Preface, Introduction, or Foreword: What's the Difference?

Posted by Kristen House on June 6, 2018 at 8:00 PM

The preface, the introduction, and the foreword of a book are introductory pieces that belong in a book’s front matter—before Chapter 1. Many authors think that these are all interchangeable terms, but this is a common misconception.

So what’s the difference between a preface, introduction, and foreword? When should you use one in your book, and how long should they be? It depends on what you want to talk about, and what type of book you have (fiction or non-fiction).

Here's a boiled-down explanation.

A PREFACE, always in non-fiction books, is where the author explains why he or she wrote the book.
    • What this is good for: If you’ve written a non-fiction book and would like to explain your reasoning behind writing the book, include a preface. Why did you choose to write this book?
    • How long this should be: A preface should be about 1,000 words (4 pages) or fewer. Keep it short and to the point.

An INTRODUCTION, always in non-fiction books, deals only with explaining the contents of the book.
    • What this is good for: As the name implies, an introduction is good for introducing what your non-fiction book is about. Here, you can talk about common themes or the overall message of your book.
    • How long this should be: An introduction should be about 1,000 words (4 pages) or fewer.


A FOREWORD, always in non-fiction books, is usually written by someone other than the author, usually an expert in the field.
    • What this is good for: A well-written credibility by an expert in the field will lend credibility to you (the author) and your book. The person who is writing the foreword might talk about his or her relationship with the author, or the impact of the book.
    • How long this should be: Keep it short and concise. A foreword should not exceed 1,000 words (about 4 pages).

BONUS! What’s a prologue?

A PROLOGUE belongs in a fiction book—it’s a chapter before Chapter 1, and serves to show some backstory.
    • What this is good for: A prologue is a great way to provide some context to your story before it begins.
    • How long this should be: Keep your prologue about the same length as your chapters, or a bit shorter. Most effective prologues hook the readers right away with a punch of action and relatable characters.

Make sure you get it right! Does your book need a preface, an introduction, or a foreword? Or if your book is fiction, are you using a prologue?

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Book editor Kristen Hamilton is the owner and sole employee of

Kristen Corrects, Inc., where she provides manuscript editing

services for traditionally and self-publishing authors. Several

authors whose books she has edited have won awards and have

topped Amazon's best sellers lists.

Reading is Kristen's passion, so when the workday is over, she

can usually be found curled up with a good book alongside her

four cats. She loves watching cat videos and scary movies,

eating pizza, teaching herself French, and traveling, and she is

likely planning her next vacation. She lives outside of Boise, ID.

Categories: writing

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