A foreword is a short section at the front of a book, usually written by someone other than the book’s author. The writer of the foreword is often someone well-known or eminent in the field. This section acts as an introduction and potentially a bit of marketing for the book. A preface is similar, but usually written by the book’s author.
As a subject matter expert, you might well be asked to write a foreword or preface to a book or white paper, but what are the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’? Here are eight ways to ensure you write a good foreword or preface.
The foreword should discuss your connection to the book and/or the author
The foreword is not necessarily about the contents of the book. Instead, it is more usually a personal note from a friend, colleague, mentor or admirer of the author, explaining how they are connected, and why they have been asked to write the foreword. Similarly, a preface is a personal note from the author, often explaining how the book came to be written, and why it matters to them.
The foreword explains why the author or authors are uniquely qualified to write this book
Along with your connection to the book or author, you also need to explain why you believe the author was absolutely the best person to write this book. This gives you a chance to discuss their qualifications and their experience, and anything unique about those. If you are not sure that this really applies, then it is best to discuss why the material is valuable instead.
The next step is to explain why the reader should read the book
Forewords and prefaces should ideally make the reader want to read on: they should ‘hook’ them in. You therefore need to use the foreword to explain why the book matters. You can say why it matters to you, but you should also explain why it will matter to other people: to new readers. What will they get from the experience?
You should use your own voice, but in a style that is consistent with the book
This isn’t actually as contradictory as it sounds! You have been asked to write the foreword as yourself, so you do not need to try to write it as if you were the book’s author. It should be obvious that someone different has written the foreword. However, what you write should not ‘jar’ with the book. For example, if the book is serious, then your foreword should also be serious. If it is a more light-hearted look at a particular topic, then you can afford a few jokes.
Keep it short and to the point
A foreword or preface is not an essential part of any book. It stands alone—and so does the book. If you want your wise words to be read, keep it short. Most readers will happily read a page, or even two. More than that, and they might easily skip over your carefully-crafted (but overlong) content, and go straight to the heart of the matter: the book itself. Keep it short and focused.
Consider starting with a personal story
We have said it before, and will doubtless say it again: stories draw people in. Starting your foreword with a story about the author, such as how you met, or your connection to the material, can therefore be a good way to make people want to read on. However, the story does need to be interesting, and also fit with the content of the book, or it will be off-putting instead of attractive.
Sign off your preface or foreword
You can think of a preface or foreword as a personal note from you to the reader. Like a letter, therefore, it is usual to sign it off. A short line at the end to wish the reader ‘happy reading’, and a signature, are both normal. The date and place where you wrote the section writing are also often included.
Always remember that the foreword is a marketing tool for the book
As a subject matter expert, you may well have more ‘clout’ in the field than the book’s author. Indeed, that is often why people are asked to write forewords: to show that the book is worth reading. In some cases, the writer of the foreword gets a higher ‘billing’ than the author. It is worth keeping this in mind as you write, to ensure that you deliver what is required.