Monday, March 02, 2009

Essay Collections

Hello Rejecter,

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.

9 comments:

Elissa M said...

My assumption is the author of an essay collection would have to have a fairly good platform or some other way to show that people want to read his or her essays. A popular syndicated columnist, for instance.

But I really know even less about essay collections than the Rejecter.

Charlie said...

I buy probably 90% fiction and even less non-fiction. (a pre-coffee joke) The only essay collection I own is Andy Rooney's essay collection, and that was a gift.

Sasha said...

David Sedaris is a super popular essayist. But even a writer as funny and smart as he is didn't get his break from a published collection; he was "discovered" on radio (NPR).

On the other hand, Sedaris started out as an essayist/ fiction writer and built up his platform by getting more and more people to listen when he read his work. He doesn't have an incredible life story or anything- he wasn't born or lucked into his platform, he created it. So maybe it isn't hopeless, just hard? :)

The Rejecter said...

David Sedaris is also a novelist, if you go so far as to consider some of his work novels. A lot of it is open to interpretation.

LorMarie said...

Thanks for the response. I prefer to read and write nonfiction but I haven't given up on the world of fiction. I'd have to say though, I find fiction to be a lot more difficult to write.

At any rate, I'll just take your advice and write the book I want to write and hopefully get it published. If not, I'll keep trying.

Anonymous said...

Rejecter,

The O.P. is correct in pointing out the non-fiction is much easier to sell than ficiton. fiction is dang near impossible. Out of the million books published every year, probably 900,000 of them are non-fiction.

Platform and background are much more important with non-fic, though, but if you have enough of them, non-fic is many times more mraketable than fic.

Joel Derfner said...

I was lucky enough to get a collection of essays published last year with no previous essay-publishing experience, and luckier enough that a paperback is coming out this year (SWISH: MY QUEST TO BECOME THE GAYEST PERSON EVER AND WHAT ENDED UP HAPPENING INSTEAD). Though there are ways in which the book could be considered memoir rather than essays, so I think that's a big factor in its favor.

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