Self-Publishing Basics: How to Organize Your Book’s Front Matter

by Joel Friedlander on February 8, 2012 · 28 comments

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Many writers who think about self-publishing are taken aback when they start to put their book together for publication. It’s one thing to work on a manuscript, sometimes for years, getting the ideas right, the words to flow, the overall thematic arc to shine through for attentive readers.

But how do you turn that manuscript into a book? After all, there are lots of things in books that you’ll never see in a manuscript. Things like running heads, page numbers, half-title pages, indexes… stuff like that.

And the part of a book that most confuses new independent authors, in my experience, is the front matter.

What is Front Matter Anyway?

Books are divided into three basic parts:

  1. front matter
  2. body of the book
  3. back matter

What you’ve been working on, the manuscript you’ve sweated and struggled over, will form the body of the book.

Back matter is reserved for things like an index, a glossary, notes and other material that doesn’t belong in the body of the book itself, but which you’d want to include for the convenience of readers or to make the book complete.

That leaves the front matter. Here are the elements you can find in the front matter of books, and a brief description of each. You probably won’t include all of these, but pick and choose which work best for your unique title.

  • Half 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. 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, cataloging data, legal notices, and the book’s ISBN or identification number. 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 BC.
  • 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 its 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.
  • Acknowledgements—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.

Paginating Your Front Matter

The other thing to remember about front matter is that we often use a different style of page numbering in this section of the book. Many authors ask me if this is an anachronism or if they need to bother with roman numerals at all.

There’s actually a simple reason for this pagination scheme, and it has to do with indexing. Typically, books are corrected to the point that the pages will no longer reflow. There may still be errors to be corrected or references to be cross-checked, but the text of the book is basically set. Once the index is complete, if the page numbers start to change, a lot of work will have to be re-done.

For instance, suppose that famous writer you asked for a preface all of a sudden gets the time to write one for you. Now you’ve got to insert it into the book. If you’ve used roman numerals to paginate your front matter, you have no problem, since the page numbers in the body of the book won’t change.

But if you started your page numbering at the title page with page 1, all the page numbers in the book will change once you drop in that wonderful new preface. And that’s why we use roman numerals.

This leads to the conclusion that if you are not going to index the book, and it’s not critical what your final page count is, you can number the pages any way you like that makes sense to your readers, and you can safely avoid the dual-page numbering scheme used by books with indexes.

A final tip: if the front matter of your book is long, or has many parts to it, think about including a second half-title in your book. We all know what the title page is, but what’s a half title? It’s the page at the very front of the book, not used in all cases, that has only the title of the book on it. This will usually be in the same typographic style as the title page, but with the size of the title reduced.

You may want to consider including another half-title at the very end of the front matter as a way to make a clean and clear break between those sections and the beginning of the body of the book. Pull some books off your shelf and have a look. Although not used in all books, it can be useful to the book designer (and in this case, that’s you!) to signal to the reader the book itself is about to begin.

Photo by echiner1. Originally published in a slightly different form as Authors, Front and Center: How to Organize Your Front Matterby CreateSpace on Sep 22, 2011. Also incorporates content from previous blog posts on TheBookDesigner.com

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    { 21 comments… read them below or add one }

    anne gallagher February 8, 2012 at 3:07 am

    Thanks, Joel. This is invaluable information for me right now, as I’m just getting ready to creat a paperback version of my books. So much to learn!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 8, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Sure, Anne. You might also check the Book Construction Blueprint topic in the sidebar for more on book elements and how to deal with them. Happy reading!

    Reply

    Karl February 8, 2012 at 4:19 am

    The free PDF download “Build Your Book” by Walton Mendelson is a great resource for info like this too.

    http://oneoffpressbooks.com/images/build-your-book.pdf

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 8, 2012 at 10:44 am

    And don’t forget Pete Masterson’s excellent Book Design and Production

    Reply

    Colin F. Barnes February 8, 2012 at 4:48 am

    Excellent, article, thanks. I’ve bookmarked this, and will no doubt refer to it often. Keep up the great work :)

    Reply

    Cynthia Morris February 8, 2012 at 9:52 am

    This is timely; thank you! I’m working on my front matter now, updating my ISBN, getting my LoC data.

    I’ve already written my acknowledgement and dedication pages; this was a great exercise years ago when my energy for revision was flagging. Writing my thanks in the acknowledgement page was a great way to bring my vitality back to the project.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 8, 2012 at 10:46 am

    That’s interesting, Cynthia. Perhaps going back into the Acknowledgements reconnected you to the original impetus that lead you to write the book in the first place.

    Reply

    doug_eike February 8, 2012 at 11:08 am

    This is practical information that will be useful for all of us who plan to publish a book and market it through our blogs or websites. Thanks!

    Reply

    Gwen Hayes February 10, 2012 at 7:21 am

    I suggest putting your front matter at the end of your book. That way, the sample for your reader is actually the beginning of your story and a better selling tool. It’s super frustrating to download an ebook sample and have it be pages and pages of front matter and several paragraphs of the actual content.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 10, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Gwen, that’s an excellent suggestion for ebooks but I wouldn’t suggest it for print books unless there’s a compelling reason. For instance, I’ve seen art books that rely on creating an impression as soon as the book is opened and you can’t do that with a lot of front matter in the way.

