Do you know how to write a foreword for a book?
Foreword-writing is more than just doing an introduction to another author’s work. It’s a literary art form in itself.
Take, for example, this snippet from Francois Mauriac’s foreword for Elie Wiesel’s Night:
“It is, however, another aspect of this extraordinary book which has engaged me most deeply. The child who tells us his story here was one of God’s elect.”Mauriac, F. (1957) Foreword. In: Wiesel, Elie. Night. ed. Les Éditions de Minuit. Paris, France
It is both haunting and beautiful. But the whole piece goes far, far deeper than surface-level praise.
In it Mauriac narrates his own personal connection with Wiesel. A few years before the publication of Night, he was once interviewed for a newspaper by a young Wiesel, who was working as a young journalist at the time.
It was as if the interviewer and interviewee changed places. Wiesel shared his experiences while Mauriac listened and empathized with him.
Mauriac tells us that the book is not just a mere first-hand narration of one of history’s most horrific events. It’s also a tale of survival, redemption and hope- a testament to the power of faith even in the darkest of times. Mauriac is asking us to remember Wiesel’s story.
That’s how moving and powerful a good foreword can be.
Table of Contents
What is a foreword?
Before setting out to write a foreword, it’s important to know exactly what it is and why some books need it.
The etymology of the word “foreword” comes from the German “Vorwort,” which itself is a loan-translation of the Latin “praefatio”. By looking at its etymology, we can see that foreword and preface are very closely related concepts.
Though they are both added to the beginning part of a book, a preface and a foreword are two very different things. We have delved into this topic in our blog post about the key differences between a preface and a foreword.
At its very core, a foreword is a piece of writing that is found in the introductory section of a book or any other type of literature. It is commonly brief, and written not by the author themselves, but by another person. Think of it like an endorsement- a badge of approval and show of support from one author to another.
A book can even have multiple forewords! For example, a book could have a foreword in its first publication. Then, a later edition of a book could be introduced by another person. Their new foreword will then be appended to the original foreword; it might go into detail into how that particular edition is different from other versions of the book.
Do you need to read the entirety of a book first before you can write its foreword?
Ideally, yes. But in actuality, no.
You can write a foreword even if you haven’t read the entirety of the book. It’s not even necessary for a foreword writer to provide a commentary on what a book is tackling. As much as possible, the foreword should be centered around the author, who they are, the kind of work they are making, and the message that they are trying to impart in their work.
Although, reading a book before writing a foreword on it can be a huge PLUS, especially if you’re aiming to provide more context about what the author is talking about.
Importance of a book foreword
As a book reader, you may have already run into a few forewords here and there.
Unlike in an introduction, which is likely written by the author themselves and might contain detailed information that is necessary to the understanding of the book as a whole, a foreword isn’t actually considered as necessary reading.
In fact, a lot of readers skip reading it occasionally. Sometimes, a book might forgo having a foreword (and a preface, prologue- all of the introductory parts) altogether.
However, this does not mean that a foreword is unimportant. Having a foreword from someone with a well-recognized name can make more people interested in your work. It’s a very effective marketing tool for books and other publications.
Here are some of the reasons why an author might consider having someone write a foreword for them.
A good foreword…
…spells the value of the book to its readers
Readers will undoubtedly have a lot of questions in mind when they first see your book on a shelf (whether it be in a real-life bookstore or a digital one like Amazon).
What will they get out of your book? Will reading it be a good use of their time? Does your book contain anything that will be of value to them?
A good foreword will try to answer these questions. They can vouch for the integrity and intellectual merit of the book. Since the foreword writer is already an established writer or authority figure in their own right, their words will have more impact than your average Goodreads or Amazon reviewer.
…helps newer authors to stand out
Thousands of books around the world are being published as you read this blog post. For an author who is just starting out, trying to attract reader attention amidst the throng of competitors can be a daunting task.
Let’s go back to Francois Mauriac and Elie Wiesel. When Wiesel met Mauriac, he was just an almost-unknown journalist trying to interview a highly-awarded Nobel laureate of a dramatist and novelist. It was Mauriac who prodded Wiesel to put into writing his story, and it was also Mauriac who so graciously wrote him a foreword for the first publication of Night.
Having someone with an already stellar reputation in your niche write a foreword for you, an up-and-coming writer, might just be the magic ingredient needed for your book to break into the ranks of bestsellers.
…makes readers know who the author is, as a person
While a book’s contents should be able to stand on its own, there is a lot of value to be had in knowing why the book was written and in learning more about the background of its creator.
Mauriac, in his foreword, tells readers of his first impressions of Mauriac. He narrates how he was so moved by the young journalist’s story during that fateful interview. When readers read this foreword, it’s as if we’re also personally connecting to Wiesel as Mauriac did years and years before.
Readers, even if they don’t know who the author of the book is, would now have a better sense of what the book entails if they know the author’s background and what he is as a person.
Steps on how to write a foreword for a book – before you start
It’s a great honor and privilege to be asked to write a foreword. This means that an author holds you in high regard; they are counting on your reputation and credibility to add more value to their own work.
Before you start writing the foreword itself. It’s best to keep these things in mind:
Know the purpose of your foreword
Are you going to impart some of your own knowledge? Will you be sharing how you’re connected to the author as well as any personal anecdotes that you may have of them? Do you want to point out why you think the author is qualified to write about the topic at hand?
Once you’ve decided what your foreword’s purpose will be, then it’ll be easier to start writing. Make sure to use anecdotes, stories, details, and information that support your main purpose.
