Herbie J Pilato On How to Write a Nonfiction Book that Sells – Part 1

EDITOR’S NOTE: TVWriter™’s legendary Contributing Editor Emeritus Herbie J Pilato shares the key to his nonfiction writing success. Thanks for paying it forward, old friend!

by Herbie J Pilato

It All Begins With The Book Proposal.

The publishing industry is not what it used to be.

Today, there are maybe six or seven (if that) main publishing houses, whereas at one time there were several more. Whether it all changed due to the hands of time or fate, or somewhere or some other reason in between, the plain and simple truth is it’s a different literary world out there.

By the same token, considering the access and increase various forms of extended and evolved communication of recent, there’s probably never been an easier time in publishing history (if that’s a thing) to write and sell a book, despite the genre, category, or whether of a nonfiction or fiction nature.

There are several ways to have a book published beyond the traditional method, including the ever-expanding self-publishing path. But in either case, the best way to begin the journey is with the book proposal, specifically when it comes to nonfiction, and even more specifically when it comes to first-time-published nonfiction books.

The world of fiction, novels, novellas, etc., is a different animal altogether, especially if it’s an initial book. Here, the best chance is to have the manuscript completed before approaching an agent or publisher, while the nonfiction book, be it an inaugural work or otherwise, has the best chance of being sold by way of a proposal.

At its core, the book proposal is essentially a 20 to 40-page outline of the proposed idea, but as explained in books like How To Write A Book Proposal by Michael Larson, the proposal has to read more like a mini-version of the intended book than an outline.

However, once the book proposal is completed, realistic expectations must be in place. Many passionate writers, particularly passionate aspiring writers of any age, believe that every editor and publisher who reads their work will automatically and absolutely adore their literary idea/book proposal upon first perusal and call immediately to make an offer of purchase.

But that’s not how it works. Trust me. I’ve been there.

Even an established author like myself, who has had more than 12 nonfiction books about popular culture published over a twenty-year period still cannot assume an immediate industry-wide acceptance of any new book idea, presented either in the proposal or completed form.

The selling of my first publication, The Bewitched Book, which Dell Publishing released in the fall of 1992, transpired only after the book, in proposal or then completed manuscript form, was initially rejected over 100 times; purchased, canceled, purchased again, canceled again; finally published; canceled; revised for a new edition, which was rejected over 100 additional times; sold, canceled, and then sold again.

Remember how I said publishing is not what it used to be?

The marketing process of my first book occurred when the world of publishing was in a more welcoming state if welcoming is the right word — and it’s really kinda’-sorta’ not. It’s always been tough to get a book published, while it has become relatively less-tough today.

Multiply the amount of stress, pressure, and work connected with what I went through to have my Bewitched Book published, combine that total with the increasing competition in today’s environment of everyone seeking to be, believing and envisioning themselves as best-selling authors, and you have the summative atmosphere of the modern literary world.

Even if you have completed what you may deem the perfect or near-perfect proposal for your nonfiction book, or finished that great American novel that you’ve been envisioning since first grade, you still have to find the agent, editor and/or publisher who believes in your book/idea as much as you do.

Finding that like-minded professional in the publishing arena is half the battle. To ultimately sell and have your book see the light of day on display in bookstores around the world and everywhere books are sold online is a warhorse of a different color.

Before your literary idea becomes a full-blown published book, that perfect proposal you’re working on or completed has to be approved by a number of colleagues connected with the representing agent and/or editor-in-question.

And if even one of those colleagues doesn’t “get it” about your book, or even if they’re having a bad hair or coffee day, your book will not get sold.

It’s sad to think that way, but that’s part of the reality of the way things work in publishing, archaic as that may be.

Many books get published for all the right and wrong reasons.

Some great books may never get published because the author/agent simply could not convince the potential buying-crowd of editors at a particular house because of the negative “gut” feelings of those decision-makers in power, no matter how many facts the author has presented for the book’s intended market.

At the same time, some really not so-wonderful books get published by the author because he or she was best friends with the deciding editor’s Aunt Tilly years ago in Pacoima.

And again, sorry and sad to say, that’s just the way it some times works.

But let’s remain positive and start to tackle what it initially takes to create a proposal for a nonfiction book that will sell against all odds.

You know why? Because I’ve done it. Just keep remembering those multiple rejections and cancellations I had before I finally published my first book.

