9 Tips for Mastering the Introduction to Your Nonfiction Book
Crafting the Introduction to a nonfiction book—especially for works of “prescriptive nonfiction” (e.g., how-to, self-help, anything offering advice or insight)—is often one of the hardest tasks writers face. There’s so much self-pressure to make it perfect that many a promising idea is paralyzed or abandoned before even reaching Chapter One. But it doesn’t have to be intimidating. Instead of an annoying obstacle before the “good stuff,” let’s reconsider how an Introduction can be the most valuable tool for capturing readers’ interest:
1. Lead with Need
Think of it as a conversation starter versus a heavy-handed sales pitch. Like a first date, it’s your chance to subtly woo the reader and show him or her that reading on is worth the time. Recall what inspired you to write the book and tap into that initial spark, as you share what the book is about, why you’re the best one to write it, and, most importantly, why someone should want and need to read it.
2. Never Forget to Engage the Reader
Our time is limited. Attention is fleeting. The strongest self-help realizes that it’s always a personalized journey for the reader. Create a specific and clear call to action that tells the potential audience exactly what they will get from reading the book—whether it’s a new program, an epiphany, or simply shared empathy and a fresh understanding of an issue. Make a promise to the reader and you’ll find an audience ready to follow along.
3. Establish Empathy and Embrace Your Expertise
With the exception of medical or legal advice, delivering empathy is the most surefire route to establishing trust and authority. You want readers to feel they are in good hands. When applicable, try using the collective “we” in general statements versus repeated overkill of “you,” which may come across like a lecture. A little humor never hurts.
4. Give Relatable Context
When setting up a work’s “need” and solutions, introduce concepts or scenarios through broad, relatable context. If you can imagine the reader nodding along to your perceptive examples, you’re on the right track.
5. Don’t Lean on Stats or Footnotes
In commercial nonfiction, few things are more unappealing and narrative flow-killing than a vast number of footnotes. Sure, a statistic or two can help set up a work’s need, but aim to see yourself more as a confident “expert” with something fresh to say than an academic contextualizing others’ work. If it reads like a textbook or an academic thesis, it’s homework. Very few get excited for more homework.
6. What’s Unique to This Book?
Ask yourself this critical question and let the answer guide the Introduction.
7. Don’t Overstuff
It’s tempting to cover every point in fear you’ll otherwise lose your audience but beware dumping too much information upfront. It risks overwhelming the reader or making the balance of the book seem redundant. A strong Introduction sets up the “big picture” and leads you to Chapter One. Let the chapters ahead truly break it down and then show how it all comes together.
8. Keep It Brief
There’s no exact rule or template for length. I’ve seen winning Introductions anywhere from a tight two pages to a dozen or so. Unless there’s a lot to say, I’d err on the shorter side to keep it super focused and allow Chapter One to shine with the initial details. You want an Introduction to inspire readers, not wear them down.
9. It’s Perfectly OK to Write the Introduction Last
There’s nothing that says you have to write in sequential order. Some authors find it much easier to come back to the Introduction once the rest of the work is complete. Do whatever works best for you but don’t skip it entirely or the work will feel incomplete.