Receive a Professional Critique & Edit of Your Nonfiction Book Proposal


Are you looking to break into the publishing business with a nonfiction book?  What you'll need is a nonfiction book proposal and a couple of sample chapters that'll hook & hold the attention of literary agents & acquisitions editors.  I can help!

I'll help you write, edit and format your materials in precisely the way publishing professionals are looking for.  Any book idea is welcome!

For a limited time, I'm offering professional critiques & edits of nonfiction book proposals for $499. Learn more about the service and the kind of targeted, in-depth editorial work I do here.

Even if all you've got is a great idea for a book, don't hesitate to send me a note describing your project.  I'd be more than happy to help you get started!  

INTO THE WATER by Paula Hawkins - a Micro-Review

I won’t be strolling near rivers for a little while.  Stay dry, ladies!  Paula Hawkins’s INTO THE WATER is disturbed and wants to push you in.  Misogyny, troublesome women and a “Drowning Pool” don't mix well throughout history in Beckford, a small English town.  Given the crowd of narrators, this twisting tale is surprisingly easy to follow—a true page turner and a narrative feat.  Plus, at long last, female authors like Paula Hawkins, Gillian Flynn, Ruth Ware, Tana French and Megan Miranda are reaping the benefits of and making feminist waves with that perennial theme in thriller/mystery/crime of plots founded on missing or dead girls and women.  Love it!

All You Need Is a Nonfiction Book Proposal (Sort of).

New writers of nonfiction (with the exception of memoir) are often unaware that they don’t need to write a full manuscript before taking their book to market.  Apart from memoir, if you’re working on a book of nonfiction—history/politics/current affairs, technology, business, design, science, sociology, etc.—what you need at the outset is a 30-ish page proposal and one or two sample chapters.  For novelists and memoirists too, the burden of work and risk falls to them right away; they absolutely have to invest the time and effort it takes to write their novel before approaching an agent or editor.  

While writing a nonfiction proposal seems a smaller feat than writing the full manuscript, it’s no cakewalk.  A proposal is essentially a business plan designed to enlist shrewd investors.  First, you need to convince your dream agent to invest a good deal of time and attention in you and in your book on spec.  In order for a book to make good business sense for agents, they not only need to be passionate about it, they also need to see your proposal describing a big, bold book idea they believe will sell well on the trade market and may even have a chance of hitting a bestseller list.  Tall order!

Literary agents are looking for that tall order because editors will only make an offer of an advance if they’re passionate about the project, excited about the prospect of working with you as an author, and are fully convinced your idea for a book is worth the cost and efforts their publishing team will engage in if they commit.  An editor and his or her team must invest in reading, editing, copyediting, performing a legal-read (if necessary, which requires their legal counsel), designing the book, designing the cover, selling the idea in to book buyers across all territories they have rights to sell in, producing, printing, distributing to booksellers and, finally, publicizing and marketing. 

It’s not just your advance a publisher foots the bill for—it’s the cost of the entire, pricey, labor-intensive, multi-tiered, logistically complicated processWhile the burden of risk in terms of work falls to novelists right away, the far greater and more elaborate burden of risk for a nonfiction book falls chiefly to editors and their publishing houses at the outset.  They have to really believe in you before you’ve even written the book.  So, while writing a thirty-page document may seem like a breeze in lieu of writing the full, the persuasive task that little document needs to perform is no small feat.

There are a number of ways to write a proposal, but the one I’ve found that works best has specific components.  The overview starts it off, which is a kind of introductory summary that frames the book and the need for it today.  In your about the author section, you describe your background, your writing credentials, why you’re THE go-to person to write THIS book.  Next, you describe what you’ll do in terms of marketing your book.  Editors love a savvy marketer with rubber-meets-the road reach.  Following that, you’ll talk about your specific audience (which usually includes an audience who is both specific—a primary audience—and broad—the layperson, the everyreader).  After this, you’ll mention relevant folks who will vouch for your writing and your book—that is: recognizable names in your field or associated with your subject who will write endorsements for your book jacket.  Next is a list of well-selling comparative titles, called the competition where you’ll say why your book is similar to those titles while being different and a clearly necessary book amidst them.  A one-liner then details the book's expected length and delivery date.  The all-important chapter outline comes next—which will, chapter-by-chapter, detail the propulsive through-line of your narrative.  And finally, the proposal concludes with one or two unmistakably dazzling sample chapters.

