book preface

Book Preface: 6 Tips to Write a Great Preface

Salmaan Ahmad

Salmaan Ahmad

December 27, 2023

A book preface is an important part of your book’s front matter. While not needed in a novel, it is necessary in a work of nonfiction, where it sets the tone of your book and gives readers some idea of what to expect. When you write a book preface, it explains why the book is important to you—and why it should be important to your readers.

What Is a Book Preface?

You know the old saying about first impressions. With your book, a preface is the first impression you make on a reader. It gives the readers a chance to consider what your book is about, what its themes and viewpoint are, and what is intriguing about it. A well-written book preface can help a reader make the decision to continue reading the whole book.

A preface appears in the front of a book. Here is the order your front matter should appear in for a nonfiction book:

Understand the difference

What are the differences among these front matter elements? Here’s a quick summary.

  • Book Preface: This is a brief opening section, usually one to two pages long, written by the author. It talks about why the author chose the subject, why they wrote the book, and why they are qualified to write it.
  • Introduction: A good introduction provides an overall summary of the book without giving away key details. It prepares the reader for what’s ahead when they read it.
  • Foreword: The foreword is usually written by someone other than the author. It is usually someone who’s a well-known writer or an expert on the book’s subject. It is like a stamp of approval that the reader can rely on to be sure the book will be worth their time.

What is a prologue?

A prologue is a device in fiction writing. It gives the reader important information they need to have before the story starts. Prologues work well for some books, but some people dislike them. These people feel that all necessary information should be included in the main story.

Why Should You Write a Book Preface?

A book preface serves several purposes. Here are the main reasons to include one in your book.

Explain what led to the book

Your potential reader wants to know what drew you to the topic and why you chose to write about it. If you’re writing about the development of a particular invention, for instance, you might note that your father was an inventor whose dream it was to create that same object.

You could describe being fascinated by the process of invention and how you tried to meet the inventor. You might mention that you spent hours of personal one-on-one time with the inventor and got to know them—and their colleagues—personally. The book is your expression of gratitude and admiration for the work these creative, driven inventors do.

Reveal your reasons for writing it

Why did you feel compelled to write this book? And why are you the best person to write it? An author might feel that a particular country has been wrongly left out of tourist guides. After many visits to the country, you felt that a book outlining its many hidden gems was necessary. You’re qualified to write this book because you love the country, know what to look for when visiting it, and where to see the key attractions.

Describe your research process

If you’re writing a book based on scientific research, your book preface should discuss the research you looked at or conducted when writing it. Did you develop your own tests or experiments? Did you analyze the most recent research? Be sure your potential reader knows that your book is based on solid evidence.

Share the experience

Where did you write your book? Did you face any unusual obstacles while you researched or wrote it? Whether your writing experience was wonderful or hair-raising, share it with the readers. You might say, “This book was written during a long, cold winter in Montana,” or, “I took the first notes for this book while hiding in an air raid shelter.”

Update with new information

If your book deals with an ongoing situation or a perennially relevant subject, there may have been new developments since you wrote it. A book preface is a good way to address these developments, related news events, or other things that may affect the reader’s perceptions of your book. Write a book preface to address them.

Introduce a new edition

If the book is a new edition of a previously published book, use the book preface to explain what has changed since then.

You are well-known in your field

If you have achieved success in your career or industry, you probably have some fans among your readers. They’ll enjoy a look into your thinking about the book and your reasons for writing it.

Tips to Write a Book Preface

How should you approach your book preface? Here are some ideas. Be sure to read the prefaces in books by your favorite authors or by others who have covered the same topic. You’ll get some great ideas for crafting an excellent preface of your own.

1 Give your book purpose

You know what compelled you to write the book. It is now your job to convey that same passion and urgency to someone who’s thinking about reading it. Be sure your preface answers these questions:

  • What moved you to write it?
  • What was your goal in writing it? What purpose do you hope to achieve with it?
  • What makes the subject so important that a new book about it is necessary?
  • Why are you the best person to write this book?

2 Make it personal

An introduction is a formal summary of the book. A foreword leaves the writing to someone else. The preface, on the other hand, is your chance to stand out as an author and expert. Don’t brag about your accomplishments, but be sure to highlight the ones that make you qualified to write this book.

3 Take the reader behind the scenes

Do you enjoy watching “how it was made” documentaries about movies? You can share that same excitement with your readers. Take them behind the scenes, and let them experience what you saw, felt, and went through when writing the book.

4 Give the reader a short preview

Make the preface intriguing by showing readers how it will make their lives better. A self-help book can improve their ability to cope with life. A spiritual book can increase their closeness to their faith. A book that tackles a controversial subject from a fresh perspective will widen their knowledge and challenge their preconceptions.

What will your book give them? Make a promise that they can’t resist, and your potential reader will turn into someone who can’t wait to turn the next page.

5 Keep it brief

Don’t go on at length in your preface. A short length of one or two pages is enough. Most readers who are interested enough to read the book will prefer to jump right to the start.

6 Edit and proofread carefully

When you write a preface, you will likely start with one version that’s too wordy. Cut it down to a manageable size while keeping the main points intact. This will take careful editing, but it’s worth it to write a preface that sells your book to the next reader.

Make a Great First Impression

The right preface can help readers understand your motivations and goals for writing your book. This can make the difference between a potential reader and a new fan. If you want publishing services that always help you make a great impression, contact Publishing Xpress.

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