How to Write a Powerful Book Proposal that Sells

White Book Proposal Class

Nonfiction Book Proposal Workshop: 8 Weeks with Jane Friedman (July 21-September 15)

The Short Story

A comprehensive course on producing nonfiction book proposals in the digital age, with hands-on critique and feedback from an industry veteran. The focus is not just on writing a book proposal that will sell the idea, but that will also sell the book when it finally makes its way to market.

The Whole Story

A book proposal is a business plan for your nonfiction book, and whether you plan to traditionally publish or self-publish, a good proposal has a dramatic and immediate impact on the potential success of your work.

That’s because a thorough 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.

Do you have the platform required to sell your book? Sometimes an author has an excellent book idea, and sufficient experience to execute it well, but doesn’t have the kind of platform (visibility) that New York publishers require. This course will address how to power up your platform in the short-term and long-term, whether blogging could be a way to make up for a weak platform, and other strategies for addressing shortcomings in this area.

A book proposal gives you a marketing strategy to execute after the book is published. When you take the time to craft a business plan for your book, you have to come up with concrete ideas for reaching your audience. You’ll learn how to put together a meaningful marketing and promotion plan that helps a publisher understand what value you bring to the table, and that gives you a personal roadmap for selling your book in the first year and beyond.

Even memoirists can benefit from the discipline of writing a book proposal. Some agents require both a completed manuscript and a book proposal if you’re pitching a memoir. While memoir is a popular category, there’s a lot of competition, and a proposal forces you to look at how well you’ve crafted a narrative that’s unique and can stand out in the market.

In this course, you will:

1. Draft a complete book proposal. We’ll specifically cover how to do an audience analysis, focusing on the evidence of need for your work in the market; a competitive analysis that covers print and digital media; a marketing and promotion plan; an author bio and platform statement; an overview, which goes at the beginning of your proposal and can be condensed into a query letter; and sample chapters.

2. Learn how publishing professionals research and evaluate ideas, including factors such as search engine optimization and keyword search.

3. Learn how to quantify and express the power of your reach and visibility to your target market in a way that matters to publishers.

4. Take the first steps toward an online content strategy that will either support you landing a book deal and/or assist you in selling your work upon publication.

5. Learn how to research agents and editors, and submit your project for consideration.

6. Memoirists will learn the major pitfalls of the genre, and what types of memoir typically get rejected.

Every student will receive the following:

1. Three hours of recorded video instruction

2. A template for writing your book proposal

3. Two one-hour group chats with Jane to address all of your questions (dates and times to be determined based on student and instructor schedules between August 8th and 31st)

4. A free one-year subscription to Scratch magazine

5. A $50 gift certificate to The Willingham Enterprise towards any website design, ebook design, or print project of $500 or more booked within 6 months of taking this course

You may choose from two registration options based on what level of feedback you’d like on your project:

Concept critique ($350). You’ll receive a critique of your written nonfiction book concept, proposal overview, or query letter (up to 2 pages).

Full proposal critique ($750). By the end of the course, you should have a full draft of your proposal completed. Jane will critique your entire book proposal and return it with specific suggestions and edits, including an overview of the proposal’s strengths, weaknesses, and areas for development. This option is SOLD OUT.

A final note

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.

Basic Course Approach in an Online Classroom, July 21-September 15

Recorded Component: There is no set class-time, as the private teaching videos will be available at all hours for your access to view, beginning July 21.

Materials and Schedule Component: All instructions, template materials, calendar of deadlines, and information for chats will be available in a private online setting, where you can access them at any time.

Chat Component: You will need to be available for two live chat sessions. Dates and times to be determined. Several options will be offered between August 8th and 31st, to accommodate different schedules. If you miss the sessions due to last-minute schedule conflicts or technical difficulties, you will be able to access a record of the complete chat sessions for viewing at your convenience.

About your instructor

Jane Friedman spent 12 years working at F+W Media (formerly Writer’s Digest), where she evaluated and acquired hundreds of books based solely on the book proposal. Friedman worked on nonfiction books across many different categories, including reference, how-to, sports, self-help, fine art, crafts, graphic design, and humor.

Currently teaching Digital Media & Publishing at the University of Virginia and co-founder and co-editor of Scratch magazine (about the intersection of writing and money), Friedman is also a popular speaker in the publishing industry, appearing at venues such as The Muse & The Marketplace, PubSmart, University of Wisconsin Writers’ Institute, and BookExpo America.

What Our Workshop Participants Have Said

Participant from The Writing Life: One of the best investments I’ve ever made, anywhere.

Participant from The Writing Life: Beyond excellent. Ann and Charity were professional, empathetic, and insightful as readers, group leaders, and teachers. They brought a terrific mix of professionalism, wisdom, and FUN to the workshop!

Lane Arnold: I struck gold.

Lexanne Leonard: The most important step I’ve taken is to join Tweetspeak’s Poetry Workshop with Anne Doe Overstreet. I cannot begin to thank Tweetspeak, Anne, and my fellow students for this journey.

Sandra Heska King: This was absolutely the single best whim I’ve followed.


Photo by Claire Burge. Used with permission.


  1. says

    I purchased the class and critique via PayPal but did not see a registration anywhere. Please let me know if there is anything more I need to do.
    Thanks! I’m looking forward to the class.

    • says

      Bonnie, welcome! We received your registration. (You did all that’s necessary to get started.)

      Sometimes people don’t end up clicking back to the page where it tells you this, so we’ll mention it: you’ll hear from us several days before the class begins, with instructions and passwords and destinations and all that.

      Really looking forward. Can’t wait to see what you put together with Jane’s expert, generous guidance. :)

  2. A. A. says

    Is it acceptable to split the $750 into 3 payments of $250 before July 21? I’d like to register for the full proposal critique but can’t do the whole payment at once.

    • says

      A.A., the PayPal “Bill Me Later” option (see bottom of post) should make that possible for you to do this in payments that work for you. PayPal gives you six months, but it sounds like you’d want to just pay it off in three payments by late July. Just choose “Bill Me Later” during the checkout process.

      Let me know if this helps?

  3. Gayle says

    I am hearing impaired and need closed captions when viewing videos. I noticed this course includes several hours of video viewing–do the videos have closed captions?

  4. Michele Dorsey says

    I purchased via PayPal like someone else without filling out any other form. Can you confirm I am registered and that I’ll get materials at the email address I use for PayPal? Thanks. I am really looking forward to this.


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