Forewords, introductions, prefaces, and prologues can be important pieces of your manuscript—or they can be critical to avoid. So, it’s important to understand the differences between them. Using these terms correctly will assure editors and agents that you know your stuff and help you craft great front matter your readers won’t skip through.
What is Front Matter?
Front matter refers to everything that comes before the story. This sets the tone of the book for what’s to come. You may want or need some of these items depending on the book you are writing. Conversely, you may need to avoid having some of this front matter if your book falls in other categories and genres.
Often erroneously interchanged with “forward,” this 19th-century term is a section of the book written by another author or person of importance. It is often signed with that person’s name and the location and date they wrote it. The person chosen to write the foreword should be someone credible and of high importance to your subject matter or genre.
The purpose of a foreword is to lend legitimacy to the work that follows. There is often a connection between the author of the foreword and the topic or the book’s creation/creator. The foreword author should also have a similar audience of readers to your book, to assist with your target marketing.
Forewords are common in academic and non-fiction works. You may also see forewords for collections of short stories or poems to help the reader understand the importance and relevance of the stories to each other. In novels, the foreword is usually replaced by Front Sales—snippets of reviews from important people or sources.
After the foreword (if there is one) comes the preface. This comes from the Latin praefatio, meaning “speech before.” This is a chance for the author (or sometimes editor) to address their readers directly in a non-formal way. The contents of a preface are meant to stand apart from the book and look in at the work.
Your preface might explain why you wrote the book, the timeline or process for writing, and give readers information about why you are the person of authority to write on this topic or theme. Many times, the acknowledgments and thank you’s are a part of the preface. Prefaces are common in narrative nonfiction works but rarely appear in novels.
The introduction may sound redundant to the preface, but it has its own purpose and place in literature. The term was coined in the 14th century from the Latin introducere, meaning “to lead into.” This is a chance for the author to give critical information about the work to come.
In a technical or academic text, this section would give the reader the basic knowledge they need to understand what’s in the book. In an article, the introduction summarizes the text to come. In narrative works, the author may focus on the goal or purpose of the book.
Like prefaces, introductions are not common in fictional works. However, historical fiction may benefit from a short introduction giving context for the time period and events. Narrative nonfiction books may explain what you can expect to learn from the memoir. Generally speaking, the introduction should be written in the same style and tone as the main sections or narrative.
Similar to a foreword, prologue comes from the Greek prologos, meaning “before the word.” But that’s where the similarities end. Prologues are a part of the story, told before the main narrative. It is told in a character or narrator’s voice, not the author’s. This could be a different point of view character than the main character. Or it could be a moment out of context that is critical to the rest of the story.
Prologues are most commonly found in fictional works, but even now their numbers are dwindling. They have fallen out of fashion and tend to irk most agents and editors who come across them. Why? Because authors are using the term prologue incorrectly.
Often, authors will insist on writing prologues when really what they have is an opening chapter. If the story in the prologue is continued within the main narrative of the book, then it’s not a prologue. Prologues should also not be used as info dumps or irrelevant hooks to grab the reader’s attention.
Other Front Matter
There are a number of other pieces of front matter important to your book. While every book will contain a title page and copyright page, some may have additional features, such as:
- Half title—the very first page of a book when it’s opened. Contains the title and nothing else.
- Frontispiece—an illustration on the verso (back side) of the half title. Often omitted along with the half title page.
- Dedication—a page stating who the book was written for or in memory of.
- Epigraph—a quote or short fact that gives weight to the theme or tone of the work.
- Chapter List/Table of Contents—a list of the major sections of the book; either parts, chapters, or scenes.
- List of Figures/Tables—a list of graphs, tables, or illustrations that appear in the work, their reference number or name, and the page they occur on.
- Maps—real or fabricated maps or illustrations to orient the reader to the world of the novel.
- Acknowledgements—a shout out to those who helped or supported the book’s creation. Often included within the preface.
- Second Half-Title—just in case you’ve forgotten what book you’re reading after getting through all the other front matter, here’s the title again.
- Front Sales—snippets of reviews from important people or sources.
Why Get These Right?
If it’s all in the front, why does it matter what we call it? Using proper terminology for your front matter will keep your book standard with other published works. It also shows editors, agents, and publishers that you know what you’re talking about. Each piece of front matter has a different scope, purpose, and suitability to your manuscript. Getting these terms right is critical.
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Jeanette the Writer is an editor, coach, and freelance writer who wants to help others demolish their editing fears and finish their manuscript. As a former scuba instructor turned entrepreneur, Jeanette knows about putting in the hard work to pursue your passions. She has worked with authors, speakers, coaches, and entrepreneurs—empowering them with the right mindset, knowledge, and tools to help them tackle their editing goals. You can learn more about Jeanette by visiting JeanetteTheWriter.com and GoldenRuleEditing.com.