Saturday, July 21, 2012

Indie Author S.C. Stephens Reveals What Makes Romance Readers Click

S.C. Stephens is an independent author who says she "enjoys spending every free moment she has creating stories that are packed with emotion and heavy on romance." Books of hers, including Thoughtless, Effortless, and Collision Course have attracted a large following on Smashwords and her titles are now hitting the bestseller lists at Smashwords retailers. Thoughless and Effortless have held steady for several weeks in the Apple iBookstore's top 20 store-wide bestseller list (as of this writing, #13 and #15).   Here, she shares with journalist David Weir how she writes and publishes, and some of the secrets to her success.

David Weir: Can you explain the genesis behind your first book, Thoughtless?

S.C. Stephens:
I love music, and I was listening to One Republic’s Dreaming Out Loud CD on a never-ending loop that year. I started seeing the character of Kellan in my head while listening to the songs. I also love angst, so I started seeing Kellan in the middle of a love triangle against another character in my head, Denny. The espresso scene was the first scene I typed out. I had so much fun discovering the how and why behind the events that led up to that scene, that I immediately started dreaming up additional scenes. Thoughtless sprang to life as a novel from answering those questions.

DW: Had you always wanted to be a writer or did this represent a sudden switch in direction for you?

I’ve always had the desire to write, but no real story to tell. I’ve written scenes here and there, only to hate them and throw them away. I almost tossed Thoughtless a half-dozen times, but I liked it so much, I couldn’t throw it out. Something kept driving me to keep going with it, to finish it. Besides completing the story, the biggest switch for me was talking about it. I’m a pretty private person, so deciding to tell people that I wrote a story, and a love story at that, was difficult for me. It’s been a gradual process that I’m only now starting to get comfortable with. Sort of.

DW: Can you share with us how you gathered feedback online as you were writing Thoughtless? And the impact that feedback had on the book?

I wasn’t going to share Thoughtless at all, but pure curiosity drove me to post it. I wanted to know if it was any good, if I had any talent whatsoever at telling a story. I decided to post it on, mainly because I could post it anonymously under a pen name. I posted it a chapter at a time and immediately fell in love with the instant feedback. And, much to my surprise, most of the feedback was very, very positive! Until the end, that is. The original ending was a lot different than the ending it has now. The reaction from the fans, along with some very well written reviews, made me consider changing the ending. Since I had a love/hate relationship with the original ending, I started reworking it, and I’m very happy that I did. I completely love it now.

DW: At first you gave your books away for free; when did that change and what did you do to start selling them?

I had multiple requests from fans for paperback copies of my books to put on their shelves. I wanted them on my shelf, too, so I started looking into self-publishing. There are several different websites available, but I decided to use, since they are linked with Once the paperback version of Thoughtless was available, people started asking if they could purchase the ebook. It was a hard decision for me, but after a tremendous amount of encouragement, I decided to treat writing more as a career and less as a hobby, and start charging for my material.

DW: Tell us about the various distribution channels you've used and how they've helped you reach different audiences?

Nicky Charles (Editor's note:  Read the Smashwords interview with Nicky Charles here) has been my self-publishing mentor since the beginning. She followed me on and encouraged me to use, which converts stories into free ebooks. I loved the way they looked as professional novels, so I quickly converted every single one of my stories. The books spread like wildfire over the Internet once they were converted into ebooks, and my fan base grew leaps and bounds. When I decided to charge for them, Nicky suggested I loved the fact that Smashwords is linked with Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Apple, and thought it was the perfect place to start selling my books. After Smashwords, I decided to publish with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, so that Kindle fans would be able to get a copy as well. The popularity of Thoughtless and its sequel, Effortless, has been greater than I ever thought it would be. 

S.C. Stephens' Thoughtless and Effortless have
occupied Apple's site-wide bestseller list for
weeks.  Smashwords distributes her to Apple.
(Screen shot taken 7/21/12)

DW: It looks as if over the past few months, the sales of your books are really taking off. What happened?

I’m not entirely sure. Once I put Thoughtless up for sale on Amazon as a Kindle ebook, sales really started taking off. I released the sequel a few months later, which helped, I think, since many people enjoy a series. In large part though, it has been the fans and bloggers. They are my advertisers, and they do an amazing job of spreading the word. I’m very blessed with a very loyal following. I’m awed and amazed on a daily basis.

DW: How do you stay in touch with your many fans and followers?

Currently, my main way to stay in touch is my fan page on Facebook. I post songs and pictures that inspired me, as well as updates on what I’m working on, and teasers for upcoming novels. I also have my email address listed in my books, and I receive a lot of wonderful comments and questions that way. I’ve just started the process of creating a website. I hope to have that up and running by the end of the summer.

