Table of Contents
- 1. Defining the genre
- 2. The writing process
- 3. Choosing the right essays
- 4. Publishing multiple collections
- 5. Selecting compatible themes
- 6. The importance of arrangement
- 7. Chronological arrangement
- 8. Arranging for impact
- 9. Dealing with difficult themes
- 10. The importance of second opinion
- 11. Analysis: are you offering something new?
- 12. Presenting radical ideas
- 13. Writing and language style
- 14. Pre-publication options
- 15. Publishing the collection of essays
Welcome to Writing Tips Oasis and our newest guide – how to write a collection of essays.
This guide will be different than others, and this is due to the fact that the type of work you’re trying to publish will not fall into a traditional genre – and by that, we mean literary fiction, non-fiction, and genre fiction, including everything from chic lit to dystopian fantasy and science fiction.
If we can call philosophy a genre – and not an academic discipline – then that’s where a collection of essays would belong to. However, philosophy is not isolated from other scientific studies, it encompasses learnings from many other academic disciplines, from history to psychology. A collection of essays may touch upon these, however, most often, a collection of essays is the place where a writer shares their own views and perspective on the world, the life they’ve lived, and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
In other words, a collection of essays can be quite a niche, and that comes with its own consequences. In this guide, we will analyze the different aspects and things that you need to be careful about when writing a collection of essays, and, at the end, we will take a look at the publishing process and how it differs from publishing a fiction or a non-fiction book.
1. Defining the genre
A collection of essays might fall under the umbrella of philosophy – barely, but it has an even more difficult time falling into a genre. It’s a mix of autobiography, memoir, and, well, blog posts, and as such, it can be a tough ordeal to even find the right audience for it.
For example, you may want to explore the things you learned while in your teens, and maybe your essays will provide a fascinating insight into what it’s like to be a teenager and what you would’ve liked to know at that age. However, who will read that? The teenagers you’re writing about may be more interested in reading YA vampire novels, people in their early twenties or even thirties may not be so keen to go back to those years – or even think about what they should have known at that age – and people who are older than that may have different things on their minds, which means your book of insightful essays may fall into the hands of other writers or a small group of people who like to think about those things.
Similarly, you may want to document everything you’ve learned as a new parent. Now, that, is a different story altogether, because there will be a lot of people who will relate to that – and be interested in reading it in order to see what they could learn from you. So, from a pure business and marketing point of view, a collection of essays on parenthood will have a better chance at attracting many readers than a collection of essays on being a teenager.
So, what can you do?
Well, for starters, write the essays first. So, let’s cover that aspect before we continue.
2. The writing process
The writing process of a collection of essays is quite different compared to a novel or a non-fiction book. Could you decide upon each title in your collection and sit down to write them? Of course, but would those essays be genuine? Chances are, they would sound more like textbook passages, or, even worse, schoolwork assignments.
As such, what you really need to have when you decide to publish a collection of essays are written essays. Whether these will be written over the course of a year, five years, or a decade, is up to you and your writing habits. However, there is one truth that we may be able to claim with relative certainty: all writers write essays. If you’re a writer and you’re not writing essays at the moment, chances are you haven’t noticed that you do. For example, many writers would write essays as a warm up to writing in their novel. Moreover, what are non-fiction books these days but the author’s knowledge and opinion on a certain, specific topic? Of course, good non-fiction novels are supported by facts and a lot of research, but at the core of it, they are still a series of essays in a very specific, very narrow even, topic.
Of course, now, you may find yourself thinking that you should better give up on your goal to publish a collection of essays because you have none at the moment. Our advice is twofold. First, dig into your writing – especially your free writing, musings in your notebooks or forgotten word files in your laptop. Chances are, there is a lot of wisdom hiding in there. Second, make a habit to write down your thoughts. Life is chaos, that’s true, but we learn something every day, and we create the narrative of our lives through our thought processes. Start creating the habit to write these things down, as often as you can. Soon, you will begin to want to do it, because writing can also serve as a form of therapy where we make sense of things. Before you realize it, you will begin to write essays, and you may have enough essays to publish in a collection within a few months or a year.
But, the process does not end there. If the first goal is to have the essays already written, the second goal is to choose the right essays.
Let’s take a look at what that means.
