You know why most readers—probably including you—skip book introductions?
Because most authors think the purpose of the introduction is to explain everything they will talk about in the book.
That is boring and wrong.
The purpose of a good introduction is to engage the reader and get them to read the book.
Just because someone is reading an introduction does not mean they are going to finish the book. The thing that scares people off of books is not the price—it’s the commitment of time. People don’t care about $10. They care about spending their time on something that is interesting and engaging to them.
That is the job of the introduction: prove to the reader this book is worth reading. A well done introduction grabs the reader and compels them to keep reading. It pulls them through and makes them excited to start the content, because the introduction has answered the most important question the reader has:
“Why should I read this book?”
What an Introduction Should Do
- Get the reader immediately interested in the book
- Clearly lay out the pain the reader is facing
- Paint a picture of a better future or a benefit the reader can get
- Outline briefly what the reader will learn in the book
- Explain why the author is the expert and authority on this subject
- Get the reader committed to reading the book
What an Introduction Should Not Do
- Be a summary of the book
- Try to tell the whole story of something that is already in the book
- Tell the author’s whole life story
- Tediously explain exactly what is coming in the book
- Have a meandering story that the reader doesn’t care about
- Have too much background
- Be too long
- Start at the beginning of the author’s life
- Have too much autobiography
- Be entirely about the author and what they want to talk about
The Best Introductions are Formulaic
This is the thing to know about introductions: there is a formula to effective ones, and you should follow it.
Even though it may not seem like there’s a formula, there is one, and if you don’t stick to it, then your readers will feel it, and be upset—even if they don’t know why.
You can be very creative within the boundaries of the formula, but follow the formula and your introduction will work well.
The Formula for an Introduction
A good introduction is like an interesting sales pitch, not a dry and boring informational piece. Introductions are built from these elements:
- Hook the reader
- Tell a story about the reader’s current pain
- Tell a story about the reader’s potential pleasure
- Tell them what they’ll learn
- Describe the author’s background/origin of book
- Set up the book with a call to action
Part 1: Hook the reader
An introduction has to hook the reader fast. It should grab them by the lapels and force them to pay attention.
Here are examples of hooks. They start average and then get much better:
“Let’s start with a question: Why do certain groups perform better than other groups?”
“You’ve been told a lie. Everything you know about sugar is wrong.”
“I thought I was going to die.”
“We shot dogs. Not by accident. We did it on purpose, and we called it Operation Scooby. I’m a dog person, so I thought a lot about that.”
These all grab your attention. They make you sit up, take notice, and read the next line.
There is not a specific formula to figuring out your hook. These are the three questions we use to help determine what the hook is:
- What is the most interesting story or claim in the book?
- What sentence or fact makes people sit up and take notice?
- What is the intended audience going to care about the most, or be most interested in or shocked by?
Some other things to think about when finding your hook:
- A great hook is counterintuitive, and it violates expectations or reverses
- It’s not going to be the first story you think of
- It’s the story people always ask you about
- It is never the story that makes you look the best
Often the hook is an anecdote. One powerful way to write an anecdotal hook well is to use the “cinematic” technique: tell it as if you are describing a scene in a movie. At its core, the hook makes the reader sit up and take notice.
Though the first sentence must be effective, the rest of the page and initial story must do the same thing.
An attention-grabbing sentence needs to lead into something that keeps them—a short story, example, statistic, or historical context that introduces the subject in a way that is interesting and exciting—and will engage the reader and compel them to read more, and lead them into the rest of the material.
Part 2: Tell stories about the reader’s current pain
Once you have the reader’s attention with the hook, the introduction next answers the implicit reader question: “Why do I care?”
Basically, what’s the reason the reader went to the bookstore? What problem were they looking to solve?
This is not about giving the reader simple information. It’s not enough to list nothing but boring facts and figures. No one pays attention to that.
People pay attention to stories, especially stories that resonate with their problems, pain, and conflicts. Once they are in touch with those pain points, then they want to hear about solutions that provide relief and pleasure, and maybe even take them somewhere new in their life.
This ties directly into the audience section you wrote in your positioning. You should know your reader’s pain precisely, because you’ve already told that story once, at least in the abstract. The story or stories in the introduction should dive deep and describe the massive pain the reader is suffering by not taking the advice or lessons in your book. Pain induces action.
Part 3: Tell stories about the reader’s potential pleasure
Once you’ve appealed to the reader’s pain point, then you should tell a story that describes the pleasure that comes from taking the action. Show them why the results are so amazing and that the goal is worth the pain.