DW: Do you work with an editor, and if so, how did you find her?

I do. I send all of my manuscripts to a woman named Debra Stang. She does an excellent job for a reasonable amount. I actually found her in the online yellow pages, and contacted her through her website. A friend of mine also helped me with Effortless and Collision Course. She read through them for me and fixed a lot of word flow problems.

DW: What is your writing routine and how long does it take you, roughly, to complete a book?

I try to write every day, preferably early in the morning before my children get up. When I first started, it took me between 3-4 months to finish a story. I seem to be a lot busier now, so it takes me a bit longer. I’ve also been writing sequels lately, which takes longer than a fresh story, since there are so many aspects of the previous novels that I need to remember. In some ways, writing new stories is a lot easier.

DW: Do you like to reread your books, or particular scenes from them, after they're published? If so, do you find they affect you differently over time?

During the editing process, I read the story so many times that I get to the point where I never want to read it again! But when that feeling passes, and I pick up the book again, I enjoy the scenes just as much as I did the first time. I still laugh, I still cry, I still fall in love.

DW: Contemporary romance is such a large and popular genre of writing; what do you think are the keys to connecting with an audience for this type of story-telling?

From the feedback I’ve received from fans, it’s the emotion that they connect with. They’re pulled into the story and feel for the characters—sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. The realism of the story touches people too. I’ve had several fans tell me that reading Thoughtless was like reading a story about their life. I’ve had others tell me that reading it made them reevaluate their relationship. It’s very surreal to me that something I wrote could have such an effect on someone.

DW: What is your favorite part of being an independent author?

I’ve only ever been an independent author, so I don’t know that I can compare it to being a traditionally published author. I love that I have complete control over what I write. I love that I get to share all of my stories with my fans, and not just the ones that a third party considers worthy of being published. Not every book I’ve written is a hit, but every one of them has received positive feedback from someone, somewhere. If they just sat on my computer forever, and no one was able to read them, it wouldn’t be as much fun for me.

DW: I know your tenth book is underway now -- can you give us a preview of it?

The book I’m working on now is the third novel in the Thoughtless series. It picks up right after the end of Effortless, and answers several questions that weren’t quite wrapped up in the second book. Since it’s the third in the series, I don’t know if there is anything else I can say that won’t spoil things for people who haven’t read the first two yet.

DW: Do your books still start as individual scenes in your head, or do you now conceive of them more or less in their entirety?

It still usually starts with an image, or sometimes, just a conversation. Plots and storylines will stem from that initial exchange or idea. With Collision Course, it was me driving home through a downpour and hoping nothing happened. With It’s All Relative, I was watching a hospital show on TV, and imagined two people who never thought they’d see each other again, meeting up to visit the same person. With Not a Chance, I was at a bank, listening to a girl on her cell phone tell a friend that her wallet was stolen. With Conversion, I was watching a movie that had nothing to do with vampires…but somehow I started thinking about a late-night discussion between a regular woman and a person who was a “little bit” vampire. Whenever I see or hear something that sparks an idea, I jot it down and tuck it into an “ideas” folder. I have a lot more stories in my head than I have time to write!

DW: Do you know how the story will end before you start writing it or do you discover that along the way?

While I usually know the “climax” of the story before I really begin to dive into it, I don’t always have an ending in mind when I start the story. Other times I have a definite ending in mind. Sometimes I’ll have two or three in mind, and I’ll know when the time comes which ending is the right one. And sometimes I don’t know exactly how it will end until I get there.

DW: There will be people reading this interview who have ideas for books but have not yet taken the steps necessary to get them published. Do you have any advice for them?

My main advice would be to keep plugging away at it, and to put it out there even if you don’t think it’s perfect. It will never be perfect. Sites like FictionPress are a great way for a writer who is just starting out to share their stories. You can learn a lot from the chapter by chapter feedback, and the encouragement is very rewarding. It’s also a great way to develop a fan base, so when you do publish, you’ve already got people interested in your stories. If you’re getting strong feedback and your fans are itching for more, then I highly recommend self-publishing!

DW: Thank you for speaking with us!

Smashwords distributes S.C. Stephens to the following ebook retailers:

Barnes & Noble

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Awesome, I hope to follow in her footsteps. My title Mad Moral is on the Top Books list in the iTunes store in Fantasy and they added it to the featured section along writers like Stephen King. I think start with the first book free is the quickest way to build up your rep. Nice interview, gives me confidence I'm taking the right steps.