WRITING, PUBLISHING

Five reflections on publishing compelling narrative non-fiction

Success factors that could help you land that bestseller.

Shawn Seah
6 min readJun 2, 2021

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My Father’s Kampung: A History of Aukang and Punggol is available at Kinokuniya, Popular, Epigram Books, and other major bookstores at the time of writing. The photograph was taken in late 2020.

In 2017, I self-published my first non-fiction book with a small (but much-needed) grant from the National Heritage Board. As I had always loved writing, I went on to write a few more non-fiction books, picking up experience along the way.

To put things mildly (and humbly, as I am after all a niche writer), my father was surprised in discovering how popular my niche books turned out to be. He thought I would only sell three copies, but he turned out to be wrong. A publisher even once said to me: “You are our secret weapon.”

These days, I have even started venturing a bit into editing and writing historical fiction, to expand my horizons a bit.

While the past five years have taught me a lot about writing and publishing, it was like jumping off a cliff and building a fully-functioning aircraft, complete with bells and whistles, on the way down. This accurate metaphor is often, and correctly, associated with an entrepreneur’s challenges of establishing a new start-up.

With the benefit of some hindsight, and from the experiences I have picked up along the way, I can share five surprising…

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Shawn Seah

Singaporean writer and public speaker, passionate about education, social issues, and local history and community stories.