Why your book needs a Preface, and what it should include

So you finished your book, congratulations! Just as you’re ready to submit your manuscript, you glance over a checklist we sent you way back when you signed your contract, and notice that you haven’t written a preface. Do you really need one? Yes! If your book is a textbook or academic book, experience tells us that a strong preface can help win adoptions for your book.

Studying at a cafe
Your book’s preface is a great marketing tool, and the first thing that an instructor will likely read: take some time to plan out what to include.

Here’s some SAGE advice (forgive the pun!) for writing a great preface, and what to include:

  1.  A clear statement of your mission or purpose in writing the book

Why did your spend all those countless hours writing this book? Why is there a need for it? Why should anyone read it? This may seem an obvious place to start, but authors often overlook a strong mission statement, having been so closely involved with the project. Think about what compelled you to write the book; perhaps problems that you faced in teaching your course, and not finding an adequate text for the way you wanted to approach the topic? Your mission statement should be specific and powerful to encourage instructors to adopt your book, students to read it, and professionals to use it. Our sales representatives often say that the appeal of a book is in the “story” of the book—that powerful reason that drove you to write it. 

  1. A description of the specific market (courses) for your book

List the departments where there are courses that could use your book. What are some typical course names? Please be specific to help potential adopters identify if your book could meet their needs.

3. The major features of the book and the benefits of these features

In describing the features, make certain that each feature is clearly and simply described, along with its benefits. For example, if your book emphasizes international examples and data, you should discuss why this approach benefits the reader. If your book is an upper-level book, there are still unique characteristics that readers need to know about. Is your research, the methodology, or the theory unique? Does it fill a gap in the literature? Does it have policy implications? Let your reader know why your book is special.

4.  A discussion of special pedagogical aids and high-interest features

What kind of pedagogy did you build into the book to help students master the content? This could be the chapter-opening and chapter-ending material, or specific boxed features. Briefly describe each feature and its intended benefits.

  1. Changes to a revised edition

If you are preparing a preface for a revision, be certain to include the changes to this edition. A heading such as “New to this Edition” can call attention to this important section, and this is incredibly helpful for an instructor who may have used the previous edition. If the changes are substantial, it is a good idea to list this chapter by chapter.

  1. Digital resources to accompanying the text (if applicable)

Describe these in as much detail as possible, separating instructor supplements from those for the student. We will insert the URL for the accompanying website here too.

  1. Acknowledgments

A good preface always ends with acknowledgments and the content here is largely your choice. The list of reviewers is the one required item; we will supply you with this list.

Congrats, now you really are ready to submit your manuscript!

Author: Helen Salmon

I'm a Senior Acquisitions Editor at SAGE, responsible for signing and developing books in research methods, statistics, and evaluation.

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