Ask the Editor: Front Matters

Filed in Ask the Editor by on July 25, 2013 14 Comments

Written by: Eddie Cruz

Xulon Press Ask the EditorUntil recently, most incoming manuscripts to Xulon HQ had a title page and, maybe, an Acknowledgements page. This month, however, we have been inundated with Prefaces, Introductions, Author’s Notes, Forewords, and every flavor of frontmatter that only people who are paid to care about such things can actually define. Usually. (We actually use reference books, not memory, to keep it straight.) So for this edition of Ask the Editor, we’d like to nail down the conventional intent of each of these bits so readers of your book know what to expect when they crack it open and begin to read your singular prose.

On to front matters, in order of appearance:

    1. Contrary to popular belief, the Foreword (not Foreward; this is the WORD beFORE your story) is NOT written by the author of the book in which it appears. It should be brief. It is written by, then, someone else: an authority on your subject, or an authority on you, someone who, perhaps, relates an anecdote about the time the idea for this book struck you, and how it was all you could talk about until he finally told you to just do it. Its purpose is to lend weight, some credibility, to you and/or your book. Do not write this yourself, not even under an alias. It’s just bad policy.
    2. You do write the Preface. This is your chance to explain, for example, where you got the idea for your book, and how you developed that kernel of an idea into a full manuscript. You can tell readers the scripture that prompted you, the life experience that so affected you, the person you met in line at the hardware store that got you thinking, “You know, what if…?” Also, if there are folks to whom you wish to express gratitude, feel free to include them here rather than in a separate Acknowledgements section. Do this succinctly. (See the emerging pattern?) Remember: This is the how and the why
    3. Your Introduction is the what. This is the purpose of my book. This is what I hope to accomplish here. This is my goal and my hope for you, dear reader. This bit should be brief, no more than, say, three or four pages. This part’s analogous to the first paragraph of the ubiquitous five-paragraph essay we’re all forced to learn in school: here is where you tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em.

Thus, your frontmatter is complete. It must be noted that you don’t need any of this, and that we receive a great many manuscripts in which the author jumps right in with Chapter One, and God bless them for it. These authors have chosen a different path, and that is absolutely okay—at least it’s okay with your friendly neighborhood Xulon editors. Surely there are purists who will be apoplectic at the lack of suitable frontmatter. Even for those die-hards, however, there are acceptably vetted variations.

You may choose to move the Foreword to the end of you book. (You will, of course, remember to change its title to Afterword, won’t you? Please?) Similarly, your Introduction and Preface can be combined into an Author’s Note at the end. Let no one tell you this must not be done. Bear in mind that there are different conventions for fiction and nonfiction. I am personally vehemently opposed to a Table of Contents in fiction, while most of my colleagues are vehemently opposed to my opinion on the matter. For fiction, at least, in my mind, there is an unforgivable sin: If something reminds me that I’m reading a book instead of experiencing another’s life, it should be deleted. In the industry, it’s called author intrusion, and I confess that I find it mildly irksome.

In the end, your book is yours. Accessibility by readers is always crucial to keep in mind, yes; after all, they’re the ones who will expect to feast on the literary buffet you’ve offered them. Conventions in formatting and the fairly strict functions of frontmatter are things readers have become accustomed to; inexpertly violate one of those precepts…author intrusion. Farbeit from me, though, to have the temerity to stifle your creativity. If you have an idea on how to do it differently, and if you’ve worked to make it work, sell me on it. When I’ve got my feet up, metaphorically, and begin to read your manuscript, it’s the story that matters. Always story first. If conventions support and enhance the story, marvelous. If they get in the way, kick ‘em to the curb and draw a new map. I’ll follow.

Comments (14)

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  1. avatar Barbara L Vanderstel says:

    This is such a great help to authors. As for myself in my first book A Book Of LOVE I did write about my life and the desire for people to love God and trust Him through our everyday experiences. I find out though as I devour these suggestions from the professional staff at Xulon, I could have and should have done a lot of things differently. I appreciate so much the great learning and growing curve that happened before writing, while writing, and after I’ve written my book. Thank you for encouraging me and answering questions and mostly just being there for me as I stumble through. It’s without a doubt the most challenging and rewording thing I have ever done

    • avatar Eddie Cruz says:

      Thank YOU for your comment. We love books at Xulon—and we editors love language in general—and it’s massively rewarding to know that we may have had some small impact on your growth as a writer. It’s a process that should never end, no matter how many books you write. I remember reading somewhere that Tolstoy refused to look back at “War and Peace” when it was finished because he knew he would feel that it was all wrong and MUST be rewritten. I think most writers feel similarly about their work that has passed out of their immediate control. So thank you for your words of support, and please do post whatever questions may occur to you. We’re always happy to help.

  2. avatar Paula D Searcy says:

    “apoplectic” “temerity” The use of these two “fellows” caused me to laugh out loud for real. I love and enjoy words and the truth that I don’t know what they mean… caused me to laugh. I’ve been published in two Xulon publications*, but I can’t seem to get the $$$ to be officially published. I follow these posts though and they are a great help.
    I have used my dictionary and the pictures conjured up by your use of these two words again caused laughter…. apoplexy is of course no laughing matter ~ but your use of the word is funny. Thanks for the post!

