How to Write a Killer Book Introduction
It might be a short ebook you intend to give away to blog subscribers.
Or you might be trying to pen a New York Times bestseller.
Either way, I think I know which bit of your book is causing you problems.
How to write a book introduction is the biggest hurdle for most of the writers I work with. Every time they try to elegantly link their title and chapter content with a coherent and engaging introduction, they hit the wall.
The good news is, it only takes three steps to knock down that wall.
What is the purpose of the introduction?
The best headline formulas will persuade someone to click on your blog posts, right?
And then the introductions to your articles need to convince the reader that they’ll find what they’re looking for if they continue reading.
The purpose of the introduction for your book is similar. You need to hook your reader and keep them interested in your writing.
However, since it takes much longer to read an entire book, the stakes are higher. Your book introduction needs to be even more remarkable, and it’s relevant when you’re researching how to get a book published as well.
What to put in an introduction?
Much of the mystery around this topic involves what to put in an introduction.
If you’re vague, will people lose interest? If you give away too much information, will people feel overwhelmed? How do you find the right balance?
Those questions are a part of classic writing problems that keep writers stuck. Or worse, those dilemmas produce weak introductions that don’t do the rest of a book justice.
Keep reading to find out exactly how to attract and maintain interest in your book.
How long should a book introduction be?
How long a book introduction should be will vary from topic to topic.
Some subjects will require more background information to hook a reader, especially if the value of reading the book is not immediately clear. Others will need less, especially if the book is about something wildly popular or unusual.
So, you don’t need to worry too much about meeting an exact length or word count as you dive into how to write a book introduction.
Instead, think about the important details someone needs to know in order to pique their interest in your book.
Finishing a book is an investment, but if the writing is enjoyable for the reader, it’s an effortless and fun activity. Use your introduction to communicate everything you need to convince a prospective reader that your book will be worth their time.
3 steps to write a book introduction and examples
When you follow the three main steps for writing the best book introductions, you can:
- Instantly engage your ideal reader
- Give them certainty that Yes, this book is for them
- Expand on the promise in your book’s title
- Tell the reader why you’re the person to deliver on that promise
- Indicate how you plan to do so
But first, you need to remember one key thing:
An introduction is a sales letter for your book. It’s a marketing tool.
So, as tempting as it might be to write an introduction that tries to capture the attention of “everyone,” it’s a bad idea. As noted above, it must be pitched to — and engage — your ideal reader.
I’m going to assume you know exactly who your ideal reader is.
Which means you’re ready to implement the three steps that will deliver an engaging and effective book introduction.
Step# 1: Hook the reader with a story
The human brain is hard-wired for story. Any information provided in that format instantly activates two compelling questions in our minds:
- What happens next?
- What’s in this for me?
Once those questions are raised, we’re hooked; we can’t help but keep reading to find out the answers.
However, you can’t start your book’s introduction with just any story.
You’ll get better results if you include elements of “what is” and “what could be,” which are part of Nancy Duarte’s techniques for effective storytelling in presentations.
Your story must connect to your book’s title and communicate:
- “What is”: a current, non-ideal situation the ideal reader strongly identifies with
- “What could be”: the better situation the reader will be able to access, presumably as a result of reading your book
Let’s look at some book introduction examples …
Check out the opening of Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit:
“She was the scientists’ favorite participant.
Lisa Allen, according to her file, was thirty-four years old, had started smoking and drinking when she was sixteen, and had struggled with obesity for most of her life. At one point, in her mid-twenties, collection agencies were hounding her to recover $10,000 in debts. An old résumé listed her longest job as lasting less than a year.
The woman in front of the researchers today, however, was lean and vibrant, with the toned legs of a runner …
According to the most recent report in her file, Lisa had no outstanding debts, didn’t drink, and was in her thirty-ninth month at a graphic design firm.”
If you’ve picked up The Power of Habit, it’s likely you’re someone who’s struggled to create and maintain good habits.
By the third paragraph of this book, you’re hooked. Duhigg has shown you “what is,” (Lisa Allen had many struggles), and “what could be,” (Lisa has managed to overcome those struggles).
Duhigg’s intention is clear: This book will help you be like Lisa.
