TCC Podcast #400: Writing Your Nonfiction Book with Stephanie Chandler - The Copywriter Club
TCC Podcast #400: Writing Your Nonfiction Book with Stephanie Chandler

*Boom* This is the 400th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. And our guest for this episode is the CEO of The Nonfiction Authors Association, Stephanie Chandler. She recently published the Nonfiction Book Marketing and Launch Plan and we thought it would be great to find out more about how to write, publish and launch a book into the world. Stephanie did not disappoint. Click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.


Stuff to check out:

The Nonfiction Book Marketing and Launch Plan by Stephanie Chandler
The Nonfiction Author Association
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground



Rob Marsh: Before I introduce today’s guest and episode, this is the official 400th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. I’m not sure Kira and I ever envisioned this podcast going this long. In fact, other than wanting to have deep discussions that asked hard questions of expert copywriters, I’m not sure what we expected. 

So many people have told us they are copywriters today because they were inspired by this podcast. Or by the stories our guests have shared. Or because they jumped into one of our programs designed to help them grow.

So I just want to take this opportunity to thank you for making this podcast the world’s most popular copywriting podcast. And now on to today’s show…

We’ve talked about writing a book on this podcast several times. But it’s one thing to want to write a book, and another thing to have the tools and plan to make it happen. So when I got a copy of The Non-fiction Book Marketing and Launch Plan, I thought we should probably interview the author on the podcast and dive into what it takes to write and launch a book.

Hi, I’m Rob Marsh, one of the founders of The Copywriter Club. And for today’s episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, my co-founder, Kira Hug, and I talked with former copywriter and current CEO of the non-profit author’s association, Stephanie Chandler. Stephanie founded the Non-fiction author’s association, so she was the perfect person to talk to about this subject as well as when you should take a leap of faith you might not be ready for and what gets taken when thieves rob a bookstore. 

But before we jump in with Stephanie… 

There’s a question that clients ask before they decide whether something you write is worth paying a lot or a little for.

That question is “Can I do this?”

Most clients can write a blog post. Or an email. It might not be as good as the one you would write, but they could do a passable job. Those projects don’t feel all that valuable because clients can visualize themselves creating them. They’re not hard.

Fewer clients think they can strategize and build an acquisition funnel. Or a sales page. Or a book. So these projects are more valuable to clients (which means you can charge more to do them).

And almost no clients have the skills to manage sophisticated email marketing tools like Klavio, ActiveCampaign, or even ConvertKit. And if they do, they’re often too busy to do this work themselves.

These skills are among the most valuable of all. So how do you add a skill like managing email marketing tools to your copywriting services?

This week in The Copywriter Underground, we’ll show you. We’ve invited guest expert and email strategist Matt Brown to share exactly how to make sure your client’s emails get into their customer’s inboxes. And how to use this skill to set yourself apart from all the other “I-just-write-copy” copywriters out there.

It’s a master class for all members of The Copywriter Underground and you can join us if you visit today. But do it today, because if you’re listening to this a few days after the podcast comes out, it will be too late.

Having these skills, makes getting hired by high-paying clients easier. But you have to opt in to get the training. And with that, let’s go to our interview with Stephanie.

Kira Hug: Let’s kick off with your story. How did you end up as a writer, CEO, and all the things that you’re doing today?

Stephanie Chandler: Yeah. I left the Silicon Valley back in 2003 and I opened a 2,800 square foot brick and mortar bookstore. in Sacramento, California, thinking I was going to write novels in the back office. Sounds like a really brilliant plan, right? But turns out I was a terrible fiction writer and I hated running retail store. And all I really wanted to do was be a writer. I just had known that my whole life and I didn’t know how to make a living as a writer. So I actually started doing some copywriting and writing articles for local magazines and Long story short, I ended up selling that store and then I wrote my first book. I had an agent tell me, nobody knows who you are. You need to go build an audience. So I self-published the first book and then the next year I had an audience. I built a high traffic website and I got a book deal with Wiley and then I signed with an agent and sold a couple more books. Meanwhile, I had seen all these local authors with these poorly produced books. And I was speaking at writers conferences and nobody was really talking to those of us who write nonfiction. So in 2010, I launched the nonfiction writers conference completely online. And remember back then we weren’t using zoom or Zen caster. We were dialing into a teleconference line for three days live. And, uh, I didn’t know if people would come, but they did. And then each year they would say, how do we keep in touch when this is over? And so in 2013, the Nonfiction Authors Association was born from that. And I couldn’t believe nobody was really talking to those of us who write nonfiction. And I saw a need and I filled it. And it was just really great luck to have found the path I feel like I was meant to be on.

Rob Marsh: Yeah. I mean, seeing what you’ve accomplished since then in launching it. I mean, you have an event. I think you’ve got like, I don’t know, 10, 15 books that you’ve written. You have done a ton in the space. It’s amazing. You sort of have one of those writer careers where it’s like, OK, well, if I can’t write novels, I might as well have that career. So I’m jealous. I’m a little bit jealous of what you’ve accomplished.

Stephanie Chandler: No, no, no. Don’t be jealous. I mean, honestly, it was heartbreaking to realize I couldn’t write fiction, right? I mean, imagine you guys had some propensity to want to write, right? And I just spent my entire life wishing I was a writer. And then you just kind of naturally think, well, I guess I should write fiction. And then you find out you’re terrible at fiction. But you know what I love about nonfiction is that we get to teach. Yeah. Right. And so I’d always had a love for teaching. I actually set out, I thought I’d be an English teacher. And I did this U-turn and ended up in Silicon Valley in a soul sucking career. So it all worked out the way it was meant to. But yeah, follow the heart is where I’m at with that.

