The Craft And Business Of Writing Non-Fiction Books With Stephanie Chandler

How can you stand out in a crowded market of non-fiction books? How can you build a business around your central topic?

How can you deal with failure to move on to success? Stephanie Chandler shares her experience and tips.

In the intro, HarperCollins and KKR make bids for Simon & Schuster [The Hotsheet]; more details from the Indie Author Earnings report [ALLi]; Thoughts from SPS Live; Photo of my boxed set (in a box); Amazon launch their Generative AI Innovation Centre. My books related to this interview: Career Change, How to Write Non-Fiction, Your Author Business Plan, Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives, and Other Introverts.


Today’s show is sponsored by Ingram Spark, which I use to print and distribute my print-on-demand books to 40,000 retailers including independent bookstores, schools and universities, libraries, and more. It’s your content—do more with it through

Stephanie Chandler is the author of multiple nonfiction books, a professional speaker, and CEO of the Nonfiction Authors Association and Writers Conference.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.

Show Notes

  • Changes in publishing and marketing for nonfiction authors over time and what still works
  • How to stand out and build your community
  • Content marketing and long-term marketing strategies
  • Deciding what nonfiction book to write—should you stay in your lane?
  • Letting go, quitting, and moving on
  • Dealing with failure and using it to find the right direction for your writing — and your life
  • How nonfiction authors can leverage their book to generate multiple streams of income
  • The Nonfiction Authors Association and how it is useful to authors

You can find Stephanie at

Transcript of Interview with Stephanie Chandler

Joanna: Stephanie Chandler is the author of multiple nonfiction books, a professional speaker, and CEO of the Nonfiction Authors Association and Writers Conference. So welcome back to the show, Stephanie.

Stephanie: Joanna, it’s so fun to chat with you. Thanks for having me.

Joanna: Just an introduction to the audience, back in 2007 I read your book, From Entrepreneur to Infopreneur, which helped me decide to start my own author business.

You’ve been teaching nonfiction authors about marketing since then, but it has been a decade since we talked last in 2013 about book marketing. So for those who don’t know you—

Tell us a bit more about you and your background in books and marketing.

Stephanie: Yes, thank you for referencing. I love that we have that connection through that book.

I am a Silicon Valley refugee, I left in 2003 and I opened a brick-and-mortar bookstore here in Sacramento, California, and thought I was going to write novels in the back office. It turned out I was a terrible fiction writer, I just did not have the imagination. It was devastating because when you spend your whole life wanting to write, it was just really disappointing.

I didn’t know what to do next, but I kind of took a U-turn and discovered how much I loved nonfiction and the fact that it blends that ability to teach, which I’ve always wanted to do. And I hated running the bookstore, by the way. It’s not nearly as romantic as it sounds.

So I wrote my first book, it was a business startup guide. I had an agent call and tell me, I like what you’re doing but nobody knows who you are, you need to build an audience. And I started a website called Business Info Guide, and this is back before blogging was a thing. So I was creating new articles, which is very tedious back then, and every time I created new articles, I was attracting more website traffic and I was building this email list.

So a year after the self-published business startup guide came out, I had the idea for From Entrepreneur to Infopreneur. I sent proposals to three publishers, and Wiley gave me a book deal. So I was beyond thrilled. I was walking the talk, I was selling digital products off the website, and building an email list, and creating workbooks and eBooks. I mean, before eBooks were a thing, right? Ebooks back then were PDFs. 

It just kind of evolved from there. I ended up signing with an agent, I sold a couple more books, and then —

I got really turned off by traditional publishing and the lack of control.

I had titles change, I had book covers I didn’t like. One publisher called and said, we want you to remove a chapter, we don’t care which one, we’re trying to cut costs. And I thought, oh my gosh, I’m never letting that happen again.

Meanwhile, I’m speaking at writers’ conferences, and I am wondering why isn’t anybody talking to those of us who write nonfiction. I was at a conference with 350 people, and from what I could tell I was the only business book writer there.

So in 2008, I started my own publishing business. I took back control of my publishing rights, and started working with nonfiction authors exclusively.

Then in 2010, I launched the Nonfiction Writers Conference.

It was a three-day event, entirely online. And back then we were doing this by teleseminar. Remember that, Joanna?

Joanna: Yeah, yeah.

