Book proposals — your ticket to publication! Grab your hat, hold all calls, switch on the word processor, and brace yourself for the new life that awaits you as a published author. Is that Oprah calling? Who wants to interview you for the six o'clock news? Do you have Samuel Beckett time to fly to New York for a TV special on your new book? "Do I have time! Who're you kidding — sign me up!"

Yes, your new book may change your life in extraordinary ways. But don't forget it all starts with a book proposal. And the best way to find out how to write a book proposal is to browse this Web site created by veteran author William Cane. This site explains how to write a book proposal that has a good chance of landing you a publisher. In plain English it also tells you exactly how to find a literary agent and how to write an irresistible query letter — two other skills you'll want to master on your way to becoming Oprah's next author guest.

You come up with a book idea, we'll help you transform it into a solid book proposal. Then we’ll even show you how to write a query letter and how to find a literary agent so that you can sell your idea to the best possible publisher.

Did you know that after he finished writing Waiting for Godot and his trilogy of novels — Molloy, Malone Dies, and Unnameable — Samuel Beckett was so paralyzed with inertia that he couldn't muster the energy or enthusiasm to send any of his work to a literary agent. His long-time lover, Suzanne, had to submit it for him — and the rest, of course, is history. Beckett won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1969. I don't want you to fall into the trap of self-doubt that Beckett fell into. Because it’s so important, let’s recap your path to publication. It involves three steps.

Before there can be a book there must be an idea. This idea sometimes resides only in the mind of the author; more often than not, however, this idea takes the form of an outline (for a novel) or a book proposal (for a work of nonfiction). Your book proposal can be considered a type of outline for your book, and if you look at it in this manner it will make it easier to write.

The book proposal is discussed extensively elsewhere on these pages, but in this introductory section I'll point out a few important things you’ll want to keep in mind.

  • A book proposal isn't more difficult to write than a magazine article or a short story, so if you're already writing articles or stories, maybe it’s time for you to consider writing a book proposal and becoming a published author of a book.
  • A Book proposal cannot sell itself, so you must be prepared to find a literary agent to sell it for you. The reasons for this are also discussed elsewhere on these pages; here I’ll only mention that a literary agent can usually help you get a bigger advance and better contract terms.
  • The best book proposals can give you credibility in a publishing house and make you look good during the pre-publication process when you’ll have to deal with editors and in-house professionals. Many will have seen your book proposal, especially those in the marketing and sales department. So do your best work and make the proposal stand out from the crowd.
  • One of the easiest ways to make your book proposal better than the norm is to take the time to get your facts correct. If you refer to a statistic or make an assertion of fact that is not common knowledge, cite your source in the text of the book proposal itself rather than in a footnote or endnote. Simply put your source in parentheses after stating the statistic or fact. That kind of disclosure will give you added credibility.
  • Don’t hesitate to blow your own horn in your book proposal “About the Author” section. No one else is going to do it for you, so you might as well do it yourself. Write it in the third person, as if you were your own publicist. If your book proposal highlights your credentials properly, you'll be given the respect you deserve for your previous writing accomplishments, if any.
  • Finally, never hesitate to criticize competing books in your book proposal. In one quick but effective sentence, you can summarize a comparable book and point out why your book will be better. Again, don’t be shy about the strengths of your book. You don’t want to overdo it, but failing to state the advantages of a book is one of the beginner’s biggest errors. Editors and literary agents know your book isn’t written yet, but they want to hear how great it’s going to be so that they can evaluate the viability of your book at this early stage.