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363002: How to Sell Your Nonfiction Work

  • Fall 2018
  • Section 1
  • 2 Credits
  • 10/24/2018 to 12/04/2018
  • Modified 09/17/2018


This course is designed to teach beginning writers the skills necessary to jump-start a career in nonfiction article writing. Students will learn how to develop ideas, write effective query letters, gather information through research and reporting, conduct interviews, use language with precision, structure stories and slant articles for different publications. The class also will cover the business, marketing and legal aspects of nonfiction writing.


The objective of this course is to teach beginning writers the skills necessary to jump-start a career in nonfiction article writing. Students will learn how to develop ideas, write effective query letters, gather information through research and reporting, conduct interviews, use language with precision, structure stories and slant articles for different publications. The class also will cover business and marketing skills. Students will practice skills by writing at least one query letter plus short articles, including a personal essay.


By the end of this course, successful students will be able to:

  • write an effective query letter
  • develop ideas
  • gather information for a nonfiction article
  • conduct interviews
  • learn how to edit their work
  • learn how to submit articles
  • have several short pieces of writing


For supplemental reading, the books listed below are suggested, but not required.

Writer’s Market

  • Author: Robert Lee Brewer
  • Publisher: Writer's Digest Books
  • Edition: 2018
  • ISBN: 1440347735
  • Optional
  • Availability: campus bookstore; Amazon
  • Price: ???

This books offers details on what publications are buying, submission guidelines, etc. The book also has helpful articles on writing and submitting. It is updated every year. 

Writer's Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing

  • Author: Michelle Ruberg
  • Publisher: Writer's Digest Books
  • Edition: 2nd
  • ISBN: 1582973342
  • Optional
  • Availability: campus bookstore, elsewhere
  • Price: ????

A good, all-purpose guide to magazine writing.

The Elements of Style

  • Author: William Strunk Jr.
  • Publisher: Pearson
  • Edition: 4th
  • ISBN: 020530902X
  • Optional
  • Availability: campus bookstore, elsewhere
  • Price: ????

This is a classic. Every writer should have this book. 


You can take this course for a letter grade or on a Pass/Fail or No Grade basis.

 When requested, grades will be based on: timely completion of writing exercises (50%), participation in weekly discussions (30%), final article (20%). Regular participation is expected.

 When you enrolled in the course, you were asked to indicate whether you wanted to take the class for a grade or not. If you did NOT select an option, the choice defaulted to a letter grade. It is possible you are unwittingly taking the class for a grade, so double check your status to make sure it reflects your intention.

 You may request a grading status change anytime before the midpoint of this class by phoning the Registrar’s Office at (310) 825-9971 or requesting a grading status change online by logging into “MyExtension” at After the midpoint of this class (but before the instructor’s submission of final course grades) you should ask for the instructor’s approval of a status change.

 Grades, should you desire them, will be based on homework (10 points for each of 7 written assignments, for a total of 70 points) and class participation (30 points). 

 Assignments are due by the next class session and should be posted in the appropriate Canvas slots. Please feel free to add revised work, taking into account constructive suggestions. Meeting deadlines is critical in the professional writing world. Editors hate missed deadlines – so do I.

Because each of the writing assignments builds on previous assignments, it is essential that you meet your deadlines. 

Please take part in the class discussions, always within constructive guidelines!

 Course documents will be posted online via Canvas. It will be up to you to read and, if desired, to print online documents. These are for class use only and not to be distributed.


Letter grades will be assigned as follows:

A = 90 – 100 points

B = 80 – 89 points

C = 70 – 79 points

D = 60 - 69 points

F = 59 or below

Course Policies

Workshopping Guidelines

Class participation, primarily through in-class and on-line discussion, is part of your grade. Please observe proper work shop etiquette: Be kind. Be constructive.

 When commenting on someone’s work:

  -- State what you like about a piece along with any constructive suggestions for improvements, or questions. Be a careful, considerate reader/listener.

  -- Focus on the technical aspects of the work. For instance, is there something that is not clear? Ask for clarification. Are there details that are missing? Ask for those details.

   -- Always assume this is a draft, a work-in-progress and react accordingly, looking at ways to improve the next draft.

   -- (I shouldn’t have to say this, but:) There will be no personal attacks, insults, or harassment of any kind.

    -- Feedback is most helpful if it makes specific points. It is least helpful when it deals in generalizations. For example:

 Example 1 – These comments are NOT helpful:

"Your piece is great."

"I really didn't like this. It just didn't work for me."

 These comments are not helpful because they are uninformative; they leave the writer nothing specific to work on.

 Example 2 – These comments are helpful:

"Your lead was strong and pulled me right into the story.”

 “I liked the description in the scene – I felt as if I could see it.”

 “I was confused about who was talking.”

 “Can you describe what the place looked like? What made it so scary?”

 “What exactly did she do that made you change your mind?”

