Faye Rapoport DesPres

Is it a Memoir, an Essay Collection, or a Memoir-in-Essays?

BlueJayCoverIt’s been interesting to read the reviews of Message From A Blue Jay since nearly 27,000 people downloaded the book during a free, three-day promotion in mid-June (and more purchased copies in the days and weeks since). My publisher, while thrilled with the numbers (as was I), warned me that when that many people read your book, you’re likely to get some negative feedback. No one’s writing is for everyone, and I’m not sure if there is a book out there that is liked by all readers; even fiction classics that are considered the greatest works of literature sometimes get negative reviews. So when your debut book is a nonfiction memoir-in-essays — not the most well-known or popular literary genre — it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

That’s what’s happened with Message From a Blue Jay, on both Goodreads and Amazon. Some readers who have written reviews have enjoyed the book, related to it, and even loved it. That’s wonderful! Others, well — not so much. And that’s okay, too.

The comments of most of the readers who didn’t like Message From a Blue Jay are revealing in terms of the challenges authors and publishers face when marketing a “memoir-in-essays.” Those readers seem to have expected a different kind of book. They thought, I believe, that they had downloaded a narrative memoir like, for example, Cheryl Strayed’s best seller, Wild. Instead, they found themselves reading a text that seemed disjointed or random — even boring because of the writing style.

I don’t blame these readers for their confusion one bit. Publishers have a tough choice when they publish a collection of literary essays. Do they label it as such, or do they edit it into– and market it as — a memoir (or a “memoir-in-essays,” a term coined for just this situation)? In many cases, unless a writer is well-known as a popular essayist, publishers will choose to both organize and market an essay collection as a memoir. They have to; otherwise it simply won’t sell. In fact, many of the publishers who liked my writing or the manuscript for Message From a Blue Jay didn’t publish it it for just that reason. I heard it more than once: “I really liked the writing, but essay collections don’t sell.”

In the end, with the help of Buddhapuss Ink LLC, I edited, re-organized, and even re-wrote parts of the original manuscript of Blue Jay to address this marketing problem. We created a text of individual pieces that connect in various ways and form a “memoir” of sorts — a memoir-in-essays. The readers who have liked the book seem to get that, appreciate it, and enjoy it.

Personal essays aren’t for everyone, however — especially literary essays that rely on many of the writing techniques used by poets (such as imagery, sentence rhythm, and metaphor). Some readers love that sort of thing; unfortunately readers who like — and are expecting — something else can get confused by that buzzword: memoir.

It’s all food for thought. Thankfully, those readers who downloaded of Message From a Blue Jay during the free promotion and expected something else don’t have to worry –they got the book for free, and they don’t even have to finish it. šŸ™‚ As for those who discovered it and liked it or even loved it, I’m grateful that they gave my little debut book a try and took the time to let the world know they liked it.


2 thoughts on “Is it a Memoir, an Essay Collection, or a Memoir-in-Essays?

  1. Linda k Sienkiewicz

    I admire how fair minded and generous you are toward readers who didn’t like your book. It is great you have such common-sense perspective. I know of one author whose husband got into a battle on Amazon over a negative review of her memoir. It must be hard not to respond!

    1. Faye1 Post author

      Hi Linda, of course it never feels good to get a negative review, but you DO have to keep it in perspective and realize that not everyone will love your book. As Taylor Swift says, you just have to “shake it off!”