Essential Parts of a Book, and How To Use Them To Your Advantage
There's more to a book than its story. Learn how to use front and back matter to your advantage.
Regardless of if you’re self or traditional publishing, writing horror, romance, science fiction, or any other subject matter, there are universal components to the structure of a book beyond the story itself. The basic parts of a book may not be the most exciting topic in the world, but knowing how to use the non-story content between your front cover and back cover to best effect can go a long way towards making you sales now, and long term fans for the years ahead.
The Anatomy of a Book
Every book can be divided into three core segments:
- Front Matter
- Body Matter
- Back Matter
Note: This article’s focus is on the interior of a book and excludes tips on book covers or blurbs.
1. Front Matter
This consists of the opening pages of a book, which include technical information, but also provide an opportunity to hook a prospective reader. These pages may be unnumbered, or use roman numerals instead of regular numbers. This section is your first impression – a chance to attract a reader with your professionalism and set the stage for what type of book they are considering buying. Yes, the front of the book is part of your sales pitch.
Most readers open a paperback at the beginning and many online sites give potential buyers the chance to review a sample of a book. The sample is typically everything up to the first three chapters, making those first few pages the best place to promote your work.
For both front and back matter, I’ve divided their components into standard elements (which virtually every book should have) and optional content that an author can take advantage of to promote the book or better inform readers. Of course, if you are self-publishing, everything is in your control.
A plain text page outlining the essential basics of the book is typically the first page readers see when they open the book. Each title page or frontispiece should include:
Full title of the book
The copyright notice is a simple page, but extremely important. Sometimes called a colophon, the copyright page is a single page with the required technical information and any credit details necessary to include in your book.
Elements on this page include:
Publishers Name: The legal name of the publisher. May include their logo and contact details.
Credits: Name and contact information of people or companies that assisted in core elements of the book’s production. This may include the book designer, cover artist, photographers, etc.
Contact Information: Details on who to contact for information on requesting permission to use a portion of your book
Disclaimer: A legal notice advising of the nature of the book. I.e., not a work of fiction.
Example of a work of fiction disclaimer:
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Example of an autobiography or memoir:
I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them. In order to maintain their anonymity in some instances, I have changed the names of individuals and places. I may have changed some identifying characteristics and details such as physical properties, occupations and places of residence.
International Standard Book Number (ISBN): A numeric book identifier that is unique to each edition or version of a book to help identify it in a commercial space. As of January 2007, this is a 13 digit number and is unique to the country of publication. If you have Library of Congress catalog information, it would be listed here too.
Publication Date: Month and Year of the edition
Place of Printing: USA or another country
Edition: First, Second, Third, etc.
Copyright Date: The year the book is published.
Table of Contents
This may seem boring or unnecessary, but many readers find value in the table of contents. By scanning the list, they can gather key information about the themes in the story.
Pro-Tip: Because the table of contents is often available in the preview of an ebook, it can be a great opportunity to showcase the tone of your writing. If you infuse humor into your writing, chapter titles can be an introduction to your writing style.
Have a great advanced review or three? Or good reviews from earlier books in the series? A comment from an established author about you? Consider putting that in the front of the book, or on the dust jacket of print editions of the book, if you have one.
A single page, typically with a line or a few short lines to honor or shout out to individuals who mean something to the author. These can be funny, poignant or simple like “For my mom.”
The foreword can be an introduction to the story, perhaps from another’s perspective, like a fellow author. Forewords can be a summary of the themes of the book from the author themselves. For nonfiction books, these often consist of an expert in the field explaining and supporting an author’s qualifications to write on a topic, or contextualizing the subject’s importance to a larger cultural landscape.
Pro-tip: Many authors today are using this space as a spot to discuss or alert readers to potential trigger warnings for harsher themes in a book.
In the preface, you have the opportunity to tell a tale to your readers about the story. Perhaps the reason for writing the book, the story behind the inspiration for the book, or the desired outcome of the book. In fiction, most prefaces or introductions to a book are a personal message to the reader aimed at connecting with them on an emotional level. For non-fiction or scholarly works, these pages are used to lay out the context of the book or explain your perspective on the topic.
While the preface is about the book itself, the introduction is more about the content of the book. These few paragraphs tell the reader what they can expect to find or learn in the book. Take this section as the spot to let the reader in on the information they might appreciate knowing before they read on.
