Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Graduate School"

For the second time since I have been teaching my class in "Writing, Publishing & Promoting Your Nonfiction Book," I have offered a follow-up class, euphemistically referred to as graduate school. The idea is that anyone who has ever taken the first class and is still somewhere in the process of writing a book can sign up for the second one. In the interest of full disclosure, I must add that these classes are offered by the St. Louis Community College as continuing education—in other words, they are noncredit.

That makes no difference to me; I teach both of them as if students were, indeed, receiving college credits toward a degree. Each class is two hours a week for six weeks. Despite the number of years I have been teaching, I write new lesson plans, bring in new outside speakers, and gear the course to the new people who take it. Therefore, it is a different course every semester.

To my knowledge, the community college has never offered anything like this before. It is not so much a class as a workshop or authors' support group. I try to get everyone on the same page on the first night by asking what I consider the four fundamental questions:
  1. What is your book about?
  2. What is your book's purpose?
  3. Who is your ideal reader?
  4. Where do you want to be by the last week of class?
I set a maximum of twelve students because I try to do a lot of individual coaching and editing. This time, eleven people signed up, eight from the last class and three from previous classes. On the first night, we had a great speaker who had taken both parts of the class while she was working on her book. She was informative, inspirational, and very funny.

After telling everyone what she did wrong and what she did right, she pulled out a letter she had received that day. It was from an literary agent to whom she had sent a dynamite query letter. The agent wrote that she "would be honored" to see the complete book proposal.

The class burst into spontaneous applause.

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