In the previous two posts in our Book Anatomy 101 series, we looked at the range and organization of your book’s front matter, and the main body of the book. We'll wrap up the lesson with a review of back matter, everything that comes after the book itself is finished.
All the Information You Want the Reader to Know
Authors and publishers have found lots of uses for this part of the book. It’s the default location for the kinds of information authors would like to provide for readers, but which doesn’t fit in easily anywhere else in the book.
For instance, sections of back matter can be created to provide the reader with definitions of important terms used the book, to offer resources for readers who would like to research further, or for a variety of other reasons.
In some books, the back matter can become a bit like a basement storage locker: the place we throw things we know we might need, but can’t figure out what else to do with them.
In any event, savvy book publishers know that there are specific kinds of information readers, buyers, librarians, and others will look for in your back matter.
Any larger work of scholarship, for instance, should contain a human-generated, multi-level subject index, and the book will seem incomplete without it.
So review this list in light of what your own book might need, and go from there.
Back Matter Menu of Sections
References—A list of the references you used in your own research can be invaluable to readers. (See also, Bibliography, below.)
Acknowledgments—Although more often found in the front matter, it’s also quite acceptable to move your expressions of gratitude to the back.
Resources—Directing readers to other sources of information on the topic will demonstrate your generosity.
About the author—Don’t neglect to include information on the author, her qualifications, career achievements, or anything else that would indicate she has the authority and expertise to
Credits—Many books require the efforts of a number of vendors, specialists, consultants, and others. There’s plenty of room at the end of the book to acknowledge their efforts.
Permissions—Mandatory listings from rights holders can often take up quite a bit of space, so using the back matter for these listings makes a lot of sense.
Afterword—While an epilogue concisely concludes a story, an Afterword discusses something outside the narrative itself, like the reasons the book came into being, or the influence the book might have as part of a larger story.
Postscript—From the Latin post scriptum, “after the writing,” meaning anything added as an addition or afterthought to the main body of the work. This is in contrast to:
Epilogue—A piece added to the text that tells more of the story, explains the conclusion, or otherwise completes the narratives begun in the book.
Appendix or Addendum—A supplement of some kind to the main work. An Appendix might include source documents cited in the text or any of a number of other insertions. Appendices are the heart of the back matter of your book, and the range of subjects that can profitably be covered by an appendix is virtually unlimited. For example, in a work about an academic institution, the author might want to include a list of “Notable Dates” in the university’s history. Such a list, helpful to other researchers, can add to the utility of a book. Likewise, in fiction, a list of main characters and their relations can be very helpful to readers of vast, sweeping historical sagas.
Chronology—In some works, particularly histories, a chronological list of events may be helpful for the reader. It may appear as an appendix, but can also appear in the front matter if it’s important to the reader’s understanding of the work.
Notes—Endnotes come after any appendices, and before the bibliography or list of references. Notes are typically divided by chapter to make them easier to locate.
Glossary—An alphabetical list of terms and their definitions, usually restricted to some specific area. The terms might refer to specific tools, materials, or innovations. It can also include concepts, basic processes, and other industry-specific information that will be helpful for a reader just learning about the field.
Bibliography—A systematic list of books or other works such as articles in periodicals, usually used as a list of works that have been cited in the main body of the work, although not necessarily limited to those works.
List of Contributors—A work by many authors would profit from having a robust list of contributors, which should appear immediately before the index, although it is sometimes moved to the front matter. Contributor’s names should be listed alphabetically by last name, but appear in the form “First Name Last Name” in the list itself. Information on contributors is usually brief, with reference to their academic affiliations or previous publications.
Index—An alphabetical listing of people, places, events, concepts, and works cited along with page numbers indicating where they can be found within the main body of the work. For many nonfiction, academic, scientific, historical, technical, and textbooks—among others—an index is almost a requirement. This is only applicable to print books, since indexes are irrelevant in ebooks, with lack predictable page numbers.
Errata—A notice from the publisher of an error in the book. These are errors that make themselves known only very late in the production process. No publisher wants to publish a book with an “Errata” slip stuck in the book, and that’s why savvy publishers make use of both copyeditors and proofreaders to make their books as perfect as possible before “going to press.”
Colophon—A brief notice at the end of a book that describes the typefaces used by name, sometimes accompanied by a brief history. It may also credit the book’s designer and other people or vendors involved in the production of the book.
As you can see, your book’s back matter can serve many useful functions. I haven’t mentioned the very common use of back matter for advertisements for your other books, or for services you offer that are of interest to readers.
As publisher, it’s up to you to decide what your readers would most enjoy and find useful, what professional book buyers are looking for in books like yours, and to “complete” your book by making sure this information is robust, timely, and useful.
Now you’ve got a complete book, congratulations! Time to tell the world about it.