Ask specific questions:  “What was the time frame? How old were you? When did your father die? What type of dog was it? How small was your house?”

 These are better, because they help the writer focus on the specifics in a story.

Formatting Guidelines

All work submitted for this course should be typed, double-spaced, in 12 point conventional font, such as Times New Roman, with numbered pages. Remember to put your name on every page.

If you must email your story, do not submit a pdf.

Institutional Policies

Student Conduct

Students are subject to disciplinary action for several types of misconduct or attempted misconduct, including but not limited to dishonesty, such as cheating, multiple submission, plagiarism, or knowingly furnishing false information to the University; or theft or misuse of the intellectual property of others or violation of others' copyrights. Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with policy provisions which proscribe these and other forms of misconduct at:

Services for Students with Disabilities

In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, UCLA Extension provides appropriate accommodations and support services to qualified applicants and students with disabilities. These include, but are not limited to, auxiliary aids/services such as sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices for hearing-impaired individuals, extended time for and proctoring of exams, and registration assistance. Accommodations and types of support services vary and are specifically designed to meet the disability-related needs of each student based on current, verifiable medical documentation. Arrangements for auxiliary aids/services are available only through UCLA Extension’s Office for Students with Disabilities at (310) 825-0183 or by email at [email protected]. For complete information see:


Your instructor may post the interim grade Incomplete/I if at the end of the class your overall work is of passing quality but a portion could not be submitted for understandable reasons (e.g. illness). It is your responsibility to petition your instructor for permission to submit work late and to provide an explanation, and it is his or her sole decision whether to accept the explanation. If permitted, the Incomplete/I grade will be posted and a time frame defined for you to submit the missing work, ranging from one to twelve weeks. Incomplete/I grades that remain unchanged after twelve weeks will lapse to F, NP or U. Receiving an I grade entitles you to submit only the missing work your instructor has agreed to accept late, and does not allow other work to be retaken or oblige UCLA Extension to provide continuing access to course materials via Canvas. The Incomplete/I grade is not an option for courses that do not bear credit, such as 700, 800, or 900-level courses. For complete information, see:

All Grades are Final

No change of grade may be made by anyone other than the instructor, and then, only to correct clerical errors. No term grade except Incomplete may be revised by re-examination. The correction of a clerical error may be authorized only by the instructor of record communicating directly with personnel of Student and Alumni Services.

Sexual Harassment

The University of California is committed to creating and maintaining a community where all individuals who participate in University programs and activities can work and learn together in an atmosphere free of harassment, exploitation, or intimidation. Every member of the community should be aware that the University prohibits sexual harassment and sexual violence, and that such behavior violates both law and University policy. The University will respond promptly and effectively to reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and will take appropriate action to prevent, to correct, and when necessary, to discipline behavior that violates our policy.

All Extension students and instructors who believe they have been sexually harassed are encouraged to contact the Department of Student and Alumni Services for complaint resolution: UCLA Extension, Suite 113, 10995 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Voice/TTY: (310) 825-7031. View the University’s full Policy on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence at

Additional Items

About Your Online Course Materials

Please note the following about online course components at UCLA Extension:

  • Students must have basic computer skills, including the use of word processing software, email, and the ability to use internet browsers, such as Safari, Firefox, or Chrome.
  • Students are responsible for meeting the technical requirements of Canvas and familiarizing themselves with the Canvas Learning Management System.
  • Students are responsible for keeping a copy of all assignments and work submitted, and to be aware of all assignments, due dates, and course guidelines.
  • Students are encouraged to keep and/or download a local copy of their assignment files, as access to the online environment of a specific course is limited to 30 days after the final course date, as listed in the course catalog.

    If you need assistance downloading student materials from your course, please contact Canvas Support or the UCLA Extension Learning Support Team.

UCLA Extension Canvas and Learning Support

For immediate 24/7 Canvas technical support, including holidays, click on Help (located on the menu to the left) where you can call or chat live with a Canvas Support representative.

UCLA Extension Instructional Design and Learning Support
The UCLA Extension Learning Support staff assists both students and instructors with Canvas-related technical support, as well as general and administrative questions.

Learning Support staff is available Monday through Friday, from 8 AM to 5 PM (Pacific Time), except holidays:

Campus Safety Escorts

For students taking classes held on the UCLA campus and in and around Westwood Village, the UCLA Police Department provides a free walking escort service every day of the year from dusk until 1 a.m. Community Service Officers (CSOs) are available to walk students, faculty, staff members and visitors to and from anywhere on campus, in Westwood Village, and in the village apartments. CSOs are uniformed students who have received special training and are employed by the UCLA Police Department. To obtain an escort, please call (310) 794-9255 and allow 15 to 20 minutes for your escort to arrive. For complete information, see:


All lecture notes are posted online on Canvas.

Homework is due by 5 p.m. the day before the scheduled class "meeting." 

