Self-Publishing Basics: An Unabridged List of the Parts of a Book

by Joel Friedlander on September 29, 2009 · 38 comments

The history of book printing goes back to the first bibles pulled sheet by sheet off Johannes Gutenburg’s presses in Mainz, German in the late fifteenth century. The first books were attempts to replicate the handwritten books of the time, which varied widely. Over the centuries publishers have gradually established conventions about the way books are constructed.

A Gutenberg Bible

A Gutenberg Bible

Although type design is often likened to architecture, you could also argue that the construction of a book is in some way architectural. The first order of business in creating a blueprint for book construction is to identify the parts of a book and the order in which convention—the inherited wisdom of the logic of the book from all the book creators that have preceded us—dictates they should appear.

To guide you in creating your book, follow this list. Certainly no book will contain all these elements, but now you know exactly where they fit in the scheme of things.


Many publishers have been guided by the history and traditions of print publishing even as they have moved toward electronic publishing … including the logical order of elements in a printed work. —Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition

Major Divisions of the Book

Books are generally divided into three parts: The frontmatter, the body of the book, and the backmatter. Each contains specific elements, and those elements should appear in a specific order. Certainly authors who know and understand these divisions may well have aesthetic or organizational motives to stray from these conventions, but usually they have a good reason to do so. Deviation for no reason does not help your book.

Keep in mind that there is no book that has all of these parts. Use this list instead to make sure you have the right content in the right category, and that elements of your book appear in the sequence in which they are expected.

Frontmatter

The pages at the beginning of a book before the body of the book. These pages are traditionally numbered with lowercase roman numerals

Half title—Also called the Bastard title, this page contains only the title of the book and is typically the first page you see when opening the cover. This page and its verso (the back, or left-hand reverse of the page) are often eliminated in an attempt to control the length of the finished book.

Frontispiece—An illustration on the verso facing the title page.

Title page—Announces the title, subtitle, author and publisher of the book. Other information that may be found on the title page can include the publisher’s location, the year of publication, or descriptive text about the book, and illustrations are also common on title pages.

Copyright page—Usually the verso of the title page, this page carries the copyright notice, edition information, publication information, printing history, cataloging data, legal notices, and the books ISBN or identification number. In addition, rows of numbers are sometimes printed at the bottom of the page to indicate the year and number of the printing. Credits for design, production, editing and illustration are also commonly listed on the copyright page.

Dedication—Not every book carries a dedication but, for those that do, it follows the copyright page.

Epigraph—An author may wish to include an epigraph—a quotation—near the front of the book. The epigraph may also appear facing the Table of Contents, or facing the first page of text. Epigraphs can also be used at the heads of each chapter.

Table of Contents—Also known as the Contents page, this page lists all the major divisions of the book including parts, if used, and chapters. Depending on the length of the book, a greater level of detail may be provided to help the reader navigate the book. History records that the Table of Contents was invented by Quintus Valerius Soranus before 82 bce.

List of Figures—In books with numerous figures (or illustrations) it can be helpful to include a list of all figures, their titles and the page numbers on which they occur.

List of Tables—Similar to the List of Figures above, a list of tables occurring in the book may be helpful for readers.

Foreword—Usually a short piece written by someone other than the author, the Foreword may provide a context for the main work. Remember that the Foreword is always signed, usually with the author’s name, place and date.

Preface—Written by the author, the Preface often tells how the book came into being, and is often signed with the name, place and date, although this is not always the case.

Acknowledgments—The author expresses their gratitude for help in the creation of the book.

Introduction—The author explains the purposes and the goals of the work, and may also place the work in a context, as well as spell out the organization and scope of the book.

Prologue—In a work of fiction, the Prologue sets the scene for the story and is told in the voice of a character from the book, not the author’s voice.

Second Half Title—If the frontmatter is particularly extensive, a second half title identical to the first, can be added before the beginning of the text. The page following is usually blank but may contain an illustration or an epigraph. When the book design calls for double-page chapter opening spreads, the second half title can be used to force the chapter opening to a left-hand page.

Body

This is the main portion or body of the book.

Part Opening page—Both fiction and nonfiction books are often divided into parts when there is a large conceptual, historical or structural logic that suggests these divisions, and the belief that reader will benefit from a meta-organization.

Chapter Opening page—Most fiction and almost all nonfiction books are divided into chapters for the sake of organizing the material to be covered. Chapter Opening pages and Part Opening pages may be a single right-hand page, or in some cases a spread consisting of a left- and right-hand page, (or a verso and a recto). Statistically, if a spread opening is used, half the chapters (or parts) will generate a blank right hand page, and the author or publisher will have to work with the book designer to decide how to resolve these right-hand page blanks.

