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Parts of a Book—Front Matter

Book Basics

January 24, 2021

The order, content, and numbering of the book’s early pages.

There are three main sections of a book’s content, front matter, body, and end matter. Each of those sections can contain various elements, some required and some optional. Although the components’ order can vary, there are typical conventions that most books follow. This section will discuss the book’s front matter, content, order, and page numbering.

The front matter is the content that comes before the book’s body. Did you ever wonder why books use a different numbering system in the front?  Mainly it is because what’s first in the book is often done last. Content on the first pages may take time to gather. Forwards, acknowledgments and introductions are often written last.  And sometimes, these front matter items come in last because we have to rely on others for them. Forwards, introductions, reviews, the library of congress number all may take longer than you expect, and can hold off indexing and finalizing the book.

For example, let’s say you are waiting for that fantastic forward that your all-time hero generously offered to write. But it turns out your hero is very busy (as heroes usually are) and you really don’t want to pester them, and you don’t need to! Well, maybe not just yet. Having a different numbering system on the early pages makes it possible to add pages later in production. A separate numbering system makes it possible to finish your table of contents, finalize “see page such-and-such” references, do that final proofread, and even send your book to the indexer without holding up production.

Page numbering

The front matter is numbered with lowercase Roman numerals. The numbering starts with Roman numeral i. Usually, the Roman style numbered pages that appear before the table of contents do not go in the contents. After the front matter, the numbering restarts with Arabic number 1 on a right-hand page. Blank pages don’t usually have printed page numbers. But they are included in the numbering.

The front matter at a glance

Here is a list of the potential parts of a book’s front matter and what the parts contain. Some books may have more of these sections, while others may only have a title page, a copyright page, and a table of contents. Below is a suggested order. But section order can vary and is not written in stone. 

Half-title page or bastard title. (optional)

The half-title page is a right-hand page that includes the book title, usually without the subtitle.

The half title is the first spread on the righthand side

This illustration shows a colored end-sheet with the half-title on the right facing page


Frontispiece. (optional)

The frontispiece is an image or a picture on the book’s first spread on the left-hand side. A spread is made of two facing pages—a left and a right-hand page.

Title page.

This right-hand page includes the book’s title, the author, and the publisher’s information. 

The fronticepiece is on the left side and the full title is on the right

The frontispiece is the illustrated page on the left side, and the full title is on the right.


Copyright page, title verso page, or edition notice.

This left-hand page includes publication dates, publisher information, and copyright information. This page may also list a Library of Congress Catalog Number and edition number.

On first editions, you might see “10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1.” With each printing, the publisher removes a number from the line of numbers so that the second printing would read: “10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2.” The lowest number on that line would indicate that book’s printing number. This numbering system stems from the days when printing plates were photographically created with negatives. It was easier to erase or “opaque out” the number rather than photographing a new artwork.

Typefaces, translations used, the name and address of the publisher or printer can also go on the copyright page or in the back matter. 

Dedication. (optional)

The dedication is where the author names the people that the book was written for.

Copyright is on the left and the dedication is on the right

The copyright page is always on the left. This example shows the facing page as the dedication page.


Epigraph. (optional)

A phrase, quotation, or poem. (not illustrated here)


Table of contents.

A table of contents is a list of chapter heads (and sometimes subheads) and their respective page numbers. Novels without chapter titles do not usually have a table of contents. But if you are doing an e-book you may want to include one anyway. The table of contents typically starts on a right-hand page. In addition to chapter headings, the contents can include nested subheadings if it is helpful and not too long. It is best to keep the contents to 1 or 2 pages. The contents can also include the front-matter items listed below, chapters in the book’s body, and the back matter. 
The Table of Contents typically starts on the right

The table of contents typically starts on the right and can flow to the next left-hand page.


List of illustrations. (optional)

List of tables. (optional)

The list of illustrations and list of tables are typically treated much like a table of contents.  (not illustrated here)


Foreword. (optional)

Usually, someone other than the author writes the foreword. That person may be an expert or respected writer. Forewords can add credibility and be a way of introducing the author. 

The foreword usually starts on a right hand page

The foreword usually starts on a right-hand page. In this illustration, it shows the left page as a blank page. If the contents run long, they can continue on the left page.


Preface (optional)

The preface is the author’s introduction to the book, explaining why they wrote it. It also includes acknowledgments to contributors. (not illustrated here)


Acknowledgments. (optional)

Acknowledgments thank people who contributed time to writing the book but were not directly involved in the book’s production. They can also be placed in the back matter

Usually, the acknowledgments will start on a right-hand page

Usually, the acknowledgments will start on a right-hand page. They can also go to the back of the book.


Introduction. (optional) 

The introduction can be used to establish the book’s purpose. In fiction, it may be used to help establish context.
The Introduction starts on a right-hand page.

The introduction starts on a right-hand page. Usually, it is a roman numbered page, but sometimes it is numbered page 1. This illustration shows the acknowledgments from the previous spread flowing onto the facing page.


Abbreviations. (optional)

Frequently used abbreviations may be listed in your front matter or back-matter. (not illustrated here)


Prologue. (optional)

A prologue acts as the introduction to the story and comes before the first chapter, and has information vital to the rest of the story. 
The prologue also typically starts on the right-hand page

The prologue also typically starts on the right-hand page. Usually, it is a roman numbered page, but sometimes it is numbered page 1. This illustration shows the introduction from the previous spread flowing onto the facing page.


I recommend that you look at how others layout and structure their books—especially those within your genre. See my Fact-finding Mission Workbook for an organized way to look at what others are doing.  Take note of what you like and what you may want to incorporate into your own book. Think about what may help and inspire the reader, such as a map, a list of characters, a glossary. It’s your book, and because you are self-publishing, you can decide what you want in it.

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