Writing a business book? Here’s your secret weapon.

When you’re writing a business book, there’s one key section that can make all the difference to the way that potential readers see your book, and the irony is it’s you don’t even write it yourself: it’s the Foreword. 

First, what’s the difference between a foreword, a preface and an introduction?

There are no legal definitions, exactly, but here’s the generally understood convention: 

  • foreword (NB not ‘forward’, or even ‘foreward’) is written by someone other than the author, usually a luminary in the field, and talks about how important this topic is and what a fabulous job the author has done of tackling it.
  • preface is written by the author and talks about the book itself – how it came about, how it was written, how to get the most out of it and so on.
  • An introduction is usually written by the author but, rather than introducing the book, it introduces the topic: maybe it gives some backstory (the author’s own or someone else’s experience) or some statistics or maybe it just sets out what the book is going to tell you and why it matters.

So now you know what a foreword is, why might you want one?

  1. Credibility. Because it’s written by someone else, a foreword is a powerful way to establish your credibility: ‘Don’t take my word for how fabulous I am and how great this book is – I would say that wouldn’t I – but here’s XXX, whom you know and like and trust and who really rates it.’
  1. Discoverability. It’s also a great secret weapon in the discoverability war: the writer of a foreword appears as a contributor in bibliographic data, so by enlisting a big name in your field you ensure your book appears in results for that person’s name – and let’s face it, if you’re a first-time author, the punters are more likely to be searching for an established name than for yours.
  1. Network building. This is an opportunity to build a relationship with the luminaries in your field, those who’ve inspired you and shaped your ideas. Dare to dream big – who would you most love to have visibly endorsing your book? Whose name would act as guarantee and promise to potential readers that what you’re saying is worth reading?

A foreword is a great opportunity to involve your preeminent peers, even your idols, in your book project.

How do you go about approaching someone to write a foreword for you?

It really depends on how well you know them. If they’re a friend, or close acquaintance, you can simply talk to them – tell them about the book you’re writing, tell them you’d love to have them write a foreword and take it from there.

If it’s someone you know only slightly, or if you’ve been to their talks or read their books but they don’t know you, you’ll have to do a bit more work.

The best approach is a short, polite email: remind them of when you met (if you did), tell them what particularly impressed you about them, then outline your book briefly and ask if they’d be willing to consider writing a foreword, or failing that an endorsement. Don’t attach the whole manuscript – just a table of contents and perhaps the introduction. If they say yes you’ll need to send them the full manuscript so don’t approach them until you’re nearly at first full draft stage at least – but well before copy-editing, otherwise you risk delaying publication while they read the book and compose their contribution.

It’s never too early to start thinking about this one. Your foreword may be one of the best opportunities you have to reach out to the top figures in your field. 

So what are you going to do about it?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • People can only say no, right? So be bold and brave – think of the person you’d most like to be associated with your book, who would have a really interesting and useful perspective to add.
  • If you’re nearly at full first draft stage, find an intelligent way to approach and ask them.
  • If you’re still at the early stages of planning or drafting your book, think of the right person and start building your relationship and connections with them, in real life, on Twitter or through mutual acquaintances, now.

Adapted from This Book Means Business: Clever ways to plan and write a book that works harder for your business.

Alison Jones