Many authors of non-fiction books get trumped up starting their book because they can’t decide which they need—a foreword, a preface, a prologue, or an introduction–or may it’s some combination of these? Here’s the difference.
Foreword – First of all, be sure to spell this correctly. DO NOT SPELL IT as “forward,” or “Foreward.” THOSE ARE INCORRECT SPELLINGS OF THIS WORD. The CORRECT SPELLING IS FOREWORD, as in “before the word.” Furthermore, to clarify what this is, a Foreword is a short introduction to your book written by a 3rd party, such as a well-known celebrity or another author in your field. A Foreword basically is a credible opinion from someone else that your book is worthy of reading. When do you need a Foreword? When you are unknown in the business and you want to show your readers that someone with knowledge and experience endorses your book.
Preface – A preface is written by the author of the book – YOU. The goal of the Preface is to acquaint readers with any interesting background about the book before they jump into it. It often contains an explanation of how you, as author, came to write the book, such as your growing concern about an issue, or a personal incident that happened to you. It often also includes a section on who the book is for, and how to use the book if you want your readers to be aware of any specific recommendations. Some authors, for instance, tell readers which sections are most useful to various circumstances, or to read the book twice, or to go get a journal to write in while reading the book. Be aware that one rule of thumb is, you can’t assume that your readers will read your preface. So don’t get into any significant content issues in your preface. Assume readers may have skipped it.
Introduction – An introduction to a book is often used to take the place of a Preface, precisely because we know that many readers skip the Preface. By labeling nearly the same content an Introduction, it leads readers to believe they should read it. So basically, an Introduction serves the same purpose as a Preface, but just relabeling it makes it seem more pertinent and required reading. However, another difference is that an Introduction can begin to get into the actual content of your book. For instance, you might begin discussing the thesis of your book and the challenges we face in getting solutions for it. In this way, the Introduction serves to open up Chapter 1.
Prologue — A prologue is similar to an Introduction, and in my view it is really exactly the same. The difference is simply that if you write a Prologue, it makes sense to also write an Epilogue, while with an Introduction you don’t expect any type of closing to the book other than the last chapter. Prologues and Epilogues go together like book ends. So if you think your book could use some type of short ending beyond your last chapter, covering final thoughts on the topic or perhaps a glance into the future of your topic, you therefore want an Epilogue. And if you want an Epilogue, you want a Prologue rather than an Introduction.
I hope these explanations help you get your book started. I’ve worked with many authors who simply get stuck because they are so confused about what to write to open their book. Now you know. Stay tuned for my next blog, “Printed book, e-book, or both?”