I often hear that nonfiction is more marketable than fiction. Is that true for all forms nonfiction? My question relates specifically to essays. The Caged Virgin, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was and is highly acclaimed. It's no secret that she's an excellent writer with a compelling story. That leads me to wonder if the success of The Caged Virgin was an exception rather than the rule. Are publishers generally receptive to essay collections?
It's hard to say which is more marketable because fiction and non-fiction have different markets. Though many agents deal with both, editors tend to focus on one or the other. If you're asking yourself, "Should I write a fiction or non-fiction book?" the answer is, "Write the book you want to write, then submit it for publication. When it's rejected, write another book and try again."
As for essay collections, this can be a tricky situation. Generally agents are not incredibly receptive to essay collections written by people who have not had any of their essays published, much like short story collections. And then it depends where they were published, and what kind of essays they are, but generally boils down to, "Do we think anyone would buy and read this?" Because I can't remember the last essay collection I bought and read, and I read a wide variety of things. My dad bought me a copy of "Best Science Writing of 2001" or something like that, and I think I read two of the essays, and that was a "best of" collection. So, don't bank on it.
If people have successful essay collection publishing stories they are welcome to share them in the comments section.