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Write Now with Scrivener, Episode no. 23: Bill Thompson, Thriller Author | Literature and Latte

Bill Thompson is a thriller author who developed a career as a writer after he retired.

After decades as a corporate executive for a financial services firm, Bill Thompson retired and became a bestselling author of archeological thrillers.

Show notes:

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After decades as a corporate executive for a financial services firm, Bill Thompson retired and became a bestselling author of archeological thrillers. With more than two dozen books published, he is a very successful self-published author.

Bill writes archeological thrillers, with, as he said, an "Indiana Jones type character." He got into writing late in life. "I got into this sort of, by accident. My wife got ill and I became a caregiver. The longer I had to be at home, the more she said, 'Why don't you finish that book and started 30 years ago and quit bugging me?' So that's how it started."

Bill has written more than two dozen books, and is very productive. "I was writing three books a year, which ended with the pandemic year. And now I'm writing two a year. There's a lot of research required; I want people to know that I have walked the same streets that I'm writing about." This means a lot of travel, which Bill loves. "I've been to almost all of the Aztec and Maya sites, and I've also been in Peru to a number of Inca sites."

Having long been interested in archeology, and this seemed like an unique character to develop. "I've always been interested in archaeology, more from the standpoint of finding something that's been hidden for a long time. So, sometimes in my books, it's the archaeological things, sometimes they are treasure that outlaws hid. That's more the premise than archaeology itself. But I do love the ruins, the Mexican ruins."

As a successful self-published author, Bill tried the traditional publishing route first. "I got a number of rejection letters. And that was back in the day when Kindle was pretty young, around 2000. It wasn't just, ‘if I don't make it this way, I'll just use Kindle;’ it didn't really work that way at the beginning. I wanted to see the book in print, so I went to CreateSpace and published the book that way, and won some awards, and things worked out fine. Later, when I had about ten books, I went to a writers conference, talked to an agent, and she said, 'It's very difficult for you independent authors to become traditional. Because you've already got yourself established, you've already got your books. Traditional publishers don't want to pick up your old titles. And they're not necessarily going to want to pick up the next one in the series that you've self-published.'"

He realized that he was better off on his own. "I think going to a traditional publisher now means I do the same amount of work for a lot less money. They like my title for a month or two months, and then it's gone. I keep marketing it forever on my side if I'm indie publishing, and I like it a lot better this way. I've got 70% of the royalties. I'm content with giving [Amazon] 30% for the platform that everybody uses to buy books."

Bill discovered Scrivener around the time he was writing his fourth or fifth novel. He loves its flexibility. "You can move blocks of text around with Word, but it's so simple with Scrivener. I use a lot of chapters when I start, I may end up with 100 chapters that get culled down to what usually are between 40 and 50. I can move things around, I can move entire plots around, I can put things to the trash and deal with them later. Scrivener is just the most flexible thing I've seen for writers."

Some writers are plotters, some are pansters who write without an outline. Bill says he is 50% plotter. "I outline 50% of the book, which I think is about all you could do. I don't want to do the whole thing, because I don't want my books to be so predictable. Then I'm just writing to an outline. I find frequently when I'm writing that my characters have done something that I didn't expect. So I suddenly have a whole new thing. People will say to me, 'how's that possible? These people are all in your in your head.' Well, they are, but they do their thing. And frequently, they'll go off on a tangent, and I think, 'I like that. That's a really great idea.' And we'll pursue that. So maybe I stay on outline, maybe I get off at that point, and then change the outline. But usually by 75% of the book, I'm finished with the outline, and I wing it from there on."

We discussed book genres; the "archeological thriller" is not a common genre, and Bill said that micro genres are "a two edged sword. Because it's really nice to be able to hone down what your genre is. But then, when you have to categorize it for Amazon, you have put it into one of theirs. So it can be historical fiction, which it really isn't, it can be thriller or mystery, but you can put anything in thriller or mystery. It becomes a little hard sometimes to categorize a book that I would like to call archaeological fiction."

But being self-published, Bill has control over things like genre attribution. It is "one of the many things that you get as an independent author, that you get to keep in your control."

Self-publishing is about marketing, and Bill has honed this part of his business. "The biggest thing in self publishing is your email list. You've got to have a fan list, because those people will get a preview notice of an upcoming book, and I will get 250 pre orders in two days. That's a great base to start on, because Amazon will use that to build up my ranking. Those things really help."

Kirk McElhearn is a writer, podcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the podcast Write Now with Scrivener.

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