It is enough to read some examples of prefaces to understand their importance. Those first pages serve as an introduction and make a reader choose one book and not another. As readers they help us choose if that is the story we want to get involved in; As writers they allow us to attract the attention of our readers and make them choose us.
Therefore, writing a good preface is a skill that you must develop. Thanks to it, the reader will make the final decision about whether to continue reading or leave the book on the shelf for a longer time. But how should it be written so that it fulfills its function? Luckily, great authors have left us enough (and very successful) examples of successful prefaces in different literary genres. Thanks to them you can learn to apply their techniques in your own work.
To help you in this process, we have written this article where we are going to show you examples of prefaces depending on the literary genre of your book or what you want to focus on. We’ll also go over techniques for writing a good foreword and our pro tips for doing so.
What is a preface and why you should write one for your book?
Written by the author himself or by someone else (the editor or a literary critic), the preface acts as an introduction to the book. It therefore serves as a presentation of the theme, tone or even the characters of the story. Its function is very important, as it represents the reader’s first contact with the plot and, therefore, is decisive in whether or not to continue reading.
In addition to the work, the preface also serves to provide information about the author and the motivation that led him to write. For example, some writers explain in the preface that the plot is based on a true story from his childhood. Or perhaps they have published that book to make an unfair situation visible or to thank someone for something.
“Who do I write for? It is the first question that the author must answer.”
Examples of successful prefaces in different literary genres
Now that we have a clearer definition of “preface” and some basic guidelines on how to write it, let’s put everything into practice through an example of a successful preface. In addition, we are going to review the different literary genres so that, whatever you write, you are clear about what your preface should be like. As soon as you finish reading this article, all you have to do is write it and finish your book to self-publish it!
How to use the preface to summarize the content of the book and set reader expectations?
Novel authors use the preface to summarize the content of the book. They thus give a general vision of its essence and what the reader will find between its pages.
If this is your case, an example of a preface for a narrative work is one that tells what the story is about, who its protagonists are in general terms… But it also serves to explain the reason for the narrative and its writing. If you are a new writer and this is your first work, it is a great idea to share your doubts or the barriers you have faced during the creative process.
This way you will manage the expectations of the reader, who will know what to expect and also that they are facing the privilege of being the first readers of a great writer like you.
As we know that everything is clearer in practice, here we leave you examples of prefaces from classic novels and references in universal literature.
Examples of novel prefaces
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
In this novel we trace, through seven generations, the history of the Benda family, whose condemnation has always been, is and will be loneliness. Its beginning, already epic and now a classic, begins a unique story where magical realism achieves its maximum plenitude.
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
The adolescence of Holden Caulfield, who is 17 years old when the novel begins, is marked by his desire to escape the hypocrisy, wealth and privileges of his family and his environment. We accompany this young man in his adventures in New York and, above all, in his moral dilemmas as he does not know what to do with his life. A book that had to fight against censorship but luckily you have it in your hands.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Expiry
I apologize to the children for having dedicated this book to an older person. I have a serious excuse: this elderly person is the best friend I have in the world. I have another excuse: this older person is capable of understanding everything, even children’s books. I have a third excuse: This elderly person lives in France, where he is hungry and cold. He truly needs comfort. If all those excuses were not enough, I may as well dedicate this book to the child who once was this elderly person. All the elders have been children first. (But few remember it). I therefore correct my dedication: TO LEON WERTH WHEN HE WAS A CHILD.
How to use the preface to introduce the theme and tone of the book?
Those who write a book that compiles several texts from different authors (or even the same author) know how essential the preface is. In these cases, the introduction to the theme and tone of the book takes on greater importance, since the reader must know what unites the anthology (poems, essays, journalistic articles…).
An example of a preface in an anthology is one that the anthologist writes to explain why he has included some works or others. In an anthologist you may be the author of said works and have grouped those that have the same theme or tone into a single book. It may also be a person other than the author who has decided to make a selection of the best pieces by a writer or choose several from different authors but who have points in common.
“He who entrusts his thoughts to writing, without being able to arrange them correctly, nor to embellish them, nor to extend over them a certain charm that attracts the reader, excessively abuses his own leisure and his letters.”
Whatever the situation, the preface is an almost obligatory part of the anthology, since it is used to explain precisely the selection criteria. It is also important that in this introduction, in a brief and general way, I address and clarify the topic that acts as a common thread.
Examples of anthology prefaces
The voices of the generation of ’27, the voices of Federico Garcia Lorca, Carmen Conde, Luis Bermuda, Concha Méndez, Rafael Alberta, Elisabeth Mulder, Pedro Salinas. This is what you will find in this poetic anthology that covers a historical stage of Spanish literature, from the beginning of those voices until they faded away. It is a tour adapted to children’s and youth literature that invites you to get to know these authors and their creative processes from an early age.
