Could the ‘Essay Format’ of Book Publishing Be For You?
I’ve read a number of excellent books recently that can best described as a collection of essays.
These include Words Are My Matter (Ursula K. Le Guin), which I recommend. Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald, which I’d recommend if you like bird/animal watching. And I’ve just started A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century, by Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein. These books contain a thread of connection between the chapters, but really you could reorder the chapters without changing the overall effect.
There is something appealing about collating a book from a collection of essays. Most of us can write a two to four thousand word essay each month. If you don’t fancy writing that much you can dictate and transcribe it.
All of this runs in the face of conventional business book publishing advice…
If you’re writing a book to promote your work, best practice is to keep it short and focused. I tell most clients to aim for between 15,000 and 50,000 words, but usually the shorter end of the spectrum. For the right reader your book should deliver a powerful concise insight illustrated by an emotionally powerful story.
(For context, full novel length would be over 100,000 words. War and Peace is 587,287.)
With book publishing however there are however multiple ways to skin the cat (or peel the potato, if cat-skinning isn’t your thing)…
If your topic is unavoidably big, then sometimes you don’t need to dumb it down to fit into a shorter format. The essay collection format allows you to explore a big topic from different angles or insights. You can pack a wider range of experience into a book of similar or marginally increased word count.
If you’re producing regular presentations, articles, podcasts, videos, or emails, then you’ll have enough material for a book within 12 months. Most presentations for instance can be converted into an essay.
You can still weave the whole thing together using coherent stories. As long as your essays prod at the same thought or conclusion, it is your stories which bind everything together into a coherent whole.