Interior Parts of a Book: Front Matter, Text, and Back Matter

A successful book is more than just a manuscript thrown between a cover. One of the key elements to success is a professional interior design that adheres to industry standards, and that readers, retailers, and reviewers expect. Indie authors who are self-publishing can benefit from learning the parts of a book, the order of the elements in each part, and when to utilize each element.

The three main parts of a book

1) Front matter (also called preliminary matter or prelims): As the name implies, the front matter is located at the beginning of the book. It includes information about the author, publisher, copyright, order, and tone of the book.

2) Text (or body): This is the main story or narrative.

3) Back matter (also called end matter): Found at the end, back matter includes any supporting text, documentation, notes, or indexes that are not part of the narrative.

Now, let's examine the elements included in each part of the book. As you review the list, keep in mind that books rarely have all of these elements. Think about which parts are relevant to your book, common in your book's genre, and helpful to your readers. Here are the elements, listed in the order they should appear in a printed book.

1) Front matter elements in order

Book half-title page: A half-title page displays only the main title of the book, excluding all other information.

Series-title page or frontispiece: A series title page lists the series title and volume number, and may list other books in the series. A frontispiece is an illustration that sits opposite the title page.

Title page: The title page typically includes the following information (if applicable): title, subtitle, edition number, author, editor, translator, publisher, publisher location, and publisher logo. Title pages are essential for most books.

Copyright page: The copyright page lists details about the copyright holder of the book, including the publisher's address, publication date, ISBN, and a copyright notice ("All rights reserved"). Like the title page, a copyright page is an essential part to a published book.

Dedication: It's up to the author whether or not to include a dedication. It can be short and sweet, or long and winding.

Epigraph: An epigraph is a quotation that isn't part of the text, but suggests a theme or sets the tone.

Table of contents: The table of contents helps readers know what's in a book and where to find it. It lists the page number and title of each chapter, including parts or sections, as well as front and back matter (however, front matter that precedes the table of contents is omitted). Most nonfiction books have table of contents, while fiction books typically don’t.

List of illustrations: The term "illustrations" in publishing isn't just for drawings, but refers to images, such as photographs, artwork, charts, and maps. When books feature images that draw interest and hold value apart from the text, then a list of illustrations may be appropriate. This list is similar to the table of contents, stating the title of the work and the page number on which it's found.

List of tables: The list of tables can be included as part of the list of illustrations when there are fewer tables than illustrations. However, when there are more tables than illustrations, the list of tables can stand on its own.

Foreword: The foreword is a short piece written by someone other than the author. It lends credibility to the author, since the foreword is commonly written by someone who's already well-known and established in his or her field.

Preface: Different from the foreword, the preface is the author's statement about the work, including why he or she wrote it, research or writing methods used, or how it came to fruition. The author may include acknowledgments in this section.

Acknowledgements (if not in preface): This is where the author formally thanks all the people who contributed to the book in one way or another, including researching, coaching, editing, pitching, publishing, or providing moral support. The acknowledgments may alternatively be placed at the beginning of the back matter.

Introduction (if not included in text): Introductions are usually included in the main text of the book; however, in some cases (for example, when the introduction is written by someone other than the author) it should be included in the front matter.

Abbreviations (if not back matter): When many abbreviations are used throughout a book, a list may be useful. The list can be placed in the back matter if the abbreviations are only used in the back matter.

2) Text elements in order

Half-title page: When a book's front matter is lengthy, a second half-title page can be added at the start of the main text. 

Introduction or prologue: If placed in the main text, the introduction should be an essential part of the narrative and not include acknowledgments or an outline of the book. In fiction, a prologue can be used to provide information about events that occur before the story takes place. 

Text divisions: The main text is divided and subdivided according to a book's genre and length, and for the purposes of clarity and organization:

• Parts: Books divided into parts should have at least two chapters per part.

• Chapters: Nonfiction and fiction books alike are commonly divided into chapters, with a number and title for each chapter. 

• Sections: The chapters of nonfiction books may be further divided into sections.

Conclusion or epilogue: In nonfiction books, the conclusion may contain a final comment from the author about the text. Some novels include an epilogue, which is a short, final chapter that ties up any loose ends and reveals what happens after the main story.

Afterword: The afterword is not part of the narrative, but is similar to the preface (if written by the author) or foreword (if written by someone else). An afterword is commonly used in second printings or new editions to add new content, such as an interview with the author about the impact or interpretation of the book.  

3) Book back matter elements in order

Appendix(es): Appendixes (or appendices) are the perfect place for details that would be too overwhelming to include within the main text, but support the findings or narrative, such as the full text of letters and memos, long lists, charts, and statistics.

Chronology (if not in front matter): When a chronology of events is necessary, it is placed either in the back matter or front matter (just before the main text) depending on when readers should view it.

Endnotes: Endnotes should be organized by chapter and coordinate with the numbers referenced within the text.

Glossary: An alphabetical list of terms and definitions can be useful in some nonfiction and fiction books, especially when special terms or foreign words are used.

Bibliography or references: The bibliography or reference section allows authors to list the full citation for sources mentioned within the text or used during research.

List of contributors: This page is unnecessary for most works; however, when only the editor's name is listed on the title page, such as in a multi-author anthology, the authors should be listed in the back matter.

Illustration credits (if not in captions or elsewhere): When a book has numerous images, a credits page may be necessary. Alternatively, there are other areas credits can be placed, including the captions, the acknowledgements, or copyright page. The copyright holder may dictate where to place the credit line.

Index(es): Indexes (or indicies) are helpful in lengthy nonfiction books and allow the reader to find information on subjects quickly. They provide more detailed information than a table of contents.

Colophon: The colophon is a brief statement about the production of the book, including the font and printer used.

Errata (if not placed at the end of front matter): An errata sheet is a loose sheet of paper added to the end of a book that lists corrections to major errors (not minor typos) when it's too late to fix the book before printing.   

About the author or biographical note: Information about the author may be placed in any number of places depending on the publisher's or author's preference, including the dust jacket flap of a hardcover, back cover of a paperback, copyright page, front matter, or back matter.

Considerations for e-book front matter and back matter

While publishers tend to follow the standards set in print book publishing for e-books, they may depart from the order or presentation of the front matter and back matter elements. Reading an e-book is a different experience, and some standards don't apply. Additionally, some elements may be more important or play a different role than they do in the printed book, such as the table of contents.

Choosing the front and back matter to include in your book

When determining the best material for your book, it's helpful to look at the competition. Find the leading books in your genre and see what's included and how they look. What applies to your book? Also, consider the reader. What material would benefit them? Keep in mind that the interior design of the book is just as important as the exterior design. It will play a crucial role in the overall reading experience and can even impact your ability to get a bookseller's attention.

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