This course is appropriate for all writers (beginning to established) and runs through July 9 with instructor involvement. The curriculum remains available to all registered students after July 9. Late registration is possible; email Jane with any questions.
This is a comprehensive, step-by-step course that teaches you how to write a compelling nonfiction book proposal, particularly in the digital era of authorship.
A nonfiction book proposal is a required document if you want to land a traditional book publishing deal. It serves as a business plan for your book that proves to an agent or editor why your book will be successful when published.
It is more challenging than ever to successfully pitch a nonfiction book; publishers expect authors to come to the table with a platform—an existing audience—as well as a marketing plan for the book. Many times, writers lack the experience and industry know-how that would help them show off their expertise, experience, or market value in a way that's convincing.
Sometimes, writers need to work on their platform before pitching their book. This course directly addresses the platform issue and provides insight into how to build a platform that's convincing to a publisher. (Warning: Platform building is a career-long effort, not something you'll develop overnight or in a few weeks.)
What It Means to Write a Book Proposal
A strong book proposal will not only help you sell your idea, but it will also help you sell the book when it finally makes its way to market, whether you traditionally publish or self-publish.
A thorough book proposal evaluates the audience for the work, how it will stack up against the competition, and why the book will succeed in the marketplace. A solid plan requires research and a thorough understanding of your readership. By developing a full proposal, you’ll gain a clear and compelling view of what has a good chance of selling—an important step whether you want to find an agent, pitch a publisher, or self-publish.
If you plan to write the book first, and figure out the proposal later, reconsider your process.
Most nonfiction books are signed on the basis of a proposal and a sample chapter or two. The publisher is often very involved in the development of the content. Writing the entire book before selling it might not only be a time-consuming test run, but you won’t have the insight and knowledge of how to produce a better book until you write the proposal. Many authors, after finishing the proposal, end up changing their angle, perspective, or narrative focus after better understanding what will sell in book form.
Does your nonfiction concept have what it takes to get the attention of an editor or agent?
This course will teach you how to study the marketplace and evaluate other titles in your category, giving you an editor’s eye for what sells. You’ll learn to identify and persuasively present the most marketable qualities of your project, and build a book proposal that meets the requirements of the publishing industry. While there is no “right way” or formula for preparing a book proposal—just as there is no right way to write a book—this course will lead you through every required component as well as some optional ones.
Your greatest competition may not be a book—what then?
For some categories of nonfiction, you not only need to research what’s on the bookshelf, you need to research websites, blogs, apps, and online communities that offer diverse information and services. This course will help you determine if your book idea should really be an online effort first, and how that can translate into a salable book later.
In this course, you will:
- Learn how to draft a complete book proposal. Some book proposals are only a dozen pages or so. Others might exceed fifty pages. I cover the essential elements regardless of length, including the overview, the target market analysis, the competitive title analysis, the author bio, the marketing plan, the chapter overview or summary, and the sample chapter.
- Follow a clear 10-step process to make writing a proposal more manageable. It can feel daunting to begin writing a book proposal. My course breaks it down into small, doable steps, until the full proposal comes together. Rather than having you start the proposal by writing the overview (which can be exceedingly difficult), I have you complete the easiest step first—which also happens to be the most valuable!
- Understand what goes into a meaningful marketing plan. Some authors' marketing plans amount to vague action points that are unlikely to sell books, such as "get reviews" or "do book signings" or "promote the book on my website." That doesn't cut it. You need to learn how to quantify and express the power of your reach and visibility to your target market in a way that matters to publishers.
- Learn how publishing professionals research and evaluate ideas. I spent more than a decade at a publishing house that produced exclusively nonfiction titles. I evaluated thousands of proposals, and I also pitched my own ideas to the sales and marketing staff. I know how publishing professionals think about these documents and what information is meaningful to them.
- Learn how to research and approach agents and editors. If you've never before had to identify agents or editors to submit to, I'll teach you the best practices, and how to knowledgeably submit your project for consideration.
- Memoirists will learn the major pitfalls of the genre. There are many ways for memoirists to go wrong when they pitch or position their idea. This course covers what types of memoir typically get rejected, and how memoirists can set themselves apart from others.
