There’s nothing more difficult than feeling alone in your writing career. Enter Stephanie Chandler, the Founder and CEO of Nonfiction Authors Association, who firmly believes that nonfiction writers need a community to back them up. Stephanie shares with Robin Colucci how she felt left out in a writer’s conference of 300 people. It seemed she was the only one writing about a business book! There and then, something had to change.
Join in the conversation and discover how Stephanie built an online community for nonfiction writers. Eleven years later, the community stands strong with inspiring and supportive members worldwide. You don’t ever have to feel alone in your writing journey. Tune in and feel at home!
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Nonfiction Writers Need Community Too!: Stephanie Chandler Shares Innovations That Support Nonfiction Writers And Authors
Authoring a book can be a lonely process. It is important to find communities where you can connect with others on the journey. I will be speaking with a great innovator in this area. Stephanie Chandler is CEO of NonfictionAuthorsAssociation.com, a vibrant educational community for experienced as well as aspiring writers and authors, and the NonfictionWritersConference.com with its events conducted entirely online since its founding in 2010. She is the author of several books, including The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan and The Nonfiction Book Marketing Plan. A frequent speaker at business events and on the radio, she has been featured in Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek, and Wired Magazine. The one thing I noticed about Stephanie is she has a way of seeing a need and filling it.
In this interview, she will share with us a myriad of ways she is involved in supporting writers and authors, from creating communities to founding a much-needed writers conference for writers of nonfiction, her upcoming launch of a book marketing certification program, which is also much needed to create some industry standards around what kinds of skills do you need to have to help someone market a book effectively. The bottom line is I am confident that by the time you are done reading this interview, you will have discovered some resource or some key nugget of wisdom that you will be able to apply and use in your journey to author success.
Stephanie, welcome to show.
Thanks, Robin. It is fun to be with you.
It is so fun to have you. You interviewed me for your podcast and we had so much to talk about that I wanted to have you here. There is a lot of value you are going to be able to bring to our readers, but before we get into the nitty-gritty, would you share with our readers a little bit about your background and how you got into publishing in the first?
I am a Silicon Valley refugee. I was a Software Trainer and I ended up in software sales with a $4 million quota and also before my 30th birthday. I left in 2003 and I opened 2,800 square foot brick and mortar bookstore up here in Sacramento, and I thought I was going to sit in the back office and write novels. It turns out I hated running a retail business and I was a terrible novelist, but I always wanted to write my entire life as a child. You think you are supposed to write novels, but it turned out nonfiction was a window and it had not even occurred to me.Just ask. Then keep asking. Persistence pays off. Click To Tweet
My Silicon Valley friends were caravanning up to Sacramento, saying, “We want to quit our jobs too. How did you do it?” They were inspired. My first book was a business startup guide and I self-published it. I started building a platform online and then I sold agents with three books and thought, “What am I doing owning a stupid bookstore?” I sold the store and I started my own publishing business, and then I was speaking at Writers Conferences. I felt so left out as a nonfiction writer.
There were many times I was at conferences where I was the only business book writer in a group of 300 people, and I thought something has to change. In 2010, I launched a Nonfiction Writers Conference online. I had no idea if anyone would attend but they did. I have been doing it ever since, and then three years later, the Nonfiction Authors Association was born because the conference attendees were like, “How do we keep in touch when this is over?” I have just followed the path as it has been laid out before me.
I have been to several Writers Conferences as well and they are dominantly focused on fiction. If not fiction, it is going to be essays and memoirs. There is very little for aspiring nonfiction authors at Writers Conferences in general.
That is the truth and it is so disappointing. I can even tell you, I have spoken at dozens of conferences and writers’ events. It is really surprising. Even the fact that I could acquire NonfictionWritersConference.com and NonfictionAuthorsAssociation.com for $15, they want high demand for domains. It was wild. I still do not understand it. I am grateful we have very little competition and there is a need. Our community grew very quickly.
