Front Matter: Organizing the Beginning of Your Book

by | Jan 30, 2023

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.

nonfiction book outline template v2

What is the Front Matter in a Book 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.

Want a Done-For-You Template That You Can Plug-And-Play to Organize Your Book?

nonfiction book outline template v2

We also have a full publishing package available if you don’t want to deal with all of this by yourself. In fact, we’ll handle all the formatting and book design for you with the publishing package.

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

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