Front Matter: Organizing the Beginning of Your Book

by | Sep 20, 2021

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

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 TheBookDesigner.com

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

39 Comments

  1. Daniel Wright

    Organizing the front matter of the book is really very important as you have stated in this article. I was planning to write a book when I came across your article and I must say that your article was really very good and I really enjoyed reading it a lot. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Nathan

    I’m curious. Does the dedication page HAVE to be put in the front matter? I’m currently writing a book where I want to include a dedication page. I feel the dedication I have written reveals too much about what occurs within the body of the book, and I don’t want to taint the reader’s mind before they even start reading. I really would rather put it in the back matter. Is this unheard-of?

    Reply
    • Michael Drive

      I wish I knew this too. I feel exactly the same way.
      But here’s what I think: who cares what (usually) is done: that the dedication page follows the copyright page. Put it at the back anyway! Mine reveals too much too; more than I want them to read before the book itself. My preface does an adequate job in revealing what I want them to know beforehand anyway.
      Put it in the back! There. I just made a new rule. ;-)

      Reply
  3. Sharon Goldinger

    Hi, Holly,

    Per the Chicago Manual of Style (the style guide for the nonfiction book publishing industry), “notes on the text are usually treated typographicallly in the same way as a preface or foreword. . . . A translator’s note, like a foreword, should precede any element, such as a preface.”

    Reply
  4. Holly

    Where would a translator’s note fit into the front matter? Thanks!

    Reply
  5. Sharon

    Catherine, good question. I put that information on the back of the half-title page (which just shows the book title not the subtitle, author or publisher name). So page i is the half-title page, page ii is a list of the author’s other books, page iii is the full title page (book title, subtitle, author name, publisher name), page iv is the copyright page.

    Reply
  6. Catherine Lean

    Hi. Just ran across your site and hope you may be able to help me out. I am wondering just where in the book a person is to put the titles of the others book written by them. I have searched the internet but nothing tells me. I don’t have any actual books in my possession to check this.
    Would be grateful for a reply.

    Reply
    • Bill Amatneek

      Catherine, this is sometimes called the “advertising card.” It goes on the verso page facing the full title page.

      Reply
  7. Eliza

    Hello, Joel, always the source of great information! Please can you tell me where to place a map in a non-fiction work? Thanks in advance for your help!

    Reply
    • Sharon Goldinger

      Eliza, a map could go in a variety of places. I’ve seen some people put it in the front matter after the table of contents (I’m assuming it’s one or two pages) or it can be in a chapter where a map would be helpful for readers to see as they are reading about that geographic area. It could also be an appendix at the back of the book. It depends on what information you are trying to convey and when that information would be helpful to the reader.

      Reply
      • Eliza

        Hello Sharon,

        Thanks for your response. Since I would much prefer it (yes, two pages) in the front matter, I’ll go with after TOC.

        Thanks again!

        Reply
  8. jill charlotte

    love love your wisdom and help just discovered you wow much appreciated indeed warm wish jill charlotte S Africa

    Reply
  9. jason zimmerman

    I have 2 questions. First if I put links to some external sites in the back of my e-book to give my readers some resources for more information. Do I have to add any acknowledgements or state somewhere in my legal page that I am not affiliated with them in any way and it is only to benefit the sites that I’m linking my readers too? And my second question is. Do I have to include page numbers in my e-book. Is it a must even though my Table of Contents has links to every Chapter and sub section.

    Reply
  10. judy lickus

    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

      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

        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
        • Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

          For what it’s worth, having a print edition available can help prospective buyers “peek” into the later pages of your book, since they can view these with the “surprise me” and “search inside” features of the print edition. They still have to know to switch from Kindle to print editions, but at least the visibility is there.
          This is one “perk of print” that I’ve never heard anyone speak or write about that I have used a LOT myself. It probably still wouldn’t work for a cookbook, since they are a HUGE pain to put together for print, and you probably haven’t included as many (or any) if your book is currently Kindle only.

          Reply
          • Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

            Also, in my genre (kids’ books), a print edition preview may be misleading because the Kindle version is not likely to be as tightly formatted…

        • Joel Friedlander

          Maury, I would suggest you email Amazon from your Author Central account and put the question to them. And if you get something definitive, please come back and leave a comment here, thanks.

          Reply
    • Judy

      Very helpful, thank you so much.

      I’m writing a cookbook. If I write my own Epigraphs for the heads of each chapter, do I state my name afterwards or is it assumed the author of the book wrote the Epigraph when not indicated otherwise?

      Reply
      • Sharon Goldinger

        Judy, great question. If you are the only one being quoted in those epigraphs, then you don’t have to list your name. But if you aren’t, if you are quoting other people as well as yourself, then you should include your name at the end of the epigraph (just like you would list the other authors’ names at the end of their epigraphs).

        Reply
  11. KEMSY

    your publications are ebook

    Reply
  12. Andrew

    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

      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
  13. mickey morgan

    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

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

      Reply
  14. J S

    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

      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
  15. Gwen Hayes

    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

      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

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

        Reply
  16. doug_eike

    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
  17. Cynthia Morris

    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

      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
  18. Colin F. Barnes

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

    Reply
  19. anne gallagher

    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

      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

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