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Meet the Teaching Artist: Build An Irresistible Book Proposal for Your Audience and Market with Cinelle Barnes

by Writing Workshops Staff

A year ago

Meet the Teaching Artist: Build An Irresistible Book Proposal for Your Audience and Market with Cinelle Barnes

by Writing Workshops Staff

A year ago

We are so excited to tell you about an incredible teaching artist who is now part of the community. Her name is Cinelle Barnes, and she's leading a fascinating one-on-one mentorship called Build An Irresistible Book Proposal for Your Audience and Market.

Cinelle is not just a talented memoirist and essayist, but also an experienced developmental editor who has successfully sold her own book proposals to publishers. She's also helped numerous writers create queries, synopses, and annotated tables of contents that have caught the attention of agents and editors. Cinelle's extensive knowledge of the memoir and essay collection forms, combined with her deep understanding of the market, make her the perfect guide for this mentorship. In fact, she's even a juror for prestigious awards like the Pulitzer Prize in Memoir and the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses Firecracker Nonfiction Award.

With her help, you'll learn how to position yourself in the industry and express your ideas in a compelling and rewarding way. Over twelve weeks, you'll brainstorm, revise, and finesse the elements of a modern nonfiction book proposal, and Cinelle will provide personalized guidance and feedback every step of the way. By the end of the mentorship, you'll have a concept snapshot, synopsis, annotated table of contents, bio, and even one to two sample chapters ready to showcase your book. Trust me, this is an opportunity you don't want to miss!

Hi, Cinelle. Please introduce yourself to our audience.

Hello, writers! I'm an author and editor focusing on literary and upmarket nonfiction. I wrote MONSOON MANSION: A MEMOIR and MALAYA: ESSAYS ON FREEDOM, and edited A MEASURE OF BELONGING: TWENTY-ONE WRITERS OF COLOR ON THE NEW AMERICAN SOUTH, the first of which I gained representation for on an in-person pitch and the latter two I sold on proposal. I like to think that my combined training in journalism and creative nonfiction and my background in content strategy and marketing have led to successful pitches, queries, and longtime relationships with publications and publishers.

I served on the jury of the inaugural Pulitzer Prize for Memoir and the Community of Literary Presses and Magazines Firecracker Nonfiction Award, and was a screener for the AWP Sue Silverman Prize for Creative Nonfiction. Apart from working on my travel-memoir-in-progress, I'm also helping develop several nonfiction books on a wide range of topics: a life in fashion, life after a loved one's slow death, life in the empty nest, life in a nontraditional marriage, a second life in a new body, among many others. I help authors turn an idea into a vision or concept, then help them articulate these visions and concepts clearly, creatively, and compellingly to the right audience -- through queries, pitches, platforms, and book proposals. My author-clients have garnered proposal solicitations from agents, landed book deals with Big 5 and indie presses, received full scholarships from MFA programs, and best and most important of all, established writing practices that are true to who they are, what they want to do, who they are writing for, and what their lives allow or need. As an author myself, my goal is never to just help you get a book out there... my hope is that you are building a nurturing space within you and around you that will allow you to keep writing and keep believing in your storytelling magic.

What made you want to teach this specific class? Is it something you are focusing on in your own writing practice? Have you noticed a need to focus on this element of craft? Or is this just your jam and you love it?

By the time I was shopping around my debut memoir for agent representation, I had been through an art honors high school program, a journalism undergraduate program, and an MFA program, plus several graduate- and advanced-level workshops -- but none of them taught me how to build a book proposal! I learned how to write and write well, how to pitch and query, and how to teach a literature class, but I had no idea 1) that most nonfiction books are sold on proposal, and 2) how to build a proposal (let alone what it is, what it's for, and how to make it stand out). I did my research, applied what I knew from journalism, literature, proposal writing and marketing, attended publishing conferences, and collected wisdom and knowledge from anywhere and everywhere, building a personal glossary, or more accurately, a pantry of ingredients that I could use and share with other nonfiction writers. So many nonfiction writers out there need this kind of support, and it's truly my joy to help them.

