“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
If you’ve seen the classic movie The Princess Bride, you’ll be familiar with the quote at the top of this article. But you may not have considered it as the perfect introduction when meeting new people.
It gives your name.
It establishes a connection with the person you’re meeting.
And it sets expectations.
Which is more or less what your book’s introduction needs to do—with a few additions and refinements, naturally. At this stage, most people care more about how your book can help them than about why you wrote it. Think of your introduction as a sales letter for the rest of your book. Your reader is thinking, subconsciously, “What’s in it for me? Why should I give up my valuable time to read this book?”
These are splendid questions and you must answer them in the introduction. Convince your reader not only to read your book, but to take action on it so they get value from what they learn. Set expectations for what your reader will find when they get going. And allow your reader to get comfortable with you.
Your introduction is not the place for you to “find your voice”. I’m sick of hearing writing coaches telling people they need to “find” their voices. You already have a voice and a personality—all you need is the confidence to use it fully.
Your introduction doesn’t need to be long, either. Keep it relatively short, so people want to read it, and so it doesn’t get in the way of the main body of the book.
In this article, I will outline the three simple steps you can take to write a snappy introduction.
1. Hook Their Attention
Call your introduction something interesting. Give it a subtitle that makes sense. Capture your reader’s attention because you want them to read this part.
Then start with where your reader is now. Too many writers and business owners make the mistake of jumping into their fabulous solution—forgetting their client, their reader, isn’t there yet. Your reader isn’t ready for your answer yet. First, you must show them you understand their problem or pain, and meet them there.
Think about the last time you were in pain—physical or emotional: it takes over your whole world.
When I broke my leg and tore my anterior cruciate ligament leaping dramatically from a galloping horse like Zorro (long story) (also not true: I was less Zorro and more Wile E. Coyote), I remember the pain like a white-hot ball of fire in my knee and in my brain. I remember writhing on the sofa when the painkillers wore off, screaming into my pillow. I remember my world shrinking until there was nothing left but freezing-hot agony.
I couldn’t remember life without pain, and I couldn’t imagine a future without torment. If someone had arrived then and said, “Hello! You’ll be pain-free in a few days, it won’t last forever! I have a load of exercises you can do to ease the pain.” I would have scowled at them, burrowed further into my pillow, and muttered something that ended in “off”.
If someone is mired in their own pain, they won’t be able to connect with you if you pile in shouting, “I have the answer! I haven’t heard you tell me your problem yet, but that doesn’t matter—I have what you need!”
Your reader won’t be able to see a pain-free future at the start of your book. Your job is to take them there as they read. It’s the same even if your book isn’t designed to take away pain. Perhaps you’re writing a book to help people achieve a goal, but not necessarily escape from torment. The same principle applies: meet them where they are.
Start by listening. We do that in a book by writing about your reader’s current state of affairs. What’s their big problem, and what pain is it causing them? What are they dissatisfied with? How are they feeling right now?
If you know your ideal reader inside out, this shouldn’t be too difficult to do now. You know your ideal reader better than you think.
Don’t jump ahead. Walk up to your reader, take their hand, and start the journey with them.
2. Make A Connection
By doing this, you’ll make a connection. Tell a story from your own experience, or from a client’s experience. Don’t just tell your reader you understand; show them. Empathise and demonstrate that you feel what they feel.
Your introduction is your chance to start a relationship with your reader. Don’t underestimate how powerful this can be—think about where you read books: in bed, in the bath, on the toilet… it doesn’t get much more intimate than that, so don’t waste the opportunity.
Once you’ve made a connection, make your promise. What will your reader be able to have, do, and be by the time they’ve finished reading your book?
In my new book, How The Hell Do You Write A Book? I promised that by the time you finish the book—if you complete your tasks—you’ll have your own top-quality book in your hands faster than you ever thought possible.
You’ll have a fantastic positioning tool to establish you as the go-to expert in your industry. And, most importantly of all, you’ll have the confidence worthy of your skills and experience—confidence enabling you to go out and help more people, more often, more easily. You will be a published author, with all the kudos that goes along with it.
That’s a pinpoint specific promise, and I am comfortable making it. I have been there, and so have my students, so I know if you do the work, you’ll be grinning at a copy of your own book in a few short months.
What’s your promise to your reader?
3. Set Expectations
Humans don’t like surprises; not really. Set expectations in your introduction.
What’s your book all about? What will your reader discover as they read through it? What’s the best way for someone to use your book: dive in and read it all at once? Dip in and out of it, like a motivational book or an instruction manual?
Are there action points and exercises throughout? Tell your reader about them and explain how they work in the introduction, so they know what to expect when they reach Chapter 1.
Be Inigo Montoya
Take a leaf out of Inigo’s book: be polite, introduce yourself, make the connection, and set expectations. Probably best to leave out the death threat, though.
Invite your reader to go on a journey with you, rather than preening on a throne and shouting instructions. If you’re honest and real in your introduction, if you do a fantastic job of being yourself and building a relationship, you won’t only get happy readers; you’ll win loyal fans who rave about your book and recommend it to everyone they know.
Start Writing Your Book Today
If you want to learn more about how to write, self-publish, and market a book for your business, snaffle yourself a copy of How The Hell Do You Write A Book? Then check out the blog and podcast for more articles and guides. If you want a little (or a lot) more help, find out how you can work with me.
Vicky Fraser is the founder of Moxie Books and author of How The Hell Do You Write A Book and Business For Superheroes. She helps business owners write life-changing books, connect with readers and new customers, and grow their businesses. When she’s not doing that, she’s hanging from a trapeze by her feet.