Rob Marsh: I’m not yet ready to give up on my ideas for fiction, but I’m kind of there with you where writing nonfiction feels really good in a lot of ways. So before we even talk about all of the other stuff that you’ve done, maybe we can just take a couple of minutes and talk about the differences between fiction and nonfiction and why nonfiction might actually be a better fit for so many people, so many of us who actually want to write books.

Stephanie Chandler: Yeah, especially in your copywriter community, right? Because I mean, nonfiction is true. It’s real life. It’s memoir. It’s how-to books. It’s history. It’s science. It’s medical books. It’s all those things. Whereas fiction is fake. I always remember that as a kid. Fiction is fake. It’s made up stories. And some people love it and are going to be great writers of it. But statistically, we actually sell more nonfiction every year than fiction, and a lot of people don’t realize that. But when you tally up all the nonfiction genres, those outsell fiction every year.

Kira Hug: And so when you say, I wasn’t, I can’t write fiction and like, how did you know? I mean, is it something where you’re like, oh, I can just persevere and are there signs that we can pay attention to? Maybe there’s signs I can pay attention to so I don’t waste a ton of time. And I just realized this is never going to happen for me.

Stephanie Chandler: I love this question. So when I had the bookstore, I immediately started a writer’s group. And so we would all bring our, you know, little stories in each week. And mine were so bad. And I would hear everyone else’s and think, that’s pretty good. Oh, I like that one. Oh, and then I’d read mine and go, oh, this is awful. So I, and I knew just the process of writing it was really difficult. It was painful. Right. But when I started writing nonfiction, it flowed. It felt good. You know, like Rob said, it feels good to write something you’re passionate about. And I would bet a lot of fiction authors feel the opposite, right? It flows for them when they write fiction and they don’t have a desire to teach or want to dispel facts into a manuscript. So yeah, I think part of it was a knowing and just a feeling that it shouldn’t be this hard. I could have taken classes and all the things, but it was hard.

Rob Marsh: I took a couple of the classes. I still, I mean, I still struggle. I’ve got a couple of what I think are really good ideas for fiction books, you know, novels, thrillers, whatever. But when it comes to putting down the plot points and making it all work, that’s where it comes apart for me. Whereas what I’ve written nonfiction seems to Yeah, flow better. But let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about writing a nonfiction book, because like you said, I think there are a lot of copywriters out there who would like to do this, not necessarily just to have written a book, but to help grow their business, to help connect with people in their niche. Talk to us a little bit about that process. And I’m waving in front of the camera right now this book that you shared with me, Stephanie, that’s called The Nonfiction Book Marketing and Launch Plan. It’s a book that you sent. And it’s amazing the way that it sort of steps you through the whole process of not just writing, but actually launching and selling your book. Let’s talk about that.

Stephanie Chandler: Well, thank you, first of all. So the writing process, it feels like a mammoth undertaking to write a book, right? It sounds huge, but I like to say, you know, if you could write a thousand words a day and as copywriters, you probably know that’s about three type pages. If you could write a thousand words a day for the next 50 days, you’d have a first draft of a full manuscript, right? And so what I use myself and what I recommend is the old storyboard method where I’ll get a stack of three by five cards or post-it notes. And I will write down every topic I want to cover in my book individually, every story I’m going to tell, every case study, every stat I’m going to reference, all goes on an individual card. And I will literally spread them out on my living room floor and start to put them in order. And that starts to form my chapter outline. And then I can see, oh, chapter three is really heavy. I need to split that. Or chapter seven is light. I need to expand it or absorb it into another chapter. And that’s how I create my outlines. And that’s worked for me like magic for many years. Is that what you had in mind, Rob?

Rob Marsh: Yeah. I think that’s a great starting point. And actually, I think it echoes something I’ve read or seen. Ryan Holiday has talked about his process for writing, which he does all these note cards and he organizes them and he’s able to move them into different books and all that kind of a thing. So I think that’s a really good starting point. And then as far as the writing, obviously you’ve got to sit down, you’ve got to put the words on the page, but how do you go from note cards to completed chapters?

Stephanie Chandler: Yeah. Well, and there’s, to me, there’s a step in between that too, because you want to get really clear about your target audience and how the book will serve them, especially if you’re using it as a tool to grow your business or just regardless, what is going to make your book different or better? How is it going to improve the reader’s lives in some way is a really important thing to nail down. And then another exercise I like to do before I write is I write the back cover copy first. Right. And that helps me really get focused on what this book is about, what the benefits are for the reader. And as copywriters, you should be great at that. Right. So writing your description really helps you get focused and, you know, figure out your target audience and get clear about that. And then I don’t always write my manuscripts, you know, sequentially. I might be feeling chapter seven today or chapter six tomorrow or whatever it is. because I like to approach, especially if you’re writing prescriptive nonfiction, right? Some sort of how-to book. We are in a short attention span society, right? So short, pithy, almost like articles that are adding into a book. Lots of subheadings and lists, things that make it really easy to read. My new book that you held up, Rob, is a workbook. Right. And so it’s really, it’s, it’s not something you’re just going to sit down and read from cover to cover. And I did that on purpose. I wanted it to be interactive. I wanted people to really feel like they got value from it. So, and you can approach it that way too. Workbooks are kind of trendy right now. Um, and then the discipline of the writing is something I also, every, I think every writer struggles with. Right. I mean, what did they say? JK Rowling went every morning to a coffee shop, but you know, early in the morning, I wrote my last several books at the Hampton Inn five miles from my house. And I would check in on the weekends, right? When my son was really young, this was a great way for me to get focused writing time. And I can happily write for 10 hours, right? So doordash, a burrito, and some bottled water, and I can bang it out. And then also, I always like to mention, if you’re already blogging or have content, I will always go back to my blog post after I’ve created the outline, and I’ll pull in any content that fits into that line for the book. And obviously you want to rework it a little bit. But I mean, I’m always surprised myself with how much content I’ve already written.