Rebellions and revelations of Giaconda Belli
Under the motto of “The woman who rebels, reveals herself”, by José Coronel Utrecht, this book collects the oppressions and struggles that Giaconda Belli has experienced as a woman. She does so in a work that is between autobiography, essay and anthology but that in any case helps to draw the present, the past and the future of a writer who has faced machismo through her writing, always uniting her with their social and political action.
Marked Land: Anthology of Latin American Stories of the 20th Century by VV. AA.
In this anthology of stories, we find the best and affordable memoir writing service signed by Julio Cordozar, Garcia Marquez, Rolfe or Cabrera Infant. Through them, the common points (and also those that differ) of Latin American literature can be established. For this, stories have been chosen that present different narrative structures and that range from tradition to the avant-garde.
How to Use the Preface to Characterize Characters and Set the Tone of the Book?
There are few things more important in theater than presenting and describing the characters very well. The first thing we can think is that this occurs throughout the work, but it is important that some general points are established in the preface. This information does not help the spectator who sees the work performed, since the preface does not go on stage, but it does help the director or the actors.
A playwright must include in the preface a guide that includes ideas, elements or even sketches that he may not have been able to include in the dialogue but that characterize the characters and help build them on stage.
As an example of a theatrical preface, Molière’s Tartuffe is always mentioned, in which the author guides the characters and enriches them, a great help for the acting work (and also for the reader who wants to better understand the work).
Of course, there are many other plays with prefaces; These are some examples.
Examples of prefaces to plays
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet are two young people whose romance is built in a context that does not favor it. Their two families are at odds over past arguments that continue in the present, although without finding an explanation or justification beyond “tradition.” This tradition weighs on the shoulders of the protagonist couple, who live an internal struggle between collective and individual interest.
La Celestine by Fernando de Rojas
The story of the lovers in this work leaves a great moral lesson about passion, greed and how these are the great dangers of love. Calisto and Melba are two young people whose reason is silenced by the sexual desire and wrong interests of those around them.
The House of Bernard Alba by Federico Garcia Lorca
The darkness that reigns in Bernard Alba’s house is a reflection of the sadness and agony that is experienced within its walls. Bernard forces her young daughters to mourn, who feel how that darkness, that imposed black color, consumes her earliest youth. Thus there is a constant confrontation between the new and the old, between dictatorship and freedom.
How to use the preface to establish an emotional connection with the reader?
Poetry requires great mastery of stanzas and writing in general, although the good thing is that it is the genre that establishes the most emotional connection with the reader. However, for this to be the case and for that connection to be total, the preface must be used as a good first contact.
In this space the poet can reveal a little of his inner world, which the reader can then explore in detail through his poems. For example, if your collection of poems was written after a breakup or as a means to express your ideas about friendship, why not explain it in the preface? The reader will then be able to see if he is also going through a similar situation or if he agrees with your way of thinking, which will make him definitely opt for your book and not another.
A great preface is that of Joan Margaret for his collection of poems All my poems. However, we share some other examples of prefaces for lyrical works.
Examples of poetry prefaces
Poet in New York by Federico Garcia Lorca
35 poems with which to travel with Lorca on his trip through the United States and Cuba. A determining journey for him that was reflected in his literature as a great existential crisis in which he reflected on his art, his political ideas and his identity. The poetic subject, the Lorca of Poet in New York, is the one who faces the inhuman city, the precarious existence and a void in which to develop his “I”.
Solitudes, galleries and other poems by Antonio Machado
It could be said that the central theme of the poems in Soledad’s, galleries and other poems is precisely life, and that is why it is easy to connect with this work. Childhood, death, the passage of time and nature help create a unique poetic atmosphere that is filled with nostalgia.
Galician songs by Rosalie de Castro
The close relationship between music and poetry, always so united, always so in contact, are taken to another dimension in the lyrics of Cantores Gallegos. The poems all draw on the traditional music of Galicia, taking us to traditional settings full of love, intimacy and also socio-political vindication.
How to use the preface to provide historical, cultural, or geographic context for the story?
One of the great functions of the preface is to contextualize the work. This is essential in (auto)biographical works and in those where fiction draws on reality (for example the historical novel). It is also advisable if the book you are writing deals with a topic on which the reader is not an expert, such as advanced concepts of formal sciences or unknown cultures.
Thanks to the preface, the author can give the reader basic notions about the historical event that frames the work. This is very important to explain certain references or the reason for a character’s actions.
