Local author Lois Lewandowski poses with most of  her “vanity published” books, including The Ghost on Swann. (Photos by Charmaine George)

I recently read a novel by someone I’ve known indirectly for more than 20 years — Hunter’s Green resident Lois Lewandowski.

To be fair, despite knowing Lois’ husband (and local financial advisor) Chuck Lewandowski for that amount of time, I had only met her a handful of times and I honestly had no idea that the one-time IT rep for a Silicon Valley company who later worked in the jewelry department of Nordstrom’s was a published author.

So, when Lois (who writes her books as “L.A. Lewandowski”) contacted me by email about buying an ad for her most recent “vanity published” (she hates the term “self-published;” more on this below) novel — The Ghost on Swann — I told her that I would read the book first and be honest with her about whether or not I thought it would be worth buying ads to try to sell copies of it.

Well, quite truthfully, I was blown away by The Ghost. Each chapter of the book is told in first person by one of the four major characters — the ghost herself, Bertha “Posh” Swann, Posh’s friend Victor, Victor’s niece Tyrene and even a mannequin named Maude. The format, albeit a little confusing at first, does make you want to find out what happens next. Posh, who “haunts” the business now owned by her living friend Victor, was murdered in the same building many years earlier. 

If you recognize the spelling of “Swann,” it’s because Posh’s family is supposedly the reason Swann Ave. in Tampa’s renowned Hyde Park Village neighborhood (where the entire story is set) was given that name.

For a book devoid of sex and violence (even the description of Posh’s murder was somewhat pedestrian), The Ghost on Swann is a true page-turner. I told Lois that, as I read it, I wondered if maybe Posh’s murder was more of a mystery than the reader is led to believe, but as it turns out, The Ghost is not a murder mystery. Instead, it’s simply a well-crafted story rooted in the fashion industry (as Lois herself has been) that likely will appeal more to women than to men but I wouldn’t discourage anyone from giving it the once-over.

“I’m very proud of The Ghost,” Lois says. “It took three rewrites to get it to where it is now.”

Lois On ‘Vanity’ Publishing

Speaking of rewrites, as I mentioned earlier, Lois isn’t a fan of the term “self-published,” because it indicates to many people that the books are likely less “professional” than those published by one of the remaining major publishing houses. 

However, after reading The Ghost, it’s obvious that Lois’ work is not only professional, she takes a lot of pride in things like her editor (Stacy Juba), the design of the covers of her books, the spelling, grammar and punctuation of her stories and other things that many “self-published” authors don’t seem to sweat as she does.

“I prefer to call it ‘vanity publishing,’” she says. “Just because Viking, Penguin and other traditional publishers haven’t published my books, I care that if you read them, you won’t be able to distinguish it from a traditionally published book.”

She admits, however, that some self-publishers who don’t think they have to pay the same attention to detail, give the vanity publishing business a bad name. Many also don’t think you can make “real” money as a vanity publisher.

“But that just isn’t true,” Lois says. “I’m in a lot of online independent publishing groups and the word is that it takes as many as 15 books to really start making money. The Ghost on Swann is only my sixth book, but my brain is very active and I have at least three more that are close to being ready, so I feel like I’m on my way.”

On the other hand, Lois says that even though sites like Amazon do provide numbers of copies sold to authors, “I don’t really worry about sales. I write because I have stories in my head and I do regularly receive money for my book sales, too.”

Lois says it wasn’t always her dream to be a writer — “I wanted to be a lawyer, really…but it is my dream now.” She points to one vanity publisher who has written 35 or more books, putting out two a year, and has enough of a following that it is now his full-time job. “Amazon has an algorithm (for book sales) and you have to feed the algorithm, so I have to get another book out by October of this year to do that.”

She also says that a lot of people she meets tell her that they really want to write a book and she always encourages them to do so.“Stephen King calls it ‘BIC,” or ‘Butt in Chair,’ which is the only way to get it done.”  

In addition, Lois wrote for a blog called “Indies Unlimited” and found out, “that a lot of self-published writers are too cheap to register their work with the Library of Congress to protect it. But, if you really think you have a story people would be interested in reading, why wouldn’t you want to protect it?”

She adds, “Writers’ ideas are not copyright-able, but the words themselves are. If you protect your work, and someone publishes something that’s really close to your words, you can go after them legally.”

Lois says she even has gone so far as to teach “Authors 101” courses at public libraries, where she teaches people who want to write how to get started. “After the Tampa Bay Times did an article on me several years ago, I had 25 or 30 people at my course at the Riverview library,” she says. “The information I gave out then is all old now because of the internet, but I found out that a lot of people definitely have stories they want to tell in a book. That’s why, when I did my Authors 101 course, I felt so good about encouraging other authors to become vanity publishers.”

She also notes that it’s harder than ever to get one of the big publishing houses to publish your book, as you have write query letters to literary agents because, “you can’t even submit a manuscript to the folks at Random House.”

But, Lois says, “If you want to be a writer, your goal should be to publish, not to make money. “I don’t keep track of my sales because my goal is to be proud of my work. If people love my books, the money will come.”

Before releasing The Ghost on Swann in 2022, Lois’ first book was Born to Die, The Montauk Murders (2011). That was followed by A Gourmet Demise, Murder in South Tampa (2014), which Lois says briefly hit #1 on Amazon for a while and may be her career best-seller. Between those murder mysteries was Gentleman Vampire: The Undead Have Style (2012). She also has published Bacon Aporkalypse, which is a collection of recipes paired with short stories in 2014. And, Lois says the ebook Thirty Days of Work from Home Style (2020), was how she navigated the pandemic. She says her next book, which she plans to have out by the end of this year, will be the sequel to Gentleman Vampire.

Search “Books by L.A. Lewandowski” on Amazon.com. Almost all of Lois’ titles are available in paperback and for Kindle. 

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