The Entrepreneur Who Accidentally Created a Nonfiction Empire
Four years ago at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, attendees were given five minutes to speak with one of the many writing coaches, editors, agents, and other publishing experts in the ballroom of the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Those five minutes were well invested.
Across from me sat an engaging, smart, and insightful woman, who gave valuable advice about every aspect of writing and marketing for my upcoming book in just a few short minutes. Why? Stephanie Chandler has excellent instincts and has followed them every time in her criss-crossed journey to become a publishing powerhouse.
We have kept in touch over the years and I recently got the chance to reconnect with the brains behind Authority Publishing, the Nonfiction Authors Association, the Nonfiction Writers Conference, and author of nine business books (not to mention frequent speaker and oft-quoted industry expert in the press). There’s a lot to get to know.
We have opposite “fish out of water” stories: I was a journalist who came into Silicon Valley , and you were part of the fabric here, and up and left. Tell me about that decision.
After working my way up in the valley in technical training and support roles, I moved into software sales, and it was a pressure cooker. I was at a company with a $4M quota, developed an ulcer, and I wasn’t even 30. The last straw was fainting on a Las Vegas casino floor. When thinking about a new career, all I ever wanted to do since I was a kid was to be a writer but didn’t know how I was going to make it. I was watching “Sleepless in Seattle” one night and the lightbulb went off when I saw the bookstore scenes with Meg Ryan. I pictured myself writing novels in the back office. I bought a 2,800 square-foot bookstore in Sacramento, but I had to figure out how to drive traffic into the store because it wasn’t visible from the street. I read every business book and studied internet marketing. It turned out quickly that I was a terrible novelist and I that I also didn’t love running a book store. So I hired staff to do it. What I did realize through the experience was that I loved nonfiction books and how they can help change peoples’ lives.
It sounds like your sweet spot was at the intersection of business, digital marketing, and nonfiction.
Yes, the bookstore was a wonderful training ground to learn about business and marketing, and figure out what the next steps in my journey were going to be. I fell in love with the possibility of what else I could do online and how I could help others achieve their dreams. So I wrote my first book for entrepreneurs to help them plan their business, and then how to make money with eBooks, and then it grew into different businesses from there. When I didn’t see resources to support other entrepreneurs and self-help authors, I founded Authority Publishing. And when there wasn’t a way for nonfiction writers to meet up after conferences I created the Nonfiction Writers Conference, and then the spin-off, the Nonfiction Authors Association. A lot of my ideas have come from listening to my audience and filling a need. That will always pay off.
You have a lot of companies and income streams. How do you do it?
When you’re on your own you’re always struggling because you’re selling your own services. There’s a fork in the road to stay there or grow your business. My mantra became: the more I hire the more I earn. My entire business is built on contractors that are wonderful, talented, and well-paid. The great thing about the gig economy is that we can hire people instead of full-time employees 40 hours a week. That’s how this whole thing evolved and has been a key to my success. It’s a big leap of faith, but my time is not well served doing my own bookkeeping or social media, for instance, even though I am still involved for the personal touch. I have a note on my desk that says: “Can Sue do this?” It’s a timeless reminder from when I had an assistant named Sue. In other words, if someone else can do it, delegate. Another key to running the businesses is that I document every process and make it repeatable for the person who will be doing it next.
Speaking of staffing, how has business been during Covid-19?
Publishing in a pandemic is busier than ever. It’s booming and I’m hearing this from others in the industry as well. It really surprised me, but it turns out people have more time on their hands and want to do their passion projects and write their books. For example, I talked with a plastic surgeon that isn’t working now and wanted to finish his book, and others like him as well. I also think this pandemic time is going to change a lot of things in our society. It’s been a wake-up call and is a mental health crisis all around. We’re being reminded to pursue our passions and that life is short. Do what you love. That’s so important and I feel really grateful that I grew a business I love.
What do you want to conquer next?
I don’t want to start any more businesses, but I do want to do more personal writing. Like every other writer, I struggle to find time for my own passion projects. I lost my husband seven years ago to suicide, and I have a lot to say in that space of losing someone to depression. I want to make an impact but don’t know what that looks like yet. I do know I want to do more that puts good in the world, some sort of philanthropic portal that makes people happier. It’s an idea that’s brewing.
Stephanie Chandler is the author of several books including The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan: The Professional Guide to Profitable Self-Publishing and The Nonfiction Book Marketing Plan: Online and Offline Promotion Strategies to Build Your Audience and Sell More Books. Stephanie is also founder and CEO of the Nonfiction Authors Association, a vibrant community for writers, and the Nonfiction Writers Conference, twice-yearly 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. You can connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn and at Facebook.com/NonfictionAuthorsAssociation