I was deep into writing my first book in January 2018 when I came to the startling conclusion that I had no idea what I would do when I finished it. The book was the true story of a murder in 1948 and a series of sensational trials that followed. It had political intrigue, courtroom drama, and a social justice story arc that made researching and writing it a labor of love. But how was I going to get it published?
I did a little research and discovered a Gotham Writers class on writing a nonfiction book proposal taught by literary agent Roseanne Wells. The online class seemed tailored to my most immediate need—a proposal that I could use to shop the book for an agent. I had never taken an online course. In fact, I hadn’t been a student in a course for years, but I knew I didn’t know the publishing industry and I couldn’t fake my way through the process.
It turned out to be a lucky break. Roseanne’s lectures and assignments were exactly what I was looking for. And the regular online chats with her and the other students kept me focused and encouraged on getting that part of the project done. By the end of the course, I had the first part of a proposal largely done and a roadmap for the rest.
I won’t say that writing the proposal was the most fulfilling part of my journey to publication, but it was a very good feeling when I landed an agent and a publishing contract as a result of the class and the work I put in. Now my first book—The Three Death Sentences of Clarence Henderson: A Battle for Racial Justice at the Dawn of the Civil Rights Era—is publishing Jan. 11 from Abrams Press.
A good book has to stand on its own (and I do think this book is good), but you’ve got to get it in the right hands, and I’m truly grateful to Roseanne and Gotham Writers for the gift of their expertise. Y’all took the mystery out of a very mysterious process and I thank you.