I have to refer to you as a woman ahead of your time or some ability to see into the future because you have done this conference online all along. I would imagine that in 2020, with COVID and so many conferences shutting down, you were business as usual. Tell me a little bit about when you started online. What were some of the initial feedback you got or did you had doubts when you started online? What were the naysayers saying to you?
We have doubts when we start anything new. Of course, I did. I did not know if anybody would come to this thing. I had eighteen speakers over three days delivered live. It was very ambitious. Unbelievably, everyone showed up when they were supposed to. Dan Poynter was our very first opening keynote speaker and I love that. We have that legacy because he was such a gift to the publishing community.
I am a huge Dan Poynter fan, and for those of you who do not know who Dan Poynter is, unfortunately, he passed not terribly long ago. He was up there when I met him several years ago, but he was the grandfather of self-publishing. He was the first person I ever heard speak about self-publishing that gave it any legitimacy in my mind whatsoever that this could be a viable path for someone to pursue and it was a huge opportunity.
When you think of how prescient that was at the time, that he was speaking about this and we were talking early-2000s, nobody was self-publishing. Amazon did not have their whole create space, not even close. I do not even think there was Amazon. How did you get Dan Poynter to keynote for your first online conference because he was a big deal by 2010?
He was a big deal but we had also been elbow-to-elbow at a number of writers’ conferences for many years and have become friends. In 2004, I got married. I went on my honeymoon and I read his self-publishing manual. It was the highlight of my honeymoon. It was the Bible. I came home with this book highlighted and sticky notes. I remember showing it to him because we knew each other by then, but showing it to him and saying, “You are amazing.”
I took off on the path of speaking about marketing. He would come and sit in my talks and I would sit in his. We just developed this amazing friendship. I went to his Ebook Awards, which still exists. I went to one of his events. My book received an award. He had me sit at the head table next to Marilu Henner, his special guests.
He was such a gift and a gracious human being. He honestly encouraged me with the whole conference because I said to him once, “Maybe we should switch and do an in-person.” He goes, “Do not you dare do that. Doing it online is what makes it so special.” He is 100% right. When the pandemic hit and I am watching all these conferences trying to figure out what to do. I was sitting back going, “We had our best conference ever.” We have attracted a lot of amazing speakers because we have been doing this for many years.
You do have some of the who’s who type of people who have spoken at your conference. I’m sure you love them all, but share with us some of the more notable favorites that our readers might have heard of.
Seth Godin was one of my favorites for sure. We had Martha Beck a few years ago. I thought she was incredible. We had Don Miguel Ruiz who wrote The Four Agreements. Gretchen Rubin was incredible and Cheryl Richardson. Sheri Salata who was Oprah’s Executive Producer for years was so inspiring. We have had Guy Kawasaki. We just had some incredible people. Dan Millman who wrote Way of the Peaceful Warrior and Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way. We have a lot of favorites on that list.
You have made a few of my Bibles. You are calling out my bookshelves here.
That is how I pick my speakers based on my own bookshelves. It is not random. It is very specific. I am very careful in how I approach them. I have some tricks up my sleeve like I will email them on a Saturday morning.
How do you get through to these people to be able to invite them to speak at your conference?
Email on a Saturday morning is weird, but it works because we were not getting a ton of emails on Saturday morning. I always know that works. I am able to honestly say, “This book has made an impact. I know it will impact our audience.” I am all about doing the things in the world through books. A lot of our speakers resonate with that. We have been able to do some promotions like Martha Beck had a book released during our conference. We were able to give away 100 copies of her book to the first 100 who registered. We have done some things like that, but the speakers are amazing. When they hear they are connecting with fellow nonfiction writers, it is like, “That exists?” They get excited. The response we get has been remarkable.
