Stephanie Chandler 01/04/2023 – What I’ve learned from 10 years running the Nonfiction Authors Association

Nonfiction Authors Association Podcast | January 4, 2023

‘And so, part of this is listening to the audience. What do they need? What are they struggling with? How can we assist? And that’s how we create all of our member benefits. That’s how we create our conference speaker lineup. That’s how you create your podcast topics. That informs everything we do. And that’s a lesson for authors, too–listen to your audience. What do they need? How can you serve them in some way?’
-Stephanie Chandler

Stephanie Ch

 

About Stephanie Chandler

Stephanie Chandler is the founder of the Nonfiction Authors Association and Nonfiction Writers Conference, and 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. Visit StephanieChandler.com to learn more about her.

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Show Notes

Links

In this episode…

  • How the Nonfiction Writer’s Conference got started.
  • How the Nonfiction Authors Association got started.
  • How authors have evolved, and what they need to do to be successful today.
  • A look into the Author Brainstorm Exchange (Member Benefit)
  • Membership levels of the Nonfiction Authors Association, and what they include.
  • Thoughts on how authors should be using social media and media marketing today.
  • The rise of the author assistant.
  • More about the Nonfiction Authors Association partner members.
  • The highlights of the Nonfiction Writer’s Conference.

Transcript

Hello and welcome to the interview series for the Nonfiction Authors Association. Today’s session is with Stephanie Chandler and we will be talking about what she’s learned from 10 years running the Nonfiction Authors Association. I’m Carla King, your host, and I’m happy to have you with us today. This interview will last only 30 minutes and you can find the replay on our Nonfiction Authors Association website and social media platforms including YouTube, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

And now I’d like to introduce our guest.

Stephanie Chandler is the founder of the Nonfiction Authors Association and Nonfiction Writers Conference, and 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. Visit StephanieChandler.com to learn more about her.

Hi, Stephanie. Welcome.

Stephanie Chandler  0:39

Hey, Carla. I just love this reverse role. It’s so awesome.

Carla King  0:44

I know. I’ve only hosted this podcast since April 2022, and put it on video and YouTube, as well as all the podcast channels. But I took over from your podcast hosting duties, which started as a teleseminar way back.

Stephanie Chandler  0:57

Yes, it did. And it’s so great, because I think more and more of our community have noticed that we’re working together now. And you and I have known each other for well over a decade; spoken at many conferences side by side. And earlier this year, I was really struggling with needing more support. And I wanted to work with somebody who had industry experience. Nobody has more industry experience than you since you started publishing in the 90s. So I had this flash of inspiration one day about–I wonder if I could talk Carla into working with us. I thought it was time to bring some fresh perspective to the podcast. You’ve been recording podcasts forever–you bring so much flavor, and your own experience. And you elevated it to the next level and put it up on YouTube. And now we’re in iTunes and all the other podcast directories. So I have to say, as we close out this year, bringing you on to the team was one of my best decisions. So thank you. I’m so appreciative.

Carla King  2:02

Oh, thank you, Stephanie. It’s been so much fun. And I just love how you’re always ahead of the curve with technology. And I know you don’t think you’re this big tech person, but you began the Nonfiction Writers Conference online in 2010, I want to say?

Stephanie Chandler  2:19

It was 2010. Yeah. And nobody was doing multi day online events in 2010. And it was another one of those things where I thought–’I wonder if people would come.’ And it happened because I was speaking at all these writers’ events. And I was really frustrated that nobody was really paying attention to those of us who write nonfiction. And I thought, ‘I wonder if I could create something to bring together nonfiction writers.’ And so I coordinated this first three day event. It was an audio event, because we weren’t using Zoom then. So it was all by dialing into a conference line. And that first year, we had 18 speakers, including–Dan Poynter was our opening keynote speaker–the wonderful Dan Poynter. And it just grew from there. And it was really just a flash of insight. And then of course, a couple years later, we were able to convert to Zoom. And again, before most people were really on the Zoom train. So we’re a little bit ahead of our time. And I’m grateful for that. Because what a ride. What a ride it’s been.

Carla King  3:24

And you know, we’re airing this on January 4, 2023, which is the 10 year anniversary of the Nonfiction Authors Association. And I know we have spoken a lot together at writers conferences online and in person. And I’ve just seen the organization and nonfiction authors elevated because of what you’re doing, because there’s nothing like it. There was nothing like the Nonfiction Authors Association before you started it. Do you want to go into the story of how that happened?

