I’m sure you’ve heard many times that your book’s opening pages are critically important. In keeping with this advice, the most important chapter you write in your nonfiction book may be the introduction. But do you know how to write the best book introduction? What does that even look like, and why is it so important?
In this article I’m going to give you a five-step method to write the best book introduction that will engage your reader, establish trust, and keep your reader interested enough to read the rest of your book.
1. Finish Writing the Book First
Wait, what? I know, it sounds silly. But there’s a very good reason that I recommend you finish writing the rest of the book before you come back to write the introduction. Even though it’s the first part a reader will read, it’s the last part you want to write.
The thing is, even though you may have a detailed outline, you won’t really know what you’ve said in the book until you’ve written that last page. And if you aren’t a detailed outliner, then you have an even vaguer sense of what you’re going to write about beyond your main topic and perhaps a handful of chapter topics.
Writing your book completely before you return to pen the introduction can help you nail down the feel of the book and the attitude you wish to portray, and that in turn helps you understand what tone you need to set from page one. Knowing where you ultimately intend to take your reader on this journey will also help you see what they need to know to start off right and prepared.
2. Identify the Points You Want to Raise
Now that you can see where you’re taking your reader, you can identify the points you need to raise before they get started. Think of your introduction, in part, as orientation for the system, program, journey, etc. that is your book.
For example, is there a mindset that readers need to adopt to get the most out of your instruction? Are you taking for granted that they have a certain base level of knowledge or that they agree with you on certain foundational ideas? Don’t assume. Instead, touch on those points to make sure you and your reader are (excuse the pun) on the same page.
Is your book making an argument for a new perspective on something old-hat, or presenting information on a newly emerging issue? Presenting an overview of the points you will make throughout the book can help intrigue readers who want to see how your ideas unfold.
Before you begin writing your book introduction, it’s a good idea to list all the points you want to include. Then, you have some work to do in adjusting those points to suit your reader. Savvy experts know that regardless of what you may want to say to your reader, the most important thing to keep in mind is what they want to hear from you. I don’t mean that you should pander to them or blow smoke. But an effective book is not a soapbox, and if you treat it like one you’re likely to end up shouting on an empty street corner.
Instead, keep in mind the old marketing adage that drives all great prescriptive books: What’s in it for me?
3. Connect Your Points to the Purpose
Something brought your reader to your book. Most likely a problem, a question, or a desire to have, learn, or be something. The points you want to make are important, but to write the best book introduction you need to use at least some of those points in support of that “something” that lead your reader to check out your book in the first place. And the best way to do that is to address the four key elements of an introduction’s purpose:
- Introduce the general concept of the book (what problem or issue the book will be addressing) as well as to introduce your solution or perspective.
- Reinforce the reader’s impression that this book might meet their needs by explaining who it is written for.
- Underscore why the reader needs this book vs. someone else’s and what it will do for them (the promise and the benefits).
- Explain why the reader should trust and listen to you (your authority or experience).
As you read your draft, ask yourself if you’ve sufficiently addressed these four elements. It isn’t necessary to follow this formula to the letter, though the order I’ve presented will work just fine. The point is that all these elements must appear somewhere in those opening pages if you want to write the best book introduction.
How to Use This Book
Besides these four key elements, the most important information a reader requires when opening your book is instruction on how to get the most out of it. You may include this as a subsection of your introduction or create a new chapter. And you don’t have to be as blunt as to call either option “How to Use This Book” (though that is a common choice). What matters is that you provide specific instruction on what readers will find as they progress and how they should interact with it.
In other words, you will want to review any special elements (sidebars, exercises, quizzes, etc.), unique vocabulary used, and any other advice you have for working through the book. Helpful advice might include such tips as encouraging readers to form a group, suggesting they download worksheets from your website, or offering guidance on time-frames such as working through one chapter or exercise per week.
A word about vocabulary: Sometimes we use self-explanatory phrases that are unique to our philosophy or programs while other times we significantly reinvent a known word or phrase’s usage. The most crucial terminology needs explaining at the outset, but most of your vocabulary can be explained as each word or phrase appears in the manuscript. It’s tedious for the reader to review and learn a long list of new words and phrases all at once and in many cases many chapters before they need to, and it takes her focus away from where you really want it: on digging into the problem at hand.
4. Add a Hook
When people spot your book on a shelf or click through online, they’ll often read the title first. If that interests them, they read the cover copy or online book description. If you’ve still got them, their next step is to peruse the table of contents and start reading the introduction.
Notice they still haven’t bought.
And if you fail to keep them interested, they never will. So, your introduction must grab your reader and hold them if you are ever going to sell your book. It must engage or “hook” readers and make them want to keep reading.
Most often, your hook forges an instant connection with the reader or raises a tantalizing question. For example, a solution-based book might begin with a brief story of a time the author suffered from the same problem as the reader. This allows the reader to “see” himself in the author’s story, and thus begin to feel hopeful that the author’s solution will likewise work for him. A book that will dismantle an outdated belief might start with a little-known fact or a pointed question. This intrigues the reader. He begins to wonder how the author will go on to make her argument and what new ideas she will offer up.
5. Write the Best Book Introduction Ever
And, finally, now that you’ve basically mapped out and planned the most important aspects of your introduction, all that’s left is to start writing.
If you’ve completed the first four steps, your work should be easy as you connect all the dots. A few things to keep in mind:
- Make sure your tone is consistent with the rest of the book.
- Ensure that the points you raise successfully orient the reader for the journey they’re about to take with you.
- Don’t let your introduction run too long. You want to cover the important bits, but readers ultimately will want to get on with it, and so should you.
Got any tips of your own to offer? How did you plan out your book’s introduction, and what’s in it?
Founder of The Writer’s Ally, Ally E. Machate is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge and experience with the publishing industry to lead serious authors toward success. She and her team live to help make great books happen, whether that means showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish; or coaching an author on growing her platform to sell more books. Since 1999, she has supported hundreds of authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally.