Tips on Writing an Effective Preface to Your Book

Tips on Writing an Effective Preface to Your Book

If you’re writing a book, or have finished writing one, the editing phase demands attention as including a preface in your book is of utmost importance. A preface comes before the main text in a book. Its purpose is largely introductory. As an author, writing a preface will help you draw readers in by offering information about your experience and inspiration while writing the book. In addition to this, you can outline the writing process, the purpose of the story and why you are qualified to write on the chosen subject.

In a nutshell, a preface reveals your motives for telling a particular story or theorizing on a chosen subject. Traditionally, a preface was termed as an apologia, in which the writer explains or defends the reasons why the book must exist. The following blog will guide you in the process of writing an effective preface for your book.

Know the difference between a preface, a prologue and a foreword

To begin with, it is important to distinguish between a preface, a prologue and a foreword, all three of which are often featured as a book’s introductory section. Owing to their close proximity, one is often confused with the other.

  • A preface is a section written by the author, about the book. It is generally seen as a distinctive section, separate from the body of the book. Prefaces are most commonly featured in non-fiction books.
  • A prologue is written from the perspective of a character in the book and is generally considered as a part of it. It is a literary device that offers information on the characters before the story begins. Prologues are most common in fiction.
  • A foreword is written by someone other than the author. Seen as separate from the body, it is usually written by an expert in the field, whose writing adds credibility to the subject of the book.

Keep it concise to sustain the reader’s attention

Since the preface allows the writer to talk about the origin of the story, it is important not to spend too many paragraphs on the same, as readers may perceive it as self-absorption. Keeping it short will convey the intentions behind the book constructively. Limiting it to one or two pages is the key. Jon Krakauer’s biography Into the Wild features a preface in the form of a quick two-page essay. It conveys how he came to write about the topic and how his coverage of the late Chris McCandless’ disappearance and death was received by his friends and family.

Reveal why the book matters

The preface gives the writer a chance to show how their book is significant. The reader gets a brief insight into the writer’s mind while the book was being written. It allows the reader to understand what makes the book an important read. Thus, while writing the preface, you must include the following three essential points-

  • What you’ve written
  • How you wrote it, and
  • Why it’s important for others to read

Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren, in the preface to their 1940 title How to Read a Book, explain why they chose to write on such an apparent subject. They write that with the increasing popularity of television, the youth has forgotten the art of reading. This remains a pertinent educational issue even today. Thus, the purpose behind their book is made clear- they want to show young readers how to rekindle their interest in books and how to read them productively.

Be careful not to reveal everything

While the preface gives the writer a chance to demonstrate the book’s significance, it is important to limit what is revealed in this section.  The key is to offer a glimpse of what is within, while not revealing the content present in the body of the book. This is especially important to keep in mind if you’re writing fiction. Be careful not to reveal aspects of the storyline, characters or themes that will become obvious to the reader through the course of the story. It must compel the reader and keep the curiosity intact without giving away anything that is important to the development of the story. Often, a preface is used by the writer to write about events preceding the story or those following it. 

Add a personal touch

This is especially important if you’re writing a memoir or an autobiography. Most readers are interested in knowing why the writer cares about the chosen subject matter. By revealing your authentic self, you can show them your passion for the book you’ve written. As the writer, you can demonstrate why you invested time and energy into its creation. Address the readers directly in the preface and maintain an informal tone. This can help you establish a connection between yourself and the reader. For example, if you are writing a memoir, you could mention in the preface how you’re writing this book with the intention to help readers by sharing your experiences.

Writing a preface is an effective means to communicate directly with your readers. It gives you a chance to establish the credibility of your work. By revealing your motives for writing the book, you can very empathetically build trust in your readers. Keep in mind that the preface is one of the first things that a reader will come across when they open your book. So, keep this section concise, informative and engaging to draw them in and make them look forward to reading the rest of your book.

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