they aren’t highly effective, but I at least want to try it for myself.
- And of course, having a website is vital to make a home base for all of my books, my writerly world, where I can post news and blog updates. I have a page there dedicated to the “Beyond Dark” series. The website recently underwent a revamp and I am thrilled with how it came out. From a website, one can send newsletters and build an email list, incredibly vital for marketing new works and sending out updates.
- I market early. So, once I am into writing that first draft, I am talking about it and how it’s progressing, taking followers and potential readers on the writing journey with me so maybe if they buy the book, they can feel they were part of that process, and they were.
What words of wisdom do you have for people thinking about self-publishing their own novel?
Quality, quality, quality. Remember Gordon Ramsey yelling at chefs for dropping their standards? That applies to self-publishing. Standard is everything. Your name is on that cover, why wouldn’t you want it to be the best quality possible? Low quality is what gives self-publishing a bad name, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are so many excellent books in the self-publishing world. If you’re putting your name it, think of it as a display of what you’re proud of. Are you proud to put that book out as is? Or could it use some help?
I discovered through this process that self-publishing is not just a solo game. You gain a small team of helpers along the way. Cover artists, editors, even friends who are willing to help. Just yesterday, my ex-sister-in-law, with whom I am still very close, offered to make a logo for the fictional law enforcement agency I created. She’s an artist and plays with graphic design. The logo looks amazing! I didn’t even think to create that myself. She had a list of ideas to use on my website or elsewhere. I had another friend suggest to me making my books into a podcast series, something I was already considering. But she went ahead and looked up how to make an affordable setup for creating a podcast at home. Do not ever be afraid to ask for help. You will have friends who love your work, who would love to help. Listen to ideas. Be open to ideas. You might start out doing everything yourself, but you’ll gain helpers along the way. Soon you’ll have a team of people willing to be there to support you. Be gracious. Be open.
And that brings me to my next point: Always, always be professional when dealing with cover artists or editors or anyone who is helping you. The self-publishing world is surprisingly small and word gets around when someone is rude or hard to work with. Don’t be that author. This is your business, your future, your name, your reputation. Uphold it with dignity and grace. Don’t like that one-star review someone gave your book? Relax. Don’t reply to it. Don’t take it personally. Not everyone will like your book, but they still took the time out of their lives to read it. If there is some constructive feedback, take it, see what you can do with it. Use these chances to become better. When my beta reader first went through “Belladonna”, she sent me back a 2000-word critique. 2000 words. That’s a lot of critiquing! And I am forever grateful she took her time and effort to do that, and the other read-throughs. The book only got better because of her, and because I didn’t take any of it personally. She is passionate about stories and characters, and it really shows. So, whether people let you down, or spread their passion to you, always be professional.
Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog! This community is an amazing place to be with the mix of different writers.