How to Write a Preface and a Foreword
Tips for writing an attention grabbing preface or foreword
Are you thinking about writing a preface for your book or have you been asked to write a foreword? A preface is a brief introduction written by the author, as opposed to a foreword, which is an introduction written by another person that usually comes before the preface.
If you’re writing a foreword, congratulations! Generally, it’s because you’ve accomplished something, you are already published, and your name is well known. Your purpose is to introduce an author/work to the world, which can be accomplished in a variety of ways. You could, for example, write about a chapter in the book, the book as a whole (assuming you’ve read it!), or the author’s work in general. If you know the author personally, talk about this relationship; if you don’t, you could discuss how the author’s work has affected your life or the importance of the work you’re introducing. If you are writing a foreword for a new edition of a book, it’s common to talk about what’s different in the current edition. If you’re lucky enough to be writing a foreword for a re-released classic, you could discuss the historical impact of the book. Overall, there are no hard and fast rules about forewords, so there’s room to be creative and have fun!
On the other hand, if you’re writing a preface, it’s for your own book. A preface, which is included in the front matter of a book, is your chance to speak directly to your readers about why you wrote the book, what it’s about, and why it’s important. Many books don’t require one, especially works of fiction, but if you’re wondering how to write a preface, here’s an overview.
As it is an introduction to a book, a preface should include information about the book. Consider including a few or all of the following ideas:
- Discuss how the book came about. Why did you write it? Why did you choose the particular subject? What was your motivation? You could also discuss what your inspiration was (especially if it is a work of fiction).
- Give a brief description of the book, the main characters, or themes. Give just enough to get the reader interested in reading more; don’t give anything away.
- State the purpose of the book, especially if the work is non-fiction. For example, if your book is intended to educate the reader about famous African scientists in the 20th century, you may want to state this in the preface. You could also describe what the reader can hope to learn by reading the book.
- Describe the journey of writing the book—what you learned, how you felt, and any insights into real life situations gained through the writing. You may also want to include how you’ve changed as an author or as a person during the process.
- Talk about any problems that came up during the writing and how you dealt with these trials and tribulations.
- If it is a non-fiction book, discuss your research process. Talk about your sources. Why are they unique? Why is this particular biography of Nixon, for example, special compared to others?
- Include acknowledgements. Thank the people who were instrumental in the writing of your book. Depending on the level of formality of the writing, these could range from colleagues to editors to family members.
- Talk about how long it took you to write the book, if it’s relevant. For example, if you’ve been researching Nixon and writing the book for 10 years, you may want to mention this fact to give the reader an idea of the thought and effort you put into the project.
- Include any suggestions about how to read the book if there is a special structure.
Remember to keep it short! You don’t want the preface to drag on and on. A good rule is to try to keep it to one page, two at maximum, and be sure it is free of spelling and grammatical errors. If you want someone to have a look at your preface, our book editors would be more than willing to help.