Publishing A-Z

Preface, Foreword, Introduction. Oh My!

A reader asked, “What is the difference between a preface, a foreword, and an introduction? And do I need them all?”

There so much publishing lingo used every day that we forget there was a time when we didn’t know what the words meant. It’s one reason I have a “Publishing Lingo” section in the back of the annual Christian Writers Market Guide.

These three pieces of writing (preface, foreword, and introduction) are found at the beginning of several nonfiction books. But not all. Some may have one of the three, some may have none.

In fiction, you should never find a preface, foreword, or introduction. Ever. But you might find a prologue.


A preface is written by the author. It is usually quite short and can include ideas of why the author wrote the book, its importance to the reader, and maybe the intended takeaway for the reader.

The word preface comes from the Latin word praefari which means “to say beforehand.” In a verbal speech, you might hear prefatory remarks given first, often when presenting a prewritten statement.

Go to your bookshelf right now. Pull down twenty nonfiction books and see which ones have a preface and what they say. Tell us in the comments below what you found. Be brief.


Remember to spell this word correctly. It is frustrating to receive proposals where someone has a “Forward.” It is “fore” “word” as in “the word before.” It has been suggested it comes from the German word vorwort.

The foreword is written by someone other than the author. Frequently, they are written by a well-known author who is lending their authority to the credibility of the author. It is more than an endorsement like “Best book ever!” and less than a chapter. Consider it a short introductory essay to the book (500-750 words).

I’ve seen some forewords that are obviously by a friend who lauds the author and their work. Others are written in such a way that you know the book has been read by the writer of the foreword. There have been times when the foreword was so persuasive that it caused me to buy the book for my personal library!

If the writer of the foreword has a substantial following, their name is likely to go on the front cover of the book with a “Foreword by …” banner at the top. Plus, you might find their name in the author listing in an online bookstore. It may look like “Steve Laube (Author), C.S. Lewis (Foreword).” (Hey, I can dream, can’t I?)


A third type of “before the book” expression is an introduction written by the author. However, every author needs to be aware that introductions are notoriously skipped by readers. This begs the question of whether your book needs an introduction. For that matter, a preface is often skipped as well.

The biggest problem is that an author is tempted to create an abridged form of the entire book in the introduction. I have frequently stood in a bookstore and read the back cover copy and then the introduction. If the intro is boring, I assume the rest of the book is boring. If the intro is a longer rehash of the book cover copy or just an expanded table of contents, I’m not interested–unless I know there will be great things to be found later in the book.

Rather than repeat other’s advice, I suggest you do a couple of things:
1) As you did above with the preface, take a look at books on your shelf to see what others have done. Did they do it well? Then try the same exercise for your book.

2) Read Kelly Exeter’s excellent article “How to Write a Killer Book Introduction” published in January 2021 on the website.


There are no rules when it comes to the use of any of these three devices. You can have zero, one, two, or all three. But make sure they add to your project and don’t detract. Plus, remember that front-matter like these elements is skipped by more than half of the readers of your book.

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The Editorial Process

It is important to understand the process through which a book takes under the umbrella called “The Edit.” I meet many first timers who think it is just a one-time pass over their words and that is all that will ever happen. And many who self-publish think that hiring a high school English teacher to check for grammar is enough of an edit.

There are four major stages to the Editorial Process. Unfortunately they are called by various names depending on which publisher you are working with, which can create confusion. I will try to list the various terms but keep them under the four categories.

Rewrites / Revisions/Substantive Edit

These can happen multiple times. You could get input from your agent or an editor who suggests you rewrite or revise those sample chapters of the full manuscript. Last year I suggest that one of my non-fiction clients cut the book in half and change its focus. We sold this first time author. But the writer had to do a lot of work to get it ready for the proposal stage.

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How Long Does It Take to Get Published?

How much time does it take to get published?

I came to the publishing business from the retail side of the equation. The biggest adjustment was understanding how long the process takes. In retail there is instantaneous gratification. But book publishing is a process business.

There is no question the timeline varies from person to person and project to project. In the world of major publishers the diversity can be quite extreme.

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Checked Your Copyright Lately?

Have you checked your copyright lately? I mean, have you actually gone to the US Copyright Office web site and searched for your registration? You might be surprised at what you won’t find. Here is the link to start your search.

Most publishing contracts have a clause that requires the publisher to register the copyright, in the name of the author, with the US Copyright Office. This is supposed to be done as part of the in-house paperwork process.

If you do not find your book, don’t panic.

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Amazon Rank Obsession

Admit it. You’ve checked your sales ranking at least once since your book was published. You feel the need to have some outside confirmation of the sales of your book. And Amazon’s ranking are free to look at.

I’ve even seen book  proposals where the author has gone to great lengths to include the Amazon ranking for each title that is competitive with the one the author is proposing. A prodigious amount of wasted effort.

Publishers rarely pay attention to Amazon rankings unless yours gets below 1,000 or if you get in the top 100.

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Our Rapidly Changing Culture

Every year Beloit College creates a “Mindset List” which reflects the culture that the incoming Freshman class have grown up experiencing. It helps their faculty know how to relate to these incoming students. Click here for this year’s Mindset List.

I download this list every year and read it with increasing wonder at the speed of our cultural changes.

The college graduating class of 2014 was born in 1992. Think about that for a second. If you are a writer, you can no longer assume that your audience will understand your cultural references. In a mere six years, today’s 18-year-olds will be adults…possibly with families and jobs and children…they will be reading your books and articles.

And you will only be six years older than you are now.

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P is for Preemptive Offer

It can be exciting if more than one publisher is interested in your book. The publishers gather their calculators and prepare to make their offers on the book. Depending on how many publishers are involved in the bidding process (we’ve had as many as nine at once for a property) …

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A is for Auction

When an agent has a client who is wanting to shop for the best deal available from publishers or if there is a particular project that is bound to garner significant interest from more than one publisher, the agent can hold what it called an auction. Or if a project …

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I is for ISBN

by Steve Laube 978-0-310-32533-8 978-0-7814-1042-7 978-1-61626-639-4 No, these are not the plays being called by a quarterback during a football game. They are the ISBN numbers on the back of three different books by three different clients. Kudos to the first person to identify the three titles in the comments …

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L is for Libel

by Steve Laube

 To libel someone is to injure a person’s reputation via the written word (slander is for the spoken word). I wrote recently about Indemnification but only touched on this topic. Let’s try to unpack it a little further today.

First, be aware that the laws that define defamation vary from state to state, however there are some commonly accepted guidelines. Anyone can claim to have been “defamed,” but to prove it they usually have to show that the written statement is all four of the following: 1) published 2) false 3) injurious 4) unprivileged.

The first is obvious. Posting something on Twitter or Facebook is “published.” And yet two weeks ago a Federal judge ruled that a blogger has the same defamation protection as a journalist. (Read the article here.)

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