First things first – Writing a preface

I have been thoroughly wrapped up in working on my rewrite since my last post. It is time I competed the post about writing a preface. My original preface, as I stated, was not a preface at all. It was more like an introductory section listing some details about the contents of the book. The feedback from the developmental edit directed me to prepare a preface based on some very specific content. I was to include:

1. WHY I decided to write my book.

2. WHAT was my motivation and what I was compelled to write about

3. WHO was my target audience

4. WHY should anyone read my book

5.HOW would the reader benefit from reading my book

6. HOW do I establish my credibility with the reader

The editors suggestions read more like an assignment in Journalism 101, than my original concept of a preface. These suggestions were directed at my project, a work of non-fiction. The preface of a work of fiction was very different from the preface of a non-fiction book in my experience as a reader. However, the more I considered the essence of a preface, the more a preface in a non-fiction work and that for a work of fiction seemed to serve a similar purpose. A preface seemed to be more about the art of advertising, than the art of journalism.

I began to examine my own behaviours as I searched for a book to read. There were four aspects of a book that always catch my attention; the title, the preface, a bit of the first chapter and headings in the table of contents.

(Nota bene: All these four elements are important. The title and the cover need to attract the potential reader initially. The printed elements need to keep them interested and hopefully motivated to purchase the book. Therre is no way to predict which of these elements a perspective reader will examine first, save the title.)

Now that I had a concept of a preface, I set about to write a very good one. I had to include all the elements listed above, and in addition, it had to be a “hook” for the potential reader. It had to give them a reason to look at the table of contents, and perhaps read a few lines of the first chapter. There had to be some drama in the language, and the words on the page needed to draw the reader into the book. Every book I have purchased (new or used or as an e-book), and every book I have borrowed from a library or a friend, grabbed me at some emotional level.

I like to use quotes from various poems as I write. Poetry is so full of powerful ideas and emotional expression in an exquisitely compressed state, that by selecting the correct quote, you can set up the reader for your content in very few words. I try to use material from the pubic domain as much as possible and try to select a few lines that evoke the sentiments and ideas I plan to write about.  Sometimes I use quotes from the notably well known poet or from a section of prose from a strong author if it seems appropriate to my purposes. Once again, I try to confine myself to public domain materials. Using quotation, has always been a trademark of my writing, even in the content of material handed out to the students I taught or as a prelude to a lesson at the black (or white) board.

One of the benefits of working with a strong e-publishing organization is the editorial and consultative support that is provided. After completing my revised preface, I was able to confer with my editorial consultant and get confirmation that I was on the right track. Now, as I approach the bulk of the manuscripts, I wondered how much had to be simply rewritten and how much new material I needed to produce. I decided to use my preface as a guiding spirit for the rewrite. If I could capture the emotional draw of the preface in the content, my chances of producing a salable book were good. The preface as written, also defined those all critical WHO, WHAT, and HOW questions posed by the developmental editor. What ever followed the preface had to flow from its spirit.

I had one other important decision to make before I tackled the approximately 50,000 words of my manuscript. I had to decide on my voice and what writing style would best express it. I plan to reflect on finding my VOICE and deciding on a WRITING style in my next post. Until then…..

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