    * “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “How I Met My True Love: Inspiring True Life Stories of How God Unites Soul Mates”

    • avatar Eddie Cruz says:

      Thanks for following our little blog. Your comment brings to mind a reader review of one of my favorite author’s books. The reviewer noted, somewhat disparagingly, I thought, “Clearly, a thesaurus was used.” Well, and so what? Are we to write using only the vocabulary we possess “right now” so as not be uncool? Heaven forfend. I think some of this philosophy can be traced back to a statement made by a very famous popular author: “Any word you have to look up in a thesaurus is the wrong word.” No. No. And, no. Always seek freshness of language in your writing, and do not hesitate to use your thesaurus. One of the greatest attributes of the English language is that most words have similar words with slightly different shades of meaning, allowing you to pick the one that pinpoints precisely the message you want to communicate. Synonym boldly. (See? “Synonym” is used as a verb there, even though it’s technically wrong [and my conscience is clean using it so].) As to “official” publication, call a sales rep. They’re always having specials and deals and promotions and such; we in Editorial consider those folks a foreign country, so I can’t offer much in the way of guidance. Thanks again for reading Ask the Editor.

    • Hi Paula…one of our authors was having the same challenge of financing his book project. He ended up using an online fundraising tool and was so successful with it that he wrote a blog post sharing his experience. You can see that post at the link below. I hope it helps!

      Now That My Book is Finished, How Do I Finance It?

    • avatar HG Keller says:

      Hi Paula,
      Please explain “can’t seem to get $$$ to be officially published.” What does it take to be ‘officially’ published?

  3. avatar Deon Stevens says:

    I tried getting your publishing guide, but your site does not include South Africa.

  4. avatar Doris Pettrone says:

    I own a Nook and would like to find a list of Xulon Press digital publications that are available through the “shop” selection. I tried looking through your bookstore, but didn’t find the exact selection to make this easy; i.e., by author, by title, etc. How can this be done?

    • Hi Doris….I’m sorry, but at this time there is no easy way to find a list of Xulon Press publications that are available in digital format. You can search through our bookstore, if you find a publication that you’re curious about you can either search online for a digital version or contact us directly and we’ll let you know. I wish I could make that process easier for you right now. It’s a great idea for functionality that we can build into a future bookstore!

  5. avatar Andrew Sesay says:

    Dear beloved; i’m from Sierra Leone
    i want to be part of the telling my own story, i want to pay my few but how do i go about it? here is my Story;

    Dear Xulon
    Greetings from Sierra Leone.

    My Name is Pastor Andrew T. Sesay,
    Here is my story and testimony, I hope you will be blessed by it. I came from a muslim home, my parent where Muslims and we growing up practicing everything and all the Holiday’s feast. My Family where really poor, they hard to take care of five kids witch was to much for them at that time, and my Father was without work, so i quite schooling because my parents could not pay my School fews.

    I came to know Jesus, after the conversation of my second elder brother, what touches me is the transformation that i saw in him He was really into a life of Immorality, something in my Heart tells me this is God at work in him. So one night he shared the gospel with me, and i gave my life to jesus, since that day i have never been the same. So i started going to church i love Jesus i was so excited to talked about Jesus to my friends and family.

    My Big problems was i couldn’t red the Bible, cause i stop at primary level, at the age (12) and i came to Christ at the age (19), so all what i know was gone, cause i heated school so bad, i was not good at all my grads where bad i never attended or went to school after that till this day. I was a shame in church when every body will get to the passage the Pastor is reading from, i will be the last person in church flipping my pages. I was so discourage then i talked to the pastor about it my discouragement, how i feel God wants to used me, but i could not read and write.

    I though he will say, they will help me to go back to school, but he share with me this passage in the Bible; Ephesians 1:17-18 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:18: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.

    This is what changed my life, verses 18, that the eyes of your understanding been, enlightened. i realize that my understanding have an eye, and i just need the Spirit of God to open the eyes of my understanding, when that happens everything will be clear. I come before the lord with this in prayer and one morning i feel the Spirit so strong on me, and i here the voice saying take your Bible and read, from that day i started reading the Bible, i have never been to Heigh School.

    The lord have given me over Hundred books, i have finished, nine of them, i pray this cloud be the time i was waiting for to be publish.I don’t have the education to write books, but the HolySpirit teaches me everything, all i do i listen to the Spirit, and i do what he say’s. Today i’m a Pastor in Sierra leone west Africa. Hope you are blessed my story, I pray that i will be Favorable Blessings and Love
    Andrew Thomas Sesay.

    • Andrew,

      It sounds like you have a great story to share, thank you for your comment. If you’re interested in publishing you can contact one of our Publishing Consultants toll-free at 1-866-381-2665 or use our local number 407-339-4217. Our Publishing Consultants can answer any questions you have about the process. Thanks for visiting the Xulon Press Blog!

  6. avatar Sharon says:

    Very timely info, Mr. Cruz. Love your tips!

    Just for the fun of it, care to include a run-down on the difference between Introduction/Conclusion vs. Prologue/Epilogue? I have a narrative non-fiction in the works. Love to know what you think is most appropriate, and why.


    • avatar Eddie Cruz says:

      Ah, yes, a not unreasonable question. So here it is: Generally speaking, the Introduction/Conclusion serve as bookends to a nonfiction work; and the Prologue/Epilogue serve the same function for fiction. The difference is that the Introduction and Conclusion are part of the frontmatter and endmatter, respectively, while the Prologue and Epilogue begin and end, respectively, the story itself; that is, the Prologue and Epilogue present events involving characters or situations from the story. In a creative non-fiction work, you can pretty much take your pick based on whether the scale leans more to the “creative” side or the “non-fiction” side. One important thing I learned about this particular category is that there’s a difference between truth and actuality, with the former being vastly more important than the latter. Bitte.

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