So you decided to write a book. You have a story to tell and you sat down at your computer to start typing. The blank screen is staring at you. You stare back, unsure of which part of your story you should tell first. Or you want to dive right in; introduce the characters and maybe build up tension to get to the plot. Perhaps you begin with the title Introduction and start at the beginning of your story. Then you realize you need to supply the reader with some background information. You type Background, and you almost treat those like chapters one and two of your book.

Both of those chapters are not needed. As a matter of fact, the introduction you were about to treat as its own chapter can be embedded in your main text, and many books don’t even need one at all. Additionally, it’s not even the very first part of every book – there are forewords and prefaces to find in many manuscripts before the author even gets to the introduction. And – surprise! – many manuscripts don’t need those other two parts either.

Section Chronology

If you are thoroughly confused by now, do not worry. Many authors are unsure of exactly what a foreword, a preface, and an introduction are, even if it is not their first manuscript. Oftentimes, they assume they need one or all three of these to make their manuscript amazing.

The truth is: Sometimes, they do and other times, not even one of them is necessary.

To break down these three first parts of a manuscript, here they are, in order of appearance:

  1. The Foreword
  2. The Preface
  3. The Introduction

Quick Definitions

The Foreword is the first part of the manuscript, if there is a need for one. It is written by someone other than the author and does one or both of two things:

If needed, it establishes credibility for the author and supplies background information. (Now you know why you do not need a chapter titled ‘Background’.)

The Preface is the second part of the manuscript – after the Foreword and before the Introduction. This section is written by the author and generally gives the reader an idea why the book was written and what the reader will take away from it.

The third part of the manuscript, and actually the very beginning of the main text, is the Introduction. Like the Preface, the Introduction is written by the author, and it is only essential for non-fiction books.

The Foreword

How do you know if your book needs any or all of these three sections? Well, as stated above, the Foreword establishes credibility for the author, which is why someone other than the author writes the Foreword, and gives the reader essential background information for context. Unlike the Introduction, the Foreword is a stand-alone section, which comes before the main text of the manuscript.

Do you need one? You probably don’t, unless your manuscript is non-fiction and you are not already recognized as an expert in your field. If you do think a Foreword is integral to your book, it adds the most value if it is written by someone who is already established as a credible source in the subject matter. This creates a sense of trust in your potential readers.

Your manuscript will more likely be read by others, if a well-known personality said some nice things about you and your work in the Foreword. Because a good Foreword puts you and your work in the best light, it is not a small favor to ask. If you have a personal connection to a well-known expert in your field, go for it! But if you don’t find anyone you could ask to write your Foreword, just make your manuscript an excellent stand-alone piece, where your own expertise jumps off every page, and you won’t need a Foreword!

The Preface

If the Foreword served as one last sales pitch for the author from another source, the Preface can be one last sales pitch from the author himself. It is the author’s chance to establish a connection with the reader in a stand-alone section, before diving into the main body of the text. Why this book was written in the first place, why one should read it, and what one can expect to take away from it.

But do you need it? Depends on your type of manuscript, though you probably don’t. While a well-written preface can certainly help catch a reader’s attention and entice the reader to continue on, the author can just as easily open with a hook and not worry about writing an extra piece before diving into the story. Hence, a preface is rarely found in anything but biographies. If your book needs extra material, an afterword is more commonly used for that.

The Introduction

Just like with the preface, the introduction is written by the author and is – in many cases – not a critical piece of your manuscript. Unless you are writing a non-fiction book. Then an introduction becomes indispensable. Why is that? Take, for instance, a science-backed book, detailing the 20 ways to grow a bonsai tree. In your introduction, you will want to establish an emotional connection with potential readers and draw them into reading your book. Without that emotional connection, they are less likely to choose your book over the 31 other bonsai-growing help books Amazon offers on just the first two pages of my search. The introduction should convey that you

  1. Are a credible, trusted source on the information you are going to provide, who won’t waste the reader’s time and
  2. Have unique, or at least, really valuable information or ideas on the topic.

After the introduction, your potential reader will know whether your book is worth reading and, if it’s a well-written introduction, excitedly add your bonsai book to the shopping cart, over any of the other 31 bonsai books. Your well-written introduction:

  • Provided the hook for the reader
  • Reminded him of the current pain of not being able to grow the perfect bonsai tree
  • Painted for him a picture of the pleasurable experience of growing the perfect tree
  • Conveyed key points of what the reader will learn from you
  • Introduced yourself, and set up the call to action, which made the reader get out his credit card

Need help determining which other sections can enhance, or are even needed for, you book?  Contact our publishing company in St. Louis today to schedule a free book consultation.