On Personal Projects

I think it may be time to consider diversification of personal efforts.  I’ve been working on a startup idea with a friend of mine, and I think it has some potential.  However, I’m less of a technical guy and I’m most likely going to be more hands-off until we leave the coding/development stage and enter the business-development stage.  So, I’m kind of casting about and trying to figure out something I can do outside of work to keep myself occupied and to lend a bit of purpose to my life.

I’m considering the idea of a book.  It’s a big thing to start off, but everyone who ever did it had to start with a first step.  I also did write a book-length thesis for college, and that suggests to me an actual book is within reach.  That leaves a pretty big question: about what?  Fiction is right out – I’d be terrible at it, I’m fairly sure.  Which is unfortunate, since I love the world-imagination aspect of science fiction and keep running personal notes about my thoughts on the topic.

This leaves nonfiction.  Judging by Amazon, the trick to book sales is a self-help book about how Jesus/self-actualization helped you meet your spouse/start a business/write a best-selling book.  I am not cynical enough to write one of those books in cold blood.  I have little practical expertise other than two years of management consulting, which frankly is pretty boring and not great book material.  My academic background is in history, which I think is where I would go.  This, then, suggests a book oriented towards politics, current events, or history.

Of course, without the research resources of Harvard it will be substantially more difficult to write one.  No huge library full of abstruse secondary (and sometimes primary) sources, no JSTOR, no ProQuest.  There’s a lot available online, but there’s definitely a pretty high barrier to entry to write without academic resources.  I will be moving to SF, and I can purchase access to the Cal library for $100/year.  This would provide adequate material resources and might be worth considering if I do pursue this.

Of course, I still have to figure out a subject where “room” exists – ie, space for an original contribution.  Authors with more established personal brands can get away with retreading subjects.  That would be a difficult subject.  Political polemics are played out, though I suppose there would always be a market.

I’m also curious whether there’s a market for “serious” self-published work in the ebook market.  Most of the real success stories so far have been for people writing self-help books or trashy romance novels.  I suspect that publishing a successful book in the serious nonfiction world still requires establishing a personal brand first.  Most likely through traditional established channels.  For now.


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