The first thing you need to know is this: the introduction of a book is, at its essence, a sales letter from you (the author) to your ideal reader.
The goal isn’t to dazzle them with your writing skills but to convince them your book is well worth their time.
By the time we’re done, you’ll know how to write a book introduction that grabs the interest of readers.
We’ll also see some of the best book introduction examples ever written.
Let’s dive in!
- What Is An Introduction in a Book and Why Have One?
- What Should Be in the Intro to a Book?
- How Long Should a Book Introduction Be?
- How to Write a Book Introduction: 5 Must-Do Steps with Examples
What Is An Introduction in a Book and Why Have One?
The introduction of a novel or nonfiction book is where you sell the idea that your book, more than anything similar to it, represents the best use of your reader’s time.
With nonfiction, you do this by identifying your reader’s problem and showing that you understand. As early as possible in your intro, you want them to think, “This person really knows about a problem I have — and has solved in a way I haven’t tried yet.”
The introduction is where you convince your reader that your book is just what they need to solve a problem that has been bothering them or standing in their way.
You and your book are the solutions they’ve been looking for.
What Should Be in the Intro to a Book?
Every introduction is different, but the most effective intros share the following elements:
- The hook — where you grab the reader and give them a reason to keep reading
- Relatable description of a problem — ideally through a story
- Believable and inspiring revelation of a solution — also via storytelling
- Just enough mystery to keep your reader wondering (and reading)
- Outline of the book — highlighting its main selling points
It’s also important to know what not to put in your introduction. The main thing to remember is eliminating anything that hasn’t earned its place.
You want no wasted words. No fluff. Nothing that doesn’t contribute to the desired effect.
The effect, of course, is a reader’s conviction that reading your book will make their life so much better that they must read it.
How Long Should a Book Introduction Be?
The length of your introduction will depend on the following factors:
- The length of your book (since you’ll offer a brief outline in your intro);
- The need for background information to make your book’s purpose clear;
- The popularity of your book’s subject.
As already mentioned, it’s important not to make your introduction any longer than it needs to be. Get your reader hooked, and then get them right to the good stuff.
How to Write a Book Introduction: 5 Must-Do Steps with Examples
You can write an outstanding book introduction in five simple steps, each of which we’ll explore below, using some of the best introduction examples to illustrate each one.
1. Immediately engage your reader with a story.
The best way to hook your reader is with a story illustrating a problem they have using a relatable character.
This character can be a real person whose name you’ve changed to protect their identity. Or it can be an avatar of a real person or a set of people with a similar story.
The important thing is to make sure this character is believable. Make it someone your ideal reader can easily relate to and even care about (“They’re like me!”).
When you show how the solution improved their lives, your readers can see themselves in that person. They can believe that if the solution worked for the person in your story, it would work for them.
Think about the best introductions you’ve ever read. How did the author draw you in?
The chances are good that they told you a story. They introduced you to a character you could relate to. The more you learned about them, the more you saw yourself in them and wanted to believe your life would get better from reading that book.
You read about the happy outcome and felt hope that you would experience the same.
Example from David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
“…He was a giant, six foot nine at least, wearing a bronze helmet and full body armor. He carried a javelin, a spear, and a sword. An attendant preceded him, carrying a shield. The giant faced the Israelites and shouted out, “Choose you a man and let him come down to me! If he prevail in battle against me and strike me down, we shall be slaves to you. But if I prevail and strike him down, you will be slaves to us and serve us.
“In the Israelite camp, no one moved. Who could win against such a terrifying opponent? Then a shepherd boy who had come down from Bethlehem to bring food to his brothers stepped forward and volunteered. Saul objected: “You cannot go against this Philistine and do battle with him, for you are a lad and he is a man of war from his youth.” But the shepherd was adamant. He had faced more ferocious opponents than this, he argued. “When the lion or the bear would come and carry off a sheep from the herd,” he told Saul, “I would go after him and strike him down and rescue it from his clutches.” Saul had no other options. He relented, and the shepherd boy ran down the hill toward the giant standing in the valley. “Come to me that I may give your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field,” the giant cried out when he saw his opponent approaching. Thus began one of history’s most famous battles. The giant’s name was Goliath. The shepherd boy’s name was David.”
2. Clearly illustrate “how it is.”
You want them to know you see “how it is.” You’re intimately familiar with a problem they share, and you know exactly how awful that problem it can be.
Intimate knowledge involves particulars, not just a hazy, general idea. On the other hand, you don’t want to include less relatable details and risk alienating your reader.
One way to approach this is to write about a character modeled after yourself. If you’ve had the problem, you know it as well as your ideal reader. You’ve gained insights into this problem.
You lived with it and suffered from it, but it didn’t beat you. You triumphed, and you want your reader to experience the same victory and the benefits of the solution you discovered.