Again, this ties into your audience positioning—you already have this story, you did it in your audience section. Dive deep into it and provide more specifics.
Part 4: Tell them what they’ll learn
Once you’ve laid out the pain and pleasure stories and the reader understands what’s at stake for them by reading this book, then you need to explain exactly how you are going to help them solve their pain and get to their pleasure.
Make sure this is so clear and simple that even a seventh grader could understand. It should be as basic as, “I am going to show you precisely how to do this. I’ll walk you through, step by step by step, until you have mastered everything necessary to get your results.”
Part 5: Describe your background/origin of book
Once you’ve hooked the reader, appealed to their pain, and shown them the benefit they can have if they overcome it, now it’s time to explain who you are, why you wrote the book, and why the reader should trust what you have to say.
Essentially, you’ll establish your authority to be their guide, and contextualize the book for them.
The best way to do this again, is to tell a story. Why did you write this book? Why does this subject matter to you? How did you learn enough to be in a position to teach what you know to people? Why are you qualified—even uniquely qualified—to write this book? Why should the reader credit what you have to say?
This is where you can talk about your hero’s journey story—what it took for you to get to this place—because this is where the reader is wondering why they should trust you. After all, if you are going to help them by teaching them so much, they need to know why they should listen to you.
But, and this is very important: remember that the reader doesn’t care about you. They only care about you and your story insofar as it applies to the book and to your expertise. Do not give them an autobiography. Just enough about you to know that they should listen is all it takes.
Part 6: What the book is and is not
This is an optional part of the intro, but many authors like to put this in. By telling the reader what the book is and is not, it sets the right expectations in the beginning. You can do this very simply, mainly by stating what you will not be, and the things they will not get out of it.
Underselling here, just a little, works great.
Part 7: Segue to first chapter
Once you have done all of this, then all that is left is a simple transition to get the reader ready to dive in and start engaging the book.
I know this all seems like a lot, so here is an example intro to help you see how it ties together:
Example Introduction Outline
|1. Hook||“The doctors told me I was going to die. So did the nurses. |
In fact, everyone I talked to for the 41 days I was in that hospital told me I would die.
They were wrong.
But it wasn’t them or their care that saved me. It was an accident, caused when a tired janitor left his mop bucket in my room, that saved my life...and led to the breakthrough that has since saved millions of people.”
|2. The reader’s problem||When the Cures Act was signed into law in 2016, pharmaceutical companies and healthcare product manufacturers were required to be more transparent so that more research outside of clinical trials was required. Suddenly, companies had to increase their understanding of patients. But these were only baby steps in understanding the depth of patients and their stories and how their stories impact their healthcare.|
Healthcare products, devices, and drugs—healthcare solutions—impact patients and their families in a much more extensive way than healthcare professionals realize. They can make a difference in the quality of care for millions, just by understanding how anthropology and design thinking work together to create patient centricity in healthcare.
|3. The reader’s solution||Author will explain how the tenets of anthropology and design thinking work together in a healthcare marketing environment to benefit patients, their loved ones, and the healthcare product manufacturers involved.|
|4. What they’ll learn||Readers will learn how to design marketing messages and products that are grounded in patient education—solutions that support these patients in their daily lives as they tackle their healthcare challenges. Readers will become aware of the value of patient understanding and empowerment in healthcare marketing.|
|5. Author’s background/ book origin||After a horrible hospital stay riddled with bad care, the Author started his company to address this human angle of healthcare that he found lacking in the product marketing side of the system. He felt that no one else was using anthropology, then design thinking, in the manufacture of healthcare solutions. He wanted to start with the patient to first understand them and their situation before creating the educational or marketing tools that would benefit the type of care they receive.|
|6. What the book is and isn’t||This book is presenting a new paradigm for healthcare marketers and product designers. However, it is not just a theoretical presentation. Readers will learn how they can improve their business and the quality of healthcare with a more ethical, successful, patient-driven (and patient-centered) approach.|
|7. Segue to first chapter||Getting to know people—the humans beneath the patient—is the first step in quality healthcare.|
Why to Write Your Intro Last
Most authors find the introduction to be the hardest part of the book to write, and that’s why we recommend authors outline it last.
Why is it hardest and better when it’s done last? I tell authors we outline the intro last because we want it to hit hard and entice, and it’s easier to be more effective in that when we already have a specific understanding of the full scope and key messaging of the book.
You can’t effectively tease something if you don’t fully understand how it’s going to play out in practice.