Online | Nonfiction | Seminar

3-Week Online Seminar: Introduction to Writing a Nonfiction Book Proposal

Book proposals are works unto themselves, with a very specific audience, style, and format that can be daunting even for experienced writers. In this course, we'll demystify proposals and discuss how to showcase your book idea in the best light. During our three weeks together, we'll examine the process of finding comparison books, constructing a chapter outline, and seeking out agents.

What is your book really about, beyond your own story? What other books have recently been published on this topic or in this style? Who is the audience for this book? What do you want to achieve in your own life as a result of publishing this book? In class, we’ll explore these questions and more, with the hopes of helping you think about how to best approach your book proposal—and how you might go about finding the right agent for your project.

Writers will leave this course with a thorough understanding of the ins and outs of writing a successful nonfiction book proposal, and with concrete strategies for navigating the publishing industry.

This class will meet over our video chat platform. You will need to use Google Chrome to join your class meetings.


- The format and purpose of a successful book proposal

- The process of selling a nonfiction book, especially memoirs

- How to find and work with a good agent

- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Moderate writing assignments between classes, but no reading. We will workshop the assignments but they won't be long. Expect to spend about 2 hrs. per week writing outside of class, maybe less.


Week 1: Introductions, project-sharing, and Book Proposals 101: How to think Like an Editor. Writing assignment: Write the dust-jacket copy for your book.

Week 2: Workshopping our dust jacket copy, and a lesson on book proposal structure. Writing assignment: Write your proposal introduction (3-4 page double spaced).

Week 3: Workshopping our introductions, and a lesson on how to find a good agent that understands your project.

John Lingan

John Lingan is the author of Homeplace: A Southern Town, a Country Legend, and the Last Days of a Mountaintop Honky-Tonk, which was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2018. He is working on a biography of Creedence Clearwater Revival for Da Capo, and has written for the New York Times Magazine, Oxford American, Pacific Standard, and many other publications. 


"I learned a lot and appreciated all the information offered in that class."

former student

"....the class [John] taught was IMMENSELY valuable."

former student

“HOMEPLACE is a magnificent work, new school journalism with old school heart. The combination of intellectual integrity and human curiosity, human compassion, is as intoxicating as it is educational. This is a book in service of place and time, which is to say, literature.”

Rich Bass author of THE TRAVELING FEAST

“John Lingan writes in penetrating, soulful ways about the intersection between place and personality, individual and collective, spirit and song.”

Leslie Jamison author of THE EMPATHY EXAMS and THE RECOVERING

“[Lingan] often conjures the place and its people with novelistic detail, saying a lot with a lyrical little... You end HOMEPLACE thinking that every American town could use a book like this one written about it; every town could afford to be this lovingly but critically seen. Like many of the best country songs, the book is sentimental in a way that makes you wonder why sentiment is such a dirty word.”