By Ryan Nivakoff
You’ve got a way with words. You’ve blocked out your schedule for the next few months. And you’re willing to jump through the hoops required of aspiring self-published writers.
There’s just one small problem: you have no idea what to write about.
Don’t worry, though. Your muse is out there. In fact, it’s a fair bet that you’re capable of producing a great self-published work that follows at least one of the following tracks.
1. Novelize Your Career
One way to write about what you know is to write about what you do — or did, if you’re retired or on the right side of a long-awaited career change.
If your own workplace experiences aren’t juicy enough to keep reading audiences engaged, or you’re not sure you should write about real-world people and events, consider novelizing your career. This is a common tack for government officials, particularly national security and law enforcement professionals. Throw a pebble from any northwest D.C. corner and you’ll hit two, maybe three former spooks with at least one spy novel to their credit.
2. Dive Deep Into an Authoritative Domain
“Another way to write about what you know: research something about which you’re already quite familiar and put together an engaging, informative tome on the subject.” — Ryan Nivakoff
Such deep dives rarely top bestseller lists, but they’re incredibly useful for subject matter experts and enthusiasts. You have kindred spirits out there, and there’s no better way to reach them than by chronicling a shared passion.
3. Chronicle Your Travels (Beyond the Who, What, When, Where, Why)
Travel writing is enjoying a much-deserved renaissance, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.
Simply chronicling your day-to-day experiences on the road, diary-like, is not the path to self-publishing success. (With exceptions — but don’t bank on it.) Instead, find a travel-related niche: a guide to hostel-hopping in Argentina, for instance, or a multi-character study the draws on the months you spent in Cambodia. Your goal: to transport and educate your readers, not just tell them what it’s like on the other side.
4. Formalize Your Family History
Your family is more interesting than you think. You just have to go back generations to see all the drama.
Spend a few months deep-diving into your family history, pulling on any juicy narrative threads you encounter. Your final work product might be a multi-generational tableau, a dramatization focusing on one particularly interesting relative’s life, or a period study of an interesting place they called home.
5. Go Meta
When all else fails, embrace your meta side. Even if this is your first attempt at self-publishing, you have more experience at it than the vast majority of your readers. Books about self-publishing are in high demand — all the better if it’s your second.
Write What You Love
If you take nothing else from this post, let it be this.
You won’t produce your best work if you’re not enjoying yourself. The single best way to ensure that you do enjoy the self-publishing process — or, at the very least, to stave off burnout — is to write about something in which you’re truly interested.
And if you come to the realization that what you’re doing doesn’t make you happy? Take a few days off and do something that doesn’t involve sitting in front of your laptop for hours on end. There’s nothing like a break from the grind to make you realize how much you miss it.
Ryan Nivakoff has run several successful businesses in a variety of industries, ranging from hospitality and book publishing to finance and sustainable landscaping.