3. Choosing the right essays
In the first section, we talked about two different types of collections of essays, teenage years and parenthood. But, those two are nothing but examples of the themes and topics that your collection of essays will cover. In other words, you can have collections of essays on many aspects of life. From finding love in a busy world to being a new pet owner after a lifetime of fear of animals, for example. Dealing with hypochondria, dealing with mental illnesses, becoming a parent, choosing not to be a parent and the consequences of that – both personal and social and where and how they meet. You can have collections of essays on sociology, social issues, psychology, even history – if you can offer a different perspective on past events.
The opportunities are endless. Meanwhile, chances are, your essays will revolve around your own life, and what you learn along the way. This means that there will be a variety of topics that you will cover in your essays.
As such, welcome to the one and only rule of writing and publishing an essay collection: choose the correct essays, essays that will revolve around either a single topic or a variety of topics that will revolve around a similar theme or phase in life. You will write many essays in the course of your writing career – even more so if you decide to adopt the habit of writing things down – but that does not mean that every essay you’ve ever written will get to be published. To double down on it even, not every essay you’ve written will be publishable in the first place.
But, of those that are publishable, they will cover a variety of topics, each topic as different from the other as night and day, and those essays will ideally belong in different collections. So, let’s cover that first before we continue on what it means to combine different themes and topics in a single collection.
4. Publishing multiple collections
Some authors have found their niche and publish their essay collections and that is what their career as an author is based upon. Can you do the same?
The answer to that question is complicated. In theory – yes, you can. If you have enough material for many different collections, then you have completed the first step in achieving such a goal. The second step, unfortunately, depends on the wheel of fortune and lady luck herself. You can self-publish, yes; but will your first publication be successful without the backing (and the marketing team) of a publishing house that specializes in publishing essays? Moreover, will you even have the luck to get published traditionally without an agent – who, yes, also specializes in authors who write essay collections?
However, you can publish different collections of essays even if you are predominantly a fiction author. Look at how many authors from the 20th century, like Bukowski, Bradbury, Vonnegut, and yes, even Stephen King have published their collections of essays throughout the years. Stephen King’s On Writing is one of the most famous books that aspiring writers are recommended to read (and again, consider this mention a recommendation too, because Stephen King is the king of writer discipline, which is what has made him so prolific over the years).
So, maybe after you analyze your essays, you will realize that you have material for three or four different collections. Which then begets the task of organizing the essays into a cohesive whole.
And that’s when you need to begin to think in terms of themes.
5. Selecting compatible themes
Before you even begin to think about which essays to select for your collection, you need to decide on the theme or themes that you will talk about. As writing essays can often be a stream-of-consciousness effort rather than a planned one, you may be tackling different themes as you write them. So, when the moment comes to decide which theme will be prevalent in the essays, you may feel strangled by the need to choose just one.
However, that is the furthest thing from the truth. The goal here is to not promise something that you will not deliver upon – in the title, in the description, in the blurb of the book. If you wish to gather all the essays you’ve written while living in a certain town – whether your hometown or not – then, by all means, allow the reader to understand that the town will be what connects all of them. On the other hand, if you wish to cover your life experiences as an expat for example, or what living as an expat has taught you, then make sure to keep within that margin. The difference between the first and the second example is that the first one is a lot narrower. To continue with the example, let’s say that you were born in one town, but are writing about your experiences while living in another town. In this case, your essays about your hometown will not belong in that collection.
On the other hand, if what connects all your essays together is your life as an expat (still continuing on the other example above), then you can include not only essays about your hometown, and the new town where you moved, but you can include every other essay where your perspective as an expat comes into play.
Again, these two are just examples. You may wish to write about being a feminist (or, as is the case of Roxane Gay, about being a Bad Feminist), and what that means to you. In this case, you would include all the essays where the ideas you express come from that aspect – and it doesn’t matter whether you are talking about the interpretation of dreams or the most prevalent pop culture ideas of the current times.
As such, do not mix essays that do not have a correlation between them. For example, you should not really mix essays on the prevalent homelessness in NYC, while in the same collection, include an essay about what partying at Columbia University was really like. Not only are those two topics quite disconnected from one another, but it would also be in bad taste and give an impression that you, as the writer, are unaware of your own privilege.
Once you make a decision on what would be the theme or aspect about yourself or your life that will connect all of the essays in your collection, you can begin to think about the arrangement of the essays.
6. The importance of arrangement
How you arrange the essays in your collection is just as important as the essays themselves. There are a few different ways that you can do this: chronologically, for impact, or, to create a cohesive narrative whole.
First and foremost, each essay you have chosen needs to present a point and argue for or against that point, based on your perspective. A collection of essays is not a memoir or an autobiography that will recount past events or experiences – but, an essay will contain those past experiences, along with a certain amount of established, confirmed research findings if you’re dwelling into themes and topics where you need the support of such findings to argue your points. But, an essay needs to have a point, it should end on an abrupt note where it feels unfinished, even if that note may seem powerful to you personally.
A collection of essays, in turn, needs two things: each essay needs to correspond well with the overall theme that connects all of them, and, ultimately, it needs to form a cohesive collection of ideas on the established theme. Whether this will be done through a chronological arrangement, an arrangement for impact, or through an arrangement that hints at a narrative without delving too much into fiction, will depend on both the theme and the author themselves – or, upon you as the author. But, once you decide on which path to take, then make sure to stick to it to ensure that reader gets to close your book after reading all of your essays with the feeling that they have, by reading your essays, gained a new perspective of the theme you are talking about in the essays.
Since it’s impossible to distil these different arrangements without using examples, we will go back to our two previous examples: a collection of essays written in one town, and a collection of essays about your (supposed) life as an expat. And, since we mentioned three ways, we will add another example theme, which can be feminism.
7. Chronological arrangement
Of our previous examples of themes, the example of life as an expat works best for chronological arrangement of essays. There will be a difference in the essays one would have written in the beginning of such a major change in life, and as time goes along, those essays will have gained a different tone and perspective.
There are other themes that can benefit from chronological arrangement. For example, coming of age in a certain country, coming of age in a certain time period (the 60’s, the 70’s, the 80’s and so forth), coming of age in the time period of the early to late 2000’s, and the major worldwide changes that ensued as a result of the technology boom, or, growing up with a smartphone in hand (something that we assume newly fledged adults will be writing about in the next decade).
The common correlation between all of these themes is time: as time passes, the perspective changes. There is always a change in the tone from the first to the last essay, and the last essay should wrap things up and offer a conclusion on the overall theme presented in the collection. In the end, reading such a collection makes the reader feel that they have gone through a philosophical journey just as much as the author did, and are able to understand the author’s perspective and ideas – even if they don’t agree with them.
8. Arranging for impact
Another title for this section could be “arranging due to impact” because there are two different paths the author can take here. First, you can arrange the essays to create a different impact with each of them. Meaning, each essay’s impact will be calculated and placed specifically in that spot in the collection because that essay will be more painful, powerful, or maybe, more humorous than the ones before and after it. Depending on the difficulty of the themes you’re tackling, you might want to arrange the essays in such a way so as to not overwhelm your readers.
To go back to our example, let’s say that your collection is about living a single town. Life in a single town, in which case you can have essays about life, which yes, will include death and birth and everything in between. For example, if your first essay is about death, grief, or mourning, you may have exhausted the reader completely, even though they’ve just begun reading your collection of essays.
However, on the other hand, maybe you do want to start with a bang and then continue on with the other essays. In this case, you want to ensure that you do not use up the most powerful essays all at once in the beginning of the collection, because then your readers might not stick around when the individual themes and topics of the essays become lighter.
In the end, when it comes to arranging for impact – or as a result of the impact of the individual essays – you are the one who should make the final decision on which way you will go. However, it’s very important to keep this impact in mind because ultimately, you want the readers to enjoy reading your collection, even if it deals with difficult themes (and, truthfully, though often humorous, most collection of essays do deal with difficult themes that would make most people even a little uncomfortable). So, the idea is to ease your readers into it before presenting them with some of the most difficult essays – essays that would have a great emotional impact on the readers.
Which brings us to arranging with hints of narrative – and dealing with difficult themes.
9. Dealing with difficult themes
When it comes to dealing with difficult themes – or, perhaps the better word here would be traumatic themes – like rape, grief, mourning, murder, suicide, – arranging the essays in such a collection can be a huge challenge.
And the truth is that there is no “correct” way of arranging the essays when it comes to themes like these. Your readers will always fall into two categories: people who have gone through that traumatic experience, and people who haven’t. And each individual from both groups will experience your collection differently.
The reason why we mentioned arranging the essays with a hint of a narrative is because when it comes to themes like dealing with trauma and grief, arranging the essays in such a way can give the reader hope – especially if you do have essays that focus on the aspect of healing. If that’s the case, you have the opportunity to divide the essays in three parts (just like a novel has a beginning, a middle, and an ending). You have the essays that talk about life before the traumatic event, the traumatic event, the post-traumatic period, and the healing period.
Please note that this doesn’t mean that you need to create a fictional story or to rewrite your essays so that they read like fiction, or a string of loosely connected short stories. If you do that, you’ve delved either into fiction territory, or the territory of a memoir or an autobiography (about a certain time period of life). What we talk about is having the essays arranged in such a manner as to show the process of dealing with the trauma and healing.
10. The importance of second opinion
Or, in other words, you are not always right. Here, we will get a bit away from difficult themes and talk about the other type of difficult topics that we are dealing with today: social issues. As the year 2020 showed, the world is full of social injustices based on race, religion, ethnicity, wealth, sexual orientation, gender (or non-gender) … we can go on and on.
And you may have some strong opinions on these issues. That, however, automatically, will not make you right. In fact, these issues are so complicated, and each person’s views will differ so much that the writer’s background always gets involved into the importance of their opinion – which is not necessarily a good thing – but it happens. Even when a woman writes about what it means to be a feminist, there may be other women who will disagree with her views. Or, a person of color might write about what it means to be oppressed, and then another person of color may come forward and dispute all of those claims. Alas, that is the world we live in.
So, what can you do?
The best thing you can do is try to get a second opinion – not from a friend, a lover, or a family member, or a person who you know will agree with your views. Quite the opposite actually. Have your essays read by someone who may actually disagree with your views. Have your essays beta read by strangers whose opinion you cannot gauge before you give them your collection. Try to get as many unbiased opinions as possible, and then listen to their feedback.
And this isn’t just because you’re not always right. Additionally, there will always be the chance that some people will not understand your essays. Maybe you did not express your views in the correct manner (which happens quite often), maybe you said something that can be easily taken in a negative connotation out of context – which can later on be posted in reviews of your collection. And don’t forget that cancel culture exists – these days, any public figure can get “cancelled” really quickly because of a wrong word in a wrong spot in a single sentence. It’s not just about not offending a person, a group of people, or a whole nation or gender, it’s about not having your career ruined before it has even begun.
We’ll talk more later about the difference between being honest in your views and being offensive, but first, let’s take a look at what you would be offering in the essays themselves.
11. Analysis: are you offering something new?
Like with any other genre of fiction or non-fiction niche, before you start with the publishing process of your essay collection, read other author’s collections – yes, in the particular theme or topic you wish to tackle.
Read as many as you can. And then, start analyzing.
In fiction, it is advisable to read as many novels in your genre so that you will ensure that you will not publish something that has been seen before. For example, you may have a great idea about a love story between an overbearing, overprotective Alpha-male, and a not-quite-submissive heroine who still needs the hero to rescue her on occasion. And if you thought how that sounds like Twilight (and its adult spawn, 50 Shades of Grey), you’d be correct.
The same applies to non-fiction niches too. You may have a great idea about a cookbook full of your grandmother’s southern cooking recipes. But then, you do your research and discover that there are about a hundred books out there on southern cooking, and about half of them have the same recipes that you thought were unique to your grandmother’s kitchen.
The same applies to essay collections. You may think that you have great ideas and great insight into life, the universe, and everything, but you may also discover that about a hundred other authors have already said the same thing in different words.
However, do not despair! The chances of that particular scenario happening with a collection of essays is quite slim (but not impossible). Worst case scenario, a few of your essays may present ideas that have been explored by other authors. But, that doesn’t mean that your particular individual perspective will not offer anything new to the table. Because of that, read as many collections as you can, and then analyze your own essays. Decide which essays fall into the category of “no one has said this before” and the category of “someone has talked about this, but they haven’t proposed this idea’ and “people have already talked at length about this, and I’m not really offering anything new.”