Kira Hug: So I think the part that trips up me the most, and maybe others as well, is the topic for the book. How do you make that determination, okay, this is needed, this is new, this feels like something I could go all in on, or do you sometimes make mistakes where you get started and you’re like, oh, this isn’t it?

Stephanie Chandler: Yeah. Oh my gosh. I mean, I certainly have unfinished manuscripts and I’ve simmered on certain ideas for years and it just hasn’t felt like the right time and that’s okay too. I think that For me, it’s always about my audience. So what are they asking for? What are they struggling with? How can I do something differently than what’s already there? So there’s lots of book marketing guides out there, but there weren’t any specifically for nonfiction, right? And I built a course and that book became part of the course and all the things. So I guess it comes back to how do you want to serve your target audience? What are they struggling with? I talk to our author community about what are the needs, interests, and challenges of your target audience, and how do you serve them through your blog posts, your podcast interviews, the books that you write. And when I do Q&A, we do lots of webinars and things. I love Q&A with our community. And if I can’t answer a question with a piece of content, it goes on a list, and it will become a blog post or a podcast or a downloadable report? Because if one person in my community has that question, I know others do too. So I really listen to our community and the questions they’re asking.

Rob Marsh: Yeah, that’s a great challenge, Kira. You know, not choosing the topic. I’m thinking where I get stuck is I check into the Hampton Inn and I’m like, ooh, HBO. And then the writing is done. For the weekend, I’m catching up on whatever I’ve missed. So your challenge is better than mine. What else should we be asking about the writing process, Stephanie, as far as, you know, what you’ve seen and you’ve seen literally hundreds, probably thousands of authors writing, you know, nonfiction work. Where else do people get hung up or stuck or what should we be thinking about as we consider the books that we want to write and getting them, not yet talking about marketing yet, but like getting them to the finish point?

Stephanie Chandler: So, yeah, I mean, look at, study your genre, right? What is there? What is selling well? What is missing in those books? To me, that’s always where the opportunity is. What’s missing? What hole can you fill for your audience? You know, in copywriting, for example, there’s all different types of copywriting, right? There’s copywriting for advertising. There’s copywriting for websites. I did tons of website copy years, many, many years ago. So there’s all different types of copywriting. Maybe you narrow it down. I love a niche, really. And I encourage my authors to do that too, because let’s say you’re writing another leadership book. I mean, there’s thousands of leadership books out there, but what if it was leadership for copywriters, leadership for tech companies, leadership for students graduating from college, right? So the narrower you can focus, the more I think you can stand out. And so that also helps propel that along. And then, you know, I try to set myself a goal. So, you know, if I want to get a book out in the next year, I need to get the manuscript completed in the next six to eight months. I see a lot of authors get hung up on that analysis paralysis, right? It’s, is it good enough? I don’t know. Let’s do another round of editing. Let’s get into 13 rounds of editing. Let’s do 15. It’s too much. So I personally am a huge believer in editing. I usually go through at least four rounds of editing, but that’s enough.

Kira Hug: Maybe we can go back to your first book and talk through some of the mistakes you made just because they might be mistakes that we will deal with as well and love to hear some specific examples of

Stephanie Chandler: how you answer it? Great question. So my very first book, which was I wrote in 2004, 20 years ago, was inspired by my Silicon Valley colleagues. So I moved two hours north to Sacramento, opened this bookstore, quit my six-figure job. They all thought I had lost my mind, right? So they were literally caravanning up to Sacramento to see this store and to see that I’d actually really done this and they couldn’t believe it. And they were saying things to me like, you know, I want to do this too, but the golden handcuffs and I’m afraid to leave. So they actually inspired my first book, which was The Business Startup Checklist and Planning Guide. And so it was meant to help inspire them to find a way to start a business. Well, of course, lots of business startup books out there, right? Even more today. But 20 years ago, I had some competition. It wasn’t massive. So if I were to do that today, I would never write a general anything guide, right? I would narrow that focus 100%. Another thing I did in that book was I included tons and tons of links to resources. Links die, links change, links, it was irrelevant within two years, right? So those are the types of things that were frustrating. But I think I had studied the industry. I had been dealing with books and knowing what I liked and did not like. And so for that part of it, I was pretty proud of it as a first book.

Rob Marsh: And as we think about these things, I mean, you were a bookstore owner at one point. Covers, cover design, like getting noticed. I know now we’re maybe talking a little bit more about marketing and promotion of the book, which is what the workbook that you shared with me is all about. What do we need to be considering there, assuming our content is locked in?

Stephanie Chandler: Marketing is a huge piece of it and certainly cover design. I see so many people in general want to skimp on the production of their books, right? And as business professionals, our community is a little bit different. You’re making an impression on potential clients. So that’s where good editing comes in, expert cover design. And when authors tell me, oh, my cousin’s a graphic designer, I go, yeah, but has he ever designed an actual book cover? Because there’s different approaches and single point of interests and the way the fonts are balanced with the image, and you don’t want too much happening on a book cover. So hiring an experienced book cover designer, to me, is super important. Figuring out that title is always hard. I mean, my titles, I have gone through, we call them working titles for a reason. They will change over and over again, as they should. But then you go through all this work, you get your book published, and nobody buys it. Because there’s millions of books being released a year now, thanks to self-publishing, and Amazon is a C. So without also building that audience, this is why publishers want authors with a quote platform. A platform is an audience because they know you’ll sell books. If you don’t have a platform, your books are just going to flail on Amazon. So planning the marketing in advance is super important too.

