Where do you begin? The Foreword, the Preface, and the Introduction
Where do we start a book? To quote the King in Alice in Wonderland, “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
If only it were so simple.
Fiction needs to consider the prologue. Nonfiction books have introductions often, prefaces sometimes, and occasionally forewords. Do we know how to use them well? An introduction, preface, and foreword serve different purposes, although we tend to mix them up. Below are some tips to help you separate these three beginnings, and suggestions for how, or whether, you want to use them.
The most important distinguishing feature of the foreword is that it should be written by someone other than the author.
I’ve seen authors writing introductions or prefaces and calling them forewords. The foreword is not for you, dear author. The foreword is an opportunity for you—a marketing opportunity.
Your foreword plays in much the same space as your back cover copy: it helps you sell the book. Contributors to forewords are experts in the field your book is about, or authors of similar books. A foreword adds credibility to your book by offering a stamp of approval that other people will recognize: bookstores as well as individual consumers. You are after the name recognition and esteem of your contributor.
Because someone else writes your foreword, and they should have read your book before they do so, you need to complete your manuscript and send them an advance reader copy. This means you must be done with your book and budget extra time to incorporate a foreword.
Think of the preface as an envelope. The preface is about the book itself—not the contents of the book.
This is your opportunity to talk about why you wrote this book. What brought you here? What are you trying to achieve? You may use this space to establish your credentials—indicate your experience in a topic or the professional expertise that makes you well-suited to talk about it. Often, authors muddle this together with the material in the introduction. They are best kept separate. Give your book a clean start and make it easy for your readers, who need to know what part of the story kicks off when.
What you include here should NOT appear in your introduction, and vice versa—avoid duplication.
Most familiar to us, the introduction is also for the author. If the preface is the envelope, the introduction is a cover letter to the manuscript: you get to explain how to use the contents of the book itself.
The introduction can be simple. You introduce the topic of the book, and leave it at that. You can also use the introduction to set up the themes you are planning to address, establish any definitions or methodology you use, or point out the structure of your book and any exercises or resources you include and how the reader may want to use them. What you do NOT want to do is repeat content that already appears in your preface.
Although an introduction appears at the front of the book (after the foreword and preface, if they are also included), you should write this content last, after you have completed your manuscript. You need to know what your book is about in total, and how it ends, to write a good introduction.
The Bottom Line
Your book structure should be clear, and so should the way you use your foreword, preface, and introduction (if you choose to include them). Although none of these are required components of your manuscript, each of them can add value or interest to your book. Remember to use them for their distinct purposes: they exist to guide the reader where you want them to go.
Be clear. Don’t knock your reader around with three or four beginnings to your book and ask them to sort it all out themselves.
This post is adapted from an article published in the September 2016 CIPA Signature, the newsletter of the Colorado Independent Publishers Association.