Your tone should match the book’s
A comedic book needs an equally comedic foreword. If the book deals with serious topics or is written in a very contemplative or philosophical style, then better steer clear of any jokes or any other humorous elements because they might detract from the overall impact of the book.
Let readers know that they should also trust you
While a foreword’s focus is usually on the author of the book, you should also highlight your own expertise. Remember that they will take you for your word that this book is worth their time.
If you are actually involved in the creation of the book- whether as an editor, resource person, research assistant or collaborator- then don’t forget to mention the fact! You can provide readers with an in-depth look at how the author’s mind works, and how they go through their own creative process when writing the book.
Don’t be too much of a flatterer
Stay honest to yourself and to your readers. Never exaggerate.If you heap too much praise and flattery onto the author, it’ll more likely do the opposite of what you think your foreword should be doing. It’ll just make readers suspicious and distrustful.
A foreword should be relatively short
Don’t ramble on and on because you’ll bore readers even before you even get to the meat of the book. A foreword should be brief and straight to the point. Try to aim for at least 800 – 1500 words (but you can write it a bit longer depending on the length of the book).
Steps on how to write a foreword for a book – 4 parts
Now, you’re ready to write your foreword!
No matter how long your foreword is, it should have some sort of coherent structure to it that can support the weight of your message. Below is the typical four-section structure of a foreword.
- Conclusion or end
- Foreword writer’s signature
Of course, there’s no stopping you from being ultra-creative about it and trying on some other avant garde form (like a poem, perhaps?) for a foreword .
But if this is your first time writing one, you can’t go wrong with the traditional structure.
Here are some of the things that you can include in each section:
Although the author is likely to have chosen you as a foreword writer because of your name, not all of their readers will know who you are. The introduction part of the foreword is where you get to tell readers about yourself, and what your relationship to the author is.
First, introduce the book’s author and yourself. You can start with an anecdote or a personal story that you have of the author. When and how did you meet? What were your first impressions of them? Then, you can then highlight your credentials. Why are you the best person to write this foreword?
In instances where you don’t know the author personally (i.e. you were chosen as foreword writer because of your expertise in the field), then try to emphasize why readers should care about the book’s message.
A few tips for the introduction:
- The introduction should only be around a paragraph or two.
- If need be, a good introduction can only be just a few sentences.
- The keyword here is “personal.” You need to draw readers in with a story they can relate to.
The middle part or the main body of the foreword is where the meat of your message should be.
You can start off by introducing the book itself. What is it about? What are the parts that you would like readers to draw attention to? You can also offer a brief summary of the book’s best points. An example taken from real life that highlights the book’s theme can be a great opener.
Remember, the middle of the foreword should be able to explain why this book is important to the reader and how the book can be relevant to them.
After you have introduced the book, you can then go into why you’re personally endorsing the book. Can this book help people with the knowledge that it possesses? Has the author demonstrated impressive expertise and skill in tackling the book’s core message?
Hopefully, the prompts provided above have guided you in writing what is essentially the most important part of a book’s foreword.
Some tips for the main body:
- Explain why the author is the best person to be writing this book.
- It’s easy to go into wholehearted praise of the author here. But, make sure to keep the praise down to a minimum so it doesn’t feel like surface flattery.
- The middle part can be around two to four paragraphs long.
Pat yourself on the back for reaching the end of your foreword. So now, it’s time to wrap things up!
The conclusion is where you need to circle back to the points that you’ve made in the previous parts of your foreword. Remind people again why they are reading the book, and why it matters. You can reference something that you have written about in the first few paragraphs of the foreword, like an anecdote or story that you have shared, just to bring everything to a neat and cohesive end.
Some tips for the conclusion:
- Make readers excited to start reading the book. The conclusion should motivate them to start flipping to the first page.
- The conclusion should be kept to a paragraph or two at the maximum.
Now, for the final flourish: your name! Add it at the very bottom of the foreword. You can also add in any titles you may have. If you possess multiple titles, only append the most relevant or recent one.
Other optional additions to the signature would be:
- The title of a book or any other publication that you have authored- ideally your most recent or most famous work.
- The date when you wrote the foreword or the current year
- The city or location where you’re currently based.
- Sign the whole foreword as if you’re signing off a letter. Because that’s what essentially a foreword is- a letter of endorsement from you to the book’s readers.
Some notes on formatting a foreword
- There’s no need to provide a title for the foreword. A foreword’s title is usually just “FOREWORD.”
- While the foreword might be formatted like a regular chapter, there’s less ornamentation to it- like decorative icons for the chapter number or first letters printed in a larger size.
- Instead of page numbers, a foreword (along with the other “front matter” parts of the book like the preface and introduction), is usually numbered with lowercase roman numerals (i, iv, ix).
And there you have it! Hopefully the tips above have answered most of the questions you might have in regards to a foreword’s structure. Writing a foreword is no easy task, but the steps we’ve detailed above should help you get the job done.
Final words – what’s in it for you?
While having a foreword is extremely advantageous for a book, the foreword writer (aka YOU) can also receive a lot of benefits from it.
Think of it like free advertising! Your name will be on the book’s first few pages, and will probably be the first name that readers will see apart from the author’s own. You’ll also be strengthening your own position as a thought leader or expert in your field.
Of course, writing a foreword means that you’re giving your all-out support to a friend and colleague. Writing something as personal as a foreword does take a lot of time and effort, and the author will greatly appreciate it. Who knows- maybe they will repay the gesture when you’re in need of somebody who will write a foreword for your own book.