Stephanie Chandler  4:06

So I’m a Silicon Valley refugee. I left in 2003. I opened a bookstore in Sacramento–a brick and mortar 2,800 square foot bookstore–and thought I was going to write novels in the back office. And that was a terrible decision, because I was a lousy fiction writer, and I hated running a retail business. But meanwhile, I had all these authors coming in with their books and saying, ‘Will you sell our books? Can I put my books in your store?’ And we did. We had dedicated shelf space for local authors. But I will say 90% of those books needed help. They had poor editing, poor cover design, poor typesetting. And it drove me crazy, seeing that this could be done so much better. So in 2008, I started my own hybrid publishing company. You don’t hear me talk about it a lot, but we’re still around–Authority Publishing. And I sold that stupid bookstore, and I started writing nonfiction myself. My first book came out in 2005.

So I started with publishing, I’m speaking at all these conferences, I realize there’s a need, so I create the Nonfiction Writers Conference in 2010. And then after that event–each year–attendees were like, ‘Well, how do we keep in touch when this is over?’ And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s really nowhere for us to connect.’ So the Nonfiction Authors Association was born in 2013. Conference was 2010. Association was 2013. And, you know, Carla, six months after I launched the association, my husband died unexpectedly. And I kind of checked out for a year. It took me quite a while to recover from that. But what was so interesting about that time period is–the association grew. It grew anyway, it grew despite the fact that I was really putting in 15% effort. So there was a need. And since then, and since I was able to come back in full time and full throttle, we’ve just been growing and growing, and it’s just so much fun.

Carla King  6:03

It is fun. And I wondered what you saw that authors needed the most when you started. Maybe step us through how authors have evolved, and what they need today.

Stephanie Chandler  6:16

Such good questions. Self publishing has evolved so much since 2005, when I first self published my book. It’s gotten a lot easier. But in a lot of cases, it’s also created more issues with production, because people are not always investing in the editing, and the cover design, and the formal typesetting. So those are some of the errors I continue to see in this industry. The good news is, it’s easier than ever. But the bad news is, those books that don’t have the production quality make it harder for the ones that do. Because it’s created the stigma around self publishing. Now thankfully, a lot of that has gone away. I mean, back in the 2000s–early 2000s–there was still a lot of stigma around it. ‘Oh, your book is self published. You couldn’t get a publisher.’ Well today, my personal feeling is–I’d choose self publishing over traditional publishing almost every time, because of the lack of control that you have, the low royalties, it takes them forever to get a book out. I’m traditionally published as well–three books–and chose to leave traditional publishing. So I have a lot of opinions about the path that authors should or could take.

And then I also have just a passionate love for book marketing. And so it’s really fun for me to get to teach authors how to reach their audiences. And then you and I have tagged teamed on courses. You create a Book Publishing Master Course, I create a Book Marketing Master Course. And those have gone really, really well. And so, part of this is listening to the audience. What do they need? What are they struggling with? How can we assist? And that’s how we create all of our member benefits. That’s how we create our conference speaker lineup. That’s how you create your podcast topics. That informs everything we do. And that’s a lesson for authors, too–listen to your audience. What do they need? How can you serve them in some way?

Carla King  8:21

Yeah, and there’s a lot to do behind the scenes. I’m kind of amazed that you’ve done this as a solopreneur all these years. And one of the best things, I think, is the Author Brainstorm Exchange. I’ve been super surprised at how different members can help each other, even though they’re in wildly different arenas.

Stephanie Chandler  8:45

You’re right. So the Author Brainstorm Exchange is a monthly Zoom event for members, where we join by Zoom, and members are broken up into small groups–five or six people. Each member gets a chance to introduce themselves for two minutes, and then each gets 10 minutes to brainstorm a challenge or question. It might be, ‘I need help figuring out my title,’ or, ‘Who did you use to print your books?’ or, ‘I want to break into speaking–what are some of the steps?’ So the members who attend these events really support each other. They’re passionate about these events–they come back every month. And I love that this is a way for us to connect with the community. You participate, I do a round robin, where I pop into each group and try to contribute to at least one of the brainstorming sessions. So that’s a benefit I’m really proud of. I’d like to see more of our members participate than currently do. I think a lot of them are really missing out on this powerful, powerful way to connect with fellow writers and learn from each other.

Carla King  9:50

It’s true. And authors have been asking–they always ask–’Where’s my community? How do I meet people? How do I talk to other authors like me?’ And this really is the place. And they’ve been asking for it. I think a lot of people don’t really know what it is. They don’t know what mastermind groups are. And I think if, maybe we use the word ‘writing group,’ it’s kind of interchangeable in a way, because it’s more of a business around writing, instead of reading your chapter or article.