Kira Hug: And what does that mean when people say audience and platform? Is it 500 people? Is it millions of people? Do I have enough people if I have a community of 1,000 people?

Stephanie Chandler: Yeah, I think it really depends on the genre, on your topic. If you’re writing a book for people with a gluten allergy, having 1,000 subscribers to your email might be enough to impress a publisher, but if you’re writing a small business guide, they’re going to want to see 10,000. Right. So, and they’re looking at your email list. They’re looking at your website traffic, social media numbers for sure matter, but the publishers of wise depth, they’re looking at engagement on social media because it’s so easy to build numbers. Right. But engagement is a whole different thing. And they finally figured that out. So you really have to show that you’re actively engaging your community in some way.

Kira Hug: So you, you mean we have to show up on social media? This is bad news.

Stephanie Chandler: No, I feel like social media has been a little oversold. And my advice to authors is pick one or two networks where your audience spends time and do those well. We don’t have to be on all of them. You don’t have to go create TikTok dancing videos, Kara. You can just spend a little more effort on LinkedIn, share your podcast episodes, put some clips out there, ask questions, right?

Rob Marsh: Some of us want to see Kira’s TikTok dancing. So don’t discourage that.

Kira Hug: We will only see it if it’s an AI Kira. It’s not going to be the real Kira. Guaranteed.

Rob Marsh: But there’s a little bit of catch-22 here, Stephanie. We write the book in order to establish our authority and to grow an audience, and yet you have to have the authority and the audience beforehand. So will you talk through a little bit of that process of how, if I’m starting out from scratch today, What’s realistic? I could write a book, like you said, in three or four months, maybe have it released in three or four months, but it takes a bit longer than that, at least it seems to, to build an audience, the community, that platform. So what’s realistic and how do we do it?

Stephanie Chandler: Well, it’s funny because this is exactly what I said to that literary agent when I pitched my first book and he said, I like what you’re doing, but nobody knows who you are. You need to go build an audience. And I said, but isn’t that the cart before the horse? Once I have the book, I’ll build an audience. And he goes, that’s not how the publishing industry works. You’ve got to build the audience first. Now I had just left the Silicon Valley. I didn’t want to travel. He said, I need you out speaking to thousands of people every year. And I thought, oh my gosh, the last thing I want to do is travel. So back then I started a website. I was blogging before blogging was a thing, right? I was writing articles on small business and starting a business and running a business. And every time I added new content, I the traffic was going up. And so I learned that blogging had value. I didn’t even know I was blogging. But what I recommend now to authors is to have at least one piece of foundational content. And that is either a blog, a podcast or video channel. And maybe it’s a combination of the three, but at least one so that you have foundational content that’s constantly getting added to your site, that’s giving you something to talk about on social media, and that’s engaging your audience, building out your site. And so you guys are doing that, but then you have to figure out how do you get people there and how do you get them to sign up for the email list, right? To me, the email list, If I had to pick between social media and an email list, I will take an email list all day, every day. It is an asset you own. Whereas, you know, we had, for example, several years ago, Twitter evaporated our account. One day we had 70,000 followers. One day we tried to log in and it was gone. We hadn’t violated any policy. We, I mean, I spent months, months trying to get it back and it was futile, right? So it was rented real estate. And I always worry when, when, when somebody’s entire platform is based on a social media site, that’s a big risk. So I would much rather you be bringing the traffic to your own site. getting them signed up for your email list. That is the value in building your community. Although I will add, I think more authors and experts should be leveraging social media groups. Right, because running groups attracts new people. You can be a leader there. And it’s just a it’s a great way to round up people. But you want to drive those people into your email list.

Kira Hug: Is it realistic to think that I could publish or get published with the first book? Or do you think it’s better just to self-publish, like I think you said you did? I mean, if I have a little bit of an audience, should I still just self-publish, get it out there, show that I can do it, and then go to publishers? So I almost don’t waste my time?

Stephanie Chandler: Yeah. So I mean, there’s so many pros and cons on both sides. I chose to leave traditional publishing for several reasons. First of all, you’re giving up all the control over your own work, right? So I’ve had my book titles changed. I’ve had cover designs I didn’t like. The last publisher called me up right before we went to press and said, we want you to remove a chapter. We don’t care which one we’re trying to cut costs. Right. And I was like, I am never letting that happen again. And I’m already doing all the work because the publishers, it’s a myth that the publishers are going to do all the marketing. They’re putting their marketing dollars into their John Grisham’s and their, you know, James Patterson’s and their Brene Brown’s, because those are sure things. They’re relying on the authors. to bring the audience to show that you’re going to sell books and then they’ll back you up a little bit more. So traditional publishing, by the way, you only earn about a dollar a book and advances have gotten much smaller. I mean, you’ll be lucky to get $5,000 advance and then you’ll never see another dime until you earn that back one dollar at a time. So it’s not, and it used to be, we wanted to be traditionally published to end up on a brick and mortar bookstore shelf. But some are estimating that as many as 70% of all book sales are happening on Amazon. So brick and mortar bookstore placement doesn’t have the cache it once did. I mean, I still love, I’m a bookstore lover, but the fact is I read almost exclusively digitally now. Right. So, you know, and that’s how many people are. So self-publishing, while you spend money up front, you maintain control. You can get your book out faster. Traditional publishers typically take about a year to get a book out once you get a book deal. I mean, as a self-published author, you can have your book out in months. So it’s I think it’s important to look at those things. And then as long as it’s professionally produced, A self-published book, it shouldn’t slow you down from really accomplishing any goal.

