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How to Ask Someone to Write a Foreword for Your Nonfiction Book

Cristen Iris

Asking someone to write a foreword for your book can be nerve wracking and confusing. Let's clear things up and remove obstacles on your path to success.

What Is a Foreword?

A foreword (not forward, which conveys directional movement) is something that comes before the words of the author.

The purpose of a foreword is to position the author and their book in the market by piggy backing on the success of the foreword writer. In short, it offers social proof to be used in sales and marketing.

Who Makes the Best Foreword Writer?

Foreword writers are typically experts or celebrities who are better known to would-be readers than the author of the book.

For example, the author of a book about the history of the NFL might ask a Pro Football Hall of Fame coach to write the foreword of their book. An author whose book covers health disparities might ask a civil rights icon or a well-known public health official to write the foreword for their book. Foreword writers may be politicians, medical experts, bestselling authors, business leaders, you name it. The common trait is that your audience will pay attention to what they have to say.

In addition to a foreword writer's name being used as a sales and marketing tool to sell more copies of a book, a foreword writer's job is to introduce readers to you the author and to the content of the book and express why they appreciate it. A well-written foreword establishes the author as someone worth paying attention to and gets the reader excited about the content of the book in a way the table of contents can't.

Why Would a Celebrity or Expert Say Yes to Your Request?

Writing a foreword takes time and requires thought, so why would someone spend the time and energy to do you a favor? The reasons are many and personal, but on the business side, writing a foreword for a book is also a form of self-promotion/brand building. It keeps the foreword writer's name on people's lips and in front of people's eyeballs. A well-written foreword provides additional proof that the foreword writer is a concientious expert in touch with current conversations about the topic at hand.

How to Make the Ask

Every good writer keeps the needs and wants of their audience in mind as they write their book. The same mindset will serve you well as you approach potential foreword writers. High-quality foreword writers are busy people. Make it as easy as possible for them to say yes.

Step 1: Consider Your Position

It's important to be objective in all things. Objectivity is the foundation of confidence, and the actions you take based on rational thought will improve your chances of success.

Answers to these questions will help you determine your position relative to those you want to endorse you and your book. Some will also come into play in later steps:

  • What is your level of expertise related to your book's topic: How often to do you teach, speak, appear as a podcast guest, write peer-reviewed articles or pieces published by publications that exercise editorial discretion, etc.?
  • How many other books have you written, and how well received were they? (How many did each sell, did you hit any bestseller lists, were they featured in any media, how many reviews do they have and how do readers rate them?)
  • How will your book be published: self, hybrid, or traditionally (whether by an traditional model indie press or one of the Big 5)? If traditionally, are you represented by a literary agent, and/or have you signed with a publisher?
  • How well read are you on and around your subject? Who are the authors, researchers, and public figures who've influenced your career and ideas?

If you're a first-time author with little experience in say politics but have written a book about some aspect of our government, a President or former President of the United States isn't likely to take you seriously. Actually, their gatekeepers will circular file your request without a second thought. But you might be able to secure one of your states' recognizable political figures. It all depends on the quality of your book, the likelihood of it being widely read, the way you pitch it to them, and any number of factors beyond your purview and, therefore, control.

My strategy involves bringing as much into your field of vision as possible. This will allow you to select potential foreword writers who are most likely to be enthusiastic about you and your work. And you'll avoid nos--or worse, being ghosted--based on not being taken seriously.

While this exercise may be humbling it should also be empowering. Remember, be objective but aim high.

Step 2: Make 2 Lists

If you're an expert and well read, you've likely already started to make a foreword writer wish list.

I recommend that this list be at least 30 names deep and preferrably 40+, but you likely won't have that many names top of mind. You can expand your list by thinking on a deeper level.

Do Your Research

Look at the books on your shelf and articles you've read realted to your topic and add the writers' of those to your list if they aren't already on it.

Now look up the foreword writers of those people's books. Add to your list any that appeal to you.

In addition to the foreword writers, look at the people who've offered praise for the book (book endorsement quotes, often called book blurbs). Research those people. Add to your list the names of those blurb writers you'd be delighted to have endorse you and your book too.

As you go, jot down all potential connections you have to each person (example, author of Book Title(s) and endorsed Shauna Hitchin's book The ABCs of 1,2,3; represented by Sam Smith of Literary USA; published by XYZ). Did you graduate from the same university? Do you have a mutual friend, colleague, literary agent, etc.? Do you know the author of a book they wrote a foreword or book blurb for? Keep track of why the person is on your list and potential connections to use when you reach out to them.

Rember that a name is of no value if you don't have a way to contact them. The higher up the person is, the harder it can be to find a reliable means of connecting with them. You many need to find the contact information of their manager, agent, assistant, literary agent, or publicist.

Create List 2

When you have a long list that you're happy with sort it into potential foreword writers and potential blurb writers. On your foreword writer list should be the highest-level options. Be strategic. Now rank them from your first choice down.

List 2 is for potential book blurb writers. After you get a yes for your foreword, all other names on list 1 will move to list 2.

Remember, you can only have one foreword writer, but the more advanced praise you can get the better. You and your publisher will be delighted to fill the back cover and the first few pages of your book with high-quality endorsement quotes, quotes you can use in marketing material during the pre-order and book launch phase to boost sales.

Not only will having long lists improve your chances of getting more yeses, doing the work to build them will give you insight into the market that's far beyond what most authors consider and act on.

