Stephanie Bond on why she credits her success with self-publishing to the hard-knocks she got when she pubbed “traditionally”

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Atlanta novelist Stephanie Bond walked away from a corporate career in computer programming to write fiction full-time.  After penning dozens of titles for various New York publishers, the prolific author broke ties with NY and launched her own self-publishing venture in 2011. And she hasn’t looked back. To-date, Stephanie has sold more than 2 million copies of her own books. She has over seventy mystery and romance novels to her name, plus a Hallmark Channel movie based on one of her titles. Her latest project, Coma Girl, is an example of another career leap of faith.

Maya Fleischmann (MF): What was the inspiration for your Coma Girl Daily Serial?

Stephanie Bond (SB): There are two distinct parts of the Coma Girl project that made it come together–the format, and the concept.  The format came first. I’ve been wanting to experiment with a serial for some time, but I had to clunk through the logistics of how I would present it before I could then move on to the second part, which is a story that would lend itself to being told in the serial format.  For that, I reached deep into my files.  When I was in grade school, a teacher told me a car accident when she was young had left her in a coma, and she’d been aware of everything going on around her.  I was fascinated by that story and decades later when I became a writer, I pitched a romantic comedy idea to an editor at Random House about a girl in a coma.  The editor bought it, but before I could finish writing it, the imprint was dropped and my contract was cancelled.  When I was searching for a concept for the daily serial, I remembered the coma girl story and realized with some retooling, it would be a great fit.

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MF: How has it impacted your readers and what sorts of comments and feedback have you received? Is this the first serial that you have written?

SB: I’ve written hybrid-serialized projects for former publishers, and those projects taught me a lot about what to do and what not to do with Coma Girl.  (Shorter segments, more frequent.)  So far, my readers have been enthusiastic about the project and the format.  The serial started July 1 and will run through December 31, 2016.  Readers can get the current day’s episode for free on my website, and if they get behind or want to read ahead, they can order a month’s worth of episodes in a novella I self-published through Kindle Direct Publishing.  A new novella will be released the first of every month through December, available exclusively from Amazon.  The readers who are following along for free on my website say they like the daily fix they get…other readers prefer to order the novellas and binge-read. Offering the Coma Girl, daily serial both for free and for pay is working because the readers who are reading the serial for free are keeping the story alive in social media (#ComaGirl), which brings more readers to the project. Everyone seems to be very invested in the main character.

MF: What are your plans for the serial when it reaches your projection end date in December?

SB: If, at the end of Coma Girl, readers would like to read more about her (perhaps a prequel?) or about other characters in the story, I might do a spinoff, either in another serial or in a separate book.   A popular character from another book series of mine makes an appearance in Coma Girl,, and it’s allowed me to show him in a different light I hope readers appreciate.  He will, of course, continue on in the other book series.  In short, I’ve always utilized prequels and spin-offs and cross-pollination of characters to further the reading experience for my readers and show them other dimensions of characters they’re familiar with, and I will continue to as long as they keep reading.

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MF: Are there any misconceptions that you anticipate readers having with this book? What are they?

SB: I think the biggest obstacle to overcome was the idea of how interesting could it be to read about someone just lying in a hospital bed unable to communicate?  But with the serial tagline  – You can learn a lot when people think you aren’t listening –  I try to convey what a perfect fly-on-the-wall position she’s in to find out about the people who move in and out of her room.

MF: You have numerous books in the works. What makes you want to share your writing progress with your followers? How do you focus on so many books and decide which book to work on each day?

 SB: I share the status of books in the works with a progress meter on my website both to keep my readers informed and to make myself accountable.  Writing different books at once can be manic, but I compare it to having breakfast with one set of friends, lunch with another set of friends, and dinner with yet another set of friends.  And sometimes I break up my writing time by working on one project during the week and another on the weekends.  There are a lot of things to consider when deciding which project to work on next.  Readers might be clamoring for one book, for example, not realizing the book is tied to a series I wrote for a publisher so I don’t have complete control over it.  And a book in the middle of a series isn’t as attractive to foreign language publishers as a standalone book.  And I’d like to keep writing new ideas so my film agent has new concepts to shop to producers and show runners.   When I planned my writing schedule for 2016, Coma Girl wasn’t even in it, but then I got the overwhelming sense that short-form storytelling was in the air, and I decided the timing was right for Coma Girl.

MF: Is there one lingering thought/effect you want your readers to have after reading the final line of any of your novels?

SB: I’m going to answer this question paraphrasing from my nonfiction book Your Personal Fiction-Writing Coach:  I like to think of my ending as a punctuation mark at the end of a very long sentence. Is the ending an ellipsis—does it lead the reader into a sigh?  Or is it a period—does it tie up all the loose ends in a pretty bow?  Or is it a question mark—does it leave the reader wondering what’s next for the character?  Or is it an exclamation point—does it make the reader gasp?

