Ask the Book Doctor
By Bobbie Christmas
Ask the Book Doctor: About Cookbooks, Prologues and Prefaces
Q: I've written a cookbook. I do not have any pictures of my recipes, but I would like to have them in the final book. Do I need to hire a photographer, or does the publisher provide assistance with that?
A: If a publisher buys the manuscript and wants the recipes illustrated, it will take all responsibility for finding and paying a professional who specializes in food photography, an art in itself.
Q: How should I go about formatting a manuscript for a cookbook? Are there any samples available?
A: I'm not sure where to find a sample cookbook manuscript, but the format is similar to any other book-length manuscript. The difference is that the ingredients list can be single spaced in Courier 12-point type, but for editing purposes, the preparation information and other narrative should be double-spaced, Courier 12-point type with margins of at least an inch on all sides.
Q: How does a writer decide if a book should begin with a prologue?
A: A prologue fills readers in with back story, something that happened before the story in the novel takes place. The prologue has to be powerful and hook readers as strongly as the first chapter does, from the first sentence.
We discussed this question at The Writers Network meeting, and here are some of the thoughts we shared:
Some readers skip the prologue, so if the prologue has vital information, the reader may miss out on the basis for the plot.
One member noted that the prologue makes the writer have to hook the reader twice, a decided disadvantage.
Another member said that back story can easily be put into the first chapter as a flashback. I noted that in my novel in progress, I originally had a prologue, but after letting the book rest a while and going back to it, I saw that the prologue was unnecessary. I deleted it and started with Chapter One, and it made the story stronger.
The consensus was that the better choice is to avoid having a prologue.
Q: Can a prologue be repeated later as a chapter?
A: As with all creative writing, readers don't want to plow through repeats; however, the information can arise again from someone else's point of view, so readers see the same scene, but through someone else's eyes, opinions, and description. That method can be quite effective and fill in details missing in the first telling.
Q: Can a prologue cover an event that occurs in the future, or is that a preface?
A: By definition, a prologue is an introductory passage or speech before the main action of a novel, play, or long poem. A preface is more common in nonfiction and is an introductory section at the beginning of a book that comments on aspects of the text, such as the writer’s intentions.
Can a prologue vault the reader into the future, to something that happens after the events in Chapter One? I've seen it done on occasion. I've more likely seen a prologue used to show action that the main characters would not know about yet, such as a murder that later involves the main characters in some way. Creative writing does not have hard-and-immutable rules; otherwise, it would not be creative. Authors can and should use whatever necessary to draw readers in and keep them interested in a story.
Q: I've written a preface and an introduction to my nonfiction book, but my editor says I should have only one or the other. What do you think?
A: Funny you should ask, because the same thing happened to me. Yes, even editors need editors. The editor of my book, Write In Style, recommended that I choose either a preface or an introduction, but not both. When I looked over both, I saw that much of the information could be ditched and the rest could be combined. As a result, the book has only an introduction, it's shorter, and it's much better.
—Send your questions to the book doctor at Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. If you liked these questions and answers, order Bobbie’s e-book, Ask the Book Doctor: How to Beat the Competition and Sell Your Writing. It addresses hundreds of questions from writers like you, for only $8.95 at http://www.booklocker.com/books/1906.html. Bobbie Christmas is a book editor, freelance writer and author of award-winning Write In Style: Using Your Word Processor and Other Techniques to Improve Your Writing (Union Square Publishing).