Write this story as if you were writing about yourself from someone else’s perspective.
Start with the problem and clarify that the character you speak about really knows what it’s like to live with that problem. Show them the cost.
Example from Speed Reading; Learn to Read a 200+ Page Book in 1 Hour by Kam Knight
“The sheer volume of information the eyes can take in at any moment is incomprehensible. Look around and take note of everything you see. If outside, notice the trees, cars, people, and everything in between. If, sitting at a desk, take note of the pens, paper, notebook, and all the other material in front of you.
“The mind processes these objects so fast you’re not aware of the processing happen. You simply move your eyes in a direction, and they instantaneously detect and understand what is there.
“When we read, however, things are not as smooth and fluid. It takes time and effort to process words and the meaning conveyed by those words. For many, reading is a demanding activity that consumes a lot of mental energy. For some, it is so demanding, they avoid reading altogether.
“So, the question is, why can’t we process text the same way we process other things in our environment?
“The truth is we can! …. “
3. Highlight “what could be” and how.
You want your reader to see “how it can be” if they apply the solution you offer them in your book. Now that you’ve convinced them you know the problem at least as well as they do, it’s time to
Show your reader they’re not stuck with “how it is” now. They can be like the example character in your story who applied the solution and saw their life change dramatically for the better.
You also want them to believe that, just by reading your book, they can easily apply the solution themselves and see the benefits right away. You also want them to think, “This is totally doable for me.”
No solution, however impressive the results, will draw them in if they don’t see themselves using it or sticking to it. People like solutions that are easy and life-changing.
You want them excited about the benefits you describe in your book’s introduction. And you want them hungry to learn more.
Example from To-Do List Formula: A Stress-Free Guide to Creating To-Do Lists That Work! by Damon Zahariades:
“…If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I recommend you read this book from beginning to end. You’ll learn why your current approach to task management is failing. You’ll also discover the changes you need to make to meet your deadlines, lower your stress, and find more joy in your daily experience.
“By the time you finish reading To-Do List Formula: A Stress Free Guide… you’ll know how to create task lists that do more than just display action items. They’ll actually help you get things done. More to the point, they’ll help you get the important things done. That could mean the difference between struggling with chronic stress and self-guilt and enjoying a relaxed, pressure-free workweek.
“You’re about to learn a system that will revolutionize how you approach your work, both at the office and at home.”
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4. Show your credentials.
Give your reader a reason to believe you’re qualified to discuss the problem in-depth and help them apply the solution to get the best possible results.
So, share something about yourself to build your reader’s confidence in you.
What experience do you have related to the problem and solution you present in your book? How did you gain the knowledge you have, and why does it matter? What makes you the best person to guide them to an effective long-term solution to this problem?
You’re writing this book because you believe you’re uniquely well suited to discussing this problem and the particular solution you’re offering. You probably have something in your background that would enhance your credibility in your reader’s eyes.
Use that. Whether you learned something the hard way, grew up with a rare advantage (or disadvantage), or were fortunate enough to interview someone with an incredible story, share that with your reader.
If it makes you any better qualified to write this book, it’s worth mentioning.
Example from The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan:
“A number of these women—and men—still live in Oak Ridge, Tennessee today. I have had the fascinating and humbling privilege of meeting them, interviewing them, laughing and crying with them, and hearing firsthand their tales of life in a secret city while working on a project whose objective was largely kept from them. Over the years, they have graciously given me their time and suffered through repeated questions and what must have seemed like insane requests to recall moments from their day-to-day activities roughly 70 years ago… I did not only learn about life on the Manhattan Project. I also found myself taken aback by their sense of adventure and independence, their humility, and their dedication to the preservation of history…. “
5. Give your reader a brief outline of your book.
While it might seem unnecessary since your introduction comes shortly after your table of contents, great introductions often provide at least a rough outline of the book to give the reader an idea of what to expect and to get them excited about what’s coming up next.
If your book is divided into parts, here’s a good place to point that out and explain why.
The outline part of your introduction acts as a tour guide to the rest of your book, pointing out the main attractions at each stop. You want your reader to feel confident that the book has all the information they need to solve the problem you’ve just described.
Do this right, and your reader will be only too ready to turn the page and start Chapter One.
Don’t expect your reader to flip back to the table of contents for reassurance that you’ve covered the essentials. They probably won’t.
Picture a waiter at a nice restaurant describing the night’s special. By the time they’re done, if the special is to your taste, you’re salivating at the sensory details and ready to dive in as soon as the plate hits the table.
It’s like that.
Example from The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg:
“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.”
Now that you know how to write an introduction for your book, we hope your mind is buzzing with ideas. Take a moment to jot some of them down without editing yourself (that comes later).
You can also use what you’ve learned here to level up an introduction for a book you’ve already published.