Part of the story, but not part of the story. A prologue is a scene or chapter where the actions and circumstances are often separate and distinct from the rest of the story. The purpose is to introduce important details to let the reader gather their bearings before diving into the main story.
For more on writing a prologue and if it’s necessary for your story, check out Does Your Book Need a Prologue?
Particularly useful for fantasy novels, but applicable to any fiction book that needs a visual context for the readers to orientate themselves. Nonfiction books, such as a history of World War II, might use maps to show army advancements or how battles played out, though these maps would more likely be in the body of the book than appear as front matter.
If your book is part of a series, let readers know up front. It is infuriating to readers to purchase a book and only once they start reading it discover it is the fourth in a series. It can lead to readers putting your book on the shelf and never going back to it.
You may have the series name on your cover but make this obvious to potential readers. It might lead to them seeking out the first books in the series and buying them all.
An epigraph is a short, independent quote or paragraph used to set up the theme of the book or set a scene. Typically, these are taken from another book to draw a comparison to your story. An example of a famous epigraph is from Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird
“Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.” — Charles Lamb
Suggested Front Matter Order
Table of Contents
You don’t want to force readers to wade through too many front matter pages before getting to the core content of the book. Which of the above items are included will vary for each project, but be judicious in their use. For some nonfiction works, a preface, forward, AND introduction might come across as excessive or pretentious.
2. Body Matter
The main text of your book, from Chapter One through the final chapter. This portion of the book may be divided into different parts, sections, or books in longer stories. The body contains the vast majority of the book’s content.
Your opening chapter and first page should start on the right-hand page. Each chapter needs a chapter number, and some authors like to include a chapter title or the name of the character the chapter’s perspective is from.
Pro-Tip: How you divide your body matter up is a marketing decision as well. Readers may get exhausted or fatigued with huge chapters. Finding the right place to end one chapter and start another gives readers a moment to pause, or not pause, but reframe. James Patterson is famous for his short chapters that keep readers turning pages. With over 200 novels published under just his name, something is working.
3. Back Matter
The end matter of the book gives you the opportunity to include reference materials, information about the author and other details you couldn’t put in the story. These sections not only add a lot of depth for readers to indulge in, they also offer the chance to promote yourself as an author and your other books, both those written and yet-to-be written. Where the front matter is the pull to read your book, back matter is an emotional experience to keep you on a reader’s radar.
A form of passive marketing, these sections can have an impact on your life as an author. Without you lifting a finger, these pages offer readers a way to connect with you, can increase your newsletter subscriptions, pre-sell your next book and so much more with cleverly placed calls to actions.
While nothing is essential at the end of the book, like the front matter, there is expected and optional content an author can take advantage of here.
The acknowledgements page or pages are meant to give the author the space to thank and recognize the people or organizations that helped shape the book or supported the writing. This is often the first time you as the author get to talk directly to your readers. This can be straightforward and simple or a showcase for your personality. How you thank the people who stood by you as you created your masterpiece is a reflection of who you are to readers.
Bios typically contain a few sentences or paragraphs that offer additional information about who you are, and your accomplishments. The bio may include a photo. It’s also an opportunity to showcase your personality outside of your writing and give readers a reason to further connect with you.
Many authors feel self-conscious talking about themselves and dread writing this part of the book, but it shouldn’t be skimped on. Your bio is a powerful sales tool, in and out of a book. Take your time to craft something beyond the typical. Give the potential readers something to connect with or even better a reason to go check out your social media and sign up for your newsletter. For example, I live in a big city and like dogs. I might draw readers to join my newsletter with the promise of dog photos.
Pro-Tip: Include one key call to action here, like joining your readers’ group or subscribing to your newsletter to receive a free short story. Add links to make this quick and easy.
Also By The Author
This is more than just a listing of your books. If you have a backlist of books, this is an excellent place to upsell those older books and generate some instant sales from readers who want more now that they have found you and read your book. If you don’t have a back list, this is a perfect place to tease the potential new books you have planned. First book in a series? List out all the upcoming books with dates or coming soon if you don’t have those yet.
An epilogue is a chapter set after the conclusion of the main story. Because it is outside the story itself, you can play with the timeframe by skipping ahead a month, a year, a lifetime or even have a different character tell the details. Some authors even change point of view, switching from first in the book to omniscient in the epilogue.