Epilogue—An ending piece, either in the voice of the author or as a continuation of the main narrative, meant to bring closure of some kind to the work.

Afterword—May be written by the author or another, and might deal with the origin of the book or seek to situate the work in some wider context.

Conclusion—A brief summary of the salient arguments of the main work that attempts to give a sense of completeness to the work.

Backmatter

At the end of the book various citations, notes and ancillary material are gathered together into the backmatter.

Postscript—From the latin post scriptum, “after the writing” meaning anything added as an addition or afterthought to the main body of the work.

Appendix or Addendum—A supplement of some kind to the main work. An Appendix might include source documents cited in the text, material that arose too late to be included in the main body of the work, or any of a number of other insertions.

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 frontmatter if the author considers it critical to the reader’s understanding of the work.

Notes—Endnotes come after any appendices, and before the bibliography or list of references. The 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.

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 may demand a 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.” Information about each contributor may include brief biographical notes, 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.

Errata—A notice from the publisher of an error in the book, usually caused in the production process.

Colophon—A brief notice at the end of a book usually describing the text typography, identifying the typeface by name along with a brief history. It may also credit the book’s designer and other persons or companies involved in its physical production.

Next: Paginating Your Book

Look for the next post in this series, The Book Construction Blueprint, which will describe how to paginate your book. Further articles will complete the Blueprint, so stay tuned.

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    { 23 comments… read them below or add one }

    Annette November 21, 2014 at 8:52 am

    Hi Joel!

    Do you have a favorite writing application? I’m a new (formal) author writing my autobiography series. I’ve been using Microsoft’s OneNote 2013. I’ve tried Word but get frustrated and keep going back to the OneNote. I’m struggling with pagination, proper margining and formatting for final publishing. I noticed the comment above, I’m hoping it will give me some insight on the pagination matter?

    In addition, I can’t decide on going with self publishing or conventional methods. Do you have an outline or resource that would help me to make this decision? A friend of mine went the self publishing direction but this was a single subject wrapped around the struggle with the death of her daughter and just wanted to tell her story. I’m looking for a bit larger of an audience and broader spectrum. I’m afraid this method would not give me enough publicity. I know you are the self publishing king… any suggestions?

    And, by the way? Thank you for this publication… super helpful!

    -Annette

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 22, 2014 at 11:54 am

    Hi Annette, thanks for reading. My favorite writing app is IA Writer, which I’ve used extensively on both my iPad and my Mac. It’s a low-distraction program that I’ve written about here: 7 Distraction-Free Writing Environments for Authors.

    As far as the self-publishing decision, that’s tough to handle in a comment, but keep reading and talking to other authors and perhaps your direction will become clear.

    Reply

    Roy Mark June 29, 2014 at 11:32 pm

    The cover of my book will contain a painting by a famous artist. The artist painted the picture special for my book, and I promised him praise and credit for his work on an “About the Cover” page. I am now in a quandary regarding the placement of that page. What is your suggestion?

    Reply

    Marcus June 27, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Hi Joel,
    I’m about to self publish my first childrens book and just finished having it gone through the editing process. I was wondering should I include an acknowledgement page? After looking through nearly a hundred of my own childs childrens books, overwhelmingly – most of them do not have one. I cant seem to get a clear answer regarding the necessity of acknowledgement pages specifically with the genre of childrens books. I just want to my book to appear and be presented in the most proefessional way possible. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    Reply

    Chaz DeSimone February 2, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    Joel, I’m a book designer and a thief. I just stole your “An Unabridged List of the Parts of a Book” and sent it to a client (with credit to you, of course). As I told the client, “I couldn’t have explained it better.” You have a great way with words to help the layman (aka newbie author and self-publisher) feel at ease. Thanks for making my job easier!
    My personal design project is amperart.com, which you may find entertaining as it features “the ampersand as fun & fabulous art.”
    I subscribed to your newsletter; will you subscribe to AmperArt? You may share it with your readers, too; in fact, please do!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 5, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Thanks Chaz, much appreciated. Amperart.com is an interesting project, very idiosyncratic and typographic at the same time. I just signed up.

    Reply

    Cathy January 5, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Hi, can a book have two forwards, or is this not done? Two great teachers of mine have supported me over the years, and I would like to ask them each to write a forward (I would feel odd asking one and not the other). I know “forward by …” on the cover can be an important marketing tool, too. One guy is more the expert for my content, but the other guy is a much bigger name (he also teaches about the same subject matter, but more broadly). Thanks!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander January 8, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Sure, Cathy, that’s no problem, and a good idea to help launch the book, too.

    Reply

    Vinay Chande February 27, 2013 at 12:00 am

    Dear Joel,
    Thank you for the very informative article.
    I request you would add ” Author’s bio” to your list – How to write, where to locate etc.
    I am currently publishing a book and find it difficult to write about myself.
    Your suggestions would be of great help.
    With warm regards
    Vinay

    Reply

    Gordon Bagshaw October 11, 2013 at 9:27 am

    where would you locate an author bio in an ebook?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 16, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    I would suggest putting it at the end, unless it has some great authority or provides compelling reason to buy the book, in which case you might want it in the front.

    Reply

    Linda Sheehan September 27, 2011 at 2:57 am

    This was REALLY helpful! Thanks so much! This gives me a straight-forward approach to including all that’s necessary in my children’s book, 5 Cheetahs.

    Reply

    Sakina Dhilawala July 17, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Joel,

    I stumbled upon your website whilst researching ‘self publishing’ on Google. A big ‘thank you’ for the wonderful articles. Though they were published a couple of years ago, they are still relevant.

    I am currently self publishing a cookbook on Asian recipes researched and created by a friend. This is the first time I am doing this so your articles are extremely useful. I am based in Asia where self publishing is still new but starting to gain momentum.

    Warm regards
    Sakina

    Reply

    Noah Voss June 9, 2011 at 3:29 am

    Thank you Mr. Friedlander. I appreciate the input. Deadline is approaching…back to work!

    Noah Voss

    Reply

    C. Michael McGannon June 8, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Mr. Friedlander to the rescue again. No matter what I’m researching in publishing my book, your site always comes up.
    Thanks for all your hard work. We’re lucky to have you on the Internet!
    -Michael

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 8, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Music to my ears, and I’m glad I’ve been able to help.

    Reply

    Noah Voss May 15, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Hello-

    Nice article. I wonder what your thoughts are regarding the fluid stance of some definitions I’ve come across. Such as who can actually or should correctly be writing the Foreword, Preface, and Introduction? I’ve got a book friend who says the author of the book could have anyone else write all three and still be well within the accepted norm? Any thoughts?

    Basically, for my next book project “Mysterious Madison – A History of the Unexplained” I’d like to not author the front matter. Wondering if I’d be looked down upon, or if it might be appreciated to have three different experts write them?

    Thanks in advance!

    Sincerely,

    Noah Voss

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 8, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Noah, I don’t see any reason why you can’t have others write parts of the frontmatter. If they add something to the text they would be welcome. In that case it might pay to have a note of some sort to explain the participation of the various authors. And although anyone can write an introduction, it’s a place where the book’s author can establish a context for the book and that’s pretty valuable.

    Reply

    Betsy Gordon January 16, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Hi Joel —

    I know I am WAY late on this one (over a year — some kind of record?) but I do spent the odd idle moment in reading your back posts, to learn more about this wonderful craft of putting a book together in the best possible way. This is a terrific article! It’s going right into my PUBLISHING binder, to remind me how to do this right.

    But I have a question. What became of the rest of the series, The Book Construction Blueprint? I’ve been trying to find it, to no avail. I was especially interested in seeing a piece on how to paginate correctly (which was supposed to come after this one). Have I missed some special secret way to get at your archives?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated. You have been so incredibly helpful to me in learning more about what makes a book than just the editing! Thanks again,

    Betsy

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander January 16, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Betsy, it’s like meeting you in an old hallway of the house, running into you here. I did write the articles you’re referring to. Here’s a link:

    Book Pagination for Fun and Profit

    You can find all the posts for this topic by picking “Book Construction Blueprint” in the Topics list in the right-hand sidebar. Hope that helps!

    Reply

    Annie Kolatkar September 14, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Thanks and a great breakdown, Joel. I’ve been an avid reader for forty years and it struck me as odd that I never once thought about the names and/or history of the parts of a book! But then again, we go through life as a human not really knowing our anatomy either. And we learn things as we go. Cheers! -AnnieK

    Reply

    admin October 16, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks, @Joanne, I put this together because I also wished I had it handy. No matter how many books I do I need the memory refresher too.

    Reply

    Joanne Bolton October 16, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    I wish I had had this list about a dozen years ago. Ever so often I have the task of trying to make a pile of assorted manuscripts into a book. Not very often, and usually, back then, I might try my best and help out as an act of kindness. The front matter was one of those areas I really didn’t know much about, at least I knew that foreword was not spelled forward. But I had no idea which came first and/or why. Now I have something and someone to refer people to! Excellent reference!

    Reply

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