If you’d like more detailed, hands-on help with writing a nonfiction proposal that meets today’s tough market standards, or if you already have a nonfiction proposal that doesn’t seem to be hitting the mark, check out this page or just drop me a line at I’d be happy to show you how to adhere to market demands, get an agent’s attention and set you firmly on the path toward getting published!

5 Query Letter Tips for New Novelists

1. Get to the Goods.

Get to the goods right away.  Genre.  Title.  Word Count.  Bing, bang, boom.  Agents want to know immediately if you’ve targeted them correctly, so they’re looking for a genre they’ve specified interest in, a plausible word count for that genre and a kick-ass title (which clues them in to how good you are at stringing compelling words together).  You might also include your arresting logline or elevator pitch at the very start of your letter—i.e. a one-line pitch that gives the reader a snapshot of your main character, what he or she wants, the conflict and the world we’re in.


2. Use your Idols.

Comparative titles are books that will compete with yours on a bookshelf.  It’s helpful for agents to see, firstly, that you’ve targeted them well by citing great books you’re pretty sure they’ve read and loved as you have.  Secondly, comparative titles help agents to get a feel for the kind of book, style and audience you’re going for.  A great way to impart comp titles to an agent is this: My Great American Novel is a cross between This Terrific Piece of Literature and This Outstanding Literary Thriller. 


3. Summarize Like a Book Jacket Jockey.

Write a brief, pithy, gripping summary as if that paragraph is going straight to the presses tomorrow.  I know, I know: If you could say it in a paragraph, you wouldn’t have written an entire book.  Get over it!  Describe key characters (not too many), what they want, the world they’re in, what or who’s against them and what’s at stake. Read the backs of books like yours, and write a summary that sings!


4. Brag About Yourself Humbly.

Your bio, which should include your publishing history, if you have one, is important.  It should be a factual but modest peek at your author platform—which tells publishing professionals what your level of visibility is for your specific audience, how wide your reach might be, and the degree to which you’re able to influence that audience.  If you don’t have a publishing history, just make yourself sound like the unassuming yet utterly fabulous person you are.


5. Above All, Act Normal.

A query letter is a business letter.  Try not to be cheeky, bombastic, weird or maudlin to capture an agent’s attention.  Chances are the agent will just write you off as a loon and move on.  What captures an agent’s attention are organized, well-put-together writers with great titles, fresh & compelling book ideas, irresistible language, excellent publishing credentials, and a set of opening pages that hook & hold.


If you’d like a professional assessment of your query letter and first pages, check out this page.  I’d be more than happy to help!






Writing History for a Popular Audience

For historians wishing to break into "trade" or "popular" publishingThe American Historian's August issue published an illuminating round-table discussion with Andrew Miller, Senior Editor at Knopf; Pulitzer and National Book Award winner T.J. Stiles (Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt; Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War); and the award-winning author and tenured professor at Wayne State University Danielle McGuire (At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance):

"Most historians would love for their work to reach a wide, non-academic audience. But how does one break into the world "popular" history and publish a successful book with a trade press? The American Historian invited three participants—a tenured professor, an editor, and an author—to discuss their experiences with writing books geared more towards a popular audience and how to navigate the unfamiliar terrain of trade presses..."

Click here to read the full article at The American Historian.

Bad Moon Rising: How the Weather Underground Beat the FBI and Lost the Revolution (Yale UP) will be released October 2016

I’m so proud of my client Arthur Eckstein—professor of history, Distinguished Scholar-Teacher and Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park—whose book Bad Moon Rising: How the Weather Underground Beat the FBI and Lost the Revolution will be released October 2016 from Yale University Press!

In the summer of 1970 and for years after, photos of Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, Jeff Jones, and other members of the Weather Underground were emblazoned on FBI wanted posters. In Bad Moon Rising, Arthur Eckstein details how Weather began to engage in serious, ideologically driven, nationally coordinated political violence and how the FBI attempted to monitor, block, and capture its members-and failed. Eckstein further shows that the FBI ordered its informants inside Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) to support the faction that became Weather during the tumultuous June 1969 SDS convention, helping to destroy the organization; and that the FBI first underestimated Weather’s seriousness, then overestimated its effectiveness, and how Weather outwitted them. Eckstein reveals how an obsessed and panicked President Nixon and his inner circle sought to bypass a cautious J. Edgar Hoover, contributing to the creation of the rogue Plumbers Unit that eventually led to Watergate.



