Mark O'Neill

Having an idea for a non-fiction book

businessman and businesswoman

If you want to create your own indie-published book, you first have to have your idea. This is obviously the hardest part of all. When you ask a writer where they get their ideas from, they naturally get defensive or evasive because they don’t want to tell you. Or there’s the Terry Pratchett answer when he was asked : “in a small shop off Marylebone High Street.” However, I am not so defensive about this subject, so we will go into it a bit today. Let’s first discuss non-fiction.

Here’s where you have to be careful. If you write non-fiction, you have to have some kind of established credential or experience in your subject. If not, why should anybody listen to you and your opinions? You have to prove that you know what you’re writing about. I wanted to write a non-fiction history book when I was a naive teenager, and a publisher bluntly asked me why anybody should listen to the historical opinions of someone barely out of high school. At the time, the criticism stung, but I’ve come to realise she was right.

The three questions to ask yourself

So if you want to write non-fiction, ask yourself:

  • “What are my specialist subjects?”
  • “What do I have experience and/or qualifications in?”
  • “What subject would someone take me seriously in?”

Look at your current job, past jobs, hobbies and interests, things you’ve accomplished, things you’re obsessed about…everybody has at least one obsession.

For me, it would be:

  • Technology and the internet (since I’ve worked in the field since 2004.)
  • Self-publishing (since I have done it since 2017.)
  • Health (since I have various health ailments and can speak from experience.)
  • Being a foreigner in Germany (since I have lived here since 2001.)

You get the idea. Brainstorm your possible specialist subjects. Even if the initial list sounds chaotic by the end, it doesn’t matter. Just get it all out on paper, including that idea about knitting jumpers for badgers. You can edit it later.

Now start hacking away

Once you have your list, take a red pen to it like your teachers did at school, and start seriously considering each one. Cross out the obviously irrational ones (sorry, badgers. Make your own jumpers), and come up with two or three credible subjects. Doing one based on your current job is always good because you can use the book to further establish yourself in your industry. You can hand out copies at conferences and other meetings. You can promote yourself and your company (if it’s your company.)

But if you like to play the ukulele in your spare time, and want to write a book on that, nothing is stopping you. Tap into what genuinely interests you – if the subject matter bores you to tears, that will show in the writing and readers won’t be motivated to read what you wrote. They’ll also be demanding a refund or leaving a scathing review online. Just be aware that the more niche the subject, the more difficult it will be to get book sales.

Now start writing. Yes, I know it’s scary. But once you get started, you’ll be surprised at how easily the words flow. In the next article, we will discuss fiction, which is arguably the easiest genre to break into.

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