Stephanie: Right. And three days on teleseminar, which was unheard of, and I didn’t know if people would come, but they did. And each year after, we’d run the event, and people would say, well, how do we keep in touch when this is over? I’m so grateful for that because it led to the launch of the Nonfiction Authors Association in 2013, and I built a community.

We launched in May of 2013, and in October my husband died unexpectedly. And it was just absolutely devastating. I kind of checked out for a year, and I had one assistant helping me run things. And despite being almost completely disengaged for a year, the community grew. I thought, you know what, we’re onto something. There is a need for this community.

So when I returned a year later, I really got involved in the community, and we’ve just continued to grow from there. The conference has grown from there. And it’s been a wonderful ride ever since. This was the 10 year anniversary of the Nonfiction Authors Association this year, and it was our 13th Nonfiction Writers Conference. So it’s been an amazing ride.

Joanna: I’m so sorry about your husband, by the way.

Stephanie: Thank you.

Joanna: I mean, it’s just awful.

But coming back to business things, it’s amazing how you—well, and this is what’s so great, like I said, you and I’ve been connected for all this time, and you’ve just taken one step at a time into new opportunities. I’ve done the same.

We’ve both ended up with quite different businesses, but it has been successful for both of us. But there’s been a lot of change. So I guess you mentioned a bit about trad pub and going indie, but—

What have been the biggest changes you’ve seen for nonfiction authors in terms of publishing and book marketing since you started out?

Stephanie: Oh, my gosh, so much has changed.

I mean, I think back to remember when we thought eBooks were going to overtake print books, and there was all this frenzy around that. And now we’ve got AI coming out. Just this morning, there was this news story about Paul McCartney and The Beatles may be able to release new music using John Lennon’s voice because of AI. So that’s been really exciting. We didn’t have social media, or podcasts, or any of these things, Joanna, back when you and I were starting.

Then there’s tremendous competition. There are more books released every year now than ever before.

I mean, some people are saying there are a million titles being released a year. And Amazon has, quite frankly, made brick-and-mortar less relevant, like it or not. So I honestly think —

Book marketing is easier because we have more tools.

If you have a really focused plan, if you carve out a niche for yourself and focus on building community, there’s actually a lot of advantages to the change that’s happened.

Joanna: That’s my attitude, too.

You have to make the most of whatever situation, but yeah, we had nothing. It’s so funny, people are like, oh it was so easy for you back then when you published in 2007. I’m like, hell no, it wasn’t. That’s so crazy.

But just a couple of things to come back on. So first of all, traditional publishing. You advise a lot of nonfiction authors.

For authors who want to go the traditional publishing route, when is it a good idea for them?

And what should they weigh up, whether to go traditional or to go indie?

Stephanie: Yeah, so my feeling on traditional publishing, I’ve been fairly soured over that experience, just because my personal experience wasn’t great. I also understand that it is a goal for a lot of people. It was certainly a goal for me to be traditionally published. I found that to be very rewarding, but today it’s different.

So my advice is, if you have a book that has broad appeal and belongs on brick and mortar bookstore shelves, and it’s a real goal for you, then it may be worth considering.

It is harder than ever to get a book deal.

You really have to come to the table with a platform, especially in nonfiction. So if it’s your goal, I think that it’s worth making the effort.

Go through the exercise of writing a book proposal, whether you plan to traditionally publish or not, it’s such a great exercise to help you get focused on your book, and then give it a timeframe. So give yourself six months, and if nothing happens, if you’re not able to get an agent or deal by then, then maybe you return to self-publishing.

Honestly, Joanna —

I think self-publishing makes a lot more sense for 90% of the nonfiction authors that I speak to.

It’s faster to market. You’re going to do all the heavy lifting anyway, it’s a myth that these publishers are doing all the marketing for you.

So you can make more money per copy, you maintain all the control over your work, and that was really important to me. So I personally think it’s a much better path for 90% of authors.

Joanna: That’s interesting. And then the other thing you mentioned was the amount of competition. You mentioned a million books, but I think with the rise of AI, also translation and all kinds of other things, there are a lot of books. There’s more books than anyone can read every day being published.

I’ve been thinking about this around the value of curation. So in the old days, I got your book back in 2007 because a publisher, Wiley, put it on the shelf in Australia, where I was living at the time, and that’s where I found it.

