Book Writing

How to Write a Preface for a Book & Why It’s Important

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So, you want to know how to write a preface for a book? You’ve come to the right place! This post will walk you through:

  • the process of how to write a preface  
  • what makes a good preface
  • how to catch a reader’s attention

We’ll even throw in some writing tips along the way. Ready to learn how to write a preface for a book? Let’s go!

The purpose of a preface

A preface is found at the beginning of a book and is always written by the author. It’s a great way to introduce your story. It might include the inspiration behind the novel, an event that triggered it, or an explanation of the setting. A preface is an important factor in how to catch a reader’s attention.

Keep in mind, there is a difference between preface and foreword. A preface is written by you; a foreword is written by a third party. 

What makes a good preface?

M. M. Kaye was a well-traveled 20th-century British writer who knew how to write a preface for a book. Kaye, who wrote a series of mysteries, began each title with Death In… then added the name of an interesting location (Kashmir, Cyprus, Berlin, etc). What does that have to do with you? Her prefaces, dear reader.

M. M. Kaye knew how to write a preface that would stop even the most avid mystery lover from skipping forward to the first chapter. In one preface, she informed the readers she knew the day she had met her husband since this mystery’s writing was interrupted that day and not picked up again until several years, and countries, later. In another preface, she explained how a tropical stormy Christmas in the Andamans, a vivid nightmare, and a lively conversation over cocktails with a school friend were the foundation for the mystery. Intrigued?  So was this mystery lover, who will continue reading every preface by M. M. Kaye before diving into her mysteries. Not only do M. M. Kaye’s prefaces introduce her work, they build anticipation and appreciation for her stories as well.

A good preface will take a reader from simply curious to interested in diving deeper – 

Which leads to a practical question…

How to write a preface for a book?

Ready to get started? You’re going to need to brainstorm for this, so grab a sheet of paper.

Think about the preface as a letter to your readers. What do you think they need to know to appreciate your story? Is there something personal you’d like to share? 

Not sure if you know these answers? Take a moment and think back to how you write or talk about your book. What are common things you think or expect your readers to understand? Was it inspired by an event in your life or your family’s history?

Do you have some ideas now? Wonderful! As you get ready to start writing, here’s another nugget of advice: keep it simple. 

A preface is like a piece of garnish on a dinner plate.  It’s not something to be enjoyed alone, but it makes the dish all the more pleasing since it’s there.  

Think of it this way: have you ever gotten a book from a friend, with a handwritten sticky note on the cover, telling you why you should read it? This is your chance to write a sticky note for your readers! 

Still uncertain what to say? Talk to your friends and beta readers. Does anything in your story prompt them to ask questions about you or the why behind the story? Here’s a chance to answer those questions.

On that same note, make it personal.

Did something prompt this story? Whether it was a triumph, or a tragedy, a dream, or a season in life, you can let the reader in behind the curtains. Show them around and explain your motivations. Was this story inspired by your grandmother’s childhood? Tell them! They’ll enjoy your novel all the more knowing it has a personal backstory.

Lastly, be thorough.

Sure, Your preface should be simple and only a page or two, three at the very most. BUT giving your readers proper context is key. Remember when you learned about the 5 Ws (who/what/when/where/why) in elementary school? Your readers are going to ask the same questions, so try to anticipate them.

Have you written a draft of your premise by now? Hooray! Take some time to celebrate, and then pick up your pen again.

It’s time to revise. Read your preface aloud. Do any sentences sound confusing? Any words or places that stick out and make you frown a little? Change a word or two. Add some clarification. Cut out any fluff. Bring in a friend to be a ruthless editor and another friend to lend a more thoughtful eye. Ask for their advice. This is your preface but getting an outsider’s perspective can be invaluable. 

Okay, you’ve completed  the writing and the revisions, and now you’re DONE. Good job!!! 

Don’t forget about writing a good first chapter

You know how to write a preface for a book, but the preface is just the beginning! Do you want to know how to sell more books? You need to follow up your premise with a good first chapter, one that will keep your readers engaged and wanting more.

Here are some writing tips: 

Catch your readers’ interest. Does your first sentence draw readers in? Is it compelling? Is your opening scene interesting enough to get a reader’s attention hooked?  

Once you’ve done that…

Keep the story moving. It can be tempting to slow down once you’ve gotten off to a good start, to explain all the characters’ back stories and motivations. But, just like real life, your story should keep moving. Let your readers get to know your characters bit by bit. After all, you’ve caught their interest — don’t lose it now! Last but not least…

Remember the setting. Don’t just announce the setting and then forget it as you move through the story.  While a setting shouldn’t overwhelm your readers, it should be visible in the background. Bring in glimpses of surroundings: Looks, smells, feels, tastes —all of these details will build your readers’ appreciation for your story because it sparks the imagination and creates more than a 2-dimensional chapter.    

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    Once your first chapter and all the following chapters are complete, we’re here to help with 5 Essential Book Manuscript Editing Strategies for Authors.  


    Well done! Now, you know how to write a preface for a book. From knowing what a preface is, to what makes a good preface, not to mention working through the practical writing steps, you have the writing tips and tricks you need to write an amazing preface. Or maybe you’ve finished your preface already. Either way, great work! All you have to do is sit back and watch as your readership pile up.

    Hayley Schoeppler

    A lover of books, coffee, and most of all the gospel, Hayley comes from the Midwest. When she's not reading, she's often hunting for a pen or scrap of paper to write down a new idea.