Last year the New York Times reported that 764,448 books were self-published in 2009—a figure up 181 percent from the previous year. In that same period, 288,355 were published with a traditional house, prompting the Times to declare that “book publishing is simply becoming self-publishing.”
With the majority of authors taking the publishing process into their own hands, writers have to fill in the gaps an editor or production associate would normally be responsible for. Structuring a book appropriately and effectively is one of those essential components. A book that begins with a bang can make the difference between a reader buying the book and putting it back on the shelf. We’re here to help you figure out what, exactly, goes into those crucial beginning pages.
According to the esteemed Chicago Manual of Style, a foreword is “a brief essay of endorsement that is written by someone other than the book’s author.” Your foreword should be written by a professional—preferably a person who is respected and well known in a field relating to your book’s topic. Use the foreword to establish your credibility; readers may not recognize your name, but if they know the author of the foreword, they’ll likely pick up your book. Forewords should only be a few pages in length and you should mention the foreword on the title page or cover to attract readers. Check out our previous post on getting great endorsements for your book; much of the advice also applies to requesting a foreword.
The Preface and Acknowledgments
The preface is where you get personal. In this section, written by the author, you can share why you were compelled to write the book and explain any interesting methods you used to create it. You should also use the preface to further establish your credibility and expertise to readers; show them why you are the perfect person to write the book. Feel free to use the preface to acknowledge the people who helped you along the way. However, if your acknowledgments take up more than a few paragraphs, put them in an entirely separate section labeled “Acknowledgments.”
The BPS Books Blog describes the introduction this way: “If a preface is about the book as a book, the introduction is about the content of the book.” Sum up the book’s theme in the introduction, but be careful not to go overboard. You want to tease the reader without boring them. Note that the introduction should be placed at the beginning of the text and be paginated with Arabic numerals—not lowercase Roman numerals like the preceding front matter. Writing coach Lisa Tener advises writers to “think like your reader” as they compose the introduction. Consider the introductions that have made an impact on you as well as the ones you bypassed. Go from there, and don’t be afraid to write the introduction after you’ve finished the rest of the manuscript.
You might also want to check out Pat McNees’ helpful blog post on the subject of front matter, in which she lists the order the separate sections should appear in. Of course, if you’re publishing a book in digital format only, there is some debate about whether front matter should be included at the beginning at all. DigitalBookWorld.com points out the benefits of moving the title pages, table of contents, and the copyright to the back of the book—namely that in digital previews, the reader will be able to start with the first chapter. Whether at the front or the back, the preface and introduction aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
As you move forward with writing and structuring the book, don’t take the beginning lightly. In a world where people have hundreds of thousands of books at their fingertips 24/7, a well-written, intriguing introduction, foreword, or preface can have an important impact on the reader.