The Fall of the Giants by Ken Fillet
The Fall of the Giants immerses the reader in an epic story. This first novel, which is part of a trilogy, follows the destinies of five different families throughout the world. From America to Germany, Russia, England and Wales, Fillet follows the evolution of her characters through the First World War, the Russian Revolution and the early struggles for women’s rights. As always, Fillet places a special interest in her homeland, Wales, beginning with the story of Billy Williams, a simple miner; In America we find Gus Dewar, a law student heartbroken by a heartbreak. In Russia, two orphaned brothers, Grigori and Lev find themselves in the middle of a revolution that disrupts their lives and ends up separating their paths. As a knot between the stories we find Williams’ sister, who works in England as Lady Fitzherbert’s housekeeper, in love with a German spy, Walter von Ulrich. Little by little these characters will meet as the immense machinery created by Fillet advances, as fast and violent as the beginning of the 20th century in which they find themselves immersed. In the following volumes of the trilogy, Fillet will continue with the same families, creating a great generational text with which to write and portray one of the most terrible and wonderful centuries in the history of humanity.
Rebel divas by Cristina Moreot
This is the biography of seven women who marked history for their nonconformity to being what society told them they should be. Women who were characterized by an authentic personality and a style that made them known worldwide. Without them, the history of the 20th century (and our present day) would not be understood. Although some have sometimes made an effort to remember them simply as the “women of,” they were much more. I was rebellious divas.
Napoleon Bonaparte by Albert Manfred
From his rise to his decline but going much further, this is the biography of a historical man who represented war and also the transition between the feudal system and bourgeois society. In this biography, which reflects the great ambition of the great French emperor, a journey is made through historical events such as the sacking of Germany, the invasion of Russia or the Spanish War of Independence.
How to Apply Successful Preface Techniques to Your Own Literary Work
Now that you have read several examples of successful prefaces, it is time to write yours, the one that will make readers choose your book.
The literary genre of your book influences the type of preface, as we have seen previously. But there are other aspects to take into account, the main one being the content of the work you have written. When you have finished it, read it completely, as if you were another reader, and ask yourself what you wish you had known before, if there is something that arouses your curiosity or what is the main message that you should introduce in the preface.
If for any reason you are not going to write the preface to your book and you are going to delegate that task to someone, it is recommended that you establish which ideas you do or do want it to include. This way you will ensure that, even if you are not the author of the preface, your voice is maintained and connects with the reader.
“Writing stories is a serious task and also a beautiful one. Difficult art, has the prize in its own realization.”
With these tips you already have a general idea to make the first sketch of your preface, but nothing like some more practical tips to finish it.
How to Apply Successful Preface Techniques to Your Own Literary Work
Practical tips for writing an effective preface that improves the reader’s experience
In order not to miss the great opportunities that the preface generates, it is important to follow some guidelines:
- Identifying the purpose of the preface: do you want to introduce the story? Just the characters? Your own experience as a writer? Answer these questions (and ask yourself others) to define the purpose of the preface.
- Research and be inspired by an example of a preface: it will help you see what other writers have done within the genre you have chosen. With all the information you collect, you will be able to better structure your preface.
- Look for clarity: A good example of a preface is one that is concise and does not go on too long. If you do not meet these requirements, you will be more likely to be writing a prologue or even a chapter of the book, which will cause you to lose the reader’s valuable attention.
- Pay attention to the language: think that it is the first thing the reader is going to read, so if you use complex words or semantics, it is possible that they will reject your book because it seems, at first, somewhat heavy and even pretentious. It is also not advisable to abuse literary figures in this part so as not to lose precision.
- Don’t Tell Everything: If you look at the examples of prefaces above, none of them tell us the entire plot. It is important that you hint at what is going to happen without giving too many clues; just enough to catch the reader’s attention and make him want more.
- Proofread: a good writer is one who reviews and edits the text to ensure that it fulfills the function for which it was written. Don’t forget to use a spell checker to avoid grammatical errors either!
Write a good preface before printing and self-publishing your book
Anyone who wants to write and publish a book must be clear about the importance of the preface. Sometimes it is omitted as something “extra”, but think about how those two pages can determine success in your profession as a writer.
Especially if you are writing your first book, you should think of the preface as an essential part. Don’t overlook it or underestimate its power. In fact, you must put effort into creating it.
Self-publish your book with Collabra
Once you have the preface written and your book finished, it is time to bring it to light. Many writers hesitate whether to choose a publisher to do so or opt for self-publishing, which has many advantages. If your case is the latter, on a platform like Collabra we can accompany you in the beautiful process of publishing your book. We already told you that it is a path full of decisions about layout, binding or even typography. Luckily, our system makes everything easier and faster without losing the many customization options.