But now we’re in this very busy world, so the importance of curation. I mean, like you mentioned this podcast, for example, I’m a curator with this podcast. I pick you to come on the show because I value you and your expertise.

How can authors either start curating and guiding things themselves, or contact people who are curators to try and stand out?

Stephanie: I love this question. So really, Joanna, what you’ve done with your podcast is build a community.

And I think this is a key, especially in the nonfiction space. I am still a huge believer in content marketing. I feel like every author should have at least one piece of foundational content, whether that’s a podcast, a blog, or a video channel on YouTube.

I think that it’s really important to be producing content and building out your website so that you’re attracting your ideal target audience and building a community around that. Without that you’re kind of just flailing in the wind. Then certainly you can also leverage sites and podcasts and things that also reach your target audience.

So for example, I talked to nonfiction authors about what trade associations do your target readers belong to. Can you go and speak at those associations? Can you contribute to their blogs? Can you contribute to their magazine or newsletter?

So you want to find out where your target audience is spending time to reach them, and then bring them back into your foundational content and really build that sense of community.

Joanna: Yes, I think this is going to become more and more important. Although, you mentioned AI before and I kind of hope that AI will help us surface our books, or will surface our books in a much more nuanced way.

Like I’ve been using ChatGPT to surface quite nuanced things. Like I asked it, “What kind of books are on the shelf of this character who is a Vatican Exorcist? What kind of books would be on his shelf? Give me a list of 20.” And they were all nonfiction, but they gave me a ton of other books to read that I wouldn’t have found otherwise, which I think was really interesting.

I feel like people despair over this volume of things out there. but I also feel that things will change as we get better tools.

We never despair, do we? There’s always something new.

Stephanie: No, and I’m so with you on that. I think there’s a lot of fear around AI. There’s still a lot of fear around social media for a lot of writers. And there’s also trends, trends come and go. You know, in the US, we may be getting rid of TikTok any day now. [NY Times] So I think that it’s exciting.

I also feel the same way about AI, I view it as a potential tool that really helps us. How exciting that The Beatles could potentially release new music as a result.

I am not worried about copyright infringement. I think that there are so many rules and laws in place that will protect us from that, if that becomes an issue. So I think we should look for opportunities within these new technologies that are coming on board.

Joanna: For sure. So you mentioned TikTok there. And as you said, there are some states in the US banning it and various government things, but TikTok wasn’t even a thing when we spoke like a decade ago. Personally, I don’t use it.

I’m still a Twitter girl from way back. But I guess the point is that these marketing tactics change all the time, but some of these strategies do last for the long term. So, I guess you’ve mentioned content marketing, but—

What are some other long-term marketing strategies that you advocate?

Stephanie: I will tell you, I am such an advocate of build your email list.

You mentioned Twitter, we had a Twitter account that evaporated overnight a couple of years back. We lost 70,000 followers overnight for no reason. It’s not like we were violating policies or anything like that. I spent months trying to get a hold of someone at Twitter to get it back. It just evaporated. So social media, to me, is rented real estate.

It has absolute value for those who use it well, but I would much rather focus on building my email list. That is part of that community-building process.

That is an asset that you own. Nobody can take away your email list. Even though we borrow a tool to deliver emails, you own that database. That’s also where you have a really engaged audience.

So to me, email marketing will always be one of my favorite strategies, and doing things like contributing to those sites that reach your target audience.

Also, Joanna, I’ve become a big fan of Amazon ads. I realize that they’re challenging for a lot of people, but we’re seeing some really cool success stories in the nonfiction space. Author Mark Paul, he’s a memoir writer, he has sold 45,000 copies of his memoir using nothing but Amazon ads. He has no platform whatsoever. So I think there are some strategies that have some great long-term value if we learn to use them well.

Joanna: It’s funny you mentioned Amazon ads there and memoir, because Amazon ads are essentially keywords and categories. And I know some other memoir writers who do very well with Amazon ads because so few memoir writers are competing for those keywords. Most memoir writers are not interested in the technological platform side of things. So that’s really interesting.

But coming back to the email list there and the asset that you build, I also wanted to mention backing things up. You mentioned losing your Twitter there. But I mean, we can all back our email list up on the sites that we use. As you mentioned, I mean, since we first connected I think I’m on my fourth email provider.