“Cecily McMillan’s self-portrait of the activist as a young woman dignifies the played-out term ‘badass.’ Many people braved the wilds of Zuccotti Park; far more have endured Rikers Island—what sets McMillan apart is her fearless insistence on always interrogating her circumstances, and making them better. But what makes this memoir sing is her voice. Wise beyond her years, earnest-yet-funny, and strong enough to share her own vulnerabilities, McMillan has written a book that is both refreshingly humanizing and deeply inspiring.”
—Kate Bolick, author of Spinster 

“Cecily McMillan’s story has the makings of a classic. Her writing is as exemplary as her commitment: as an observer, she puts all her senses to work; she has the storyteller’s craft in abundance. In The Emancipation of Cecily McMillan, a great American story will find its teller.”
—Todd Gitlin, best-selling author of The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage

“A revealing memoir…full of outrage.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Cecily McMillan’s memoir of her time as an Occupy activist and as a political prisoner will prove the Coming of Age in Mississippi for the millennial generation.”
—Maurice Isserman, Professor of History, Hamilton College, and co-author of America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s

Junot Díaz says Rita Indiana is "one of a kind." Kirkus: PAPI is "masterfully drawn."

Of my client Rita Indiana's debut English language novel PAPI, Junot Díaz says, "As Delirious as it is powerful, PAPI is a harrowing vision of a daughter trapped in the underworld of her father. Rita Indiana is one of a kind."

From Kirkus Review:

Most children believe their parents are perfect, and the realization that they aren’t typically comes as something of a shock.

But the 8-year-old unnamed protagonist of Dominican writer Indiana’s English-language debut is not typical. In fact, she’s always had mixed feelings about Papi, the father who can bring her from agony to exultation in the course of an afternoon….

Read more from this Kirkus Review of Rita Indiana’s English-language debut PAPI.

Casey Scieszka - Writer, Innkeeper


Casey Scieszka is a writer.  She’s also the head innkeeper at Spruceton Inn, a Catskills Bed & Bar, a nine-room hotel located in the smallest of woodsy upstate towns.  You know West Kill?  No?  How about Phoenicia?  Look.  It’s way upstate and is as off-the-grid as any serious writer could dream of visiting … or owning and managing. 

During the weekends, Casey, born and bred in Brooklyn, can be found hard at work running this delightfully remote hotel five miles down a winding country road.  The inn is a retreat mostly catering to New Yorkers who need to escape the City before they spontaneously combust from the congestion, the noise, and the constant busy, busy, busy.  Here, two hours north of Gotham, the simple rooms are bright, clean, rustic and relaxed.

Inside the inn’s intimate bar, Casey made us both a couple of delish cups of coffee and told me she takes it upon herself to help slow down the frazzled, spinning minds of city-dwellers “to the speed of molasses because I want them to feel this,” she said, holding her hands up and around her gesturing at the lovely stillness of the place.  I wondered, too, if she wanted her guests to feel and see as she does from behind her clear, calm eyes.  

A nurturing, organized, whip-smart woman of just thirty-two years, she managed teams of electricians and plumbers, coaxing the aging structure to live on through her first two arctic winters up here.  And, as if this weren’t enough, she and her husband, the children’s book author and illustrator, Steven Weinberg, also host an Artist Residency  at the inn. 

As talented as Casey may be as an innkeeper, she’s first and foremost a writer.  She’s a writer down to the bone.  When she talks of writing her eyes sparkle.  During our chat, her keen sense for using just the right word made me sound like a stuttering character from a Beckett novel while her sentences sounded like prose written by Lorrie Moore (then revised by Tina Fey).

Her debut memoir for young adults (illustrated by her husband), To Timbuktu: Nine Countries, Two People, One True Story (Roaring Brook Press, 2011) features Casey’s bright, lively prose telling the tale of the couple’s travels from Morocco, through Asia and on to Mali. 

This past March, Casey began work on her second book.  During weekdays, a slower time for the inn, Casey takes to her writing studio.  I can imagine her writing in the country quiet, so absorbed in her work she barely notices if a spring rain shuts the internet down for a few.  I can hear the light clatter of her keyboard, the sound of the birds, the breeze.  The stream shushes by in the back beyond the rough-hewn grass that breaks over the water where the land rises up into a cool wooded hill.  The clouds of the Catskills float by above it all, slow as molasses.

Visit Casey’s blog to see what she’s up to…

The Spotty Dog Books & Ale, Hudson, New York

When we heard about The Spotty Dog Books & Ale in Hudson, NY, we drove there immediately.