And, even better news: the chances of your essays falling into the third category are even slimmer, unless you’re talking about how it’s really bad to hit and abuse street animals, for example. In other words, your essays would need to be written about universal topics with views that are easily shared by most good and kind people in the world. On the other hand, if you’re proposing new and radical ideas about what society should do to protect these street cats and street dogs, then, most of the same good and kind people in the world would probably be all ears.
So, what happens when you do have radical ideas?
12. Presenting radical ideas
First and foremost, the term “radical idea” is both vague and specific, because an idea that was radical fifty years ago is a normal and accepted idea today. An idea that goes against the established common norm is a radical idea, even if it may seem like a normal idea to you, personally. Some radical ideas are positive, however, some can be quite negative. And then, there are the ideas that appeared radical at a first glance, but in reality, they are what should have been the norm all along (like, for example, women having the right to vote and the right to equal wages in comparison to men).
As such, the first thing to do is to analyze – in the same way as in the previous section – whether your ideas can or would be considered radical by your readers. The second step is to see whether you are presenting your ideas properly. As we talked before, you do not want to be misunderstood, because that can be something that will kill your career before you’ve even begun it properly, and this can be especially important if you are planning on making a career as a public speaker and writer of essay collections.
To put it into an example, let’s use feminism as a theme here. Today, the word feminist can often be correlated with a person who believes in equal rights for all genders. On the other hand, a feminist can be also correlated with a person who believes that women need and should not only get special rights, but also special treatment. And, the line between those two gets really, really blurry quite often, so much so that, as we’ve mentioned before, a feminist can read an essay written by another feminist and disagree with the writer and call their views radical (and maybe even harmful).
The best thing to do to avoid being mislabeled and misunderstood is to be very clear in your essays that you do not discard the established norm – or the general view of the idea, but that your idea also deserves merit and consideration. To go back to feminism, or, even deeper, rape culture. Today, it is widely considered that one in five women will be the recipient of unwanted sexual and/or romantic attention. A study in the The New England Journal of Medicine suggested that this number can be lessened by teaching young girls and women to speak up when they feel that their boundaries are being threatened. However, it would be easy for that statement to be misinterpreted as “we need to teach women how to defend themselves, but there is no need to teach men about consent.”
13. Writing and language style
You might think, “Oh, they are my essays, and I will write them in any writing style I want.”
You’d be very wrong.
The language and writing style is your choice – however, remember what we talked about in a previous section: you do not wish to alienate your readers by false advertising. Meanwhile, different topics will require a different writing style. For example, observations about life in the modern small town will sound the best written in a language style that would be easy to follow and understand. You might even call it, workman-like prose that does not ask the readers to have had a high SAT score to understand.
On the other hand, if you’re writing about grief and dealing with grief, your language style will have a different requirement. Yes, it’s okay to use workmanlike prose in it too; but, since you would also want to add credibility to your opinions through established psychological research, you might want to find a balance between an academic style and workmanlike prose.
Moreover, you have essays on topics that require a more academic-sounding voice, like societal issues and similar topics. In this case, it’s best to lean slightly towards a more formal, more academic prose that will convince the readers that you know what you’re talking about.
The good news is that this is an issue you would have to deal with in the editing process – after you have chosen your essays and determined their arrangement in the collection. When the time comes for you to edit the collection – and editing is necessary, even if your essays have already been written – you can work on the writing style and use of language in your prose. That is to say, you will not be changing your views or opinions on anything, you will basically be tightening the prose.
Another thing to ensure when you’re editing the essays (which is the final step before starting the publication process), is that all of the essays use the same writing style – regardless of whether the style is humorous, serious, academic, or workmanlike prose. Even so, we would not recommend using workmanlike prose too much in your essays as this can harm your credibility and make people feel that they are reading your blog posts in print – or eBook version of them. Your writing style needs to reassure the readers that your opinions are worth reading about, that they are worth something, and that your insights into the topics you’re talking about are valuable and worth paying for (since ultimately, readers would be buying your essay collection, and you want to ensure that they have gotten their value for the money).