Stephanie: Yeah, I mean, for sure, protecting your data. I also think of, when you talk about backups, I just had a catastrophic computer issue with data transfer, and the people that did it completely destroyed my data. So backups just make me want to say please go get Carbonite and/or Dropbox or both, because I now have three times of redundancy on my data.

Thankfully, I was backed up and I was able to get that data recovered. But yeah, I think our tools are so important. And like you said, if your tool is no longer working for you, there are other options out there. So having those tools make our jobs easier.

Joanna: So let’s just take a step back to the creative side, because one of the things that I have as a nonfiction writer and I know many people do, is I have so many ideas, or there are so many things I could write about. Should I stick it all in one magnum opus?

What are the top challenges for nonfiction authors when it comes to deciding which book to write?

Stephanie: I hear this all the time. And I think as creative people, I relate to this as well. I mean, there are so many things I would love to write about, but is it in my lane? So this is the conversation I have with authors, is get your lane figured out first.

Really focus on one niche, if you can, because that will make this marketing job a whole lot easier.

And Joanna, you straddle different markets, and so it’s challenging.

Joanna: Don’t do it!

Stephanie: Don’t do it. Right, exactly. And I’ve heard this from so many authors who’ve really established themselves in one niche, and then they release something totally different, and they’re disappointed that it falls flat. You literally have to build two different platforms for two different topics.

So my advice is —

Think about what you’re most passionate about and ask yourself, is this something I still want to be writing and talking about in five or 10 years?

Because if it’s just a passing fancy, and it’s because you happen to know it that you want to write about it, that may not be a great focused strategy if you really want to build a career as an author. If you’re a hobbyist and you’re just having fun, go do it.

But if you really want to build a career around your authorship, then I think it’s important to choose a niche.

Joanna: And I mean, I joke ‘don’t do it,’ but I feel like this is a personality type. I am someone who cannot just do one thing.

I mean, even like this podcast, I tried to give it up so many times and come back to it. I mean, this might even be episode 700 by the time it goes out, which is kind of crazy. But what’s so good is I have just covered different topics over the years. I mean, if people are like, well, I don’t want to focus on one thing, or I don’t want to stay in my lane, or I want to have multiple lanes—How can they deal with that?

Because you know, creativity is what it is.

Stephanie: Yes. well, if that’s what you want to do, you really have to build marketing plans for both lanes.

So you need, maybe it’s one focus per site for one audience, and then a separate site. I mean, if you’re writing about dog training, and you’re also writing about parenting, there’s very little crossover there.

I went through this myself, Joanna, because remember, I started writing business books. I had a business website, I had corporate sponsors, I was speaking on growing your business, and then I was really drawn to working with authors. There was some crossover there, but at one point, I just had to make the decision —

Did I want to keep managing two different entirely different paths? Or did I want to let one go?

And I chose to let the business one go. It was a big decision. I made a lot of money in that space, but this is where my passion was.

So if you’re very creative, and I’m with you, I need to constantly be doing different things, I get bored very easily. But you want to just make sure you have a plan to reach those audiences. Again, if you want to build an author career.

Joanna: So you mentioned there that you let go of that other side. I mean, I do have these two main brands, Joanna Penn Self-Help for Authors and JFPenn, which is my fiction. But even with my fiction, I do loads of different genres, and I have a memoir as well, Pilgrimage, that we put out earlier this year. So I kind of do all these things.

But I mean, this letting it go, I’m really interested in how you came to that decision.

So can you talk more about how you made that decision, how difficult it was, and what was the process?

Stephanie: Oh, my goodness. Yeah. So letting go of that was really tricky. Honestly, I’ve let go of a lot of things over the years. I mean, I let go of a six figure Silicon Valley career to open a bookstore, and then I sold that bookstore. It was just exhausting to run it.

Letting go has actually been part of my career path for many years. I realized that I don’t operate well when I’m overwhelmed and stressed out.

So there was that critical point where I was running the business site, and I was starting to run an author site and it was just not fun.

So I think that we’re supposed to have a little bit of fun as we’re building our businesses. Maybe that’s not the only goal, but it certainly is one of my goals that I want to enjoy getting up and coming to work every day. Otherwise, I might as well just go back to corporate America and get another soul-sucking job.

So letting go was a decision I wrestled with for a very long time. Ultimately, it just made more sense, because I had to ask myself those questions.

