Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Thursday, July 21st, 2011.
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Do Introductions Turn Away Readers?


My friend Nancy Fulda‘s collection of science fiction stories, Dead Men Don’t Cry, was recently featured on Why Is My Book Not Selling?, where in addition to comments about the cover and about the title sounding more like detective noir stories than science fiction stories, Vicki (the author of the site) said this:

I was disappointed that the book stared with explanation about the stories. It’s interesting, so I wouldn’t cut it, but I would definitely suggest putting that at the end and starting right away with the strongest story.

This such immediate and powerful sense to me–not just for Nancy’s book, but for most books–that I was surprised I hadn’t come across the idea before. After all, when someone opens a book of short stories, or a novel, or a non-fiction book about ironclads, what they almost certainly are interested in getting is short stories, a novel, or information about ironclads–not the author’s reflections on the importance of the book, the process for coming up with it, gratitude toward dozens of people the reader has never heard of, etc.

I don’t mean that there’s no place for this kind of thing. Personally, I’m often interested in it, but not before I’ve read the main part of the book. I think using afterwords instead of introductions and forewords is a brilliant idea.

Of course, readers can always skip this material–but isn’t there value to a book where, when the reader opens to the first page, there’s something immediately interesting? Further, putting it at the end may get it read more often, as compared with the reader skipping it at the beginning. It also provides the author with a chance to mention some of their other work.

I’ve fallen into the introduction trap myself with my book Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories*. After all, what’s a more interesting start to a book … ?


Of course I enjoy immersing myself in a really good novel, but sometimes there’s not enough time to wallow properly.

Blah blah blah–who cares what the author enjoys, especially before reading any of his work?



Sure, there was some temporary anxiety when they took over Trenton and Allentown to carve out their independent nation of Clowninnia, but it soon settled down into a national joke, a prank on a revolutionary scale, a riffing topic for late-night talk show hosts.

This might or might not be your cup of tea, but at least it’s a story!

On a related subject, at a workshop back in 2001, Orson Scott Card advised us attending writers to avoid writing prologues. While my personal point of view is that these can occasionally work well (this may or may not match Card’s opinion), I think by and large no prologue is a smart bet. The typical reason for including a prologue is that the author feels there’s information the reader needs to know about before the story starts. However, it seems that readers are rarely interested in studying up on background information in preparation for reading a story that may or may not turn out to interest them. It would be better to start the story right off and hand out information in an engaging way as you go–even though this is much more difficult than just dumping it at the beginning. Alternatively, have the prologue introduce the central conflict early on in a gripping way. Prologues do seem to work well sometimes, but I believe they should prove they can earn their keep by grabbing the reader’s attention, or else they should go.

*Bam! also suffers from a title that advertises only that the stories are very short, something I was originally thinking might be a prime selling point but which I suspect prevents the book from engaging anyone because there’s nothing in that description that suggests the stories might actually be interesting. I hope to rearrange and retitle the book in the near future.

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