Set within a firehouse built in 1889, The Spotty Dog—selling books, beer, coffee, gifts and art supplies—is probably the hippest thing on Warren Street.  And that’s saying something, because Warren Street, with its boutiques, gourmet pizza and antique shops, just may be the hippest street on earth beyond the boundaries of Brooklyn itself.

Inside, our lovely booktender (and store manager) poured us a cold brew to-go (translation: ice coffee) and made every effort not to roll her eyes when a hipster at the bar asked, “Are those cups made of compostedplastic?” But all hail this shop’s hip clientele! Heavily bespectacled and wearing the coolest smarty pants, they enable this rare indie bookstore to stay in business. (Besides, Roz’s new glasses are a tad on the hipstery side. Hmm.)

#WhatAreYouReading, Briana Riera?

Family matriarch, Briana Riera at Blue Bee Café, Delhi, New York.

Family matriarch, Briana Riera at Blue Bee Café, Delhi, New York.

Some books you read once and move on.  Others, you read time and again; they’re that good.  For Briana Riera—Super Mom of Bovina, New York—those time-and-again reads are books from Elizabeth Peters’sNew York Times bestselling Amelia Peabody series.  “A fast-moving, intrigue-filled plot [features] beloved archeologist and amateur sleuth Amelia Peabody Emerson,” says Publisher’s Weekly of Children of the Storm (William Morrow, 2003), book 15 in the series.

We sat down with Briana at the Blue Bee Café in Delhi, New York, where she cheerily told us that with the world in chaos here and across the globe, with this year’s election cycle being such a wild spectacle, with her job as a mom, as board member of the Bovina Historical Society, as a baseball coach, an assistant at a local marketing consultancy and occasional house cleaner (pause for breath and marvel at how she does it), when she, at last, has time to sit down and read, she wants simply to relax.

This whip-smart young woman loves a good thriller to escape into, but bestselling thrillers today are such savage, disturbing reads.  She couldn’t unwind reading about a serial killer mowing down innocent bystanders with a Mercedes (Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes, Scribner, 2014); she couldn’t chill with a drunken, could-be murderess, certainly crazy, British stalker obsessively riding a train (The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins, Riverhead 2015); she couldn’t de-stress with a high-strung, precious literary Barbie who’s finally gone ’round the bend like Amy Dunne (Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Crown, 2012).  Wisely, Briana is reading Elizabeth Peters’s adventurous historical suspense/thrillers, and she’d love to find more like them.

Of Book 15, Publisher’s Weekly says, “The end of WWI offers Amelia, now a grandmother, and her family little respite when mysterious events start to plague friends, allies and coworkers. One person dies after suddenly turning to religion, while others fall victim to sabotage. Valuable artifacts go missing, and Amelia’s son Ramses is lured into a bizarre encounter with a woman who appears to be the living embodiment of the goddess Hathor…. [The novel is] powered by evocative depictions of 1919 Egypt and the engaging voice of Amelia herself—a bright, independent woman, who relishes her role as family matriarch.”

Briana’s well-loved copy of Elizabeth Peters’s CHILDREN OF THE STORM, Book 15 (William Morrow, 2003) in the Amelia Peabody series

Briana’s well-loved copy of Elizabeth Peters’s CHILDREN OF THE STORM, Book 15 (William Morrow, 2003) in the Amelia Peabody series

#WhatAreYouReading, Sara Mae Elbert?

Sara Mae Elbert with Tina Fey's BOSSY PANTS (Hachette, 2011)

Sara Mae Elbert with Tina Fey's BOSSY PANTS (Hachette, 2011)

Sara Mae Elbert is a writer. She’s also the mom of the mom and pop restaurant and inn, Brushland Eating House, which she and her fiancé Sohail Zandi established a little over two years ago in the beautiful no-stop-light town of Bovina, NY. Don’t let the funny cow-town name fool you. Bovina’s got juju. In no small way, the power of that juju is growing as a result of this young couple and the locals who love them. Both had experience in the restaurant industry in New York and in Martha’s Vineyard before they dreamt up this food and lodging haven tucked discretely into the rolling hills of the western Catskills.

Sara and Sohail have managed to make Brushland feel simultaneously like the warmest and yummiest of small town eating houses and the hippest and hottest of bustling Brooklyn hotspots. Locals, week-enders and folks from afar frequent its cozy tables and busy kitchen.  All praise the food, the service and the comfy, country-chic ambience.

