Your book is complete. You’ve finished the final chapter, poured yourself a cup of coffee (or something stronger), and closed down your laptop with a satisfied sigh.
But maybe there’s something missing. When you read other people’s books they often have a ‘Foreword’ at the beginning. Does yours need one, too?
In case you’re wondering, a foreword is an introduction to your book. It comes before your first chapter and is written by someone who admires your work. It sets the scene, ‘bigging up’ your book for your readers before they dive in.
Think of it as a more in-depth and thoughtful version of the introduction that a compere gives to the next comedian to come on stage: ‘He was one of the first acts to dominate the northern circuit with his breakthrough performance, “Shakespeare in Mime”. He’s mentored countless new comedians, all of whom are now funnier than him. And he’s come all the way from the job centre especially for tonight’s performance. Put your hands together for… Johnny Comedy!!!!’
I exaggerate, of course. But this does reflect what a good foreword does: it primes your readers to be enthusiastic about the book they’re about to read, and to trust what you have to say.
What’s more, your foreword writer’s name can appear in your book’s bibliographic data, which means that anyone searching for their name might also stumble across your book. That’s great news for you if they’re a genuinely well-known name.
And yet… is having a foreword really a good idea?
Why you shouldn’t have a foreword
Being honest, I can count on one hand the number of compelling and worthwhile forewords that I’ve read.
This is concerning, because your foreword comes – as the name suggests – right at the beginning of your book. If it doesn’t work for your reader, it starts everything off on the wrong foot. Also, it takes up valuable real estate in the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon, so readers can’t check out as much of your content as they might like. That means it had better be worth it.
For a foreword to work, it has to have at least one of two characteristics: it must be penned by someone your readers admire, or it must be written in such an entertaining and informative way that they can’t help but be drawn in by it.
I’ve seen both types of foreword, and they’re rare. More commonly, forewords are written by someone whose name means little or nothing to the book’s readers. The foreword then becomes an irritating distraction, slowing down the consumption of the book. Personally, I tend to skip them.
Others are a bit tedious or overly long, giving readers a bad impression of what’s to come. (On the flip side, if a foreword is amazingly well written, the rest of the book had better not disappoint!)
Ironically, a poor foreword actually gives a book less authority, not more. It’s almost as if the book can’t stand on its own two feet, relying on the words of someone who is – at best – only questionably the best person to write them.
By this stage you may be heaving a sigh of relief that you don’t have to hunt down someone to write your foreword. If that’s the case, you have my full permission to ditch the idea and get on with something more fun instead. Many’s the client I’ve worked with who, on hearing my views on the subject, has been only too happy to be let off the hook!
However, what if you’re…
… determined to have a foreword?
You’ve lined up the perfect candidate, persuaded them to write it, and you’re sure they can do a good job. What’s next?
First, ask yourself if your target reader would be familiar with this person and trust what they have to say. They should either be an authority in your field, or a celebrity that everyone knows. Some of our United Ghostwriters have mastered this. Cheryl Rickman’s book Navigating Loneliness has a foreword by Terry Waite, and Ian Shircore’s book Loose Canon has a foreword by comedian Stephen Fry. Readers would definitely be impressed by those names.
Next, is it well written? It can be a good idea to give your foreword writer some pointers about what to include. This could include how they know you, what they think of your work, and what highlights your readers can look forward to in your book. And keep it snappy – a page or two is plenty. It’s the starter, not the main course.
Also, don’t be afraid to outsource it to a professional ghostwriter. I’ve ghosted forewords on behalf of busy people who would rather not spend their time working out what to say and how to say it. If you offer to present a drafted piece to your foreword writer for their approval, they may be grateful.
Deciding whether to include a foreword is a balancing act. It’s not compulsory and many books do very well without one, so if you’re not sure you can get it right I’d suggest leaving it out. But if you can find the right person, you could be onto a winner.
Onwards … (or forewords?).
Ginny Carter ghostwrites authority-building books, memoirs, and self-help guides for entrepreneurs, thought leaders, speakers and coaches.