“Beginnings: Forewords, Prefaces, and Introductions”
After the cover art and cover copy, the most important impression of your book comes from its beginning pages. In a non-fiction book, that means the foreword, preface, and introduction, which not only explain where you’re coming from as an author but why a reader should join you on your adventure.
Some of the most common questions we receive at Dog Ear Publishing involve these “beginnings”: their purpose, usefulness, and construction. One thing we can promise: While they do take added time and effort, they are not nearly as complicated as they might seem.
First, the order:
1) Foreword (note the spelling: foreword, as in before the rest of the text)
An author might use all three, only one, or exclude them entirely. In a non-fiction book, however, we recommend including at least an introduction. Why? Keep reading!
What Is a Foreword?
At its most basic, the foreword is a terrific marketing tool: an endorsement signed by an individual considered to be an authority on the subject matter detailed in the book. A strong foreword can help sell an unknown author to a cautious audience by creating an immediate sense of trust, reassuring the reader that the information found inside the book is both legitimate and worth the reader’s time. The more reputable and well known the writer of the foreword is, the wider the potential audience becomes.
The foreword focuses either on the book as a whole, a specific chapter, or an expert’s personal experience with the topic and/or author. For example, if your book is about how healthy eating has changed your life, then the foreword might be written by a leading physician whose practice promotes the same eating plan described in your book. Or the foreword might come from a high-profile physical trainer who has monitored your transformation and can attest to the fact that your plan works.
Finding someone willing to endorse your book will be the subject of another Authors Ask, but the best place to start is with people you know. Remember, it’s a win-win situation, with authors receiving the endorsement, and experts receiving further media exposure. So don’t be afraid to ask!
What Is a Preface?
The preface seeks to answer the question, Why? As a non-fiction author, you will use the preface to explain the purpose of your book, along with:
• Your inspiration for writing (i.e., why now and why you)
• How you became interested in the subject
• Any problems you ran into along the way
• How you solved or worked around those problems
But the preface isn’t only about you, the author; it’s also about them, the readers. Engage potential buyers by answering the question they’re all asking: “What’s in it for me?”
• Who was the book written for?
• What benefit is there to reading the book?
• What problem(s) does it solve?
Establish a partnership with your audience and make them feel connected to the journey.
What Is an Introduction?
If the preface explains the why of the book, then the introduction explains the content. Think of it as a user manual: When the text gets complicated, the introduction guides the reader through, explaining how to approach and make sense of the material.
The introduction should include:
• The goal of the book
• How you accomplished that goal (in scientific books, this will include research method(s))
• An explanation of any technical and/or unfamiliar terms
• Acknowledgments of people, groups, or material that helped you write the book (note: acknowledgments can run up to a page, while dedications should be kept to a sentence or two)
One recurring question we receive at Dog Ear is whether anyone actually reads the introduction, let alone the foreword and preface. The answer is complicated. A reader might:
1) Disregard the beginning pages entirely
2) Use them to help determine whether or not to make a purchase
3) Read them thoroughly and in their intended order
4) Refer back to them throughout the reading experience (e.g., when the reader has trouble understanding the text)
Because it’s impossible to know in advance how a reader will approach the beginning pages of a book, it makes sense for the author to hedge his or her bets. Think of it this way: Taking the time to pen a compelling beginning can’t hurt, and in fact, it might help, paying off in increased book sales, higher ratings, and ultimately, an expanded audience.