Not all opening stories are able to convey both “what is” and “what could be” as explicitly as Duhigg’s does. Sometimes the “what could be” is implied, as in the opening to Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project:
“One April day, on a morning just like every other morning, I had a sudden realization: I was in danger of wasting my life. As I stared out the rain-spattered window of a city bus, I saw that the years were slipping by. ‘What do I want from life, anyway?’ I asked myself. ‘Well … I want to be happy.’ But I had never thought about what made me happy or how I might be happier.”
The nagging angst people feel when life is passing them by is “what is.” “What could be” is the removal of this angst and the attainment of happiness.
You’ll know you’ve gotten the beginning of your introduction right if:
- It combines with the title of your book to make a strong promise to the reader. (For example, the title and opening of The Power of Habit combine to make this promise: “This book will help you form positive, long-lasting habits that will make your life better.”)
- You’ve assured the reader you “get them” by demonstrating an understanding of “what is.”
- The reader gets a hint of “what could be,” and feels inspired and/or excited.
Now it’s time for …
Step# 2: Show the reader why they should listen to you
Once the reader is hooked on the promise you’re making, and confident your book is for them, they want to know:
- Who are you?
- Why are you the person to deliver on that promise?
Before you learn how to write a book introduction, it’s tempting to reel off your résumé in response to the first question. But the reader is not interested in you specifically — they’re interested in what you have to offer them.
In his introduction to The Power of Habit, Duhigg doesn’t tell the reader he’s a Pulitzer Prize winner, that he went to Yale and Harvard, or that he worked in private equity before becoming a journalist.
Instead, he communicates why he became interested in studying habits:
“I first became interested in the science of habits eight years ago, as a newspaper reporter in Baghdad. The U.S. Military, it occurred to me as I watched it in action, is one of the biggest habit-formation experiments in history.”
See how he also mentions he’s a newspaper reporter? That tells the reader he’s able to research and report on information in a digestible manner. He goes on to explain:
“We now know why habits emerge, how they change, and the science behind their mechanics. We know how to break them into parts and rebuild them to our specifications. We understand how to make people eat less, exercise more, work more efficiently, and live healthier lives.
Transforming a habit isn’t necessarily easy or quick. It isn’t always simple.
But it is possible. And now we understand how.”
At this point, the reader is confident Duhigg is the guy to tell them “how.”
It’s worth noting here that you don’t need to be a newspaper reporter, scientist, or acknowledged expert to gain the confidence of the reader.
Many readers are looking for people who are only a step or two ahead of them in a journey. Some readers are keen to read the experiences of people who are at the same place in life as them. (Think fellow parents, for example.)
That’s why it’s important to know exactly who your ideal reader is.
You’ll know you’ve gotten this section right if:
- It leaves the reader feeling they can trust you.
- It leave the reader feeling sure you’ve got the necessary “credentials” or experience to deliver on the promise you’ve made to them in the previous section.
Then, the easiest way to launch them into the rest of the book is …
Step# 3: Give the reader a rough outline
While it might seem inelegant and obvious, most authors detail what’s to come in a very literal way.
Here’s how Duhigg outlines The Power of Habit:
“This book is divided into three parts. The first section focuses on how habits emerge within individual lives …
The second part examines the habits of successful companies and organizations …
The third part looks at the habits of societies …
Each chapter revolves around a central argument: Habits can be changed, if we understand how they work.”
This section of your introduction acts as a roadmap for the reader. It tells them what to expect and creates confidence that your book will provide value for them.
You’ll know you’ve gotten this section right if:
- The reader knows what’s coming and they’re excited about it.
- They’re eager to turn the page and start Chapter 1.
It’s about overcoming objections
Reading a book is a big commitment, especially when you consider the sheer number of things competing for eyeballs in this day and age. That’s why your book’s introduction is effectively a sales page for your book.
If you sharply execute the steps above for how to write a book introduction — and make your introduction available to prospects — it will function like any great sales page.
The content will address your reader’s objections and questions:
- Is this book relevant to my personal situation?
- Does the author understand both where I am now, and where I want to be?
- Does the author have the right credentials/experience to take me where I want to be?
- How are they going to do it?
An introduction that’s engaging while it addresses a reader’s objections will both:
- Pull the reader into the book
- Push them through to the end
If you can get the reader to the end of your book, it’s got a good chance of impacting their lives in a meaningful way.