    Reply

    Gwen Hayes February 10, 2012 at 10:28 am

    Good point…whenever I see “self-publish” any more I see “ebook.” My bad.

    Reply

    J S February 10, 2012 at 11:16 am

    I did a survey of quite a few electronic books and some of the best practice trends:

    -cover image
    -text version of title page
    -’back of the paperback’ summary copy
    -a few friendly ‘blurbs’ if you want
    -chapter 1 : the story begins

    Then all the ‘front matter’ including the TOC goes at the end. Any copyright information (per requirements it only needs to be within 10 pages of the text it refers to, but it was unclear how to handle cover image this way. Study the copyright stuff on your own and decide).

    One genre I write has the ‘world map’ requirement and I’m even considering putting that at the end of the text too (it’s accessible by the TOC anyway).

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 10, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    J S,

    Yes, that mirrors what I’ve been seeing as good practices for ebooks and it’s not even necessary to keep a lot of the usual copy that appears on the copyright page in the book at all. Instead you can link out to a website.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “needs to be within 10 pages of the text it refers to” can you explain? Thanks.

    Reply

    mickey morgan June 23, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Joel,
    You are truly one altruistic guy! This site is pure nectar when faced with the scarcity of hands-on bookmaking resources. I’ll remind myself daily to read at least one of your articles on the right column . . . just great. Thanks!
    peace,
    mickey morgan (mickeypamo)

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 23, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Help yourself, mickey, it will take you a while to get through it all.

    Reply

    Andrew July 13, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Another great post, Joel. Very helpful description that allowed me to have an informed dialogue with my book designer. One point that you did not mention is the convention of the pagination of the back matter? Thanks for any useful tips or links to earlier postings.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander July 13, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Andrew,

    There’s no specific instruction for paginating your back matter, page numbering should continue from the end of the book with the caveat that pages that are not actually part of the text, like advertisements, don’t get page numbers.

    Reply

    KEMSY February 1, 2013 at 2:23 am

    your publications are ebook

    Reply

    judy lickus April 17, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Thanks for the article, Joel. We followed your advise on pagination and were surprised by the outcome. It seems that for a fiction writer this may be good, but for the non-fiction — in our case a recipe book — it did not work so well with our Create Space publishing of a non-fiction book available on Amazon.
    Other recipe books do not reveal any recipes. What is available on the “Look Inside ” feature is the Preface, Intro, and recommendation for the “Front Matter,” what happened to us — is that our first 3 recipes were displayed in the “First Pages” on the “Look Inside” feature at Amazon. Both appear (Create Space as well as Amazon) unable to repair this issue, since they provide the “First Pages” for the “Look Inside” feature, and the first pages of other books in our genre always begin at page 1. Page 1 of most books in our genre begin at the Preface/Intro which following your advise we numbered with Roman Numerals. It took over a month to figure out the issue as to why our recipes were being displayed instead of the “front matter”.
    What would have been of benefit to our book is to have the Preface and Introduction numbered as the “First Pages” for the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon, as other books in our genre display their own “First Pages” on Amazon, without giving away their recipes.
    I appreciate your efforts to help us self-publishers share our work with others and always look forward to your input to the Create Space Newsletter…. At least we knew how we were supposed to order our book!
    If you can reply as to how we might be able to correct this issue, I would appreciate it a whole bunch. We are counting on you!

    I appreciate the information you provide to the Create Space Newsletter and look forward to hearing from you!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander April 17, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Hi Judy, thanks for your comment. I will check further into this with CreateSpace, but I’d like to make a different point related to what happened to your book.

    I realize cookbook authors are very protective of their recipes, but if it was my book I would much rather show 2-3 recipes, which might really entice a browser to buy my book, rather than the Preface, copyright page, title page, or other front matter that is going to have absolutely no utility or influence on someone who is interested enough to “look inside.”

    So although to you this is a problem, I would regard it as a positive outcome.

    I’ll get back to you about the page number after I have something definite to report.

    Reply

    Maury Breecher April 18, 2014 at 9:54 am

    Your advice in general is correct for other types of books. However, we have a recipe book and educational info in our Preface and Intro. We want people to read our Preface and Intro because it provides readers with a better understanding of the importance of the recipes. However, because those pages are numbered with the roman numerals the “Inside the Book” feature skips those important sections and goes to the first four Arabic numbered pages, all breakfast recipes. We don’t mind providing 3 or 4 recipes but would prefer a variety — one breakfast, one lunch, one dinner entree and one side dish. We cut our proportion of page that Inside the Book can show to 10% but the same 4 breakfast recipes are shown. We we were expanded to 20% we had the title page, the 2nd title page, copyright page and dedication shown along with back cover, but the Intro and Preface weren’t there. If we expand to a higher percentage, would the Preface and Intro show or would more of our recipes be given away free? I’m leery of this. Is there anyway we can give Amazon an instruction that would show the dedication, Preface and Intro? Those pages were designed to sell the rest of the book. Inclusion of the 2 title pages and the copyright page is a waste of precious Inside the Book space! Maury Breecher (along with Judy Lickus) authors of Low Glycemic Happiness: 120 Low Glycemic Load Recipes for Health and Happiness.

    Reply

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