Will Your Nonfiction Book Sell? How to Evaluate the Strength of Your Idea

Will Your Nonfiction Book Sell? with Jane Friedman

Before you prepare a proposal or write your book, learn how to research and study the market for your work.

Finding an agent or publisher for your nonfiction book requires not only sharp clarity about your idea or story, but also how that idea, in book form, is relevant and unique in today’s market. You’ll have much more success with your pitch, as well as your proposal, if you take time to understand the market and conduct appropriate research beforehand.

Without research, it’s easy to miss the major dealbreakers that lead to rejection before an agent has even read the first page of your material. And sometimes you’ll realize that writing and publishing a book isn’t your next best step.

In this 60-minute live class on November 5, Jane Friedman will help you understand how publishing professionals evaluate nonfiction book concepts and make decisions on what to publish. This workshop will cover how to:

  • Identify a viable target market. Nearly all successful book projects start with an intimate understanding of the audience you wish to serve. The better you know your target reader or primary market, the better you’ll able to pitch a successful book. Someone must care about your message or story—and that someone can’t be defined as “everyone.” This class will help you grapple with issues of target market and whether your idea of audience is too broad, too narrow, or too nebulous to support a successful pitch.
  • Research competing titles. You need to discover and study the books that currently exist on your topic or serve the same audience. If you can’t find comparable titles, you’re either not looking hard enough, or you’re doing a book that’s too weird for an agent or publisher to accept.
  • Surface useful insights about your market from online sources. You should have knowledge and familiarity with the mainstream media, online content, bloggers, podcasts, and anyone else who serves the same audience as you. You need to understand how your audience might be fulfilling its needs for information from online and multimedia sources.
  • Identify authors, experts, and influencers on your topic. You should dig deep into the platform and reach of authors and experts that you hope to emulate or compete against. How do you fit among them? How will you set yourself apart? Are there hints about how you need to develop your own platform to be competitive in the eyes of a publisher?
  • Understand problems inherent in memoir. One of the most challenging categories to sell in today is memoir. We’ll talk about why so many memoirs fail to interest agents and editors, and what you can do to improve your chances.

Your final pitch or proposal must resonate in such a way that agents or editors immediately grasp the market potential of your book and why you are the best person to write it. Unfortunately, a large majority of book concepts or stories have not been carefully thought through, and must be re-conceptualized if they are to succeed in the market. This class will help you avoid the disappointment that comes when you realize your concept or approach was flawed from the outset.

Who should take this class

  • First-time nonfiction authors
  • Journalists thinking about writing and pitching their first nonfiction book
  • Professionals who are experts in their field and want to write a nonfiction book
  • Unpublished memoirists
  • Undergraduate or graduating writing students studying creative nonfiction

Who should NOT take take this class

  • This class will offer limited insights into academic or scholarly publishing, as well as K-12 publishing and textbook publishing. It’s focused on the trade (mainstream) publishing market, or books that agents are likely to represent.
  • If you’re a professor who wants to publish a scholarly work, this probably isn’t the class for you since it’s focused on the demands of the commercial marketplace.

How do I know if this webinar is worth the cost?

This is an important question, and it’s a tough one to answer—especially since so much online education is available free of charge. Furthermore, every student is different, and a valuable webinar for one person can end up being a disappointment to another. For this reason, we offer full refunds if you register, attend the entire class, and fail to get the information you’re looking for. Please email us directly to request a refund.

Do I have to attend the live class?

No. Everyone who registers will get access to the recording. However, if you’d like to attend live, keep reading.

How do I attend the live class?

This class uses Zoom webinar technology. You will join through your Internet-connected computer or mobile device. When you register, you will receive information via email on how to join the class. If you don’t receive it within 10 minutes of registering, please contact us.

  • When: Thursday, November 5, 2020
  • Time: 1 p.m.–2:00 p.m. Eastern Time / 10 a.m. Pacific Time
  • Fee: $25

The webinar is broadcasted via the internet with live audio delivered through your computer or mobile device speakers. The visual presentation is displayed directly from the presenter’s computer to your computer screen. The Q&A is managed through a chat-style submission system with questions read and answered by the presenter for the entire class to hear.

Closed captions are provided for the live class. We use Rev’s closed caption service, powered by AI, which is about 80%+ accurate. Keep in mind there is a time delay; transcription speed varies based on how fast the Internet hamsters run that day.

Jane Friedman

About the instructor

Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. She spent 12 years working at F+W Media, where she evaluated and acquired hundreds of books based solely on the book proposal.

During her career, she’s worked on nonfiction books across many categories, including reference, sports, fine art and crafts, graphic design, humor, business, how-to, self-help, and memoir. She also served as editor for How to Write a Book Proposal by literary agent Michael Larsen.

Jane frequently speaks on the publishing industry at major events (BookExpo, Digital Book World) and is a professor with The Great Courses. She’s taught numerous conference workshops and online classes on book proposals, so her lectures and curriculum anticipate your questions and address the most common problems she sees.

I crafted a proposal as you suggested. I signed with an agent and now have a publisher, New Harbinger. The book’s working title is Surviving Cancer.

David Palma


I took your course last summer and want to let you know that I’m sitting here right now reading a contract from an agent—all thanks to you!

Jane Perdue


Just wanted to share the good news that my book, Running with Raven, came out today from Kensington Press. Thanks for your guidance in getting me here.

Laura Lee Huttenbach


You’ll receive the following

  • Access to the 60-minute interactive class. After 45-60 minutes, Jane will take questions using in-class chat/text. The class will end after roughly 60-75 minutes.
  • A recording of the class—audio and video. This is especially helpful if you have a conflict with the class time or something comes up and you can’t make the session. Each registration comes with access to the archived version of the program and the materials for 30 days. You do not have to attend the live event to get a recording of the presentation.
  • Presentation slides. All participants receive a copy of the slide presentation in PDF form.
  • Additional answers to questions, if needed. If there isn’t time for Jane to answer all the questions during the live event, she will answer them in writing afterward. All participants will receive the answers with the follow-up recording.
  • Rough transcript. We use Otter to create an automated transcript of the entire webinar, which we’ll share with you in addition to the audio and video recording.

Event Attendance & Anti-Harassment Policy

We strive to provide an environment where all present—whether attendee, presenter, or staff—can feel supported. In order to ensure a welcoming event, here is what we expect from all who participate.

  • That the presenter and the presenter’s work be treated with respect by attendees and that all attendees treat each other with respect and a generosity of spirit.
  • That attendees will refrain from harassment of any sort including (but not limited to) comments or questions of a racist, homophobic, sexist/sexual, or threatening nature. This includes actions that disrupt or interfere with anyone’s ability to participate. Offenders will be disconnected from the live event.

System Requirements to Join the Webinar

We will be using Zoom webinar technology.

You’ll need:

  • An internet connection: broadband wired or wireless (3G or 4G/LTE)
  • Speakers: built-in or USB plug-in or wireless Bluetooth

Recommended bandwidth:

  • 600kbps (down) for high-quality video and 1.2 Mbps (down) for HD video
  • If you connect through audio only: 60-80kbps (down)

Supported operating systems:

Supported tablet and mobile devices:

  • Surface PRO 2 running Win 8.1
  • Surface PRO 3 running Win 10
  • iOS and Android devices
  • Blackberry devices

Supported browsers:

  • Windows: IE 11+,  Edge 12+, Firefox 27+,  Chrome 30+
  • Mac: Safari 7+, Firefox 27+,  Chrome 30+
  • Linux: Firefox 27+,  Chrome 30+

For a detailed listing of system requirements, check Zoom’s site.