Pro-Tip: The story is over and readers are in the afterglow of the end. This is the perfect time to request a review. Ask here and include a link to make it easy for them to pop over to Goodreads, Amazon, or your favorite review site.
Sometimes known as an author’s note, the afterword is an opportunity for you to offer extra information on the subject of the book you want the reader to know after they have read the story. It may be a personal story, the inspiration for the plot, or other backstory information.
It’s common for classic books to have an afterword written by a contemporary author to give insight into a modern perspective on the story. Typically, books have either a foreword or and an afterword, but not both.
Book Club Questions
This is a relatively new section, but some books are taking advantage of the rise in book clubs to add potential discussion points here. Thanks Oprah. In fact, the book club queen has her own list of possible questions you can draw upon to include.
Sometimes referred to as an addendum or endnotes, this portion of the back matter is where you have the opportunity to provide more detail on components like people, places or things that might require more context or explanation. A great example of this is the appendix in The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien, which has 5 appendixes:
Appendix A: Annals of the Kings and Rulers
Appendix B: The Tale of Years (Chronology of the Westlands)
Appendix C: Family Trees (Hobbits)
Appendix D: Calendars
Appendix E: Writing and Spelling
Appendix F: The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age
Here Tolkien provides oodles of backstory for his Lord of the Rings Trilogy and fans obsess over it. For nonfiction, the appendix and the bibliography (described below) may provide a reference list for further reading on the book’s topic.
This sectioned or alphabetical list of terms and definitions helps readers gain deeper knowledge of the concepts of a book. More common in non-fiction, this listing can also apply to fictional novels and can be names, phrases, or terms unique to the story. Glossaries are also often found in fantasy and science fiction titles with lots of worldbuilding, where new terms are invented to describe magical or futuristic concepts.
Most commonly found in nonfiction, the bibliography is the section of a book that cites sources an author referenced within the body matter. This section is not limited to books, but may also reference magazine articles, online articles, podcasts, movies or any other source used. Consult the Chicago Manual of Style if you need help with formatting citations.
A bit like the glossary, an index lists all the essential terms used in a book and the page number on which they appear. Set out in alphabetical order, an index is a reference element to assist readers in finding key people, places, concepts, events, etc.
If you have a backlist, the back of a book is a great place to place a teaser for those older books that new readers who just finished and loved your book can get into another story. If you have a new book you are working on that will be released soon, this is the spot to get readers interested.
A teaser can be a short summary or even a few of the first chapters. Anything that gets readers addicted and wanting more. The copy added here doesn’t even have to be the final version of your story’s opening. However, the chapters must be edited and professional.
Don’t have any words yet? Do a cover reveal. Add the blurb. Link to pre-orders or your website page where you will be updating your word count, your thoughts on the new book. Anything that keeps the reader engaged.
Pro-tip: This is the one and only place it is 100% acceptable to leave the reader on a cliff-hanger. Teasers in the back of books are meant to do just that, spike a reader’s interest and go hunting for more information on the book or you as an author.
Suggested Back Matter Order
Book Club Questions
Also By The Author
Pro-tip: Parts of your back matter may need to be updated over time. Particularly your Also By The Author page. As books are published, it’s essential to update this page so new readers understand what books they can go search for to read next.
Digital Copies vs Print Books
Front and back matter are more than mere formalities you need to include in a book. They offer the chance to take your readers beyond your books, engage with them, and establish a connection that may have them reading your work for years to come. Digital copies have different options from paperbacks and you should consider the best avenue for each format.
The greatest advantage of a digital copy is that most people are reading your book on a device that is connected to the internet. That affords you and your readers the chance for instant satisfaction at the tap of a link. Adding digital links to your book, including to your Amazon author page, your website or your newsletter sign up, are like the candy they place at cash registers. They lend themselves to impulse buying while your reader is still in the mood to read more by you.
Many readers today still want the experience of holding a book in their hands. They want the glossy cover with the inked edges and the new (or old) book smell. However, this doesn’t limit your ability to create that connection with readers off the page. Consider adding Quick Read Codes (QRC) into your pages. These little squares of code that are read by a smartphone camera send your readers directly to an URL, like your website, your newsletter or any other place online.
Putting Your Book Together
What elements you put in your front and back matter are as personal and unique as the story you put in the body matter. The key factor here is to ensure you find the balance between the standards readers expect of a professionally formatted book and the marketing options you have to implement to promote future sales and reader retention.