Updated April 2023
The introduction of a nonfiction book is one of the first places potential readers look when deciding whether or not to make a purchase. The introduction answers the reader’s questions: Will this book be useful to me? Will I learn something? Will it inspire me or help me with a problem? Potential customers have already been intrigued by your cover, title, and the blurb on the back cover. Now that they’ve expressed serious interest, they are turning to the all-important introduction to help make their final decision. Your job is to make sure your introduction hooks the reader and answers the most important question: “Why should I buy this book?”
What should be included in the introduction to a nonfiction book?
The introduction to your nonfiction book should clearly and concisely explain what the book is about, what the reader can expect to gain from the book, the motivation behind the book, and any background (the story behind the story) that may be interesting and relevant.
A nonfiction book provides information, guidance, and/or inspiration to its readers, and the introduction should generate interest in what the book promises to deliver. Start with a hook that answers the reader’s most basic need: What’s in it for me? Some authors use quotes, shocking statistics or facts, or a question (“Did you know that tree houses date back to the 15th century?”). Others start off with a brief overview of the book, a clear and specific (and short) summary of what the book offers. “This book will show you how to get debt-free in six months.”
Many authors use the introduction to explain why they wrote the book. Unless there is an interesting story behind it, some readers will not care about the author’s motivation. Again, they want to know what benefits they’ll receive from reading the book. You must forge a connection with the reader and determine what your audience is looking for. Suppose your book is about nutrition during pregnancy. Your target audience will obviously be pregnant women, or women who are hoping to get pregnant. What are their unique challenges and concerns? Show how your book can answer their questions, help them in their quest for better nutrition, and address their specific needs.
If you offer a concrete benefit for purchasing the book, make it clear in the introduction. “This book lists 100 Internet-based businesses you can start for less than a thousand dollars.” Your readers need to know that your book will help them increase their wealth, improve their health, strengthen their relationships—it could teach them how to build a deck or improve their SAT scores.
Your introduction might also instruct a reader how to approach the book in question: Should the book be read front to back? Can the reader jump around? Are there online supplements to the book? Is it best that the reader plow through the book in a matter of days, or should he or she be prepared to make a longer investment? Are there quizzes, writing assignments, or other additional steps that the reader should expect apart from just sitting back and reading?
Lastly, to further engage your potential reader, invite them to participate in the journey of your book: “I invite you to explore the world of tropical fish” or “Discover the secrets of successful e-commerce businesses.”
Who should write my introduction?
You may write the introduction yourself, or have a fellow author or expert weigh in, especially if the other person is influential in the field. For example, if you are writing about the foster care system, you may want a trusted source at the local agency to write your introduction and lend some credence to your book, or you may have a compelling introduction written by someone who survived or thrived because of (or despite) the foster care system.
It is possible for some books to have more than one introduction, including both the author’s introduction and the other expert’s. Both should be kept short. When possible, mention your introduction in your nonfiction book proposal.
If you’re writing your own introduction, match the style of your introduction to the actual text. (A humorous book should not start off with a dark, moody introduction.) Make sure your introduction is clear and concise—this is no place for tangents, long-winded descriptions, or a boatload of statistics—and make every word count. Don’t take more than a few pages to make your point: Readers want to get right to the heart of the book as quickly as possible. Use engaging language and keep your audience firmly in mind.
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