Prologue, Introduction, Preface, or Foreword: Which Is Right for You?

by Kellie McGann | 7 comments

I’m currently working on my fifth nonfiction book and starting is always the hardest part. There are just so many options. Should I write a preface? A prologue? An introduction? Should I find someone to write a foreword? Should I just start at chapter one?

Prologue, Introduction, Preface, or Foreword: Which is Right for You?

If you’ve ever found yourself asking these questions, you’re not alone! And you’re in luck! I’ve asked these questions too and found some answers.

Let’s talk about the difference between each these and figure out which is best for you.

Introduction

An introduction is used to (surprise) introduce the topic of the book.

The most important part of the introduction is the why. It’s in this section that the author (you) explains why you wrote this book, why this story needs to be told, and why you were the right person to tell it.

For example, if I were writing a book about why everyone should drink only black coffee, I would use the introduction to briefly explain how important my argument was and why I was the person to tell you about it. I might even tell you a story about how I drank coffee that had sugar in it one time and it ruined my life. (Don't worry; this didn’t actually happen.)

In my opinion, the perfect introduction length is anywhere between 1,200 and 2,200 words. You want to keep it brief but long enough to justify a completely separate chapter.

Introductions are best for nonfiction books that have deep subject matter and may need more explanation to prepare the reader with all the information they need to understand the full story.

Preface

A preface may look similar to an introduction, but the goals of the two are very different. The main goal of the preface is to tell the reader any and all information that precedes the facts and events of the book.

A preface is perfect for explaining to the reader how you came to write the book, how long you’ve been working on it, what the reader can expect, etc.

Here’s the thing with a preface, though: most readers don’t read them. (What?!) I know, I’m sorry, but it’s true.

That being said, don’t put any extremely critical information in the preface.

Write a preface if you have interesting insight and information to share with your readers that's important to the background of the story.

P.S. My favorite thing about a preface is that you get to sign it, put the date, and even the location you wrote it if you’d like.

Prologue

This one is for all you fiction writers. (Okay, nonfiction writers can use this one too, but this is the only one on this list that really applies to fiction, so shoutout to them.)

The prologue almost always reads like a story. In fact, it should be a story. The reason that you would include a story in the prologue instead of in the book is because the story doesn’t align with the timeframe that the rest of the book is in. While the story won’t fit in the time frame, it is important that the problem and main theme of the book be addressed in the prologue.

What I love about prologues are the last few sentences. Generally, the last few sentences in a prologue switch from storytelling to addressing the specific problem and at times even directly addressing the reader.

One of my favorite examples of this is from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Angelou finishes telling the story and the tone slightly shifts as she writes:

“If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.”

Prologues are best for novels and works of fiction. They are incredible ways to prepare the reader for the message in the book through a beautiful narrative.

Foreword

This is the only option on this list that isn’t written by you, the author. A foreword is generally written by a more well-known and respected figure. The writer of the foreword will generally have background or relevant experience with the topic of the book.

Forewords can be incredible ways to gain more authority for your book. I know I’ve picked up a book just because of the “Foreward by” line. Have you?

Forewords can be found in pieces of literature as well as nonfiction works, but that is much less common.

A foreword will most likely explain the relationship between the writer of the foreword and the author of the book share and how this book affected the foreword writer.

What will you write?

Now you have no excuse to put off writing your book any longer! Hopefully, one of these resonated with the work you are writing.

If not, know that you can skip all of these these altogether and head straight to chapter one.

Either way, start writing, now!

Have you ever used an introduction, preface, prologue, or forward? How did it strengthen your book? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Which one will you write? Let us know which one you pick and why you picked it in the comments below! Then, spend fifteen minutes working on the your Introduction, Preface, or Prologue.

When you're done, share it in the comments below. Don't forget to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

Kellie McGann is the founder of Write a Better Book . She partners with leaders to help tell their stories in book form.

On the weekends, she writes poetry and prose.

She contributes to The Write Practice every other Wednesday.

7 Comments

  1. Ellie

    Hi Kellie! Great post!

    I’ve received a lot of advice not to include a prologue if you’re a first time novelist pitching your book. Thoughts on when to include vs. not include?

    Reply
  2. Azure Darkness Yugi

    I prefer to use Prologue as I mostly focus on fiction.

    Reply
  3. Nana

    Cool post!
    I´ve never published a book (yet) but I would start with chapter one.
    To be honest, I always skip preface, prologue, introduction and everything…

    Reply
  4. Cecelia Harrell

    Writing an essay is quite easy if you have read custom essay writing service org reviews to know much about them. If i say how they work then it will be positive point that they first research your topic and then add valuable facts to it to make it quite interesting.

    Reply
  5. Kai

    good post. writing an essay can be easy if you put the detail and effort in it.If I had to choose I prefer to use prologue as I focus on fiction but, I will start on chapter one.

    Reply
  6. Linda Jay

    Good information, Kellie, but…as a book manuscript copyeditor with decades
    of experience, I must point out the frequent misspelling of “foreword” in this
    article.

    Reply
  7. spellingbee

    Just a suggestion: you may want to spellcheck your articles before hitting “publish” in order to maintain your credibility (especially for writers). As it stands now, three variants for one word appear in the text and picture: foreword, forward, and foreward. I think you know which one is correct 🙂

    Reply

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