Friday, October 5, 2012

How to Write a Preface for a Health Care Textbook

For a health care textbook author the preface serves a critical function, to introduce the reader to all the wonderful features of the book.

Most first-time authors struggle with this, as do some experienced authors. So here's a rundown on how to put a preface together for a health care textbook.

What is a preface?

A preface is a clear, compelling, almost promotional description of the book and its features, including and especially its ancillaries, such as an instructor's resource, PowerPoints, test banks, and so forth. It's your time to talk directly to the reader about what your book is and why it's the best thing since Cinnabon came up with those sticks. Are you kidding me? OMG, soooo good.

But I digress.

Who Is the Reader?

For a textbook, one that gets adopted (meaning required for students to purchase), the reader might be the student or, in many cases, the instructor.

That's a rather odd thing for a textbook author to get hold of. On the one hand, you have to write the preface for the student, because that's who's going to read your book. On the other hand, you have to address the instructor who's considering adopting the book, because if you can't sell her (yes, her this time) on the book, the students will never see the preface in the first place.

So write to the student but for the instructor.

What Should Be Included?

Start by looking at the preface in textbooks similar to yours. What do they include? How are they structured? What is the tone like?

Then write your version of what you've seen.

An author-friend of mine, Marilyn "Winkie" Fordney, who writes for another publishing company — a fact which I don't against her (ain't I nice?) — wrote a great preface for the 12th edition of her book, Insurance Handbook for the Medical Office. It's clear, well-structured, and covers all the main features.of her book.

She starts with a Welcome, which shows a bit of her wonderful personality. Then she describes the purpose of the book with these subheads:

  • Why Is This Book Important to the Profession?
  • Who Will Benefit From This Book?
Then she gets into the content, outlining the general features, special icons and sidebars, how the book is organized, and what ancillaries are available — what they are, where they are, and who they're for. Then she summarizes everything that can help a student succeed with her book.

That's a nice approach.

Why the Preface Is a Marketing Tool

The preface to a health care textbook is more than a description of the book, it's one of the key tools a sales representative will use to sell the book. They'll open the book with a potential adopter and go through the feature set.

Visuals are important, here, so make sure you indicate in the manuscript for your preface which illustrations or photos make sense to include. Icons especially are important.

If your book follows an association's standards or guidelines, or if the content conforms to an accrediting body's standards, make sure you describe how in detail. Potential adopters will want to know.


Overall, take your time with the preface and enjoy it. I think you'll find it one of the more enjoyable items you'll ever have to write.