Stephanie Chandler  10:25

Yeah, it’s that opportunity to connect and share ideas. And I find it so interesting that–like you said–we have this diversity of topics. of expertise, of experience in the publishing industry. You’re almost guaranteed to have a publishing pro in your group, because we have several pros who participate. And then, even the people who are newer to this–you have something to contribute, no matter where you are in this process. You have opinions about titles, you have research that you’ve done that you can share. You have your own life experience, right? So I think it can be intimidating, especially because so many of us writers are introverts. A lot of people are surprised to learn I’m introverted. But I’ve learned to deal with it, and be–what do they call it–a situational extrovert. But it can be intimidating. It took me a while to get comfortable on camera. I mean I have a good friend in writing Karl Palachuck–who you know, Carla–and it was probably four or five years ago when he sent me a video camera. And he said, ‘If I have to do it, so do you.’ And it was a great nudge, because I had to learn to get comfortable on camera. And I think we’re all still kind of adjusting to this new way of life.

Carla King  11:40

Taking that a little bit further–we decided to create a new membership tier this year, with an actual guided group mastermind by us. And that was something that people wanted–to extend their professional knowledge about the publishing industry, and just keep motivated about finishing their book, which is a hard thing to do.

Stephanie Chandler  12:06

It is a hard thing to do. We debated this level for a long time–you and I have had multiple discussions about it. And ultimately, what we decided–it’s kind of a premium membership tier. So we have Authority Membership, which is our basic membership level. We have VIP–VIP gets access free to the conference. They can come to this new event that we’re having. And then the Thought Leader Level is like an All-Access Pass to everything. They get free conference admission, they get free access to all of our live courses during the year. And that includes the Book Publishing Master Course, the Publicity Master Course. We have a Book Proposals Course coming, we’ve got media training, we’ve got all kinds of things on the calendar for 2023.

So this membership level gives you all access to all the education, plus the free entry into the Book Awards. And then this group–I’m calling it a Group Consulting Call–where VIP and Thought Leader members can join us once a month. And you and I will facilitate these calls, where we answer questions. So many authors go out and hire publishing consultants to help them through the process–this is an opportunity for members to join and get their answers to their questions in a round robin format. So I know you and I both share a lot of excitement around doing this, because it’s really fun to brainstorm with authors. And between us, we have 40+ years of industry experience. Which is amazing, since we’re both only 29. But it’s just a ton of fun. I love talking to our community members and helping them figure out how to navigate this industry, because it can be really overwhelming.

Carla King  13:55

I also wanted to go over some of the topics that are most popular these days. I know self publishing probably wasn’t the biggest topic when you started the organization. It was how to write a book proposal and how to attract an agent at a traditional publishing house, which we also teach, and help, and you can find information about that on the blog, which is all free. And self publishing–or independent publishing–has been so hot. And hybrid publishing and partner publishing has been interesting as well, and a viable option. I think–I don’t know, you tell me–since you started, there’s been Facebook, there’s been a lot of social media stuff going on. There’s the marketing aspect, and then after the book is launched–or during the launch plan–you start talking about publicity. And I think a lot of authors don’t understand that, really, and the whole launch sequence. Have you seen authors jump on the social media bandwagon, or any technologies? Or is there still resistance around that?

Stephanie Chandler  15:11

I think there’s still a fair amount of resistance. And my feeling is, that’s okay, right? I think we got a little bit oversold on social media–it was so buzzed about, right? And for several years, ‘Everybody’s got to be on social media.’ My philosophy today is you should probably be on at least one or two networks, but beyond the ones where your audience is spending time. So if you’re targeting a younger audience–you can do something visual–it’s probably going to be Instagram. If you’re targeting a business audience, it should be LinkedIn. So there’s just different places where you should spend your time, but I don’t think social media is the end all be all.

And my personal feeling is–I would rather focus on email marketing, personally. I think that’s an evergreen, important piece of an author’s marketing strategy–to keep in touch with your readers to connect with them. So we talk a lot about those things. And there’s been trends over the years–we all thought ebooks were going to wipe out print publishing for a while there. And then that hysteria kind of leveled out, and we see maybe 30 to 40% of nonfiction book sales tend to be the ebook version, and the rest of print. And now, audiobooks. Audiobooks are really surging at this time. They’ve been around a while, but they’re just gaining a lot of momentum. Podcasts have gained a lot of momentum, video and audio formats for all kinds of marketing have gained a lot of momentum. So things have evolved. We’ve seen trends come and go–MySpace, hello.