I just want to throw that in there because what you mentioned about when you reach out to these big-time authors and you tell them how their work has had an impact on you personally. I give the same advice to my clients when they are seeking endorsements for their book from some of these people. I am like, “If you can sincerely write something about how their work has made a difference in your life, it drastically increases your chances of getting that endorsement.” I have had self-published clients get some pretty big-name endorsements by doing that. That is a good little tip.
It is a great tip. The other thing is, “What was the worst thing that could happen?” I am a huge believer in asking. Just ask and keep asking. I’ll go back and re-ask people. Persistence and kindness pay off.
How long was it into doing your conference before it occurred to you to create the association?
We started the conference in 2010 and immediately, attendees were saying, “How do we keep in touch?” It just started spinning my wheels. It was in 2012 after the conference when I said, “I have got to do something.” It took me a year to put it together. I do not do anything without being thoughtful about it and building a plan. Creating an association is not a small undertaking. We launched in May of 2013 along with our third conference that year and it was amazing how well-received it was.
What are some of the benefits for you of having created this organization?Don't do anything without being thoughtful and building a plan. Click To Tweet
I have to say I am so inspired by the people in our community because I am mission-driven. I do believe books make a difference in the world. To see some of the types of projects or things like with mental health, Black Lives Matter and telling their very triumphant stories. There is so much in that that inspires me. One of our members was on Captain Sully’s plane that went down in the Hudson. One lost her husband on 9/11. There are many incredibly inspiring stories, and I am a big believer in the human spirit and resilience. I love to see people thriving in their lives.
How do your people stay connected? Is it also primarily online or do you have ways for people to connect on a regular basis as members? Is it more like a central hub resource? Tell us more about how the structure is.
Primarily, we have a private members-only Facebook group that is active and it is so fun to watch people say, “Help me with my book covers or how have you handled this?” You get responses from the members as well as those of us who have lots of experience. Some of our members formed a mastermind of their own. They do a monthly meeting. We were seeing all kinds of cool things happen from the members themselves connecting. I love that group. I am on there every day in our Facebook group. It is so fun.
That is a real community when people are interacting with one another and it is not just you, the mouthpiece talking at them, but they are engaged.
That is my favorite part. I want to engage with people. The sessions and all our courses are always live so we do tons of Q&A. The only thing that we prerecord is our podcast. Everything is done live, which is risky. Things go wrong like the power goes out or the speaker cannot dial in. Things happen, but the other thing I have learned is people are forgiving. They understand life happens and we make up for it later. This group inspires me on so many levels.
Around how many attendees do you get to your conferences?
It’s between 400 and 500 typically, which is a lot to manage. We have someone dedicated to customer service.
How many speakers are you up to now?
Our may event is three days and we do five speakers a day. It is fifteen a day, and then in November, we do a shorter event. We do four speakers a day for two days. It is a lot and so fun though.
I also happen to know that you have another project that you are about to launch. Let us know a little bit about this one because this could be an interesting opportunity for some of our readers as well.
I am ridiculously excited. It is our book marketing master course with optional professional certification. What that means is it came purely from selfish motives because I am constantly asking, “Can you recommend a marketing company? Can you recommend a marketing consultant?” I have a very small list of people I trust to draw from. I knew I was going to do a new marketing course. I have been working on it for a year. It’s got a companion of a 275-page workbook.
It is a massive six-week course. I thought, “What if I were training the marketing consultants that I could then recommend?” There is no professional certification in the publishing industry for book marketing nor is there one for self-publishing consulting. We have that coming in 2022, but we decided to go all-in. We launched this and the professional certification is optional. It is available. Virtual assistants are responding to it and that is amazing. Every author needs a virtual assistant. It is a game-changer.
I am curious because this has been a challenge. As a matter of fact, I was speaking with one of my clients, and he was lamenting that we do not offer book marketing. I am like, “This is our wheelhouse. This is where we excel.” From your point of view, I would love to know, what are some of the ways you could look at a book marketer and their performance? How do you know you have a good book marketer?