Rob Marsh: I was going to ask about the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing. You’ve kind of answered that. When you say 70% of books or as many as 70% are sold on Amazon, how does that break down versus digital versus hard copy?

Stephanie Chandler: Okay, so we remember there was a time maybe 10 years ago, we thought ebooks were taking over and we would never have a print book again. And it was just so depressing. Well, that stopped. And what we see in the nonfiction space is usually around 30 to 40% of your book sales are going to be ebook. And audio book, which an audio book is the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry right now. So audio books make a ton of sense. They’re not super profitable because they’re all on subscription models now. But, um, yeah, so print books, you will sell about 60% paperback. Hardcovers sell far less. So I often advise authors, if you really want a hardcover, do both a hardcover and a paperback. It’s not a big leap to add one or the other. But don’t just do a hardcover because you will miss out on sales.

Rob Marsh: And what else do we need to be thinking about in that decision between traditional and self-published? Obviously, there are advantages to traditional. You listed a bunch of the reasons not to, and I agree. I think I would probably self-publish because of that. But there are still authors who choose to go the traditional route, even authors who aren’t the James Pattersons of the world. They’re putting out maybe their second or third book. I think it’s still perceived as a little bit more, I don’t know, professional, but what other reasons would we consider that?

Stephanie Chandler: So, I mean, there’s certainly some credibility, right? And being able to say my book was picked up by Random House or whatever the case is. And so that’s definitely a factor for, especially in certain industries, education and things like that. Um, so that, that plays into it. And if you have a lot of patience and you’re willing to give up control, I think, and I don’t regret having done it. I had that as a goal. I wanted the credibility I wanted to be, I wanted the validation of my work. Right. And so I’m glad I did it. But I don’t know that you could ever talk me into going back to it. Just because especially as business owners, right, we’re used to running the show. And then to give up creative control, and the business decisions behind my books, just for me didn’t fly. Now with that said, self-publishing is doable, but it’s a lot of work. There are a lot of steps in the process. People don’t realize how much goes into it. So there’s kind of a midway we call hybrid publishing, where you can hire a firm to do all the heavy lifting and produce your book. It’s still your copyright. It’s still your work. but they do all the heavy lifting. They typically have a recognizable brand and you can pay them to do all of that. So for those of us who are really busy, that’s a really popular option is to hire a hybrid publisher. You know, it’s not inexpensive, but self-publishing by the time you hire, you know, multiple editors, the cover designer, the interior typesetter, the ebook formatter, the indexer, I mean, it adds up, no question.

Rob Marsh: So one really quick follow-up on that. You mentioned with traditional publishing, you only make about a dollar a book. How does that differ if you self-publish? And I guess, you know, we can keep talking about the purpose of a nonfiction book is often not to sell books, but to sell other things. But what’s the money difference there?

Stephanie Chandler: So big difference. So if you self-publish, let’s say you’ve got a 50,000 word manuscript, your book’s about 200 paperback pages, and you’re selling it for $19.99. Your print on demand costs might be $5. Now, Amazon’s going to take 55% off your retail price. So $20 minus 55%. Someone’s going to have to help me with the math, but they’re going to pay you- I think it’s about $11 roughly. Okay. So $11, that means Amazon’s paying nine, right? And you deduct your $5 print costs, you’ve just earned $4 for that sale. Now, let’s say you go and you do a speaking engagement. and you take a case of books with you and you sell them for $20 and your cost was five, you’ve just made $15. Your traditional publisher is only going to sell you your own books at 50% off the retail price. They’re making a profit off of you as the author.

Kira Hug: Yikes. Okay. So I want to talk about mindset for a little bit and just kind of veer off topic because I noted that you went from wanting to write fiction and then realizing, okay, this isn’t for me. And then it sounds like you pivoted relatively quickly, maybe that it wasn’t as quick as it sounds. But I think that takes a lot of, I mean, a positive mindset to even say, okay, well, there’s something else for me. And then later, when you left your what sounds like a really amazing startup gig and job in Silicon Valley, that takes guts and a pretty strong mindset to believe, okay, I can make this work. And so I guess the question is just like, how has your mindset evolved over time and what has helped you the most to make these pivots and decisions that are not easy for most people?

