How to Write a Preface for a Book
  • 5-minute read
  • 27th October 2021

How to Write a Preface for a Book

A preface explains the writing of a book in the author’s own words. Typically, it will include how the book was conceived, researched and written, the author’s credentials, and any changes made to updated versions of the book. 

But how do you write a preface? In this post, we cover the following tips:

  1. Use your preface to share the book’s origin story.
  2. If relevant, explain your credentials for writing the book.
  3. Make it compelling so you can grab the reader’s attention.
  4. Keep it concise (ideally, no more than a page or two).
  5. Edit and proofread your preface to make sure it is error free.

We’ll explain all of the above aspects of writing a preface in more detail below. First, though, we’ll look at whether and when a book needs a preface.

Does Your Book Need a Preface?

Not all books need a preface. They are most commonly found in non-fiction and academic writing, but they may occasionally be encountered in fiction, too.

So, how do you know if your book needs a preface?

The purpose of a preface is to prime the reader for what follows. For example, in the case of historical fiction, the writer may provide historical detail in the preface to explain the context of the fictional work. In an academic book, meanwhile, the writer may explain the background of their research.

The key question, then, is whether there is something you need to share with the reader before they start reading the main text. Will knowing the story of how and why you wrote it add something to the reading experience? Is there information that readers will need to know to make sense of the book overall? If so, a preface is a great place to include this kind of material. If not, you’re probably fine without one!

If you do decide to write a preface for your book, though, you’ll want to make sure you get it right! And that’s where the following five top tips can come in handy.

1. Share Your Book’s Origin Story

One approach to writing a preface is to explain the background of the book: 

  • Who or what inspired you to write it? 
  • How did you assemble the story (e.g., what research methods, historical context, and personal, noteworthy experiences contributed to the book)? 
  • What were the challenges of writing it? 
  • What is the main purpose of the book? 
  • And what, if any, changes have been made to updated versions of the book? 

You may also want to acknowledge others who have helped you in your book’s creation, although this is usually handled in a separate acknowledgments section.

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2. Justify Your Role as Author

Another way to use a preface is to explain your credentials for writing the book. This can be especially useful in academic writing and other forms of non-fiction.

If you decide to do this, highlight any relevant qualifications or experience you have. You can also explain why you care about the subject. Letting your enthusiasm shine through at this early stage is also a helpful way of engaging your readers.

3. Make It Compelling

Speaking of engaging readers, a good preface should be compelling enough to grab people’s attention and make them want to keep reading.

One way to do this is to tease what is yet to come, sharing a few interesting details or insights that will pique the reader’s curiosity. For example, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain describes how he tried to create a dialect for each character based on where they were from. Meanwhile, in the preface to Churchill’s Wizards: The British Genius for Deception, 1914–1945, Nicholas Rankin devotes a section to Churchill’s eclectic choice of headgear. 

4. Keep It Concise

Typically, a good preface should be no more than one to two pages, covering only the essential points you want the reader to know before they start reading.

Planning is key here. Think about how much the reader really needs to know. If something isn’t essential or especially compelling, cut it. Likewise, try to write concisely (though don’t vary your authorial voice too much to achieve this).

5. Edit and Proofread Your Preface

The preface might be the last part of your book that you write, as it is usually easier to sum up the writing process, etc., once you have a strong draft of the rest of your manuscript ready. But this doesn’t mean it warrants any less attention!

Once you have a first draft of your premise, then, set it aside for a day or two, then come back to it with fresh eyes. You can then tweak or refine it as required. And it’s always a good idea to ask for feedback on your preface at this point.

Finally, remember to proofread your preface. And to find out how Proofed can help with this process, you can submit a trial document for proofreading today.

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