I was a publisher for a number of years. I never sold marketing services either and that was intentional because you cannot guarantee. Not if you are doing things above the level. You cannot guarantee results and I would never want to sell something that I could not guarantee results. What you can do is help somebody craft a plan. You can help them implement that plan but you still cannot guarantee. Marketing is fickle so how do you know if you have a good book marketer? You have somebody who understands that. If they are not going to over-promise, they are not going to do it. There are companies out there charging thousands of dollars to get you to the top of your Amazon category.
You do not need to hire someone to do that. It has no long-term value. Focus on getting in the top ten of your category for the next year every day, not for one day, so that you can call yourself the bestselling author. That stuff drives me crazy. I would much rather see authors build their platform, build their email list, use content marketing and strategies that build an audience for the long term.
If you are interviewing marketing firms, assistants and consultants, that’s the strategy they should be telling you to do. I am sure you have had this question too. I hear this all the time, “Can I outsource all my marketing?” You could but you won’t make any money because our profit margins are so low on books. If you are going to invest in marketing, you have to have some other goals like you are promoting your business or something like that.
That’s what I tell people. Do not think of it like, “I am doing this to sell books.” You want to think of this as, “I am doing this to raise the visibility of my brand overall. I am doing this to make new connections, to be in more places, to know more people because everything that you earn back is on the backend of the book sale.” What is that reader going to do with you once they have your book or once they have heard of your book? They might not even necessarily get your book, but maybe they would go to your website and be like, “This is the perfect coach for me. I need to have this person come speak at my next event.” What I have observed with trying to outsource your book marketing as a huge problem is that no one is better qualified to market and talk about your book than you are.
I agree, and you cannot automate everything. The one thing I am advocating right now for nonfiction authors is Amazon ads. In these ads, we were seeing a good performance. I have a client, Mark Paul, who wrote a memoir called The Greatest Gambling Story Ever Told. It is about back in the ’80s, he placed a bet on a filly to win the Kentucky Derby. It was a long-shot bet. He ended up winning and he had to go collect his million-dollar prize from the Mexican drug cartel. This is an incredible story. It reads like a novel and it is true.
Mark is a real estate investor in Beverly Hills. He has no platform. I do not think he had a Twitter account when the book came out in 2020. He went all-in on Amazon ads. He taught himself how to do it. He got his ten categories. He sold 30,000 copies of a memoir with no platform in 2020. It is extraordinary and it led to some other opportunities. He is got licensing deals with some gambling companies. It is a unique story. That is obviously not the typical result, but the point is it is possible to get good results with those Amazon ads. I think that is just a no-brainer.
It is a great tip that I had never even heard of. Just see how out of touch with book marketing I am. I never even heard of Amazon ads.
You have to have a book publish through KDP and your Kindle Edition is just fine. That is what I recommend. Get your Kindle Edition through KDP and you can publish the print elsewhere.
That is a good ROI for him, I bet too. When you are talking tens of thousands of book sales, then it can start to add up to more interesting numbers.
He is a real estate investor. I do not think the numbers matter that much to him but he sold the film rights to the book before this happened. It certainly does not hurt that he can show these sales results when the producers are shopping the project.
Across the board, from a very armchair point of view, I am a geek when it comes to looking at these trends and things like, what are the patterns? How many syllables are in the most bestselling titles? One thing that I did also look at is a perfect ratio as far as income goes from your book like book sales versus everything else. Book sales should not be any more than 10% of the gross additional revenue you are getting from having made that transition to being an author.
What I found is it is a matter of scale. You can think of this gentleman who wrote this book or somebody who maybe did not even sell 1,000 books, but what else are they doing with that opportunity, or you can go all the way up to Harry Potter, which presold twelve million copies on the seventh book. If you add up all she made on movie rights, licensing and everything else, I still bet you that her book sales are not more than 10% of the revenue that she received from that brand.