Stephanie Chandler: I love this question. I get asked this a lot because it was a huge leap to quit a six figure job and open a bookstore. And people ask me, were you scared? I wasn’t. I remember driving away on my last day of work. I had a little convertible and I’m in California and it’s like 8 p.m. after we’ve had our last happy hour. And I was like, I am free, right? But for me, what has served me the best in all these endeavors is building a plan. So I spent a year, probably a year and a half before I quit my job, forming my business plan for the bookstore. I hired business consultants. I, you know, I had financial plans made. Now, of course, with business, nothing ever goes exactly as you plan, but I had plans. I had money set aside. I had contingency plans and I knew that I could always be a freelancer. And I knew there was ways to, I had, I had backup plans to my plans. And so that gave me a lot of confidence and, and nothing went exactly as planned. Nothing did. Everything ends up costing more than you expected to. And then things break and, you know, the store was robbed and we had all these issues. But you kind of figure it out. And I almost for me, figuring those things out gave me more confidence. And then I’m running the store. And I’m not kidding you. Six weeks after opening that store, I looked around one day and I was like, Oh my God, what have I done? I don’t want to be locked in this building all day and deal with the public. Right. And we had a lot of, um, bored, retired people and homeless people who would wander in and just want someone to talk to. And it didn’t feel like a great use of my brain. Right. I wanted to be actively creating things. So I think the mindset was, OK, so what next and how do I make a plan? And honestly, what I did while I owned that store was I started copywriting and write and doing freelance writing for magazines. And my goal was to write for Entrepreneur Magazine. That was my big goal. And so I worked up and I built my clips and I worked up and I finally got an article placed in Entrepreneur and I never wrote another freelance article again. I was like, OK, now what? Right. So I would just set these goals for myself, make a plan. And and by making a plan, I would study how other people were doing it. I can’t say enough about that. Rob, you mentioned Ryan Holiday. Look at other people who are doing things that you admire and take from that what you admire and also what you don’t like. Because I saw, especially back then, lots of big red headlines and, but wait, there’s a lot of snake oil type selling and I swore I would never, ever engage in that. So I just really study. I study how other people are doing things. When I decided to start an association for writers, I looked at trade associations in all kinds of industries. What are they doing? What are they offering? Why do people join? What are the benefits? So that I could apply that to my community and make it as robust as possible. Does that make sense?

Rob Marsh: Yeah, I think it makes sense. So a quick curiosity question. When somebody robs a bookstore, do they take the books?

Stephanie Chandler: Yeah, no, they don’t take books. We learned a rookie mistake. I had this employee, he was a long haired, tattooed, like rock and roll guy. And he was in the store one day while the other one was on a break. And these couple of guys walked in and asked for help in the back. Well, the cash register, we didn’t have it bolted down. And it turns out you can lift it up and there’s an emergency release underneath. So they just quietly took the money out of the drawer.

Rob Marsh: Ouch. Yeah, that’s that’s brutal.

Stephanie Chandler: Rookie mistakes.

Rob Marsh: Yeah, so as you’re thinking about and launching the association, keeping it with the mindset, you’ve left one kind of business. You bought and you’re checking out of the retail business. You’ve started a copywriting business and freelancing. And now you’ve got this fourth business. I mean, how are you juggling it all and making it make sense? I mean, in some ways it feels like maybe you were trying for the thing that is going to satisfy all of your needs.

Stephanie Chandler: Yeah, I was. Yeah. How did you make it work? I was exploring. And I didn’t even mention that I started a publishing business in the middle of all of that. So I sold the bookstore. I sold it to an employee because after the first year I checked out. I was consulting, I was freelancing, I was, I started publishing other people’s books as a hybrid book publisher, all nonfiction. So I was kind of figuring out my lane. And so that was, that was the evolution of okay, well, I checked that off. I don’t I didn’t want to be a freelance writer forever. I didn’t feel like I could keep doing that. And that’s another question to ask yourself, am I going to be passionate about this in five years or 10 years? And, you know, for me, freelancing was, I wanted to tell my own stories, not other people’s stories. Right. So it’s just looking at those things. And like I said, when I embarked on all of this, I knew I wanted to write, but I didn’t know how to make a living as a writer. So I got involved in copywriting communities right back then and, um, and learned about copywriting. And I joined a local business networking group and I met web designers and they were like, Oh, well you write our clients website copy. And I sure I can do that. Right. And so I just. wasn’t afraid to take chances, I guess. And meanwhile, I was letting the employees run the store. And I ultimately ended up selling it to one of them. And that was a great decision.

Rob Marsh: So a follow up on the association, are there differences in building an association versus another type of business?

Stephanie Chandler: Like a membership community? Yeah. Not so much. I chose not to file it as a nonprofit. A lot of trade associations are nonprofits. but the accounting for nonprofits and it’s just so complicated and I’m not about complicated so we are not a nonprofit we make that really clear and no it’s very similar to other membership communities but I liked that to me, association had some cachet to it. And nobody was doing it for nonfiction authors. That was so baffling to me. I mean, to be able to go by nonfiction authors and nonfiction writers for $12 on GoDaddy was shocking to me. So I’m grateful that I took all those detours because I feel like they prepared me to get where I am. And I love what I’m doing now.

Kira Hug: I don’t know if this is the right question to ask here, but I feel like you have a really good eye for, well, you do have a great eye for spotting opportunities and moving and making the plan. And so is that just a gift that you have? Is that something that other people can learn? Or are there any tips you could give us to help us get better at spotting these opportunities?

Stephanie Chandler: I love this question. And, um, I think it is part instinct, but it is that that studying right and really paying attention to my audience? What questions am I answering over and over again? You know, like how to publish my book and those types of things. And so, for example, that there’s tons of books on how to publish your book. I wrote one on how to publish a nonfiction book. So it hadn’t been done. Right. And so, and there are nuances, there are things to consider. So I saw the need within that niche. I’m all about a niche. So the more that you can narrow it down, I feel like the more you can stand out. And if you’re finding, you know, even within my own community, there are so many sub genres that somebody could be talking to, right, to science writers, to business book writers, to, you know, memoir writers, there is one, two associations. But within that community, there are smaller niches, too. So those are opportunities, right? Writing a science book is very different from writing a business book. Or writing a historical, you know, genealogy book is very different from writing a memoir. So there’s opportunities within, I believe, any community. Right. And just looking to solve their problems, what are their interests, their needs and their challenges. My good friend, Karl Palachuk has a community for IT consultants. So people who fix your computers, right? He used to own an IT company and he sold it and he thought, well, I’m going to teach other IT business owners how to grow their businesses. And he is like a rock star and this very small niche community. and earns a great living because he built he offers courses. And, you know, he listens to what are their challenges. They can go listen to a general business consultant, but he has the direct experience in their industry and is speaking to what they’re struggling with. Does that does that help a little bit?

