Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Let's start at the very beginning

By Pamela

It's a very good place to start. But what is the beginning of your story? Chapter one? A prologue? An introduction? A foreword?

Not long ago a friend showed me a new book she was reading that her family friend had written. As she held up the hardcover book with the attractive cover, I asked, "Did he self-publish?"

"I don't know," she said, handing me the book. "How can you tell?"

I opened the cover and on the first printed page, I read: "Forward."

"Yep, he did," I said, handing it back.

"Really? How can you tell?" she asked.

Very politely, I said, "Because there's a typo on the first page." (I don't think I was that blunt or rude because she still talks to me but, in a nutshell, that was my response.)

Not only was the word 'forward' used when it should have been spelled 'foreword' (as in the word that comes before), the true definition of a foreword is, as I understand it: a work that comes at the beginning of a book that is typically written by someone other than an author. In the case of my friend's friend's book, his should have been either an introduction or a preface. But certainly not a forward.

If you're writing a book and submitting the completed work to a literary agent in hopes of landing a publishing contract, you have to be professional. Just as you'd never pitch a 'fiction novel,' you also don't want to mention that you're including the 'forward' in your submission.

I cruised around the Web and found some sites here and here that helped me relay the difference between them. Here's my version of my findings, in a nutshell. If you disagree or want to investigate further, a Google search should keep you busy for some time.


Typically written by someone other than the author. Sometimes used to lend credibility to the work (e.g. by a person more famous than the author), at times this person's name will also appear on the book's cover.


Can be written by the author or by someone else. The introduction might be used to update information not made available in a previous version of the work (as in a paperback version updated from a hardcover), or it might give the reader some instructions on how the material that follows should be viewed. If it's a self-help book, the introduction might tell the reader how the book has changed the lives of those who have read it so far, thus giving the reader some expectations.

Two examples I found on my shelves were: The Punch by John Feinstein and Secret Windows by Stephen King. Feinstein wrote his own introduction, outlining how a newspaper article about a career-altering fight between two professional basketball players led him to write The Punch. King's introduction was written by his longtime friend Peter Straub and plays homage to King's career and their friendship.


Very similar to an introduction, a preface differs slightly in that it's more about why the book was written and allows the author a chance to explain why he or she is the best one to write it. Typically written by the author, and not a famous friend or celebrity, the preface allows the author a platform of 'apology,' if you will--an explanation to the reader as to why the author was so led to write the chapters he or she is about to spend hours reading. In the case of The Punch (mentioned above), in my opinion, the introduction could have been called a preface. Po-ta-to, po-tah-to.


A prologue is most often seen in a work of fiction or narrative non-fiction. A prologue might start the story from a point of view not used anywhere else in the book or from a time much earlier than the rest of the book's setting. It can also be used to show a scene that takes place right in the middle of the story as a way to pull the reader into the book.

Some advise that if you use a prologue, you must use an epilogue at the end of your book. Others say one is fine without the other.

Regardless of where your book begins, make sure you include information that is helpful, engaging and mesmerizing to your readership. Don't add in more than is necessary to tell your story. Time is precious to your reader (and to an agent who is looking for only the best in her inbox), so don't write an introduction, foreword, preface or prologue unless it adds to your book. And for heaven's sake, don't write a forward, unless you're willing to take your work two steps backward.


  1. This is a great post! (is it finished?) I was just telling my agent that the self publish fever was killing me because of all the typos! (And I'm queen of them, but I have really good editing friends. Thank GOD.) Great Blog ladies. I've been following for a while and just decided to post because I wanted to make sure this was complete. I want to read more about this topic! :)

  2. Hi, Suzy. Blogger must have posted this as I was wrapping it up. (I had some computer issues this morning.) It's complete now.

    Self-published or not, I know typos slip by even the most professional copyeditors. I just knew a typo on the first page was a red flag. I did check the imprint to confirm my suspicions.

    Thanks so much for stopping by. What do you write?

  3. Hi Pam! I write women's fiction. That's why I lurk here! Blogger hates me and does this to me often. I suspected as much. Thanks for replying to my post. And I LOVE this post! Glad to be able to finish reading it!

  4. Thanks, Suzy. I popped over to your blog as well. (Happy birthday to your sweet girl!) Keep us posted as your novel progresses.


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