Give us a breakdown of how the course is going to go. What can the students expect? What is your favorite part about this class you've dreamed up?

Each weekly meeting will last one hour. During these one-on-one workshops, you'll have a set goal (concept snapshot or elevator pitch, synopsis or introduction, annotated table of contents, bio, and one to two sample chapters), homework (written pages) to present and workshop, time for questions and setting next steps, and protected writing or revising time. By the end of the twelfth week, you'll have all the elements of a book proposal ready for either submission or further development.

My favorite part about this class is hearing about the author and their life, what informs their work, what fuels their writing, and why they want to share their story or a story with the world. My next favorite part is helping them communicate all this in a way that is true to their narrative voice, is interesting and intelligible to the right agent or editor, and that ultimately answers the question, "So what? Why should we read this?" For literary artists and for people coming forth with very real, often difficult, life stories, this question is often the hardest to answer, especially in a truthful, believable way, and my listening ears, thinking gears, life's work, and compassion are what I bring to the table... and the wonder of seeing writers piece together the answer to this question is just a true joy and honor.

What was your first literary crush?

The Gangster of Love by Jessica Hagedorn

What are you currently reading?

When the Hibiscus Falls by M Evelina Galang, Imminent Domains by Alessandra Naccarato, and (rereading) Swing Time by Zadie Smith.

How do you choose what you're working on? When do you know it is the next thing you want to write all the way to THE END?

I'm always working on several projects at once, at different stages, but what ends up getting most of my attention and energy at a particular time is whatever is, frankly, what pays the bills... basically, and I'm not just saying this for the sake of this class, what I've captured in and conveyed through a proposal and sold.

Where do you find inspiration?

Every book and essay is different, but my relationships with my mother and my daughter are these north and south poles that are opposing forces and opposite intentions, and being in the middle of them provides all the right energy for thinking, feeling, creating, and shaping. They are two mysteries, equally beautiful and wondrous, but one is more hopeful and safer than the other. My writing provides a way for me to discover what lies beneath or waits behind both.

What is the best piece of writing wisdom you've received that you can pass along to our readers? How did it impact your work? Why has this advice stuck with you?

Know your audience.

What is your favorite book to recommend on the craft of writing? Why this book?

There's not one book, I think. It depends on who I am recommending it to and what it is they currently need. To memoirists, I'm almost always recommending The Art of Time in Memoir by Sven Birkerts... then I pair it with either Matthew Salesses's Craft in the Real World or Dreyer's English or Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird or Bell Hooks or Vivian Gornick's The Story and The Situation or an interview with Flannery O'Connor about how drawing helps her write or Courtney Maum's Before and After the Book really depends on who needs what, and when.

 Learn More About Working with Cinelle

You can learn more about Cinelle's upcoming mentorship: Build An Irresistible Book Proposal for Your Audience and Market and apply now!

Mentor Cinelle Barnes is a formerly undocumented memoirist, essayist, and educator from Manila, Philippines, and is the author of MONSOON MANSION: A MEMOIR (Little A, 2018, Booklist starred review) and MALAYA: ESSAYS ON FREEDOM (Little A, 2019), and the editor of the New York Times New & Noteworthy book, A MEASURE OF BELONGING: 21 WRITERS OF COLOR ON THE NEW AMERICAN SOUTH (Hub City Press, 2020). She earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Converse College. Her writing has appeared or been featured in the New York Times, Longreads, Garden & Gun, Electric Literature, Buzzfeed Reader, Literary Hub, Hyphen, and CNN Philippines, among others. Her essay, “Carefree White Girls, Careful Brown Girls”, is anthologized in A Map Is Only One Story: Twenty Writers on Immigration, Family, and the Meaning of Home (Catapult, 2020). Cinelle was a contributing editor, instructor, and writer at Catapult, and served as a juror for the inaugural Pulitzer Prize for Memoir.

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