I confess: I started to do a bit of research on the history of the Foreword and had to force myself to stop almost immediately when I began deeper investigation of philology and the Dutch, or possibly German, roots of the word itself. (It happens like that for me sometimes. Research is addicting.)
A previous post, Front Matters, explained the traditional intentions of some of the bits of, yes, front matter, the introductory sections that precede the beginning of your story proper. This being Academia month, we thought we’d focus on an element of FM (that’s industry lingo for front matter; when you use it, it makes you sound smart) that—apologies in advance—has no place in fiction. However, if you’re composing a nonfiction, scholarly work, a Foreword can serve several critical purposes, and we strongly recommend that you include one in an educational-focused project.
As a reminder, the foreword is written as an endorsement of your credibility, and can make an enormous difference in a book’s reception. It serves as a stamp of approval, a certification of your heretofore unrecognized authority. Many times, the foreword concerns itself with the author instead of the work, and that’s completely acceptable. When a reader is engaged by the person who wrote the book, he or she is immediately more open to accepting the message of that person. Note that the foreword should be at least as well written as your book; this, after all, will be the first thing a browsing reader sees when he or she opens your new tome, and spelling errors, poor grammar, and, God forbid, emoticons and texting shorthand will immediately undermine your hard work by labeling it as lamentably unprofessional.
Your foreword should be written, ideally, by an acknowledged and recognized expert on your chosen topic; someone who has read your book and is eager to associate his or her good name with you and your content. You, the author, do not write this. You, the author, do not write this. (Yes, that was intentional.) If this person can also vouch for you personally, so much the better. The choice of one or the other—that is, content endorsement vs. author endorsement—is dependent on your chosen audience. A book concerning the biblical principles of engineering is better served by a foreword written by, if you will, a Scriptural Engineer; while the foreword of a book about maintaining faith in bereavement might benefit from a mini biography concerning the author’s sorrowful, personal experience. (You, the author, do not write this.)
For us writers lacking national exposure and strings of professional credentials, a well constructed and appropriately targeted foreword can quite literally make or break a book’s success. However, don’t concern yourself with endorsements of any kind until you’ve written and rewritten your book, polished it until it’s as perfect as you can make it. At that point, you’ll probably have folks falling all over themselves offering to endorse your work. At worst, you’ll have a solid idea of the type of endorsement you want. When in doubt, drop us a line here at Xulon Press. We’re always happy to help.