How to Write a Book Preface (with Examples & Templates)
Picture this scene: You have finally finished writing your book and have just revised the manuscript. Before you send it to an editor, you want to make sure that your manuscript has a personal touch or a special message you want to convey to your future readers.
While searching for ways to do that, you might open some books and find that they contain a preface right at the beginning. So you start asking yourself: What is a preface exactly, why do authors add one in their books, and should you be adding one yourself?
Well, we are going to answer all your questions in this article, where we will discuss the definition of a preface, its uses, and how to write a great one.
What Is a Book Preface?
A preface is part of the front matter of the book, which is the pages that come before the first chapter and is intended to address the readers directly. It is written by the author and describes their thought process as they write the book, how they research the topics or the goals they want to achieve through the book.
Preface, Introduction, Foreword, and Prologue: What’s the Difference?
While they all come before the main body of the book, there are many differences between them. Here is what each of them stands for:
- Preface: The preface is written by the author and describes the main goals of the book or how it was created.
- Foreword: A foreword is written by another party, usually a subject-matter expert, and gives credibility to the author as well as the contents of the book.
- Prologue: Found only in some fiction books, the prologue offers a backstory to the main events of a novel or reveals a scene that happened before these events.
- Introduction: Used mostly in non-fiction books, an introduction talks briefly about the main topics of the book with the goal of getting readers curious and shaping their expectations.
Why Should You Write a Preface for Your Book?
While a preface can be a good addition to your book, you need to think carefully about whether or not you truly need one. In most cases, a prologue (for fiction books) and a foreword or an introduction (for non-fiction books) can be enough. However, it depends on your content and how well-known your work is among readers.
When to Write a Preface
There are many reasons for writing a preface for your book. For some authors, the idea of enriching the information in their book is a good enough reason; for others, they want to share moments from their writing process that readers might benefit from reading. A preface can work out well for you when:
- You are creating a new edition of a published book: If you’re updating your book for a specific reason, you can write about it in the preface. You can share how you revised certain parts, or talk about valuable moments or memories of your writing, editing, or publishing process.
- You have a good reputation as an author: The more well-known you are as an author, the more likely readers will want to learn more about how or why you wrote the book.
- You used certain research methods in writing the book: If you’re publishing in the academic or scientific fields, your research methods, assumptions, and variables can be explained in the preface rather than the introduction.
When Not to Write a Preface
While you might find the above reasons convincing enough, you must know that not every book needs a preface. Here is when you don’t have to write one:
- If the book is a work of fiction (with exceptions): Most fiction books don’t need a preface; some don’t even have prologues as no plot points happen before the first chapter.
- If the introduction is enough (in non-fiction books): Many authors are content with just writing an introduction in the front matter of non-fiction books. This is because the subject of the book only needs an introduction and not additional knowledge of why the topics are valuable to learn.
- If you are publishing a book for the first time: Finally, most first-time authors are still building an audience; so readers might not be interested in the preface and may want to jump to the first chapter instead.
How to Write a Book Preface
So far, we’ve covered what a preface is and what makes it different from the other parts of the front matter, but how do you actually write one? While there are no rules set in stone, there are many simple yet effective ways you can follow to improve your preface.
You should keep a look out for the following:
- Tone of voice: In many cases, this is your chance to talk to readers directly and convey your goals to them clearly and impactfully.
- Length: The best length for a preface is 1–2 pages; this way it is long enough for you to get your point across, but short enough to keep readers engaged without boring them.
- Information: In the case of non-fiction books, never include key information that isn’t present in any other part of your book. Otherwise, your readers will be missing out on key information if they happen not to read your preface.
What to Include in a Preface
As for what you can actually write about in a preface, you can skim through this list for ideas:
- The book’s origin: How did you first come up with the idea of the book? Why did you decide to write it?
- The book’s purpose: What is the main goal you want to achieve through your book?
- Why you are qualified to write it: Do you have any hands-on experience in any of the fields or matters explained in the book?
- Your writing process: How did you write the book? Did you follow a certain routine? Is there a special memory of writing it that you want to share with your readers?
- The importance of the book’s topics: Why is the subject of your book relevant to the readers? What does it contribute to your field?
- Your passion: What do you love most about the book, its ideas, and the writing process? What drives you to care about this subject?
- Signature: While this is largely optional, you can sign off your preface with the date and location at which you wrote it.
Book Preface Templates
Now that you know the basic guidelines of how to write a preface, you can try writing one yourself. There are no set templates out there for authors to follow, but there are plenty of great examples to look at and a number of topics you might consider essential to your book’s preface.
To help you with the writing process of the book preface, we’ve created two templates, one for fiction books and one for non-fiction.
Non-Fiction Preface Template
Introduce yourself and state your credentials to add credibility. Talk to the reader directly using a conversational but informative tone. If you will be talking about personal experiences in the book, your tone can be more informal and emotional.
Talk about the basic ideas or the topics that the book discusses. Don’t add too much detail, especially if you’re also writing an introduction. If you’ve done fieldwork, collected data from surveys, or performed a meta-analysis of several studies, you can mention it here.
Try to sell your idea to the reader; what will they gain from reading your book? You can list the reasons why this book is important to read or study.
If you want, you can include what inspired you to write this book, how the ideas came to you, and how you translated them into words on the page. Was there a specific moment you remember most out of your time writing the book? Talk about it; explain your emotions and thoughts, but make it relevant to the book.
Optionally, you can end the preface by wishing the reader well and signing off with your name and the date you wrote all of the above.
Fiction Preface Template
Start by greeting your readers; your tone here can be something between conversational and emotional. Introduce yourself and the piece of information you want to explain in the preface.
Give snippets of your thoughts while writing the book and what inspired you to incorporate, for example, more complex worldbuilding or magic systems, etc. If there are several bits of lore you want to discuss, go through them in a systematic order.
Talk about how you did your research for the book and write about its significance. Then you can tie everything back to the book by linking the supplemental information with the fictional world of your story.
Write your name and the date of writing; you can add your location as well if it’s relevant.
Book Preface Examples
In practice, most authors who write prefaces tend to be more creative with them. To see it in action, you can read through the following examples of authors using the prefaces of their books to convey ideas to their readers:
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Though Wilde’s writing in his preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray doesn’t quite align with our templates above, it’s still food for thought. In it, he writes about the idea of art and how humans interpret it. Though Wilde does not outright describe his feelings on art, they are made clear through his wording, as seen in lines like, “We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.” His philosophy takes some level of thought to understand, and so does art.
Everybody’s Book of English Wit and Humour by Walter H. Howe
This is an example of a preface written in the second edition of a book. W. H. Howe first explains the book’s purpose, then he talks about a moment that he claims was “too good to be lost.” As a result, the preface adds to the reading experience by providing an anecdote that readers may enjoy.
Frontiers in Clinical Drug Research – Dementia (edited by Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman)
Since this is a medical publication, the preface gives brief details about the contents of each chapter followed by giving thanks to the co-writers of the book and the directors overseeing the research process. This piece is short, concise, and informative to demonstrate what readers can expect to learn in the book.
Not every book needs a preface. What makes it relevant to your book is what it adds to the reading experience. Does your preface shed light on interesting parts of your writing process? Does it justify the data you have presented in your research? Whether or not you have something extra to share with readers through the preface is up to you.
On a final note, don’t be scared of writing a preface just because some people don’t! This is your book and your hard work. Writing a preface for your book is largely your decision since it’s optional and not a requirement. With that said, try it out; maybe your book does need that cherry on top after all!