The Art and Science of Guest Introductions For Non-Fiction Books
You’ve seen this in action before: a book (usually non-fiction) that’s labeled as having an introduction by somebody way more famous than the author. It’s a common practice, but why do publishers do it? What does it get for them and for the author? How do they make it happen?
Most importantly, why should you do the same?
We’ll answer all of those questions today, using the classic journalistic questions.
Who…should you ask for an introduction?
If you get an introduction from a peer, it forges a nice connection but doesn’t help much with marketing and publicity for your book. If you ask somebody who’s too far above your “weight class”, they won’t answer your email.
Ideally, you want somebody about two to three levels above you in the field you’re writing about. People within that range will be flattered that you asked, but still have enough further reach than you to help boost sales.
What…is an introduction all about?
We all know what this kind of introduction is, because we’ve read them. Somebody writes a few words about you, your book, and/or your field. That part’s pretty simple, but there are more and less successful ways to make it happen.
An ideal book introduction is between 500 and 1,000 words long. Anything less and there’s not enough room to make it interesting. Anything more and readers usually lose interest. Within that word count, it should accomplish five things:
- Hook the reader with a compelling statement, observation, or relevant story.
- Engage with the reader’s pain points, reassuring them that this book will help solve their problem.
- Expand on the promise given by the title, telling specifically but briefly how the book will solve the problem.
- Describe why you are so well suited to write this book and solve their problems.
- Detail briefly how the book, and you, will provide that solution.
If the introduction manages all of those steps, it will fulfill its core purpose. Readers will read the whole thing, and come out primed to digest and apply what you’ve written.
When…should you ask for an introduction?
Writers are often flaky. Writers successful enough to provide an introduction that helps your book sales are flaky and busy. That means you need to give them plenty of time to get the introduction finished. In theory, the earlier you ask the better.
That said, you can’t ask them to write the introduction until you have enough of the book for them to write something meaningful about it. So you can’t do it too early.
Keeping them excited about the project is also a factor. If you ask too early, they’ll forget or get sidetracked before it’s time for them to write. If you ask too late, you’ll create a stressful situation they might back out of.
The best time for somebody to read and write an intro for your book is after you’ve finished the first complete draft. Let them know that it’s an initial draft, so they don’t think the rough quality is final. They’ll review it and turn it in while you’re managing beta readers and revisions. When you complete the book, you’ll have the intro in hand to insert in the front matter.
As a bonus, often the introduction writer won’t be able to help themselves. They’ll provide useful feedback you could never have gotten any other way.
The best time to ask somebody to write an introduction is about one month to six weeks before you’ll send them the draft. This isn’t too far ahead to get forgotten, but not too close to be stressful.
Where…does the introduction go?
The simple answer here is “in the beginning of the book.” But the truth is more complex. The introduction should live in your book after the table of contents but before the main body. If you also wrote an introduction, the guest introduction should go first.
If you have multiple introductions (rare, but cool if you can get them), lead with the most famous introducer. After that, go from least famous and ramp up until you finish with the second most famous.
“But wait! There’s more!”
Book introductions do their best work when people know about them before they buy the book. Tell people about it everywhere you can think of:
- In your book description on Amazon (including a short excerpt).
- In editorial reviews for your book, pulling out the most compelling quotes.
- On your social media feed.
- In your blog.
- In at least half of the announcements you make about the book.
- When you’re interviewed about the book.
- On the feeds and blog of the introducing author.
Those are just some examples that fit most book options. I’m sure you can think of some specific other places that work for your situation, writing, and genre.
Why…go through all of this trouble?
Putting a guest introduction in your book serves two purposes. First, it gets attention for your book because somebody with a larger platform endorses it. Second, it elevates the level of writers and experts you move among.
It gets attention because more people know about your introducer than know about you. When they search for that name, some of those searches will turn up your book. If they’re shopping for books, sometimes seeing their name in your book description will get them to buy. If they’re cruising the introducer’s social media, they will see their work on your book, and some of those cruisers will come check it out. It’s a classic example of borrowing authority and reach.
It elevates your level because you’re now friends or acquaintances with a writer in your field who’s further along the path than you are. This leads to new opportunities because you have a foot in that door. It can lead to speaking invitations, quality time on their social media, access to new beta readers, even requests for you to write an introduction of your own.
How…do I get somebody several levels above me to agree to this work?
Relationships are weird, and each is unique. There are as many different ways to get somebody to introduce your book as there are books in the world.
I say that because I don’t want you to ever think that you got an introduction the wrong way. If you got a bigger author to write a great intro, that’s fantastic. You did it right. But if you’re struggling to find one, here’s a process that often works for folks.
Start with light social media stalking. Choose about half a dozen people who work in your space, who you admire, and who have followings between 10 and 50 times the size of your own. Begin tagging them in your posts, sharing their material, and posting links to their work.
After about a month of that, increase the intensity of your social media stalking. Comment on their posts, asking leading questions and making complimentary statements. If they respond to any of your comments, reply appropriately. Begin forging a connection where they know your name. After a while, send a private message congratulating them on something they accomplish — a good blog post, an award, the release of their own book, anything like that.
Once you have that connection, do them some kind of solid favor. Ask interesting questions at a live event, help promote their newest project, leave an excellent review on their platforms. Go above and beyond with this.
With that kind of history, you won’t always get a yes when you ask for an introduction, but you won’t make them angry by asking.
I want to close this article with a brief story about how this went very right for our friend Jason. About a year ago, he Kickstarted an anthology about violence prevention, where he got stories from 50 professionals in martial arts, security, military, and similar professions. Each told about a time they used de-escalation skills to stop a fight before it happened.
For the book, he wanted to get an introduction from a Big Name for all the reasons you just read about. He reached out to several of his heroes in the field. The first five he approached didn’t want to do an introduction… They wanted to put their own story in the book!
It was a high-quality problem, and now all of those big names are sharing about the book on their own big platforms. And it all started with asking.
So go ask.