Front matter and back matter (aka: what are all the things at the beginning and end of your book?)

One of the most common questions my clients ask, and one of the areas that’s most commonly forgotten, is what goes around your book’s content.

What are all of those bits and pieces that should come before your introduction and after your conclusion if you want your book to look like a high-quality, professional product, rather than an amateurish mess?

When you’ve never written a book before, it’s hard to know what’s essential, what can be cut, and where everything fits. The good thing is that front matter and back matter are fairly formulaic – there are a standard set of elements to include and a typical running order for them, and all of them are included in this article.

This means that all you need to do is read this post and check the elements against your own book.

Books can be divided into three areas – front matter, body content and back matter. Your body content is the book itself – it’s your introduction, conclusion and everything in between. It’s the 30,000 to 50,000 words you just pumped out!

Front matter is everything that comes before your content. This might include:

  • Testimonials/endorsements (optional): In the first page or two of your book, you might have quotes from readers and industry influencers recommending your book. These are usually between one sentence and one paragraph. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post on asking for testimonials and endorsements.)
  • Half title (optional): This page just features the title of the book.
  • Title page: This page gives the title, subtitle, author and publisher of the book. If your cover has a typographic design or a simple illustration, this page may mimic the cover design and might incorporate the illustration (see Book Blueprint for example – my title page features the same blueprint lines and measurements as the cover).
  • Copyright/imprint page: This page is usually on the back of the title page and includes your book’s copyright, publisher information, your book’s ISBN and cataloguing information, and details for your editor, designer, illustrator and printer. You may also include a disclaimer here. (Stay tuned for another post on what to include in your imprint page.)
  • Dedication (optional): This is a sentence or so dedicating the book to a person or group of people. This is distinct from your acknowledgements, where you thank the people who supported you in your book creation journey.
  • Epigraph (optional): This is a quotation near the front of the book, and is more common in fiction, though I’ve seen epigraphs used in personal development books and memoirs as well.
  • Table of contents: Your table of contents lists the sections in your book and the page numbers for each of them. At a minimum, this will be a list of the major parts of your book (if you have parts) and your chapter titles. However, one way to add more depth to your contents, and to give potential readers a better idea of everything they’ll learn from your book, is to list the subtopics that come within each of your chapters.
  • Lists of figures and tables (optional): If your book has a lot of figures, illustrations and/or tables, you might also include a list of these, with their titles and page numbers.
  • Foreword (optional): This is a short endorsement (usually 1-3 pages) written by someone who is influential in your industry. It usually covers this person’s relationship with you, why they feel you are the best person to be writing this book, and what readers will gain from reading the book (or maybe even working with you). (Stay tuned for a future post …)
  • Preface (optional): Unlike the foreword, a preface is written by you, the author. A preface usually shares the background behind the book – often your story and your reasons for writing the book. Often these messages can be incorporated into your introduction, so I generally only recommend writing a separate preface if you have several pages of background you want to share.
  • Acknowledgements (optional): Here you say thank you to everyone who helped you create the book. This might include the people involved in the creation of the book itself (editors, designers, writing coaches, etc.), people who contributed to the knowledge and experience required to write the book (mentors, coaches, clients, etc.) and people who supported you throughout the process (friends and family). The acknowledgements can be at the beginning or end of your book – I recommend putting them at the end, as this means your readers can get to the information that’s most useful to them (the body of the book) faster, which means they are more likely to keep reading.
  • Second half title (optional): If you have a lot of front matter, you could include a second half title page (or a single half title, if you didn’t include one earlier) before the main content begins.
    These pages may or may not be numbered, depending on your design preferences (if you have substantial content in your front matter, like a foreword and a preface, I recommend page numbers). If they are numbered, the numbering is traditionally in lowercase roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, v, etc.), while the body is where you would start using regular numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.).

After the end – your back matter

You have your front matter, which is followed by the main content of your book. What comes next is known as back matter.

Back matter (also known as end matter) might include:

  • Appendices (optional): Appendices are additional pieces of content that don’t fit in the body of your book, but that supplement that content and provide more value to your readers. This might include full versions of documents that are heavily cited in the text, articles or essays that go into more detail about minor points in the text, recommended resources and more. You can have several appendices.
  • Endnotes (optional): If you refer to external sources throughout your book, you may reference these using endnotes. This simply means that your references appear in order at the end of the book, rather than in footnotes or at the end of each chapter.
  • Bibliography (optional): A list of all sources used in your book, compiled using a consistent style guide. (My favourite is the Chicago Manual of Style.)
  • Glossary (optional): If your book uses a number of terms that are complex, industry-specific, or that will be unfamiliar to your reader, you can include an alphabetical list of these terms and their definitions.
  • Index (optional): An alphabetical list of key concepts and terms and the pages where they appear in your book.
  • Acknowledgements (optional): If you didn’t include your acknowledgements at the beginning of your book, you can include them here.
  • Author profile/biography: This is your ‘about the author’ bio – anywhere between 1-2 paragraphs and a page sharing your background. I like to focus on credibility in these bios to further demonstrate why you are the best person to have written this book, though other elements may include your reason for writing, as well as the bigger mission or purpose driving you and your business.
  • Business profile/product advertisement (optional): This is a bit of a contentious topic, but you can include a profile for your business or an ad for one of your products or services at the end of the book. On one hand, this makes a lot of sense – you’re writing a book to create more business opportunities, so there should be a clear call to action. On the other hand, many traditionalists feel that including any sort of marketing or ads cheapens the book. If you would like to include something but aren’t sure how to do it in a way that preserves your book’s integrity, have a chat to your editor and designer about the best way to do this.
  • More endorsements/testimonials (optional): If you have so many endorsements for your book that including them all at the beginning got a bit unwieldy, consider adding a couple of pages to the end of your book for the rest of them.
  • Blurb: While not technically back matter, the blurb is something a lot of new authors forget… until they start designing their cover and they need to write something! Including your blurb in your working document ensures that a) you don’t forget to write it and b) your editor can go through it while editing the rest of your book. (Check out our 5 back cover essentials for your book.)

And there you have it. Simply use this article as a checklist when putting your book together – once you know what you need and where, your book will look like a professionally published masterpiece!

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