Am I still passionate about talking about how to build your small business? No, I had lost my passion.

Am I passionate about working with nonfiction authors? Absolutely.

I really thought about life purpose, and I really find purpose in helping nonfiction authors because I feel like I’m helping them live their purpose.

So I just asked myself a lot of really important questions, and then took the leap and invited people to come along with me. Some did, and some didn’t. And I’ve never regretted those choices to let go of things, ever.

Joanna: I mean, I left my corporate job, as well, to become an author. But it’s difficult, isn’t it? I know some people listening, they might be wanting to do that, too.

How do we have the confidence that something is going to rise from the ashes of letting something go?

Stephanie: I love that. So I think that it’s really important for me, planning has been key.

Before I quit my Silicon Valley job, I built a massive business plan for that bookstore. I had it evaluated by consultants, and I built a marketing plan, and I did a lot of planning around it.

Now, of course, nothing ever goes according to plan which you learn that kind of hard way. But I had contingencies, I had savings. Same thing when I gave up the business site. I had savings, I had contingencies, and I had a plan. I think that a plan removes a lot of the fear, and if you have that kind of clear path.

I’m somebody who likes to see things in writing. I love a checklist. I love just seeing projections and numbers. What can be done here? What’s the potential? If you build a plan, you can absolutely do what Joanna and I have done, and leave your job. But you have to get really clear about what that path is going to be.

I have a great success story I can share with you if you’d like to hear. So Dana Manciagli was a Microsoft executive, a VP, and she called me up maybe five years ago, and she said, I’m going to quit my job and become a job search coach. And I was like, are you sure? Like, is that really what you want to do? should we narrow that down? Do you want to be a job search coach for executives? Nope, this is my path. This is what I want to do.

She wrote her book, she got herself a column writing for The Business Journals, which was a national publication at the time, and then she built training courses, Joanna.

She built a how-to-get-your-job course, a self-study digital course that she sold for $1,000 a seat to unemployed people. She got 50 people to buy the course out of the gate. So that was her first launch.

Then she went back and said, I love supporting veterans. She created a course for veterans coming out of service into civilian life. Then she went back to companies and said, why don’t you sponsor seats in my course for veterans coming out of service? I’ll sell it to you at a discounted rate of $600 a seat. She’s doing multiple six figure deals, selling seats in her digital course to companies to donate to veterans.

Joanna: And actually, that really brings up a good point, which is you mentioned that this lady wrote a book, but that was not the thing, actually, that turned into her business or her service.

So maybe you could talk about how the nonfiction author ecosystem and business works?

Nonfiction authors don’t just make money with book sales or change lives with book sales. What are the other ways?

Stephanie: Yeah, it’s so rare that somebody actually makes a living from their book sales.

What I love about nonfiction is our books make a difference in the world. So you’re teaching something, you’re inspiring people with your personal story, whatever it is, and that book becomes a tool. So that book gave her credibility in the job coaching space. So it’s a credibility builder. It truly is a business card if you want to be a speaker.

You can build a business fully around your book. That could be consulting or coaching, those online courses which I feel are hotter than ever.

You can get paid as a speaker. You can create companion products, toolkits, workbooks. I love workbooks, as a reader, as a writer, I’m a huge fan.

I created a workbook for the Book Marketing Mastercourse that I teach. I’ve been teaching that for several years now, and my students kept saying, this book stands alone. So it is going to be another product that will be released as a book later this year. That is yet another marketing tool for me, another way to reach new readers, people to attract to the association and my courses.

So you create these revenue streams, almost like veins that are spidering out from your book, and it’s by following the things that you enjoy doing. I love teaching. I love writing. So I’m able to build this very sustainable, fun business by doing the things that I love to do.

Joanna: It is interesting. And I mean, just to say, like this podcast, I mean, I’ve sold a lot of nonfiction books, but this podcast goes out to more people than buy each of my books.

Sometimes we think, ‘oh, this book is the thing that will change people’s lives,’ but sometimes it’s the other things we do.

Whether it’s, like you said, speaking at a conference, or a podcast interview, sometimes it’s just one line that might change someone’s life. So I feel like that’s the other angle, is that we have to consider that our message goes far beyond the book, and not to just be wedded to the book being the only thing.

Stephanie: Well said, and completely agree.

The book might be the heart of your strategy, but you need to build your strategy around that with that foundational content.

Whether it’s your podcasts, or your blog, or your videos, which by the way, all get posted to your site as blog posts, which drive traffic to your website. So yeah, it’s building around that, doing the things you love.

When authors come to me and say, oh, I’m gonna launch a course because this is the hot thing to do. And then I’ll say, well, are you interested in actually teaching? Does that appeal to you? Well, not really. Well, then that’s not probably your best choice.

Let’s choose a revenue stream that you will actually be excited to do because that passion also comes through to your audience, as well.

Joanna: Let’s just come back to what we talked about earlier about standing out and the competition in the market.

One of the other issues with nonfiction is, I mean, you mentioned the lady with the career coach, that like career coaching or helping people find a career, this is not original, it’s not an original thing to do. And then authors are like, oh, I’ve got this idea, but there are so many other books on this topic.

How can people write a book on a topic that’s been covered before, but make it something only they can write?

Stephanie: Oh, yes, great question. So there’s tons of competition. And then there’s a lot of authors, especially new authors, struggle with that imposter syndrome. But there’s other people doing it, and they’ve been doing it longer than I have. My perspective is, you know more about your subject than your target audience knows. So you have your unique perspective on your topic.

I think it’s essential to study your market, see what’s already out there, and how are you going to do things differently. I could have created another community for general writers, right, and had a ton of competition.

But I narrowed that focus because that is where my passion lies, and there was a need in the market for it. Therefore, my books are able to stand out a little bit. So look at what’s already there and how you can contribute something unique and different to that conversation.

I say niche, niche, niche all the time. I really believe if you narrow that focus, you can actually reach more people.

Joanna: And it’s often related to who we are, and our personal story and our voice.

I mean, you and I, we don’t know each other very well. but we have similar interests, and we think similarly in many ways. But even just the fact that I am British, and you are American, this actually creates quite a big difference between us, in terms of our experience in our life.

So even if we write a book on exactly the same thing, we will always bring a different angle. I think people forget this, that they are special just because of who they are.

Stephanie: They are. And Joanna, another real-life example comes to mind. I have a friend Karl Polytec, he decided to become a consultant for people who own IT businesses. This is a tiny niche. People who own IT companies, computer technologists. Now, he could have become a general business consultant and helped people grow their businesses, but he decided to focus on IT companies. And he is basically a rockstar in this niche.

He puts himself on tour, he speaks all across the US and the UK, has got a really big following in Australia. He’s done this because he has narrowed his focus, and he has a few others in his field that do the same thing, but guess what, they’re all friendly, just like you and I are.

I don’t view anybody as a competitor, because like you said, we all have something unique to bring to the table. I’d so much rather work together than work against anybody.

Let’s honor the fact that people are all attracted to different things, that we all have different perspectives, and there’s always room for a new voice in a genre that even could be very crowded.

Joanna: I wanted to come back to the mindset stuff and the deeper side of things, because you mentioned impostor syndrome earlier.

Another thing stopping people, well, for me, it’s always been fear of judgment. So what will people think of me? But the other thing that people have is the fear of failure.

I want to come back to your bookstore experience because you left this corporate job, you bought a bookstore, and basically, you failed. You failed at that career.

And I say this as someone who also left my corporate job, originally to start a scuba diving business. I don’t know if you know that about me. I started a scuba diving business, and then I tried property investments.

So I have also failed at other careers before I found this one. So it’s not just like, ‘oh, leave corporate job, make a success as an author.’ That’s not how it’s been for either of us. 

How do you deal with failure?

Stephanie: I think failure is part of being human, and it’s also part of this process. I mean, I think about book reviews, right. You’re never going to get 100% perfect, great book reviews. Nobody’s ever going to love everything you put out in the world. I remember early on arguing with a book reviewer on Amazon.

Joanna: Never do that!

Stephanie: Yeah, I’d never do that now. But way back then at the beginning, this guy had written a rave review for one of my books. Then the next book came out and he panned it, and I was so devastated and hurt by that. So I’ve really had to evolve from that fear of failure and fear of letting people down.

You know, one of my Silicon Valley careers was as a technical instructor, I used to teach software classes and develop courses, which by the way, it was a skill that’s really come in handy today.

