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Book Anatomy 101, Know Your Parts: Front Matter

When you turn from writing your book to thinking about publishing it, you will find that there are a lot of details and decisions involved. Many of these will be about the anatomy of your book or its three main parts. Naturally enough, the place to start is with your front matter. But wait, you say…. [Read More]

Book construction 101: Front Matter by Joel Friedlander for BookWorks.com

When you turn from writing your book to thinking about publishing it, you will find that there are a lot of details and decisions involved. Many of these will be about the anatomy of your book or its three main parts. Naturally enough, the place to start is with your front matter.

But wait, you say. What exactly is front matter?

Transforming a manuscript into a proper, industry-standard book takes a bit of knowledge and an understanding of how books are put together.

In this series, we’ll look at book construction, and give you guidance on the best way to proceed, if you plan to DIY.

Anatomy of a Book: The Sum of Its Three Parts

The easiest way to understand it is to realize that books are divided into three parts:

  • Front Matter
  • Body of the Book
  • Back Matter

Virtually everything you’ve written up to this point will end up in the body of the book.

Back matter is where you’ll find things like an index, glossary, notes, bibliography, or other reference material that doesn’t belong in the body of the book itself, but which your readers might really find useful.

What’s In Your Front Matter?

That leaves the front matter, a section many readers just skip. But as the publisher, there are critical parts of your book here that perform a function.Book construction 101: Front Matter by Joel Friedlander for BookWorks.com

No book is likely to have all these elements, but they are the ones you’re mostly like to find in books on your bookshelf, and which might serve your own needs:

  • Half title—Contains only the title of the book and is typically the first page you see when opening the cover.
  • Frontispiece—An illustration on the left-hand page that faces the title page.
  • Title page—Contains the title, subtitle, author, and publisher of the book, and might include the publisher’s location, year of publication, or an illustration.
  • Copyright page—You’ll find this on the back of the title page. It will have the copyright notice, the edition, any cataloging data, legal notices, and the book’s ISBN (International Standard Book Number). If you like you can also list credits for the design, production, editing, and artwork in the book.
  • Dedication—Typically on its own page following the copyright page.
  • Epigraph—This is a quotation near the front of the book. It can appear on its own page, facing the Table of Contents, or facing the first page of text.
  • Table of Contents—Or simply, Contents, this is where you’ll find a list of all the major divisions of the book including parts and chapters. Some books provide a lot more detail, while some novels do away with the Contents altogether.
  • List of Figures—A book with a lot of illustrations might be helped by a list of all figures along with their titles and the page numbers on which they occur.
  • List of Tables—Like the List of Figures, a list of tables may be helpful for readers.
  • Foreword—Typically a short piece written by someone other than the author, it provides a context for the book. A Foreword is always signed including its author’s name, place, and date.
  • Preface—Here the author often tells how the book came to be. It’s signed with the name, place, and date, although this is optional.
  • Acknowledgements—The author expresses their gratitude for help in writing and publishing the book.
  • Introduction—Explains the purposes and the goals of the book, maybe some context, and explain the organization of the book.
  • Prologue—In a novel, this can set the scene for the story. It’s usually told in the voice of one of the characters from the book.
  • Second Half Title—If there’s a lot of front matter sometimes the publisher or designer will insert a second half title identical to the first one right at the beginning of the text. When the book design uses two-page chapter opening spreads, the second half title can be used to force the chapter opening to begin on a left-hand page.

Page Numbering Your Front Matter

A different style of page numbering—lower case Roman numerals—is used in the front matter.Book construction 101: Front Matter by Joel Friedlander for BookWorks.com

Using a separate numbering system allows you to create an index for your book knowing that even if you decide to add a Dedication later, or some advertising pages in the front of the book, the page numbers of the body of the book won’t change.

If you are not going to index the book you can number the pages any way you like that makes sense to your readers, and you can if you like avoid having two different number schemes in your book.

What About Ebooks?

Ebooks may need some special adjustments to your front matter. Here are three considerations you should take into account when converting a normal trade paperback into an eBook.

  • Sample Size Adjustments—It’s not unusual for authors to publish short stories, novellas, essays, or other shorter works since eBook publishing makes it easy. But since the sample the retailer will show is usually limited to about 10% of the content, if you have pages and pages of front matter, curious readers may never even get to see your writing. Make sure someone interested enough to browse your book gets into the story right away.
  • Dealing with the Copyright Page—The copyright page can have a lot of text on it, since it will contain legal notices, the publisher’s contact information, cataloging details, ordering information and more. Instead of forcing folks to wade through all that, use a short copyright statement in the front of the book and link to the rest in the back of the book. Something like:

© Copyright 2019 Anne Author. All rights reserved. For complete copyright and publisher information, click here.

  • Book construction 101: Front Matter by Joel Friedlander for BookWorks.comReader Needs—Since you are the publisher, you get to set up your book the way that will serve your readers best. Academic authors might include detailed Contents on a chapter by chapter basis. Authors of romantic novels may be able to do away with much of the usual front matter, streamlining their books.

Knowing how books are traditionally put together gives us the freedom to know where we can bend the conventions of bookmaking in the service of our readers.

Stay tuned for the continuation of this series where I will be discussing the book body and back matter.


[Note: If you plan to format your book yourself, you'll want to pick up a copy of Joel's definitive how-to, The Book Blueprint: Expert Advice for Creating Industry-Standard Print Books.]


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