Foreword vs Preface: What’s the Difference?

For many authors, the front matter of the book comes as somewhat of an afterthought. Especially if it’s their first book. The main work is done, but now it’s time to think about what you need at the front of the book before publishing. And two sections that tend to cause a lot of confusion are the preface and foreword (not “forward”). Each of these serves a specific purpose and is only appropriate in certain types of books. So, to clear things up, let’s take a look at a preface vs forward.

A foreword is always written by someone other than the author. Usually, this is someone with name recognition. It lends credibility and trust, enticing the reader to keep turning the pages.

A preface is written by the author. It’s most common in nonfiction works and provides the reader with some background information on the research and writing of the book.

Note: This is part of a series of posts on the many parts that go into formatting a book, and the differences between them. Have a look at the Master Guide on book parts.

Now, let’s dive a little deeper and explore both prefaces and forewords.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. The purposes of a foreword and preface
  2. How forewords and prefaces should be used
  3. Examples of each

Why Should You Trust Me?

I've actually been writing and formatting books for a long time. Over 10 years so far, and counting.

But that's not the real reason, because there are plenty of authors who have lots of experience, but know next to nothing about the different parts of a book, or book formatting in general.

The real reason you should trust me is because I actually created my own formatting software that solved all my problems. I called it Atticus.

But this isn't meant to be a sales pitch. I just want to make sure it's clear that I know what I'm talking about. The amount of research that went into not only formatting my own books, but also creating a formatting software is huge.

I researched everything, which led me to learn all about every. single. part. of. a. book. And there were a lot more than I realized.

And of course, that includes Forwards and Prefaces.

So if all that makes sense, hopefully you'll come along with me as show you everything I've learned.

What is the Purpose of a Foreword?

A foreword’s overall purpose is to keep the pages turning and provide proof that the work is worth reading. This is why forewords are generally written by someone with name recognition.

Forewords in Atticus
Made in

To keep readers reading, a good foreword does two things: It tells why the audience should trust the author and it gives some context about the making of the book.

But a book's foreword should never include material that’s essential for understanding the main text of the book. Instead, it should provide context on why you, the author, are qualified to write about the book's subject matter. And, remember, this isn’t coming from you— it’s coming from someone well-known that is familiar with the subject matter of the book.

An afterword is similar to the foreword but comes in the back matter of the book. It gives the reader further insights into the making of the book.

What is the Purpose of a Preface?

Like any part of a book (aside from maybe the copyright and title pages), the preface is there to pique the reader’s interest and keep them turning the pages. It’s a place where you, the author, are able to share your credentials and tell readers why they should read the book. It can also serve as a short introduction to you and the book's topic.

Some prefaces include a little bit about the author's journey in writing the book. This is especially true for later editions of popular books.

Prefaces in Atticus
Made in

But, as you can probably guess, many readers simply skip over the preface. They should never be essential for the reader to understand the book itself. That’s what the introduction is for. This is also why the introduction is considered to be a part of the main text of the book.

Some readers may be interested in hearing how the book came to be, but many just want to get to the meat of the book.

Can Fiction and Nonfiction Books Have a Preface?

You’ll most often find prefaces in nonfiction books, but you’ll see them on occasion in literary works, as well. However, this is far from the norm.

Some well-known authors will write prefaces for their fiction books or, more often, a re-released “complete edition” that includes things the original release didn’t have. In these cases, the author is often asked to write a preface to give readers insights into the popular work.

Not to Be Confused with a Prologue or Introduction

Two other common sections you’ll find in the front of a book are the prologue and the introduction. Both the foreword and the preface serve very different purposes than the introduction and prologue.

An introduction is essential for nonfiction books. It’s a place where the reader is introduced to the book's content. Pretty good name for it, huh? The introduction should never be skipped and is considered the start of the main text. As such, it's a place for the writer to share explanatory notes with the potential reader.

A prologue, on the other hand, is only found in works of fiction. A prologue is a place where the author actually begins the story, although often in a way that doesn’t clearly tie into the story until later in the book. Not all fiction books have prologues, but many do.

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What Comes First Preface or Foreword?

It’s a good idea to stick to the proper structure of the front matter of your book. This means that the foreword comes before the author's preface. But what about all the other elements?

The front matter looks like this:

Of course, you don’t have to include all these elements. Many books don’t have all these, and yours doesn’t have to, either. Only the first three on the list are essential.

Foreword and Preface in Atticus
Made in

Can a Book Have Two Forewords?

It is possible for a book to have two forewords, although this is not the norm. If you do decide to have two people each write a forward for your book, consider asking them to keep them short.

The book Become A Successful Indie Author by Craig Martelle has two forewords; one by Michael Anderle and one by Kevin McLaughlin. Each of these is short and sweet and lends credibility to the author.

Foreword and Preface Examples

Now, let’s check out some foreword and preface examples that you can check out.

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

Although this book was first published in 1990, the advice inside is still great for any aspiring author in science fiction, fantasy, or nearly any other genre.

book cover of How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
Image: Amazon, Writer’s Digest Books

Orson Scott Card (best-known for Ender’s Game) had already been a professional writer for several years when he wrote this nonfiction book. Still, legendary science fiction editor and writer Ben Bova wrote the foreword for this particular book.

The foreword is less than a page long and explains how Bova himself came across a short story that eventually became the full-length novel Ender’s Game while working as the editor of Analog Science Fiction magazine.

He goes on to succinctly explain why Card is a great person to teach the craft of writing science fiction and fantasy. This is a major endorsement to those who know about Bova and his work.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Mark Twain wrote prefaces for several of his books. These were often funny and insightful, as was Twain’s style. This is why A Connecticut Yankee is a great example of a preface for a literary work.

Book cover for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
Image: Amazon, SeaWolf Press

He begins the book's preface by explaining how he has taken some artistic license (so to speak) with the historical period in which his novel takes place. The next paragraph he begins by writing:

“The question as to whether there is such a thing as divine right of kings is not settled in this book. It was found too difficult.”

He ends the second paragraph (and the preface) in a comical manner by saying that he’s going to “. . . go into training and settle the question in another book. It is, of course, a thing which ought to be settled, and I am not going to have anything particular to do next winter anyway.”

He then signs off with a location and date – Hartford, July 21, 1889.

So if you're writing a fiction book, it’s ultimately up to you as the book's author whether you want a preface. And to keep Mr. Twain in mind as you write one.

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