But one of our rules, when we taught a course, was we would drop the bottom 10% of reviews. And if you saw trends in the 90%, the top 90% of people saying there’s an issue with your course, or delivery or whatever, then you would address it. 

You’re always going to have, you know, 10% is a high number, so maybe 5% of your audience isn’t going to agree with you. At some point, you have to accept that.

Then you have to just be aware, failure is going to happen. I’ve launched courses over the years that fell flat. I mean, there’s been countless failures, but there’s also been countless wins.

Focus on the wins, and don’t let the failures bring you down.

Read Brené Brown, like she’s my favorite author because she really helps you overcome a lot of those fears.

Joanna: It’s interesting. I mean, my first book was called How to Enjoy Your Job or Find a New One. [Later rewritten as Career Change]

It was a classic leaving corporate book, and that failed miserably. That was back in the day, as you said, before eBooks.

I printed 2000 books, and I basically sold about 100 of them and put the rest in the landfill.

I mean, it was a super failure in so many ways. But the lessons I learned helped me decide to embark on this career. So we learn the lessons. 

I always wonder if when we fail at something, so for example, my scuba diving business also failed, but what I learned from that was I don’t want to run a scuba diving business.

What I learned with my first failure of a book was that I want to write books and I will figure this out.

Can failure and then the decision to carry on almost be a signpost that this is the right direction?

Stephanie: Yes, yes, it can.

And, you know, I think about that bookstore and how much we struggled to build it that first year, but what it led me to do was learn how to do online marketing.

I learned about search engine optimization and how to advertise online, and that helped make the store profitable. At the same time, that became a skill that I would use still to this day. Learning that I was not meant to be locked in a single box of a space for eight hours a day was a huge lesson, that I didn’t like talking to the general public every day, and being robbed, and having just all kinds of crazy things happen in a retail business.

So I often like to say my path found me. And I think part of that is listening to the failures and listening to the wins.

I never set out to be a speaker. I really didn’t want to be a speaker. I was exhausted from doing all of that in my corporate career. Then the books come out and you get asked to speak, and you realize, oh, gosh, okay, I’m gonna have to learn to be a good speaker.

So listen to those lessons and take them in stride. And things like overspending when I ran the bookstore. I overspent on I can’t even tell you how many print ads and things like that.

Then I learned about internet marketing and how I can optimize traffic to the website. It was a game changer.

So I think you’re 100% right. Those failures help lead you to the next step. And letting go of things help lead you to the next step, so that you can focus on what you’re feeling more called to do.

Joanna: It’s so funny, too, because when I printed all those books back in 2007/2008, and I did all the things were told to do, I did the press releases, I got on national TV in Australia, I got in the national newspapers, and I did sell like 100 copies.

And that’s when I also went, screw this, I’m gonna learn digital marketing. Later that year, I set up this website, and then started a podcast, got on Twitter. And again, I was like—Why am I spending all this effort for so little return?

I think there’s a better way of doing it. So I think you’re totally right. But it’s so funny, our journeys have been quite parallel.

Stephanie: Yeah, because we’ve had the same failures.

Joanna: Yeah, we really have. And it’s so funny, because that brick and mortar thing, because obviously, I mean, the scuba diving business, same as you. I mean, I was renting a boat, I was paying insurance, we were buying fuel, and, I mean, talk about the costs of filling up a boat with fuel before going out for scuba diving — there was the weather. And that was another thing, I was like, I am not running a physical business again. Like you, I was like I am not going to run a business that’s dependent on the elements.

Stephanie: Absolutely.

The freedom that we create with online businesses is just phenomenal.

And the brick and mortar thing, Joanna, I always flashback to a book signing that I did with the Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur’s Soul.

This was years ago, right, but they had put us ten steps inside the local Barnes and Noble, we had local media coverage that morning, it was a Saturday morning, it was amazing. And we thought, oh my gosh. There were, I think, three or four of us who had contributed to the book, so it was a huge launch.

And in three hours, we sold eight copies. I swore from that day, I will never do another bookstore signing again. So, you know, another failure. A lesson learned, right? That’s not the way to sell books. Go speak to an audience and sell 50 copies at the end of your presentation. That’s a way to sell books.

Joanna: Yes, well, I still haven’t done a book signing or any kind of signing, actually, outside of my own events. So I totally agree with you. And I heard that from people, so I didn’t even bother trying it.

