Five reflections on publishing compelling narrative non-fiction

Success factors that could help you land that bestseller.

Shawn Seah
6 min readJun 2, 2021


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 reflections that will hopefully help you in writing compelling narrative non-fiction.

And no, I am not going to write at all about writing in this article.

(1) Research: Who is the Target Audience?

My first reflection is that any aspiring author has to accurately answer the question: Who is the target audience? This question is not as easy to answer as it may seem at first glance.

Often, aspiring and even experienced writers (and I have spoken to more than a few) write about topics or themes that interest them, without thinking about their readership.

I can definitely understand that people are deeply passionate about topics and themes that are close to their heart.

However, doing so is like putting the cart before the horse. The fact of the matter is that an author who does not know or understand his audience cannot create compelling…



Shawn Seah

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