Kira Hug: Yeah, definitely. I mean, it sounds like you do the right things, right? You niche down and then you observe the space and you’re looking for those questions and you’re doing… It’s all the best practices. I think that… Thank you.

Stephanie Chandler: You’re reminding me that early on, I started writing questions down that people were asking me. I was looking for the threads. I was like trying to pay attention. So that helps too. What are they asking in forums? What are they struggling with? And is there one thread of that, right? That how to be a website copywriter, right? I mean, does that book exist? Probably not. And that was pretty lucrative, quite frankly. I mean, I was hitting every business in town, rewriting all their websites, you know.

Rob Marsh: Yeah, there’s definitely a way to make that book work. I want to ask you about your event. You guys, with your association, you do an online event. You’ve been online for a long time. Most events went online after 2020, but I think you guys were ahead of the curve by a decade or so. Tell us about that event and the kinds of things that happened there. If we were going to sign up and join next year, what could we expect?

Stephanie Chandler: Yeah, thanks for asking. So the Nonfiction Writers Conference started in 2010, and we just had our 14th event in May, early May. And it’s basically three days of live training. And I’m super particular about our speakers. I don’t want these to be sales pitches. I don’t want people to feel like they just, you know, swam with a snake oil salesman. So we really emphasize high content value. And within the conference, I wanted it to also be the benefits that you would get from an in-person conference, but online. So we have lots of industry professionals who volunteer to do one-on-one Zoom consults with attendees. We’d love to invite you guys next year to be pros. We called our Ask a Pro sessions. We have live literary agent pitches. Those have been really popular. So we do a lot of things outside of just the lectures. We do a private group for the attendees and we do online networking. It’s a ton of fun. It’s a ton of work, but I love it. And people ask, you know, are you why don’t you do one in person? And I feel like doing it online as long as we have is kind of what makes it special. Right. Others, like you said, Rob, after the pandemic started doing more of them, but we’ve been doing it a long time. So we’re going to keep doing it.

Kira Hug: I before we start to wrap, I just want to ask you about your schedule, you know, especially as a fellow writer and, you know, a CEO and someone who’s built this organization, you know, how do you think about your time, schedule your time so you still have time to produce in this prolific way and run a business? And I’m sure you’re doing many other things.

Stephanie Chandler: Yeah. So I’ll tell you one of my mantras for years has been the more I hire, the more I earn. So I have a team. I think having at least one phenomenal assistant is so valuable. And, um, so I, but I have multiple people. We have, obviously we have customer service that needs to be handled. We have failed payments that need to be followed up on. So we have people in charge of those things. And for years I had on my computer monitor a sticky note that said, can Sue do this? Right? Because I would catch myself like putting together a spreadsheet and realize I don’t need to be the one doing this. Sue could do this. And it took me a long time to train myself to hand these tasks over. But the more I do that, the more it frees me up to do the things that I’m best at. I should never be the one doing anything math related. I should not be building spreadsheets. I should not be doing bookkeeping. I should not be handling customer service. I’m a CEO, right? So I have put people in those roles and I’ve straddled the business ownership revenue, you know, highs and lows and still paying people. I’ve done all of that. But when it comes back to it, I earn more per hour doing the things I do best and to hire someone for 20 to $50 an hour. to do those other tasks has become way more profitable. And in fact, it’s to the point that we have, I tell authors, go get yourself a great virtual assistant, hire someone for five hours a month to help you pitch yourself for a podcast or find a speaking engagement or help update your blog content. And we have such a need in our community for that. And we don’t have enough virtual assistants to recommend. We were creating a training program for virtual assistants, because I know that this is a value to our community. Right. We’re getting asked for them and we don’t have enough to give them. So we’re creating the program that’s going to connect to them. So that’s that. What am I? I’m looking for those opportunities and those needs to fill.

Rob Marsh: Okay, so to try to bring this all home, let’s say that I’m a copywriter, I’ve been listening, I’m ready to write a book for my niche, for the customers that I write for. Give us just the first two or three steps to really get started so that by this time next week or maybe next month, we actually have gotten far enough along that we can say, yeah, this is happening and I’m going to be able to get this done.

Stephanie Chandler: Go study the books in that genre and see what’s missing and how you can fill a hole. Make a profile for your audience. I often like to have somebody in mind in my head that I’m writing for specifically that helps me really communicate what I’m writing. Write that book description because that’ll choke me up. Even if I have a full outline and I sit down to write the description, I’ll realize my outline needs to be adjusted. Right? Because you want your book description to explain what is the reader going to gain from this book? What is the promise? And if you can’t succinctly describe the promise, you don’t have a successful book. So writing that jacket copy is hugely important.

Kira Hug: All right. I think we’re ready. I think we’re ready to read the books. This is so hopeful. I need to do it. I hope you do.

Stephanie Chandler: I want to hear all about it when you do.

Kira Hug: I don’t think we asked you yet, but where can our listeners go to connect with you to get involved in the association and find all of your books?