Course calendar and related activities
When Topic Notes
Week 1 Lectures, Notes
Week 1 10/24/18
Overview of nonfiction writing

Introduction; skills and needs assessment; overview of what we’ll be doing. Discuss your writing goals. Meet your class mates. Become familiar with online platform.

This week we will look at the different types of nonfiction writing (i.e., profile, how to, retrospective, service, interview, memoir, research/fact‑based, Q&A, travel, true‑life crime, personal essay, etc.) and types of publications (trades, online writing, blogs, consumer magazines, newspapers, etc.) 

 What interests you? What do you want to write? What publications do you want to write for and why? What type of writing have you done? Do you have any story ideas? What do you want to learn? What are your goals?

Take a look at the syllabus and become familiar with the Canvas platform.

 Homework assignment #1, week 1: Write a short (100-300) word bio. You may write it in first person, third person, as-told-to, etc. Also, tell me what you hope to learn in this class. Please post this to the discussion board labeled "bios." Also, please welcome and comment on other posted bios. (5 points)

Homework assignment #2, week 1: Pick 2 publications (print or online) that you would like to write for, study them and write a short analysis of each – the audience, range of subject matter, types of articles, tone, use of freelancers, etc. Start thinking of story ideas for these publications (you don’t need to write up the ideas yet). (5 points)

Week 2 class meeting
Week 2 10/31/18
Developing ideas

*WEEK 2 – Developing ideas, research, sources, etc. 

Where do we find ideas? How do we tailor them to a particular publication? Why is an idea not necessarily a story? How do we turn ideas into stories? How do we keep track of them? What do editors want? What is a query letter?

Also: How do we research a story? Find sources? Slant them to specific publications?

Please read the notes posted under week 2 and comment in the discussion forum.

There are two assignments this week:

 Homework assignment #1 week 2: Make a list of three story ideas for a newspaper, magazine or website. This may be short, online, department pieces or longer 800-1,000 word features. Tell us where you will get your information, who are your sources? Post on discussion board under "ideas." (10 points)

Homework assignment #2 week 2: Write a 300-600 "how-to" article. Post on "how-to article" board.  (10 points) 

Week 3 class meeting
Week 3 11/7/18
Interviewing, Organizing, Leads, Quotes, Anecdotes, etc.

WEEK 3 – Research and interviewing skills; anecdotes, quotes, etc. 

Where and how do we gather the information we need for an article? Who are good sources? How do we find them? Basics of reporting – who, what, where, when, why and how. How to set up interviews, take notes, prepare questions, get quotes, etc. The value of open-ended questions. How do you know when you have enough? What makes a good lead? How do you use quotes? What is an anecdote?

 Homework week 3: Conduct an interview (this can be someone you want to profile or someone for a larger piece you want to write, or just a friend or co-worker who has a good story.) Write a 300-800 word story based on your interview. Use at least one direct quote. Remember, accuracy counts! 10 points.

Week 4 Class Meeting
Week 4 11/14/18
Personal Essay and Memoir

WEEK 4 – The personal essay and memoir. 

What is a personal essay? How does it differ from a memoir? What are some of the rules of this form?

Read the notes on writing the personal essay and memoir. Read the samples. Explore this form by looking at other essays.

Homework Week 4: Using a prompt to help you get started, write a 500-900 word essay, following the guidelines in the notes. Post it under Week 4, personal essay. (10 points)

Revise any other writing as desired.

Class meeting
Week 5, 11/21/18
Using fiction techniques; writer's block, editing/revising, etc.

*WEEK 5 –  Using fiction techniques in nonfiction narratives

Crafting the lead & nut graf. Types of leads: anecdotal, scenic, chronological, etc. Incorporating anecdotes, quotes, attribution, etc. Discuss voice and tone, endings. Applying fiction techniques to nonfiction writing. Point of view. Structure and organization. Using quotes and attribution, etc. Rewriting and revisions. 

Also, progress report and troubleshooting – where are you in your writing? Be prepared to discuss.

 Homework week 6: Write a  200-800 word essay based on a prompt (or write an outline or draft of a nonfiction article.) (10 points)

Revise any previous work if desired.

LAST Class meeting
Week 6, 11/28/18
The Query Letter; Marketing; Writing Tips

*WEEK 6 – How to Sell Your Articles; The Query Letter; Last Minute Writing Tips

What is a query letter? Why do we need it? How do we write it? How do we do enough research to write the query? Where do we find information? How to focus your idea? How to find a market?

Homework: Take your best idea and write a formal query, following guidelines discussed in class notes.  Also, list 3-4 possible markets for your story. Review query samples posted on Canvas. (10 points)

Query MUST be submitted no later than 5 p.m. Dec. 4. 

I must receive your query by the due date so I have time to make any suggestions before our class ends, which is Dec. 5. The classroom will stay open for one week after the end of class so you may access the notes and discussion boards.