We talk about this a lot because I am a believer in building revenue streams around your books, but our memoir authors do not like that. It is understandable because they just want to sell the book, and then I am thinking, we have got writers who do history or science, and it is trickier. However, you can still get paid to speak. You can still create consulting or coaching revenue based on a theme from your book.
I saw a gal online who’s a cancer coach because she wrote her memoir about going through breast cancer and then became a coach for others in her shoes. I always encouraged people that you are not alone if you are trying to sit in there going, “How do I make money around this book?” That is how you make money. You figure out what the opportunities are around it, and there are tons of them.
You could offer an online course or an in-person course that you can derive even from a memoir if you want. How much do you think your tech background helped you with all this online stuff?Create revenue-based consulting or coaching on a theme from your book. Click To Tweet
No one has ever asked me that before. It helped me more than I realized. First of all, I have no fear of tech. I just dive in. In those early years, I wanted to know how everything worked. I am over that now. I do not have the time to know how everything works anymore. My favorite job I had when I was in Silicon Valley was as a technical instructor. I would develop courses and I would teach courses. I learned HTML so I could teach these web courses.
What a cool skill, and to be able to do that now while I am developing my own courses is amazing. I feel like those steps just laid out before me and I did not even know how valuable that was going to be. I set out to be an English teacher. I thought I was going to teach English classes. While I was in school, I had to work. I worked at a software company. I was a receptionist for their dispatch center and down the hall, they had tech support. I walked down there one day.
I looked at the manager and I am like, “How do I get hired in here?” I am nineteen years old. She looks at me and she goes, “Do you have any computer experience?” I said, “No but I am taking college classes right now.” She said, “Go take a Computer class and come talk to me.” I said, “Okay.” The next trimester, I took a Computer class. I got my A. I went back to her and I said, “I took the class. Will you talk to me now?” She said, “Okay,” and they hired me. They could not believe that I had the nerve to do that. I always said that I have never been qualified for any job I have ever had, including this one. I have to figure things out as I go. I do not have the fear gene. I am not afraid to do these things.
That’s interesting because you did not start off with a background in tech. It is not like you were a tech junkie as a kid. You never had a fear of tech. I cannot even imagine like if anyone had told me to take a technology class while I was in college, you would have found me under the desk with a stomach ache. I am not a chicken. I have done some pretty serious stuff but it was hard for me. I get this objection a lot if I say to somebody, “You should build a marketing online course.” It’s already hard enough or they are in the process of or just finished writing a book, which is also something they have never done. What do you say to people about this thing?
For people who are truly fearful or do not want to do it themselves, that is where virtual assistants come in. I am such a fan of virtual assistants. We maintain on our website a list of assistants who work with authors. Lots of them have experienced setting up these courses or doing your social media. I am a huge believer in outsourcing the stuff that you are not good at. When I first opened that bookstore all those years ago, I went and took a QuickBooks class because I thought, “I’ve got to keep my books.” I had gotten a C in College Accounting. I am a nut in numbers. I would rather write an essay than balance my checkbook. I take a QuickBooks class. I am struggling through doing my QuickBooks. About a month into it, I said, “Why am I doing this?” I have had the same bookkeeper ever since, and that was 2003. If you have an aversion to it, hire it out. It is the best $100 a month I have spent for years.
I cannot even imagine doing my books now.
I got audited and that is scary. I show up, Judy meets me there, and she is got this stack of binders. I am like, “What are those?” We sit down and the lady is like, “Show us this Costco transaction from June 6th, 2009.” Judy flips her binder and she’s like, “Here it is.” She had a copy of every single document. Had I gone in there by myself, I would have just had to say, “I surrender. I have no idea where anything is.” If it is not your strength, hire it out.
I love that you have resources on your website. Which website would our readers go to find some of these resources?
The main one is NonfictionAuthorsAssociation.com. The recommended resources are our most popular area of the site by far because we have got everybody there.