Stephanie Chandler: Yeah, thank you. is kind of our main hub. I’m on LinkedIn. Stephanie Chandler, our author, I think is my handle. But I’d love to connect with with everyone. And I love our community. And we’re full of professionals, which is really interesting. So therapists, physicians, consultants, speakers, it’s a really interesting, well educated community. And so it’s unlike the typical writers group of where people are, you know, writing fiction, because it’s fun. And these are professionally focused people, I guess, is the point I’m trying to make.

Rob Marsh: Yeah, it’s good. And like I mentioned before, I’ve got the workbook, the most recent workbook. It’s a great tool. We’ll link to it in the show notes so that people can check that out if they’d like to get along. But thank you, Stephanie, for joining us and sharing so much about the process. And hopefully we’ll see a bunch of books coming out of the Copywriter Club in the next year, not just from Kira and me, but from a bunch of our listeners, too.

Stephanie Chandler: I hope so. Keep me posted. And thanks so much for inviting me. This was a fun conversation. Thank you.

Rob Marsh: That’s the end of our interview with Stephanie Chandler. This conversation got me thinking about my own book projects and what I need to do to make more progress on them. 

First of all is this idea of niching in books. We talk about this all the time for copywriting. If we choose a niche, if we go after a particular industry, or a deliverable, or a kind of voice, or a type of project that we do, there’s so many different ways to niche. It helps us focus in on the right audience to work with. It makes for projects that tend to go smoother. It helps us to build expertise. And the same thing applies to books, obviously, as Stephanie pointed out. There are so many different leadership books that she talked about, but you can niche your leadership book into doing something very specific. Leadership for copywriters, leadership for SAS business owners, or maybe it’s not an industry type thing, but rather it’s positional, you know, leadership for CEOs, leadership for the just hired manager, something like that.

If the topic was leadership, there’s so many different ways to address what we would put into our books for a particular niche. And That’s what we see so many times, even with copywriters, is the copywriters want to write to and talk to other copywriters. Same thing with content, content writers. They want to write content that gets consumed by other content writers. Well, that particular audience is relatively small compared to all of the other niches out there that you could address your ideas to. So if you’re writing a book about marketing principles or even copywriting ideas, you’re better off aiming them to marketers in specific niches who don’t know so much about what you’re talking about as maybe copywriters and content writers might do. So think about niching when it comes to not only the way you set up your business, but if you’re going to write a book, you want to choose a niche for your book. 

And then while we’re talking about writing a book, a couple of things stood out to me there as well. Stephanie talked about describing the promise of the book and the promise of the book looks like success. Well, obviously this feels really familiar to anybody who’s written any kind of sales copy. That is, we want to focus on that transformative moment when the customer experiences success with the products that we’re writing about. That’s the exact same thing that we want to be doing when we’re thinking about the book. What is that transformation that the book is going to produce? 

The book is simply just an offer or a product that is going to help deliver a transformation based off of the information that you’re giving the person that’s reading that book. a copywriting principle that applies again to the book. We want to find that moment of success. And that’s really the promise of the book. And then all of the content in the book leads to that transformation or that moment of success.

I love to what Stephanie pointed out as far as the storyboard method goes and taking every story, every stat, every case study, every quote, everything that we want to put into the book and put it on post-it notes or on pages that we can move around and shift around to make sense of how it all fits together. We want to get clear on that audience and how the book serves them. So going back to that idea of the moment of success. And then we want to talk and write about how it’s going to make your reader’s life better. She starts with the back cover copy. I think that’s a great idea or some kind of capsulation of what your book is about. And then even thinking about your nonfiction as a collection of short article type chapters, almost as if they’re blog posts or the content you’re publishing on LinkedIn. Obviously we’d want to build them out just a little bit from that. You don’t want 900 word chapters. But, you know, a two to four thousand word chapter, that makes a lot of sense. And so there are lots of ways to do that. 

And finally, we talked a little bit about leaving a six-figure job for this opportunity that’s really undefined and kind of scary and doesn’t guarantee a six-figure payoff. What Stephanie did And I think there’s so many copywriters who do this as well in our own businesses as we leave. Maybe it’s corporate America or university or this thing that we have been doing. And we move into copywriting, which has a promise of success. And certainly it’s possible to build those kinds of businesses. That’s exactly what we show you how to do in programs like The Copywriter Accelerator, The Copywriter Underground. but it’s not guaranteed and it takes a lot of work. And so having a plan, and then if nothing goes to plan, you sometimes you just got to burn the boats. You’ve got to make sure that the plan is going to work, that you’re not setting yourself up with plan B or plan C or plan D, which allows you to fail or not try as hard as you need to try in order to succeed. If success is the only option, you’ll figure out a way to get there. We talk a lot about that, like I said, in The Copywriter Club programs. You might want to check some of those out. 

I want to thank Stephanie Chandler again for joining us to chat about writing a nonfiction book and leaping at the right opportunities and so much more. You can find her on the Nonfiction Authors Association website, where you can also join her list and find a ton of free resources that are designed to help you write your own book. There are recordings from their previous events. We talked about the online event on the podcast and the interview. So check that stuff out.

And if you want to learn how to add those high-value skills, like helping your customers, your clients, manage their email list and provide that service that can turn into long-term, high-value retainers, you’re going to want to join The Copywriter Underground so you can join us for that workshop with Matt Brown that’s coming up this week. 

That’s the end of this episode of the Copywriter Club podcast. The intro music was composed by copywriter and songwriter Addison Rice. The outro was composed by copywriter and songwriter David Muntner. 

If you enjoyed what you’ve heard, please visit Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts to leave a review of your show. Let us know what you like, or just pass this episode on to somebody that you think might benefit from it. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.


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