Avoid These Rookie Mistakes

  • Do not add to your list or ask people with no connection to the subject of your book to endorse it. This is confusing for the person being asked (what is it they're supposed to say?) and demonstrates that you the author (and it can be assumed your book) is unfocused.
  • Do not offer a blow-by-blow of your process or burden the recipient with an overly detailed bio. Stick to the relevant highlights, just enough to establish yourself as someone they can respect. Then move on to the ask.
  • Do not ask the first person who comes to mind, especially if your decision is driven by fear or imposter syndrome. Leave low-hanging fruit on the branch for now because once someone says yes, it'd be pretty disrespectful to go back later and say, "Oh hey, thanks but I found someone better."

In all things be strategic and guard your reputation and relationships. Play the long game.

Step 3: Create a Request Template

Experts and celebrities and their managers, agents, and assistants are busy people who make decisions based on their brand identity and long-term goals. Honor their time by writing a dense but short request and getting to the point as soon as possible.

Here's a general template for a direct pitch to your preferred foreword writer:

Dear [Their Name],

My name is [Your Full Name]. I'm [brief, high-impact and topic-related bio]. I'm reaching out to you today because I've written a book about [book logline/hook]. Based on [personalized research-related note here], I'd be honored if you would consider writing a 750-1,500-word foreword for my book [Title and subtitle].

Here's a quick overview to help you determine if this is something worth considering at this time:

[Table of Contents]

[Briefly state your book's unique selling proposition (USP), including who your ideal audience is.]

If this is something that matches your values and goals, please let me know. I'd be happy to send along [chapter synopses and a sample chapter/the manuscript] if that would be helpful.

Thank you for your consideration.

Warmly,

[Your First Name]

Revise the template above to match your style and goals. Whatever you do, keep it short.

Note: If you are represented by a literary agent or have a publishing contract with a respected publisher, mention that. If you are in the process of seeking agent representation, you might also want to mention that. If you plan to self-publish your book and are reaching out to an author whose book has been traditionally published, I recommend that you not comment about that. That should not be interpretted as negative comment about self-publishing. Self-publishing is an excellent choice for many authors. But thanks to the many poorly executed self-published books on the market, self-publishing authors without a track record of success face an uphill battle. Strategically speaking, do not give a person in the power position a reason to immediately dismiss your relevance and reject your request.

Step 5: Make the Ask

The answer is no until you ask as they say. At some point you've got to stop thinking and start doing. But of all the considerations discussed in this post, the issue of timing is the trickiest to address.

When to Make the Ask

Before offering representation, many literary agents want to see in the book proposal that the author has secured a high-value foreword writer. So, if you want to go the traditional publishing route, it's in your best interest to secure a commitment from a foreword writer early. But--and this is a big ol' but--first-time authors or those without a solid platform may not be taken seriously by potential foreword writers. So, the author may not be able to secure a foreword writer whose name would tip the balance in favor of the author at this stage of their publishing journey.

Authors who are already represented by a literary agent or who are contracted with a respectable publisher have a much easier time securing a foreword writer high on their wish list because the potential foreword writer can see that publishing industry professionals see promise in the book and have, therefore, bet on the writer.

So, if you have a solid platform and an objectively competitive book proposal, I generally recommend waiting to reach out to potential foreword writers until after securing a literary agent or publisher.

The problem is obvious, and you might be wondering, How can I get an agent without having secured a high-value foreword writer, and how do I secure a high-value foreword writer without having an agent? The timing answer is highly author specific. If you're unsure of which tactic to employ in your situation, feel free to contact me for a free consultation.

The not so helpful short answer is: Don't ask too soon, but don't ask too late.

Keep in mind that you won't hear back from everyone and no thank yous are inevitable. Don't take it personally. Emails go into spam or get pushed down and remain unopened due to heavy work schedules. You and your book aren't a good fit for everyone, and people you reach out to may not feel comfortable personally declining your offer or may be concerned about getting into a back-and-forth they don't have the time or energy to deal with. Seriously, the number of entitled would-be authors out there is staggering. Ask any literary agent. Make a polite ask, wait an appropriate amount of time, and move on. Having a long, high-quality list means you won't put so much weight on the response of each person you ask to endorse you.

Should you offer to pay?

I'm often asked if payment for service should be offered. The short answer is no. Readers must be able to trust the sincerity of the foreword writer's thoughts about the book and its author.

Tips for Next Level Thinking

People decline requests to write a foreword for many reasons. If you don't have a relationship with the person you're asking to write your foreword and if they've never heard of you, they may hesititate to align their brand with yours. It's not personal. It's a valid response to their risk assessment. But that doesn't mean they aren't interested.

At the bottom of your request, you can say that you understand that there are many factors that may prevent them from writing a foreword at this time. Then say something like, "If my book interests you but you can't commit to writing a foreword, would you consider writing a brief book blurb like the one below? I can check in closer to the publication date if that'd be a better time for you."

Remember to put a sample of an endorsement like the one you'd love from them. The point is to make it as easy as possible for people to say yes and to keep the door open for future action-oriented communication.

If you must go through a gatekeeper, you'll need to craft a different pitch. Demonstrate respect for that person's position and show them why the person you want to ultimately get the yes from will welcome an introduction to you and your request from this person that they trust to vet opportunities.

Last for now on this, for authors who aspire to be traditionally published, documenting the names of other authors' literary agents and publishers will show you who may be interested in your book. Use this exercise to expand your agent or publisher pitch lists.

Conclusion

The sooner you start making your lists, the better prepared you will be when the time comes to make your foreword writer request(s) and book endorsement requests. And by thinking about the request from the other person's perspective, you can craft a pitch that resonates with the person you're contacting and bridges the gap between the no you started with and the yes you want.

If you need some strategic coaching, feel free to reach out to me for a free consultation.

 

Photo by Ava Sol on Unsplash

 

Cristen Iris

CI Communication Strategies

2021

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