There are virtual assistants and it does make a difference, for example, if you are going to launch an online course, to have someone who knows how to build a campaign in your contact management software, how to set up your marketing emails, how to automate what can be automated, and how to fix something that is broken.
Also, a good website manager because I have been there.
It is completely game-changing when you find those people.
I am glad you said the word people because this is a big misconception. It is often more than one person. I answered an email from one of our community members saying, “I cannot find someone who can do my Wix website, my social media, and help me launch my course.” I am like, “Those are three different functions you just listed. You cannot expect one person to do all of them.”
Not all well, that is for sure. My web designer, that is all he does and he is a genius. What is the question I should have asked you?
People are constantly asking me for my best marketing tips. Why do I not throw out a few of those? I mentioned Amazon ads. You should be there. I love podcast tours. I do not know why authors are not doing more of what you and I are doing right now. It’s super fun. I do not have to leave my house. You can do these all day long. It is a brilliant strategy for a book launch. I do not see enough authors using beta readers. Do your clients do much with beta readers?
We have a lot of checks and balances internally. Most of our clients are traditionally published but tell me more about beta readers.
Beta readers are not just for editorial feedback. I personally do not want editorial feedback. I do not like having too many cooks in the kitchen. That is the misconception, that beta readers are all about editing. That is not the case. I like beta readers for launch support when you give early access to your manuscript, let’s say a month before the book comes out. When I did my last launch, I put out a call and my goal was to get 100 beta readers. We had 300 people applied and I accepted all of them. I gave them all access to the manuscript, created a private Facebook group, and kept them informed like, “Here is our launch date. The review copies have shown up.” We went through the whole process together.
On launch day, they were amazing. They were tweeting. They were on Facebook and Instagram. I asked them to write reviews. I could not believe how many verified purchase reviews showed up because they did not have to buy the book but many of them did. I have to say it was one of the most personally rewarding experiences because I love the dialogue with the readers. They were gracious. It was such a great experience. I am such a fan of using beta readers for your launch plan.
We used to call those galley readers. That goes to tell you how long I have been in this thing.
That is a traditionally published firm.
I want to know, how did you choose those 300 people?
I put out an email and if they are on my list, I figure they are for real, but I did do an application process. I asked questions like, “How would you help support the book launch?” They would say things like, “I would put it to my 1,500 Twitter followers.” I was more interested in knowing they were real people. I was not focused on their numbers. Out of 301 applications, I deleted one because it did not look legit. That is why I have an application process.
It is also great because by answering those questions, they are making a commitment to you. They are not just saying, “Send me your book.” It increases the odds that they will actually read the book.
That is so true and let us be clear, I did not get 300 reviews out of that. I probably got 30, probably 10% led to reviews, but a lot of them talked about it. They wrote about it on their blogs and put it on social media. That was super fun. It was a good and great experience.Outsource what you're not good at. Click To Tweet
These are wonderful ideas. Thank you so much for answering the question I did not ask.
I am glad you asked me.
Stephanie, this has been such a joy to have you and thank you again for being here with us. Where should our readers go if they want to become certified book marketers?
It is on the website. Go to NonfictionAuthorsAssociation.com. It is where the course is, and then NonfictionWritersConference.com is our conference. I just love hearing from readers and writers. Feel free to reach out as well.
Thank you again, Stephanie, for being with us here.
Thank you, Robin. It is so delightful to talk with you.
- Stephanie Chandler
- The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan
- The Nonfiction Book Marketing Plan
- The Four Agreements
- Way of the Peaceful Warrior
- The Artist’s Way
- The Greatest Gambling Story Ever Told
- Harry Potter
About Stephanie Chandler
Stephanie Chandler is the author of several books including The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan and The Nonfiction Book Marketing Plan. She is CEO of NonfictionAuthorsAssociation.com, a vibrant educational community for experienced and aspiring writers, and NonfictionWritersConference.com, events conducted entirely online since 2010. A frequent speaker at business events and on the radio, she has been featured in Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek, and Wired magazine.
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