MF: Your website hosts numerous options for learning and writing for new writers, such as advice for writers, introduction to fan fiction and your sharing writing progress with others.  Why drives you to encourage new writers and their desire to write?

SB: I think most writers receive emails from aspiring writers asking for advice.  And since I remember what it was like to be in that place, I try to oblige by sharing my own experiences.  Since I’m not classically trained as a writer–my undergraduate degree is computer programming and I have an MBA—I try to demystify the writing process for people who want to try their hand.

These days a writer has to be aware of how readers are consuming stories; considering how many people are reading on their phones and how chaotic everyone’s life is, I believe short-form, episodic fiction will be the dominant storytelling format of the future.

MF: What have been the benefits of self publishing over traditional publishing (or vice versa) for you? Would you recommend one over the other?

SB: First, let me say I credit my success in self-publishing to the hard-knocks education I got in traditional publishing.  And the traditional publishers I wrote for (Random House, Harlequin, St. Martin’s Press, HarperCollins) helped me to build a readership to springboard from once I moved to self-publishing.  And digital publishing in general is simply a better fit for my hybrid books that are part mystery, part relationship; traditional publishers never knew how to categorize my books or where they should be shelved in brick and mortar stores.

In self-publishing I have complete control of my content, packaging, brand, price, release schedule, and a thousand other things a writer gives up when she sells her book to a publisher, plus I can categorize my books to attract both mystery readers and romance readers.  To a new writer, even if your goal is to be published by a NY publisher, I would say there’s no downside to self-publishing IF you view it as an exercise for offering a beta product—you will learn a lot in the process, and readers will let you know if your book is ready for prime time. If your book isn’t well-received, you can retool and republish—that’s the beauty of self-publishing.  If your book performs well, then you can submit it to NY with sales numbers and reviews to back it up.

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MF: Congratulations! Stop the Wedding! is now a Hallmark Channel movie. Did you finally watch the move?  If so, what do you think? Was it pretty close to the novel?

 SB: Thank you!  I watched the Stop the Wedding! movie for the first time the night it premiered on the Hallmark Channel to enjoy it like a regular viewer.  And I loved it!  The casting is perfect, especially Rachel Boston as the lead—she is luminous.  And yes, the story was close to my novel, although there were deviations for the sake of having more visual scenes and action, which I understand.

 MF: How does it feel to have crossed over into television? Any thoughts about branching out into screenwriting at this time?

SB: I’ve dabbled a bit in screenwriting and would very much like to write a teleplay for one of my books someday.  Having a novel turned into a TV movie is a dream come true—it’s a treat for me and for my readers, and reinforces to me the power of cross-media projects.  For example, Hallmark made the key art of the movie available to me to put on the cover of the Stop the Wedding! ebook to bring readers to the movie.  (Let me just add here that getting a movie tie-in cover on a traditionally published book would have been a Herculean effort involving numerous departments that would’ve taken months and a thousand emails, but because I can update my self-published ebook cover on the fly through KDP, it took mere hours.)  Conversely, Hallmark introduced my name to millions of viewers whom I hope will look for more of my books.

MF: What writing accomplishments are you 1) most well-known for and 2) most proud?

SB: The book I’m most well-known for writing is Stop the Wedding!, the book that’s now a Hallmark Channel movie—it’s been my best-selling book to-date.  And it’s also the one I’m most proud of—not because it’s my best book, but because it’s the book I never gave up on.  It’s been my most successful book to-date, with 500,000 copies sold in multiple languages, and now the movie, too.  I call it the Little Book that Could.

MF: Do you have a favorite quotation from your book or character? What is it and who says it?

SB: At the moment, I’m engrossed in Coma Girl, and one observation she makes in particular stands out to me.  She’s lying comatose in a hospital bed, being visited by a college friend who from outward appearances is the epitome of success.  But when the woman breaks down and confesses to Coma Girl the hellish conditions of her enviable life, Coma Girl thinks:  While I’ve always been envious of her life, now I wouldn’t trade places with her for a king’s ransom.  Because my chances of waking up from my stupor are probably better than hers.

I think that speaks volumes about how many people are going through their day like automatons, letting life happen to them.  I guess that would be my parting advice to readers:  Whatever you do, be it a failure or a success, at least be purposeful.  Don’t just let life happen to you.

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BONUS STUFF!

–To create more value for the readers who buy the Coma Girl monthly novellas, Stephanie is including a link in each to download a free coloring sheet inspired by the colorful head scarves visitors bring to cover her bandages (six coloring sheets in all), and will be featuring other bonus material, such as an interview with an attorney on why an advance health directive is important in the unfortunate event you wind up in a coma!

–Here’s a link to a free Coma Girl Coloring Sheet; Stephanie is offering two of the coloring sheets free to all IndieReaders!

-Here’s a link to the recently launched Coma Girl Coloring Contest on Facebook!

 

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