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The Book’s Body Explained

Book Basics

January 31, 2021

The parts of a book—the book’s body

Of the three main sections of a book’s content, the book’s body is the heart of your book. And at this point in your writing endeavor, your books’ body may be all that you have considered. However, much like the front matter, the body may also contain different elements.  The body matter can include parts, chapters, and possibly some of the other items you will find listed below. 

Where does the page numbering start?

Typically Arabic numbering starts on the first page of the book’s body. But if a second half-title introduces the body matter or opens with a part title or section title, that page counts as page one. Half-titles in front of the body are not all that common, but all this will all make more sense if you look at other books with half-titles, and section breaks.

The book’s body matter at a glance

Epigraph/quote. (optional) 

An epigraph is a phrase, quote, or poem used at the start of a chapter.

Main text. 

The main text includes your main body text, parts, and chapters. 

Parts. (optional)

Parts highlight larger themes. 

Chapters. (optional)

Chapters announce topic breaks. Chapter breaks can make it easier to navigate the book. Breaks are especially useful in e-books where the reader does not have physical clues to gauge where they are in the book. Typically, chapter start pages don’t have page numbers. I have always found the missing page numbers on chapter lead pages strange. Strange mainly because they are the only pages ever referred to by page number in the contents. For this reason, in books where someone is more likely to rely on the contents, I sometimes break from convention and use page numbers on chapter starts.  

Why the missing page numbers?

I have always been puzzled by the convention of not having page numbers on chapter starts.  But I believe these are the two main reasons:

1. Chapters serve essentially as a cover for the content that follows, so it becomes cleaner and more graphically pure not to have the page numbers.

2. Usually, running heads run across the top of the pages. But they are often left off of section and chapter starts because keeping those heads can look awkward, and the information is often redundant. Also, quite often, running heads are attached to the page numbers. So when you remove the head, the page number can look anemic and floating out of place.   But having page numbers on section and chapter starts can work well on books with large margins. Also, on books where the page numbers are separate from the running heads.

Numbered chapters are the most common way to divide and portion the book’s content. Many books, such as novels, may only have chapter numbers without chapter titles. Chapters usually start on their own page and are often positioned lower on the page; chapters may have a decorative element or only text. Some books employ right-hand chapter starts. The designer may insert a blank page to push the chapter start to the right-hand page. Depending on your book’s content, there are advantages and disadvantages to the right-hand page starts—a whole topic in itself that I’ll cover in another article.

This chapter start on the right hand page

This illustration shows a right-hand chapter start where a blank page has been inserted to make it a right-hand page. This chapter-start begins lower on the page.

An example of a chapter start where text from the previous chapter is on the left hand page.

Here is an example of a chapter start where text from the previous chapter is on the left-hand page.

 












When a book is divided into parts or sections, the parts almost universally start on a right-hand page. Part divisions can be two-page spreads using both the left and right-hand pages. 

the section start is on the right-hand page. In this example, the left page is blank.

An example of a right-hand page section start. In this example, the left page is blank.

Endnotes. (optional and can be in the back matter)

Endnotes typically appear at the end of each chapter, and the numbering restarts with 1 for every chapter. You can also have all the notes consecutively numbered and go in the book’s back near the bibliography.  I don’t normally recommend lots of consecutively numbered notes. Because if you need to insert a note later, you run the risk of having to renumber all the notes that follow. Often word processing notes import poorly into design programs. Because of this, manually renumbering the notes is not unheard of, and if you have a lot of them, it can be incredibly time-consuming.

If you have extensive notes, it may be a good idea to have your designer pre-flight your file and import it into their design application to see if any notes drop out in the import. You may be able to address numbering issues before you start designing. If not, you’ll know you will have to be extra careful reviewing your notes when proofing your book.

Epilogue. (optional) 

An epilogue, usually used in fiction, is a chapter that follows the main text and wraps up the story. 

Conclusion. (optional) 

Conclusions are not very common and are similar to an epilogue. Academic works employ conclusions more often than other books.

Afterword. (optional) 

The afterword follows the main story and can tell how the story came to be. Usually, if you have a foreword, you do not have an afterword. 

Postscript. (optional) 

Much like in letters, a postscript is a brief final note—a sentence or two—that follows the narrative.

Listed above is the core content of a primarily text-only book. But there are many ways to build a book.  Graphically dependent books may have sidebars or related content treated differently from the regular chapter content. You may see photos grouped on pages without text. These photo groupings sometimes save money by reserving the color to one signature (or bundle of pages in a book). If you want to understand signatures better, see my short stop motion video on understanding signatures

As for your book’s content, look at how others design and structure their books. Pay special attention to books in your genre. Note what you like about them and what you may want to incorporate in your book. The benefit of self-publishing is that you can decide what you want in your book. Download my Fact-finding Mission Workbook for an organized way to look at what other authors are doing in your genre.

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