Finally, you would have to proofread your collection. In this step, you should pay attention to spelling and grammar mistakes, yes, but also, pay attention to repetitive words and phrases. When you’re writing in free form (or free writing), you may tend to use the same phrases over and over again without even realizing it. If your essay collection will be beta read, then ask your beta readers (even if they are your friends), to tell you about the phrases that you use most often. In fact, a good beta reader will tell you this even without you asking for that.
Finally, your collection will be ready and in mint condition. And the question that arises after that is: what now?
Well, let’s take a look at some of your options.
14. Pre-publication options
First and foremost, understand that publishing any book requires a lot of patience. The road to a successful release of a book is long and difficult, and it will ask you to work for a long time before you will see the fruits of your labor. This is true for any book.
Sure, you might say, but how did this author or that author do it? Well, the answer to that is: it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what the experience was for another author because each author will have their own unique story of how they got published, and, even if you follow their way step by step, you still might not get the same result because publication – successful publication – depends half on luck, and half on the quality of your work.
However, the good news is that there are some things that you can do to make the road to publication for your own essay collection easier.
1) Get out there: Meaning, establish yourself online. Create professional social media accounts for yourself, create a website and a blog. Make sure you’re not an unknown commodity because in that case, publishers will not bet on your book collection being successful, which will make it more difficult for you to get traditionally published. And, if you’re self-publishing, the same applies. A self-published book by an author with a large following online will get more traction, because you would already have a fan base waiting for your book – even if that fan base is small.
2) Get published in magazines: Both online and in print. This will require you to do your homework – meaning, do a lot of research. There are plenty of online magazines out there, as well as magazines that are still in print. Analyze your essays. The good news is that you can publish your essays individually in these magazines to gain traction, and then you will be able to attract publishers for the whole collection. The bad news is that you need to pitch your essays to the right magazines. First, you want to get published in magazines that have a large reader base. Second, you need to make sure that the content and writing style will match the magazine’s style and content. However, you can try to get published in many different magazines, which in this case, can be very helpful because it might enable you to gain traction as an essay writer (or a columnist) quicker. In other words, depending on the content of your essays, you can seek out different types of magazines that will match different essays from your collection.
3) Be a columnist or a guest blogger: Seek out bloggers who have a wide audience and try to be a guest blogger on their blog. Make sure, again, that the topics of your essays will match the topics of the blogger, and, make sure that that particular blogger is a person whom you would not mind to be associated with later on. On the other hand, when it comes to magazines, instead of trying to sell your essays to them, try to become their guest columnist. Again, this doesn’t mean that you need to track down a cooking magazine and try to write a column for them. The magazine should be publishing material that fits you as a writer and fits the themes that you like to write about, especially because a column is a piece that is very close to an essay – meaning, the writer shares their own personal opinion about a certain theme, topic or an issue.
To conclude here, before you begin the publishing process – of which we’ll talk about next – try to make a name for yourself out there. For example, some vloggers from YouTube have landed publishing deals due to garnering a big following there. Having a platform that will wait for your work to get published can be a huge help in having a successful publication that will kick-start your career as a writer – even if you’re not getting traditionally published.
15. Publishing the collection of essays
As with any other publication process, you can take two different routes: self-publishing, or traditional publishing. And, if you think that one or the other is easier, you’d be terribly wrong, because both routes are difficult, and, as we’ve already said in this guide, it will require patience.
First, getting an online platform – or getting followers online on social media and websites like YouTube or even Twitch, can be a huge help. It’s not a guarantee that when you publish your essay collection, it will be a major success. You may sell a lot of copies, but the general feedback might not be as optimal as you’d hoped (and nothing will hurt your ratings like bad reviews or Goodreads and Amazon, the two platforms that people use the most these days when they choose the next books).
But, let’s talk about the two publishing processes so far.
Self-publishing: it can be done through Amazon and other platforms, but Amazon also offers print-on-demand, which means that you can get published both in print and in eBook format easily. In this case, your job will involve becoming your own marketing consultant, your own publicist, and your own sponsor for ads and other paid promotion options. And yes, this can be a huge cost for you, and you will not have the guarantee that your investment will pay off. What you can do is ensure that the book has a catchy title and a blurb. Focus on who you are: what makes you unique? Is it your cultural background, or is it your personal experience with the topics you would be covering in your essay collection? Whatever makes you, the writer, unique, needs to be put in the blurb for your essay collection. Read other books’ blurbs.