But what many who eat or stay don’t know is that when Sara isn’t charming the guests at their tables with her natural smile, wit and sweetness, or working her tail off with Sohail to run the backend of the eatery and the two-apartment inn above, she’s a contributing writer to the Edible community of magazines, including Martha’s Vineyard, Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Having begun as a copywriter and continued into food writing, she’s now writing short stories and non-fiction essays. See her latest piece in Dirt.

We sat down with Sara at Russell’s  the general store down the road from Brushland, and when we asked her what she was reading, she showed us the book she’d just devoured: Tina Fey’s BOSSY PANTS (Hachette, 2011). The comedian-writer-producer’s laugh-out-loud, raucous good time of a memoir about being a lady boss was called “a spiky blend of humor, introspection, critical thinking and Nora Ephron-isms for a new generation” by The New York Times

And for writerly inspiration along a different vein: before bed every night, Sara has been reading from a stunning, rouge-colored, hardbound copy of NEW YORK CITY FOLKLORE: LEGENDS, TALL TALES, ANECDOTES, STORIES, SAGAS, HEROES AND CHARACTERS, CUSTOMS, TRADITIONS AND SAYINGS edited by B.A. Botkin (Random House, 1956). Sara says the stories hail from a time before NYC developers sliced up and branded the city’s neighborhoods. These tales, she says, were born in moment when the City was as authentic as Bovina and her new life in the Catskills is today.

Merritt Bookstore, Millbrook, NY

Roz in front of Merritt Bookstore, Millbrook, NY

Roz in front of Merritt Bookstore, Millbrook, NY

A Catskills day trip to Millbrook brought us happily to Merritt Bookstorewhere we perused their sea of books, were dazzled by their clever Hamilton display, and were charmed by their Royal typewriter.  The white typewritten page sitting pertly in its platen roller reads, “This was my mother’s typewriter.”

Chris bought Greg Milner’s PINPOINT: How GPS is Changing Technology, Culture and Our Minds (Norton, May 2016), which is the book on Hobbes’s box today. Of PINPOINT, Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb—says, “GPS guides our world. Here at last is the amazing and well-told story of where it came from, how it works, and where it―and we―are going.”

Sea of Books

Sea of Books

Chris perusing the Sea of Books.

Chris perusing the Sea of Books.

The Hamilton display with a beautiful Royal

The Hamilton display with a beautiful Royal

On Hobbes's Box, Greg Milner's PINPOINT

On Hobbes's Box, Greg Milner's PINPOINT

Hobbes's Box

Hobbes's Box

Hobbes's Box

As it snowed this past Sunday, May 18th, here in the Catskills of New York, we moved this gorgeous box into the Book Barn. The white streaks in the photo are snowflakes deep in the heart of May.

Thomas Hobbes is the guy who decided that without political community, human beings, left to their own devices, would lead lives that were nasty, brutish and short.

Heavy shit.

This box was so heavy we think Hobbes himself might be curled up inside.

Hobbes's Box in the Book Barn

Hobbes's Box in the Book Barn

Today's Cyberpunks

Storming the Reality Studio (Duke University Press, 1991), Larry McCaffery, Editor

Storming the Reality Studio (Duke University Press, 1991), Larry McCaffery, Editor

One of my favorite essays is Timothy Leary’s “The Cyber-punk: The Individual as Reality Pilot,” published in 1988 in the Mississippi Review and reprinted in Larry McCaffery’s reader Storming Reality Studio (1991). Though the essay was published years after Ridley Scott’s epic film Blade Runner (1982)which was based on Philip K. Dick’s culturally and stylistically prescient novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), and and was published after William Gibson’s mind-blowing novel Neuromancer (1984), Leary explored and articulated the contours of the cyberpunk as the cultural figure that would continue to inform this popular sci-fi sub-genre along with cyberpunk in fashion throughout the nineties.

Today, the cyber-punk is precisely the kind of mind that thrives in our technology-driven world: a highly individualistic, self-reliant intelligence which soaks itself in collective intelligence but, self-driven, it moves autonomously, like a self-aware, free-floating atom, piloting its way deftly through fields of techno-stunned, atomized masses.

“Cyber-punks use all available data to think for themselves.

You know who they are.

Every stage of history has produced a name and a heroic legend for the strong, stubborn, creative individual who explores some future-frontier, collects and brings back new information, and offers to guide the gene-pool to the next stage. Typically, the time-maverick combines bravery with high curiosity, with super-self-esteem. These three talents are considered necessary for those engaged in the profession of genetic-guide, a.k.a., philosopher.”

~Timothy Leary, “The Cyber-punk: The Individual as Reality Pilot.” 1988