Many times, writers have a difficult time seeing their work with a marketer’s eye. This course will help you not only adopt a business perspective on your current idea, but also better evaluate all of your future ideas. You’ll know if you’ve really tapped into current trends and interests when it comes to your book project, and if you’re framing it in an exciting way for either a publisher or a reader. Just because you’re fascinated by your subject doesn’t mean other people will get it. You have to know how to sell it.
Who should take this course
- Those who have a partial or finished nonfiction book manuscript and are starting to consider the path to publication.
- Those who have a concept or idea for a nonfiction book, for which they want to explore the market potential—and ultimately write a book proposal for.
- Those who have a completed memoir and want to write a book proposal as part of the pitch process to agents and publishers.
- Those who are currently grappling with the book proposal writing process and need help.
I spent 12 years working at F+W Media, where I evaluated and acquired hundreds of books based solely on the book proposal. I worked on nonfiction books across many different categories, including reference, how-to, sports, self-help, fine art, crafts, graphic design, and humor. I also served as editor for How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen.
I frequently speak on the publishing industry at major events (BookExpo, Digital Book World) and am a columnist for Publishers Weekly. I'm also a professor with The Great Courses, and have taught writing, publishing, and digital media at the University of Virginia and University of Cincinnati.
I've taught numerous conference workshops and online classes on book proposals, so my lectures and curriculum anticipate your questions and address all the most common mistakes and weaknesses I see.
All students receive the following:
- Video lectures. I use Keynote slides with audio voice-over to guide you through the 10-step proposal writing process. (Generally I have 1 slide for every 1-2 minutes of talking.) I try to break the instruction down into its smallest components, with videos no longer than 10 minutes each.
- Worksheets and homework assignments. Each step of the proposal writing process has a corresponding task or activity for you to complete. I recommend always completing your homework before moving on to the next step.
- Book proposal template. I help you start off with a perfectly formatted Word document that you can use for your own proposal, no guesswork required.
- Sample book proposals. I offer you a range of successful book proposals that you can study and use to better understand the diversity of approaches—including a proposal I wrote for my own book under contract with University of Chicago Press!
- Access to a private Facebook group. After registration, you'll be invited to join a private group where you can ask me questions and interact with other students.
- Access to five office hour sessions. Live video office hours will be held on Thursday evenings at 7 p.m. Eastern, between June 5 and July 9, unless unforeseen conflicts arise. Office hours use the Zoom teleconferencing system (free); you can join using any device or by phone. All office hour sessions are recorded for students unable to attend.
- Continuing access to all course materials. Even after the course ends, you will have access to all the materials above. The Facebook group will continue, although instructor presence is not guaranteed after July 9.
If you choose the critique registration:
In addition to everything above, you'll receive:
- A critique of your book concept and overview. At any time during the course, you can email me a 1-2 page description of your book (or your book proposal overview) and ask for my private feedback. I'll give you an honest assessment of your book's potential.
- Additional feedback if you revise your concept/overview. If you revise or change your book's concept as a result of the course, I'm happy to keep offering additional feedback on your description or overview through the end of the course (July 9).
Frequently Asked Questions
- Do I have to show up at a specific time? No, all course lectures are available to watch and review at your own pace, on your own schedule.
- When does the course officially start? It officially begins on Monday, June 5 (when all video lectures are made available), but you'll be able to login to the course website upon registration, as well as the private Facebook group shortly thereafter.
- How long will I have access to the course lectures and materials? Indefinitely. After the interactive portion of the course ends on July 9, you will continue to have access to the course website and private Facebook group.
- Will I get feedback from other students on my work? Peer critique and feedback is not a feature of this course, but you are welcome to collaborate with other students informally in the Facebook group.
- Must I have a Facebook account to join the course? Not necessarily, but you'll miss out on conversations and discussion among other students and with the instructor. But you'll still have access to all course curriculum (at the course website), and receive information on how to join office hours with Jane.
- What if I can't make office hours? Office hours are scheduled for Thursday nights at 7 p.m. Eastern, and will be recorded for those who can't attend. You are welcome to send questions to Jane in advance of office hours, to bring up for discussion, if you can't make it.
- If I sign up for the critique registration, how long do I have before I must submit my material for critique? You have until the last day of the course (July 9), but you may ask Jane for an extension if needed.
- Will this course be offered again? No future dates are available.
If you have a question not answered here, email Jane.
Watch the first lecture: Overview of the Book Proposal