Memoirs, essays, parodies, parenting, poetry, clever-conceit chapter structures, and other book concepts I beg you to reframe if you want a commercial publisher and aren't a rejection-fetish masochist
It's not that these things don't sell. It's more that the odds of you personally selling them.......(Regina George cringe face)
This is another “zero posts last week = two posts this week” week.
I made today’s headline spicy for clicks. It is accurate; it is also a little misleading.
Before we get into why I advise first-time authors to avoid certain categories (and/or category descriptors), please take heart:
There is no category in publishing that “doesn’t sell.”
There are no absolutes in publishing, just asymptotes. This is a really, really important nuance to understand.
The Big 5 publish poetry. They publish essay collections. They publish everything that those How to Get Book Deal books advise against pursuing: short story collections from first-time authors; chapbooks; cancer and addiction memoirs; re-issues of self-published novels; compilations of previously-published columns; parodies; meditative parenting books; epistolary fiction; formally inventive fiction; biographies of unknown figures; obscure histories written by the protagonists’ grandchildren.
You name it, a commercial publisher has published it. There are no rules, shoulds, or shouldn’ts in this industry. There are only well-worn trails and less-worn ones—and on the latter, there are many more obstacles, each of which might take you years to navigate.
This is not something all authors are willing or able to do—let alone hear they have to do. But that doesn’t mean anything is Impossible with a capital I.
What publishers don’t do is publish in difficult categories often.
It isn’t impossible to get a book deal in a difficult category, but it is really, really, really, really hard. And this is on top of how difficult it is to get any kind of commercial deal in the first place.
I’ll give you an example. Poetry is an especially difficult category. If you want a major publisher to publish your poetry collection, you need to power your moonshot in one of two ways:
1. talent so exceptional that it blasts 99.9999% of published authors out of the water
I don’t know if any of you are that talented—I’m not. I can tell you for sure that none of us is that famous. Yes, I just scrolled through the subscriber roster to be sure of this.
Many of you have accomplished impressive things and have national platforms. All of you are rakish and toothsome. However, unless it’s 1998 and one of you is secretly Jewel—like, “Who Will Save Your Soul” Jewel—none of us is a current A-list celebrity widely known to the public.
That’s the kind of fame and timing you need to have a shot at, say, publishing a collection with HarperCollins, which is indeed something Jewel did in 1998.
Even IF you’re that famous, it’s not a guarantee. Mindblowing talent? Even less of a guarantee. It will help if you do something like win the Pulitzer Prize, publish in not one but many of the most renowned literary journals, and/or become the poet laureate before you try.
Maybe you don’t want a commercial book deal or don’t mind self-publishing / being published by a tiny, experimental publisher.
In which case, that’s great! You do you.
The rest of my post is predicated on the assumption that if you’re reading this, you want my strategic advice for maximizing your chances of securing a commercial book deal. You’re not here seeking my permission to take a moon shot.
If you happen to be in the latter category: you have my permission, God bless, and my useful advice will be back next week.
This post is for the rest of you.
If you really want a commercial book deal, think twice about positioning your book in any of the following categories.
In no particular order: