Author, Speaker, Publisher, Nonfiction Advocate, Community Builder
Stephanie Chandler set out to live the writer’s dream, writing novels in the back of a bookstore. Luckily for many nonfiction writers, over time she discovered her true dream: serving her community of nonfiction authors. Today she is a published author, runs an association for nonfiction authors as well as a yearly conference, and is also a small publisher.
She’s learned a lot along the way. Listen to our interview below. And if you want to know more about her details:
- Visit Stephanie’s website
- Learn about the Nonfiction Authors Association
- Check out the upcoming Nonfiction Writer’s Conference
(Stephanie’s story makes an appearance in my new book Get the Word Out.)
Listen to the Interview
Read the Interview Transcript
Anne: Hi. Stephanie, thanks for taking the time to talk with me, with all the work you do running the Nonfiction Author’s Association and putting together the Nonfiction Author’s Conference. I want to talk to you about the people you serve, who are my people: nonfiction authors.
Living the (New) Dream
Anne: Tell those who are not familiar with your story how you ended up doing what you do today. Because it’s an interesting story.
Stephanie. It’s a crazy story. I’m a Silicon Valley refugee. I quite my soul-sucking job and opened a bookstore. I thought I was going to sit in the back and write novels. That was in 2003. I quickly discovered I was a terrible novelist and I hated running a retail store. But it was a great training ground for learning about business marketing and playing around with writing.
When I realized I wasn’t a good novelist, I fortunately discovered nonfiction. It was this happy accident to discover how much I love nonfiction. It’s what I had always read.
When you grow up wanting to write, you naturally think you’re going to write a novel.
Anne: That’s right! We assume a novel. Fiction writers get all the glory.
Stephanie. Nobody told me any different. I read a book called Damn, Why Didn’t I Write That by Mark McCutcheon. It’s about the wonders of nonfiction. It opened up the whole world to me.
I was traditionally published. I hated being traditionally published. While I was under contract, I started my own publishing company, Authority Publishing, focused exclusively on nonfiction.
Then I’m off speaking at writer’s conferences—you and I have shared the stage many times. I was really disappointed by how few conferences focused on us nonfiction writers. So in 2010, I launched an online nonfiction writer’s conference. Our attendees kept saying, “How do we keep in touch afterwards?” I thought, “How is it there’s no association for nonfiction writers? That seems impossible!” But there wasn’t. We’re the only one. We launched the association in 2013.
I’m really passionate about working with nonfiction authors and their books, because that’s what makes a difference in the world, the books that help educate us, and open our eyes to new experiences and history. They’re so powerful.
Anne: I love that what you’ve done has been driven first by your experiences, and second, by what people say. There is no place for nonfiction authors, so I’m going to make one. You’re listening, paying attention to the people that you serve, and that’s driving what you do.
On the balance of writing and speaking
Anne So, you have written a mess of books. We need a plural noun for books—a bevy of books?—a lot of books that share different aspects of your expertise. Tell me a little about how the books fit into the whole picture of what you do. Do you speak first and then write the book? Do you write the book and then speak? How does that work?
Stephanie: Honestly, I’m a writer more than a speaker. Even though I do a fair amount of it, I’d rather be at my desk writing, as I think a lot of people would. If I had the choice, that’s the way I’d rather operate. I think the pandemic is going to change a lot about travel, and I’m cool with that. I’ll still go to a few writer’s conferences every year, because I love the people and engaging, but I don’t like to travel, I don’t like being away from home, I hate airplanes. I’m happy to see that go.
My most recent book is The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan. It literally walks people through every step to get your book published. I can’t believe I didn’t write the book sooner, because it feels like I should have written it ages ago. It’s what I’ve been doing for years. It’s been well received. It’s been a great journey. My books are informed by my audience as well: what are they asking for? I listened to those things. That’s how every bit of my business has started, how my blog content is created—it’s all based on listening to the audience.
Anne: Yes. And The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan is wonderful. I read it, it lays out so much great advice. I highly recommend people look at that. It’s very needed. Have you heard back from people who have used that book and talk to you about their experiences with it?
The unexpected results of generously sharing her knowledge
Stephanie. Yes, I have. It’s so rewarding to know that this is helping people. The other thing I didn’t realize was going to happen was that this book has brought me a lot of clients. They read it and go, “This is way too much work. I don’t want to do this.” Even some big corporate clients. We’re still publishing.
I don’t talk about that as much, because the association is where all my energy has been, but I’ve had a publishing company since 2008. I have a team that manages all that. We’ve generated quite a bit of new business because of the book—which also speaks to the value of writing a book as the old business card standard. That really wasn’t my attention when I wrote it, so that was a perk.
Anne: That’s an interesting point, though. When you write it with the intention of getting business, it comes across differently. When you write with the intention of sharing everything you can about it, you’re being transparent. You’re saying, this is the value, this is what you do. It’s quite possible. You and I have both had the experience of reading a book where clearly someone was writing it to get clients. We can tell.
Stephanie: Also, those books that make a promise but hold back. That drives me nuts. Same thing with webinars: “Here’s a little taste, but if you really want to know, sign up for my program.” I hate that. I believe in giving it all away.
Anne: You build a different kind of audience when you do that. More to the point, you succeed along what you’re trying to do, which is to serve your audience. And you hear back from them.
Stephanie: You do. The other point is, people still want help. Some people are do-it-yourselfers. Other people are like, this is good, but can you walk me through it? That’s going to bring you the business.
Give away all your best information. I’m such a believer in that.
Anne: And those people who took your book and think it’s awesome, if they run into someone else who wants more help, they’re going to say, “You know who wrote the book on this, whose advice I’m using? It’s Stephanie Chandler.” You find your people, you give them what they need, and they help you spread the word, which is the beauty of it.