Carla King  16:54

TikTok is here. Twitter is in, Twitter is out, you know.

Stephanie Chandler  17:01

We don’t know where anything will be in a year. And the other thing about marketing through social media–or any other channel that isn’t yours–is it’s rented real estate, right? We had this experience two years ago, when Twitter took our account down for no reason. We had 70,000 followers, and they just evaporated overnight, and we never got it back. We never violated any policies, trust me. So it’s rented real estate. And I wouldn’t put all my eggs in any social media basket.

Carla King  17:35

I do want to talk about getting help. And one of the things that we identified is that a lot of business authors and professionals–they’re busy. You have a career, right? You have a career, you have a full time job, you have a family, you have aging parents, you have whatever, and you can’t do all this yourself. So there’s been the rise of the author assistant, which is a specialty of virtual assistants. So there’s a program for that now.

Stephanie Chandler  18:03

Yes, and this is one of my favorite strategies to recommend to authors. So a lot of people don’t even know virtual assistants exist. So these are Administrative Professionals who work from their homes on a contract basis. And you can hire an assistant to help you put your blog posts up, do your social media, help you assemble your newsletter, research podcasts and send your pitches, research speaking opportunities, send your speaking pitches. So I am a huge fan of virtual assistants, especially ones that work specifically with authors, because they tend to know more about what authors need to do to be successful. And you can hire these folks for as little as $20 an hour, maybe on up to $50, depending on their experience level. And for 5 or 10 hours a month, maybe $100 or $200 a month, you can offload all those tasks that you’re procrastinating about, and keep your marketing wheels turning.

So we’ve created this new Virtual Authors Assistant Certification program, where we are educating a virtual author assistant on the marketing and the publishing processes, and empowering them to offer services. And you can also find–on our website, under ‘Recommended Resources,’ we maintain a list of assistants who work with authors, and I just highly recommend it. I’m excited about this new program–to reach more authors assistants, and then connect them with the authors who want to get that kind of support.

Carla King  19:35

Thanks for that. And that is something that I saw you develop one day. You sort of went, ‘Ding ding–there are all these social media so-called ‘experts’ out there. There’s all these marketing experts. There’s all these publishing experts. But who can tell?’ So you did the brilliant thing, which is create that certification program, so we can put them through the paces, give them quizzes, prove that they know what to do before we put them out as certified marketing professionals, and publishing professionals, and authors assistants.

Stephanie Chandler  20:09

And it’s not just assistants, by the way. Because our programs–the Marketing Master Course, the Publishing Master Course, the Publicity Master Course–all have an optional certification component. So this is also for industry professionals, people who want to offer these services. We’re seeing people who work for publishers are going through our courses, and things like that. So it’s a really comprehensive program. And I hope that we’re elevating the publishing industry by doing this, and creating some sort of standard practices–standard operating procedures–for publishing, marketing, publicity, that elevates the industry, because you and I have both seen a lot of practices that we’re not really thrilled about.

Carla King  20:55

No, I know. And I remember 2008 is when Kindle, and Smashwords, and then Barnes and Noble started their publishing arms. And then people started doing that. And I was teaching self publishing, because I self published since the mid 90’s. And then, all of a sudden, these authors who had put a book up on Amazon started teaching other authors how to do it. And I was like, ‘No, no, no, don’t listen. Don’t listen to them. They don’t know what they’re talking about.’ They only know one little piece of the pie–they don’t know the whole marketing, and the whole book launch program. And that’s where a lot of bad books were self published–books were being uploaded. So it makes me so happy to connect with people who really know what they’re doing.

And also, the industry has grown around the independent publishers to serve them. So you have a lot of choices about audiobook production companies, about ecommerce websites, and all that. And we talked about doing a partner membership program, and I’m vetting these partners. And I’m super happy about what’s going on. And I hope you don’t mind me talking about this for a minute, because I’ve known all these great companies for so long, and the ones that do a really good job, and the ones who are super responsive.

We got Payhip as an ecommerce solution, who now does website creation as well. So you can just sell your books direct. And we’re working with Lulu all the time–they’ve been a great sponsor for years. And they have an API, so that companies can use that as a printing service from their own company. And we’ve got the Editorial Freelancers Association–the EFA–where you can find editors. And we totally trust them. And First Editing, which is a great one stop shop. These are all on our podcasts, too–these interviews. And David Wolf of AudiVita, who is a professional audiobook production company that I’ve known for years. And it’s just wonderful to be able to get them as partners–trusted partners–so that we can really confidently recommend them to our authors. And it’s been interesting because they’ve been talking to each other. So I just can’t wait to see what’s going to come out of all that as well.

