Course Syllabus

The Nonfiction Book Proposal

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Complete Syllabus

If you have an idea for a creative nonfiction book and want to find a publisher, this class if designed for you. Writing a book proposal is an art itself. This class covers all aspects of creating a book proposal, providing a format to help you showcase your writing and expertise. Assignments will help you clarify your idea, research the market, identify your audience, develop your credentials as an author, create an engaging overview and choose the best sample chapters for submission to publishers.

It isn’t necessary to finish writing your book before submitting a book proposal. In fact, you could use this class to explore an idea, test its marketability and develop a plan for its completion. Even if you ultimately decide to self-publish rather than seek a traditional publisher, you will have more information about how to sell your book to readers. Weekly lectures, examples and assignments will focus on the different sections of the book proposal. Participants will participate in discussions and submit work for feedback from the instructor and other students.

How it works:

Each week provides:

  • discussions of assigned readings and other general writing topics with peers and the instructor
  • written lectures and a selection of readings

Some weeks also include:

  • writing prompts and/or assignments
  • opportunities to submit a full-length essay or essays for instructor and/or peer review (up to 4,000 words)

To create a better classroom experience for all, you are required to participate weekly to receive instructor feedback on your work.

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Week 1: How a Book Proposal Works
This week we’ll examine the many roles of the book proposal: it serves as both a marketing tool, a business plan, and a map for the writer. We’ll look at the various formats used by writers of successful proposals. Participants will be asked to consider their personal goals and vision for their books. A marketing research assignment will send students to the book store or online to identify successful books in their category.

Week 2: Collaborating and Competing
A series of exercises will help participants determine how to make sure their book will stand out in the marketplace. While keeping an eye on the competition, we’ll also identify partners, allies, and resources that will help support us in the process of writing and promoting our books. The assignment for this week is to write the About the Competition section of the proposal.

Week 3: Finding Your Audience
Publishers only invest money in books they think they can sell. It’s our job to convince them that readers will find our books irresistible. We’ll discuss places to get information on readers and their preferences so we can quantify and reach out to our audiences. This week’s assignment is to write the About the Market section of the proposal.

Week 4: The Author as Expert
We’ll discuss the various kinds of credentials that can be used to persuade a publisher that you are the best person to write this book and talk about ways to develop more credibility. Participants will research the paths to publication and public faces of their favorite authors for inspiration and ideas. During this week, participants will write the About the Author section of the proposal, as well as a query letter.

Week 5: Promoting Your Books
Promoting your book should begin long before you’ve actually sold it. We’ll look at the strategies of successful authors, both before and after publication, including workshops, presentations, media appearances, blogging, using social media, etc.. No one strategy suits all; participants will be encouraged to choose strategies that fit their personal style. This week’s assignment is to write the About Promotion section of the proposal.

Week 6: Summarizing the Book
The table of contents provides an opportunity for a publisher to get a glimpse of the scope of your book. It also provides you with a structure to write into, if you are still working on the manuscript. Examples will showcase traditional and unique formats for Tables of Contents. Participants will produce a Table of Contents for this week’s assignment.

Week 7: Summarizing Chapters
Besides the Table of Contents, publishers would like a glimpse of the contents of each chapter, even though you will only be submitting one or two as samples. We’ll look at techniques that will help you distill the wisdom of each chapter into just a few paragraphs. You can also use these techniques to envision chapters you have not yet written. This week participants will be asked to write several chapter summaries; the ambitious will complete all of them!

Week 8: Showcasing Your Writing
A writer can have an amazingly marketable idea and a great vision of what they will include in the manuscript, but if their writing doesn’t measure up to the promise of the proposal, they won’t get a contract. This week we talk about which chapters to submit for consideration and how to polish them so they shine. Participants will submit one chapter (preferably the first chapter) for feedback.

Week 9: Selling Your Book
This week we combine all of the elements we’ve developed in previous weeks, producing an overview of the book in two formats: a concept statement and an overview. We will also discuss strategies for finding agents and publishers, building on information we collected in previous weeks. For this week, participants will write the Overview or Introduction section of the book proposal and make a list of five places to submit their completed proposal.

Week 10: Submission Strategies
In this final session, we’ll look at various ways to package the book proposal so it makes the best impression on a prospective agent or publisher. We’ll also review self-publishing options for those who have decided this is a better path. Participants will create plans to keep them motivated as they pursue their vision of a published book. Participants will be encouraged to send out at least one query as a final assignment, in addition to turning in the plan showing their next steps.

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Questions? Check out our FAQ page or contact the Director of Education, Sharla Yates at yates[at]