Stephanie: Aren’t we lucky to do this?
How she found her purpose, gradually
Anne: We are. But, you talk about luck… If you look at what you’ve done, it’s not luck, it’s trial and error, experimentation, serving others. You had that vision—I think we’ve all had that vision—what if I had a little bookstore and I could sit in the back and write books? That’s like people who want to start a little bed and breakfast because they like baking scones. There’s a lot more involved than baking scones. You’ve learned from your experiments and trials.
One thing people don’t spend enough talking about… the period of time over which you have built what you have done. It’s not quick and easy, follow my three steps and life is beautiful. It’s gradual building.
Stephanie: I started in 2003 as an entrepreneur. So it’s been 17 years, which is nuts to me. The path is twisted and turned. If you’d asked me if I’d be doing this 20 years ago, I would have thought you were crazy. I just listened. That’s a big golden nugget for authors: listen to the audience.
Listen to the universal nudges about what you’re supposed to be doing.
Who do you want to help? It’s important for me to have purpose in my life. There was a period when I was in the middle of doing this when I struggled with, “Am I living my purpose?” Then I realized that maybe part of my purpose is to help other people achieve their purpose. That fuels me when I think about it. I’m getting to help other people get their books in the world, and marketing them and reaching bigger audiences. If I didn’t have that, this would not be nearly as fun. I need to feel like it matters.
Anne: Yes. And sometimes the way that we matter is by enabling other people to matter. We don’t get to necessarily define exactly what our impact is going to be on the world. We keep acting and hoping it plays out.
What’s been anything surprising about this adventure?
Stephanie: All of it. I didn’t expect to be here. I never really set out to be a speaker. That was something I had to accept.
Anne: You do very well. I’ve heard you speak.
Stephanie: That’s a good message, too. We can learn to do all of this stuff. You don’t have to be natural at it. There are a lot of people who love speaking. They live for it. I’m not one of those people. I had to learn the skill. You can teach yourself to be a writer. You can teach yourself to be a marketer. The resources are there.
Anne: More probably right now than at any point in recorded history – everything you need, if you have the time and energy and are willing to climb up that learning curve.
At the same time, it’s important for authors to remember that while they can learn everything, they can’t learn everything all at once.
Stephanie: It’s a huge industry. There’s so much. It can be incredibly overwhelming to embark on publishing. It’s normal to be overwhelmed by this industry.
Anne: Yes, you need to pick it off bit by bit and learn what you need as you go. You started out traditionally published. You are now running your own publishing company. You are an indie publisher: you have published your own books and help other authors publish theirs. Do you think of yourself as an indie publisher or hybrid press? I know these terms are all so nebulous.
Stephanie: I’ve always called us a custom publishing firm, but it’s all the same. We’re a hybrid. We work with indie authors, they retain their rights. That’s important to me.
Anne: And what a time it’s been to be in publishing.
Stephanie: I don’t know if you’re seeing this too, but in March, when California went in lockdown and the pandemic started to blow up, I though, “I wonder what this will do to our lives as publishers.” We have a community of authors who subscribe to be members. We saw an initial flurry of a couple dozen people falling off. As time goes on, all of those people have come back and then some. We’re actually busier than we’ve ever been. I find that really interesting on the publishing side as well. Part of that is because people have more time on their hands. They’re not traveling. They’re not going out on the weekends for social activities. It’s time to get their books done. Now more than ever it’s a great time to be focused on that.
Anne: It also gives us something future-focused to work on. In a time of great uncertainty, it’s wonderful to say, “Here’s this future thing, and I am making tangible progress toward it every day.” How cool is that? I think a lot of babies and a lot of books will come from this.
Stephanie: yes, I can’t wait until they all come out.
Anne: And, you will have had a hand in those books.
Stephanie: A little bit!
Advice for prospective authors
Anne: So, this is a question I ask of everybody. It’s hard to put you on the spot because you’ve written a whole book of it. What advice would you give to someone who has something they want to serve, they are thinking of doing a book and don’t know where to begin. What’s your top piece of advice? What would you say to guide somebody in that situation.
Stephanie: I would say don’t put it off. I’ve noticed this our membership tends to be older, because people wait until they’re retired and they finally have the free time to write the book. Life is short. I hate the thought of people putting off a big life goal for when they have more time. I personally want to write more as well. I struggle to carve out time to write. I do know that I never regret carving out time to write. I’ve never regretted finishing a book. It’s one of the most rewarding experiences you could have.
Anne: It’s very fulfilling. When get it out in the world and it starts to ripple back at you—wow.
Stephanie: Reader feedback … it’s amazing. I’ve had people come up to me at writer’s conferences with tattered copies of my books. That will never get old. That means the world to me. I want to take a picture with their book: “Look at what someone did to this book.”
Do it. Don’t wait, or you’ll regret it. It will be one of the most rewarding things you’ve ever done.
Anne: Yes. Maybe not rewarding in the way that you think – it may be rewarding in surprising ways. That’s one of the other lessons.
Stephanie: That’s a great point. Some authors come into this thinking, “It will sell millions of copies.” Unfortunately, that is not the reality at all. Unless you really work hard, selling books is a lot harder than people realize. I always try to set expectations with authors.
Anne: It is much harder. And, it’s hard for self-published authors. It’s hard for traditionally published authors as well. It’s always on the author at this point. People think, “No, if I get a publishing deal, I’ll just send the manuscript in and I’m done. I’ll sit back and eat bonbons.”
Stephanie: If only.
Anne: We would all be lined up for those deals if that was the case. Great advice Stephanie. Thanks so much for sharing it. You continue to share generously all kinds of things on the Nonfiction Authors Association, so I encourage people to check out what you do, your conferences, and your books.