So, onward to the shaping of the proposal, which basically has five or six different core sections: The Introduction/Overview, the MarketChapter OutlinesSample Chapters, and About the Author.

Each section has to thoroughly prove just how well you know your subject and market, and just how talented a writer you are without displaying even the smallest measure of ego. (Crazy, right?)

TOMORROW: The Deets! Be here.

Writer/producer Herbie J Pilato is the host of classic TV talk show THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, now streaming on Amazon Prime, Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society, and author of several classic TV companion books. He has been part of TVWriter™ for 20 years and is Contributing Editor Emeritus. Learn more about Herbie J HERE. This article first appeared in Medium.

The 5 missteps most new freelancers commit and how to avoid them

This is a general article on all freelance gigs, not just writing, but truth is truth, and the misstemps here are universal.

Alas, the treacherous freelancing path!
Alas, the treacherous path of the freelancer

by Nancy Van Brunt

If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to leave the corporate world to enjoy the flexibility and earnings potential of freelancing, you’re not alone. The “Freelancing in America: 2019” (FIA) study co-commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union found that, for the first time, half of the freelancer respondents said they view this way of working as a long-term career choice. The share of those who freelance full time increased from 17% in 2014 to 28% in 2019.

As the head of freelancer and agency success for Upwork, I see new independent professionals struggling with mistakes that limit their potential for finding satisfying, well-paying work. The good news is that you don’t have to fall prey to these missteps. Here’s how to start your freelance career on the right track.

Newbie mistake #1: Undercharging

Top earners aren’t afraid to focus exclusively on clients who understand their worth. The majority of clients are looking for quality and understand that they get what they pay for. Furthermore, many clients are unsure how to price projects and are looking to you to guide them on an appropriate budget (and scope). After all, you’re the expert — so don’t shy away from consulting and negotiating.

Before you set your rates, research the market to benchmark what others with similar skill sets are charging and then adjust based on your experience level. You might be pleasantly surprised: The data shows that some independent professionals are earning more than $250 an hour for work in categories that span nearly every industry, including tech, marketing, legal, and finance.

Newbie mistake #2: Not thinking like a business

Freelancing comes with many ancillary tasks. That means you have to remember all the tasks that businesses routinely handle, from budgeting and contracts to invoicing and client communication. It also includes marketing, business development, and sales. When you decide to freelance, you are launching a business!

The most important thing you can do to establish credibility and gain more business is creating a professional, polished portfolio. Clients want to see what you’ve accomplished — and what you can do for them….

Read it all at insider.com

Cartoon: Resolutions

TVWriter™’s all-time favorite artist/philosopher, Grant Snider, shares everybody’s fave New Year’s pass time – Resolutions.

But with a most creative twist.

See more of Grant Snider’s extraordinary perception of human creativity at Incidental Comics, HERE

Buy Grant’s new book, What Color is Night? at Amazon.Com!

Hank Isaac on Cultural Confusion – Or Is It…Time Travel?

by Hank Isaac

Is It Possible to be a Time Traveler and Not Know It?

I find what people say and how they say it both generally fascinating and discouraging.

And I wonder why, as I get older, things make less and less sense when they should really be making more and more sense. I suspect when I finally expire, I will be totally clueless.


  • I call my health care provider (name made up for, well, you know) and this is the recording I get:

“Welcome to Bayside Healthcare Associates. Bayside is here twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to provide the best health care services available. Our doctors represent some of the finest medical professionals available and our staff is ready and willing to provide you with timely and excellent services. Please listen carefully to the following options, as our menu has recently been updated. If this is a medical emergency, please hang up and dial 911. Bayside Healthcare Associates does not offer emergency room services…”

Hold it!

Like thirty seconds into the message and NOW you tell me to dial 911?

Why aren’t those the first words out of the mouth of the professionally-recorded voice answering thingy?

  • The film permit office in the town where I’ve done some filming is essentially a one-person city department. They do have a complete permitting process and forms to fill out. Which I do. Then I hand them in.

One time, I called to check on the permit’s status. I was told, “There has been a problem with the permit.” So now my mind is racing. I have only a few days to find a new city or change the story completely and I have rented equipment which is now in the air from the other side of the country and it’s landing here tomorrow and…

So I ask, “Do we get the permit?”

And the response is, “The problem involves the use of the alley behind Nathan’s at three in the morning…”

So I ask again, “But will we get the permit by next Friday?”