We’re coming to the end, and given that we’ve been doing this so long, and we mentioned AI earlier, but it feels like we’re at the beginning of perhaps the next 15 years.

It’s been 15 years since I read your book, From Entrepreneur to Infopreneur. And I feel like this may be the beginning of the next 15 years of change.

Like it feels to me like 2007/2008, the early days of eBooks and digital publishing and social media and all these things, and now another change. Many authors are concerned for the disruption and all kinds of stuff.

How can authors have the right attitude to surf the wave of change, rather than drown in it?

Stephanie: Ah, you know, I think fear. Fear just ruins so much fun for all of us.

So rather than fearing AI and all the trends that are coming, I really believe that we should look for the benefits and the opportunities within these changes and ride that wave, rather than getting drowned by it.

I’m seeing a lot of fear in our author community around what’s happening in AI and these things. I just would rather look at it from, how can I leverage this? Like you said, finding a list of books from it. There are so many great ways that we have even yet to learn how to use this technology.

We’ve also seen so many trends come and go. Social media sites, hello, Myspace. You know, what happened there? So I would much rather just try to stay on top of what’s happening and be open to how it is going to benefit us  moving forward.

Ebooks, like I mentioned, we were so afraid eBooks were going to take over the market. And now they’re a must have, and you should absolutely publish an eBook if you’re publishing a print book. And we learned from that, we learned that not everybody wants to read eBooks. Now audiobooks are growing, that audience is expected to continue to grow massively over the next 10 years.

Look for the opportunities and take advantage of them so that you don’t get left behind.

Joanna: Yeah, I think so. And as we’ve done, you pivot when you need to pivot.

If you fail, you try something new. Yeah, I mean, things will disappear, but you will find the way forward. I mean, I think that’s probably a lesson from both of us, isn’t it?

Things happened that we didn’t want, that we couldn’t control, and yet, we’re still here.

Stephanie: That’s right. Blessings in disguise. Lessons in all those failures. Just keep moving forward.

Joanna: What is the Nonfiction Authors Association, and why might it be useful for authors?

Stephanie: Well, thank you for asking. I’m really proud of this community.

We are just focused on educating authors. We have a massive database of templates, checklists, reports, recordings. We even have legal agreements. We send out media leads every week.

Our members are getting all kinds of interviews as a result of that, podcasts and blogs. We have a private Facebook group. We recently launched, which is so much fun. So we’re able to now promote our members over on that site as well. And then of course, we’ve got courses.

Joanna, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, we created basically a professional certification program for book marketing, book publishing, and book publicity. As you’re well aware, there really are no industry standards for these things.

We have professionals in our community, virtual assistants, book coaches, things like that, who wanted to have specific steps to build a marketing plan, specific steps for helping an author publish. So we created professional certification. 

Then of course, we have our annual conference completely online, done by Zoom now, we’re no longer on teleseminar format. We had Cheryl Strayed open for us this year. We’ve had Anna Quinlan, Don Miguel Ruiz, Seth Godin, Martha Beck. So we work really hard to serve the needs of our community. I’m just really proud of it. It’s a lot of fun to build this community.

Joanna: Just two questions on that. So what genres? Because nonfiction is so big. I mean, it can go from, like you said, the business book to the memoir. And also, is it global? Or is it just US?

Stephanie: For sure, we’re global. And, I mean, on average we’re seeing eight or nine countries coming to our conference because it’s online, and they can do that without travel expenses.

Then as far as nonfiction genres, we cover the gamut. I would say, from our surveys, we’ve learned that a lot of people are writing health and wellness, business books, certainly memoir, narrative nonfiction. We have historians, we have a lot of spiritual type books. So really, the gamut is represented here. And we try to serve everybody within their subgenres of nonfiction.

Joanna: Fantastic. And then what about you personally?

Where can people find you and everything you do online?

Stephanie: Yes, thank you. So really, you can find me within our social media. Although we have a social media manager, I’m the one that responds to comments. I always want to stay connected to our community.

You can find me through I’m actively engaged there. We have a very active Facebook page where you can connect with us there as well. It’s just so fun to talk about all of this, Joanna. Thank you so much.

Joanna: Oh, well, thanks so much for your time, Stephanie. That was great.

The post The Craft And Business Of Writing Non-Fiction Books With Stephanie Chandler first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • June 25, 2023