For example, Roxane Gay’s extremely successful Bad Feminist has what makes her unique in the title: she considers herself an unconventional feminist, and the essays in that essay collection all revolve around that topic. On the other hand, you have Aleksandar Hemon’s The Book of My Lives, which chronicles his life in Sarajevo before the war, and his life in Chicago while his hometown is under siege, where the only thing he was able to do was watch from afar. The one similarity it has with Bad Feminist is in the title: it immediately points to what makes the author unique and what makes their perspective unique. So, your book collection’s title itself should point out to both what makes you, as the writer, unique, and it should point to the topics you are talking about in your essays.
Meanwhile, don’t forget about the cover. Again, it should suit the themes and topics you are covering, and, it should look professional and well done. If you have the skills to create a cover on your own, that’s great, but if your cover looks like something a teenager created while writing fanfiction on Wattpad (and even on that platform, fanfiction covers have become better and better), then you might consider hiring a professional to do it for you.
Traditional publishing: you might think that getting traditionally published will save you the headache of dealing with everything we’ve described above. Again, you’d be wrong. Getting traditionally published means finding a publisher for your novel. Many publishing houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, no matter how well written they are, and if they do, you might end up in the slush pile that gets touched upon once or twice every quarter. With a lot of other manuscripts, essay collections written by authors like yourself.
To avoid this, you would need an agent, someone who will pitch your essay collection to the correct publishing houses that, in turn, might want to sign you on. First, you need the right agent – someone who is established in the niche that is essay collections, and who has successfully worked with other authors who’ve published similar works, like biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs. Even so, your best bet might be an agent who’s worked with author’s who’ve published essay collections – or at least one or two authors. Next, it would be a good idea if the agent also has experience in publishing essay collections in similar topics to the ones in your collection.
Furthermore, the publishing house you will be aiming for – if you have a good agent, they will probably already know which publishing houses would be interested in publishing your work. However, if you do not have an agent yet and you still want to send your manuscripts to publishing houses that do accept unsolicited manuscripts, make sure it’s the right publishing houses – meaning, again, they will have published similar work before. Do not send your manuscript of essay collections to a publishing house – or an imprint of a publishing house – that publishes collections of short stories or anthologies. First, they will probably not sign you on, second, even if they do, their audience is not the right audience for your essay collection.
Again, even if you do get an agent, that agent will need something to work with, and not just your essays and the topics you’re covering. For example, sure, you might have written several essays on race and social injustice, but, today, there are many essay collections that deal with that topic, so, there has to be something about you – or your essays – that sets your work apart from all of those that have come before. Moreover, a publisher might reject your manuscript simply because you’re an unknown author who hasn’t established themselves yet, and, even though your essays are well written and have great insights into many problems of the world today, they might not sign you on because they don’t believe that your essay collection will sell well.
That’s why we can’t recommend this enough: create an online presence for yourself, first and foremost. Even if it takes you a year to actually publish your essay collection, start building that online presence right now. Moreover, there are different ways to use social media in a way that will benefit you, the author, and your brand (or the brand you will build around your name as an author). Be careful not to post something or say something online that will backfire on you in the future.
If you want to self-publish, do not do it immediately. Start with the online presence. Then, create a book page for your book on Goodreads. Set up a publication date some months in the future, and create a pre-order page on Amazon. Create a website and a blog, and connect your online presence with the website and the blog. Send out ARCs (advanced reading copies) to reviewers who have a following, and, more importantly, who have reviewed essay collections before. Try to gain traction by being a guest blogger with bloggers who focus on similar themes as yours, and who, ideally, have a large platform themselves and are willing to have you on their blog.
Ultimately, whichever publication route you take, prepare yourself for a lot of work and a lot of patience. It might be a while before your work sees the light of day. Make sure that your essays in the collection have a timeless value (for example, if your essay is talking about a topic that was prevalent and specific when you originally wrote it in 2014, it might not be quite relevant in 2021). More importantly, once you start building your author’s brand online, do not stop, and do not quit. Keep going, even if it takes you a while to build your platform – because, without it, all of your effort might not lead to the commercial success you want. And again, while a platform is no guarantee, it certainly will help to an extent.
Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As a screenwriting student, she is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, watching a film or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her own.