Stephanie Chandler  23:44

And you have this wonderful skill of paying attention, and staying on top of technology. You’ve literally been teaching this stuff for years. One of the many things I love about you–because I love tech too, but I just haven’t stayed on top of it as much as I’d like to–so I love that I can talk to you about technology, and what tools we should be using and recommending, and that you’re bringing these folks in to educate our community. And we’re vetting them. We’re not ever going to recommend a product or a service that we don’t believe in. And believe me, we have a list of services and products we will not ever partner with. So know that a lot of thought goes into bringing in these folks.

Carla King  24:23

Physical events are a great place to meet people as well. And online events. And at the Nonfiction Writers Conference, which is coming up in May, there’s a community aspect to that as well, isn’t there?

Stephanie Chandler  24:37

There is. So we introduced this Zoom networking opportunity. And it’s really modeled after our Author Brainstorm Exchange, where conference attendees are put into small groups, and each does an introduction, and then maybe brainstorms an issue, or challenge, or title, or a target audience–any of those things. And these have been wildly popular. So it’s part of our annual event now–that we do these group discussions. And then members also connect in a private Attendees Only Facebook group. We have one on one consulting sessions.

Many conferences have those ‘Ask A Pro’ type sessions, where you can sign up for a 10 or a 15 minute consult in person–we’ve been able to facilitate that online. So really, the mission from the beginning has been to take that traditional Writers Conference in-person experience, and translate it into an online experience. And I think we’ve really mastered it because we’ve been doing it for so long.

Carla King  25:39

And you also introduced a model last year with literary agents.

Stephanie Chandler  25:45

Actually, I think last year was our second year. So we did live ‘Pitch the Agent’ sessions. I was able to get volunteer literary agents, who are actively seeking nonfiction book proposals and books. And the attendees were able to submit their names for a drawing, and then we drew 20 participants to go live on Zoom–in front of all the conference attendees–and do these five minute pitch sessions, get feedback from the agents. We’ve seen a number of agent relationships have been signed as a result of those sessions. And they’re really fun, whether you’re either in the spotlight, where you’re doing the pitch, or you’re watching from the sidelines. I think a lot of our attendees have been surprised how much they’ve learned just by watching those pitches. It’s really fascinating.

Carla King  26:37

It is. Well, why don’t you tell us where people can get on the email list, and find out all about this on the website, and where we are in social media, and all of that.

Stephanie Chandler  26:49

We are at nonfictionauthorsassociation.com. The conferences at nonfictionwritersconference.com. We also have a new initiative coming up– nonfictionbookclub.com. It probably won’t be live by the time this airs, but it’ll be live by the end of January. Our members will have the opportunity to get visibility there. We’ll be recommending nonfiction books, reviewing nonfiction books–all kinds of really fun stuff is happening there. And then we have tons of free reports and content. So if you’re on nonfictionauthorsassociation.com, click on ‘Freebies’, and sign up to get any of our reports–things on how to optimize Amazon, how to publish your book, marketing advice–all kinds of things are available there. And we’d just love to see you in our community. We’re really active on Facebook, as well. And you know, we’re gaining momentum on Instagram. And we’re still hanging on to Twitter for the time being.

Carla King  27:45

Thank you to you, Stephanie. And thank you to our listeners for joining us today and every week. For a list of guests and topics just check our schedule on the site, use your favorite search engine, or better yet, sign up for our mailing list at NonfictionAuthorsAssociation.com.

Quotes from our guest

‘And so, part of this is listening to the audience. What do they need? What are they struggling with? How can we assist? And that’s how we create all of our member benefits. That’s how we create our conference speaker lineup. That’s how you create your podcast topics. That informs everything we do. And that’s a lesson for authors, too–listen to your audience. What do they need? How can you serve them in some way?’

‘I love talking to our community members and helping them figure out how to navigate this industry, because it can be really overwhelming.’

‘So really, the mission [of the Nonfiction Writers Conference] from the beginning has been to take that traditional Writers Conference in-person experience, and translate it into an online experience. And I think we’ve really mastered it because we’ve been doing it for so long.’

‘Even the people who are newer to this–you have something to contribute, no matter where you are in this process. You have opinions about titles, you have research that you’ve done that you can share. You have your own life experience, right?

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