“I’m trying to tell you. The alley behind Nathan’s…

This exchange continues for about a dozen more rounds. And it gets heated with me saying things like, “Can’t you just tell me if we got the permit or not?”

And the person on the other end of the call saying things like, “If you’ll stop interrupting and just let me finish…”

Bottom line: We got the permit. WE’D ALWAYS HAD the permit. It’s just that the permit person for some reason couldn’t say, “You’ve got your permit but let me tell you what we had to go through to get it.”

THEN I would be listening.

The person HAD to lay out the history in chronological order, not even considering what having or not having the permit would mean to the person who was requesting it.

  • Which would you rather hear if this happened to you (it’s made up–didn’t happen to me):

The phone rings. You answer.

“Hello, is this Mr. Jones?”


“Mr. Jones, this is Officer Melbourne from the Dayton police. Your daughter has been in a accident…,” etc.


“Mr. Jones, this is Officer Melbourne from the Dayton police. Your daughter is fine. Completely fine. She was in an accident, but…,” etc.

My point is that when a speaker buries the lead, it’s great for filmed stories but pretty bad for real life. Can generate unnecessary concern. Even panic. And for no reason.

  • Twice now in my lifetime–oddly only within the past ten years or so–I’ve come up against this sort of recorded phone answering message:

“Hi! You’ve reached Mary Smith. I can’t take your call right now but if you leave your name and number and a brief message, I’ll get back to you at my earliest convenience.”

What about my convenience? Anybody see the problem here?

It’s becoming a world where everyone seems to know the right words, just not where or when to use them.

Who do we thank for this? Parents? Schools? The Internet?

And I don’t care — I’m gonna keep using a double space after periods. I’m reading a book now where I keep overrunning the ends of sentences ’cause the first word of the next sentence is way too close to its predecessor.

Anyone know what day it is?

Hank Isaac is an award-winning indie film writer/producer/director who collects awards as easily as dogs collect fleas. TVWriter™ is always happy to see his unique contributions.

Ian McKellen’s Blog

Did you know that Sir Ian Mckellen, AKA Gandalf (or is it the other way around?) has his own blog? And that since 1999 he’s been telling his readers all about, well, a lot of things, including his experiences on on the Lord of the Rings set?

Well, you do now!

The Grey Book
by Ian McKellen

20 August 1999-Casting

There is a general assumption that the main professional concern of actors is the parts they play. That is not true of this actor.

To begin with I have never had a hit-list of characters whom I wanted to play. A friend has always wanted to play Abraham Lincoln – but “Where?” I ask him, and “Who will write your words?” I have played some celebrated men like Lawrence of Arabia ( in Ross 1970), King Edward II (1969-70), and Adolf Hitler (Countdown to War 1980), but my authors were Terrence Rattigan, Christopher Marlowe, and Hitler himself (I used only the Fuehrer’s own words translated into English natuerlich.)

I have landed on some of the most fulfilling parts by accident. It was a chance meeting with an old friend, as I puzzled what to cast myself in at the Royal National Theatre in 1990 that introduced me to the idea of playing Richard III. Before we talked it had never crossed my mind to challenge the great Richards of recent years.

It’s rather that I invariably look at the job as a whole – who will direct, who will be cast, how long will it take,do I want to work in Leeds (or Toronto or now Wellington). So with The Lord of the Rings, the whole venture across three movies and across the magical landscape of New Zealand, is as invigorating as the opportunity to embody a legend.

If it weren’t the director of Heavenly Creatures in control, with a strong vision of all those precise, quirky, majestic locations, I should not much look forward to a full year away from my home in London. But Peter Jackson’s designs, script and his unshowy dedication to the task are irresistible. Had I been unable to play Gandalf (because of an encroaching X-Men schedule), I should have hoped for another less time-consuming part later in the trilogy.

I am aware of the high expectations of Tolkien’s fans – like myself. But, never having imagined that I would ever play any sort of wizard, I am ill-prepared. I just worked with a witch, however, a white one, whose spells are formidable. Her energy is impressive. I shall have to come to understand the nature of Gandalf’s energy – what keeps him going. What keeps any of us going?

A big project. I wish them luck when The Lord of the Rings starts shooting (without me) in October 1999.” — Ian McKellen, London, 14 August 1999.

Read it all at mckellen.com