So you’ve written a book and you want to self-publish. First off, congratulations! Writing and editing your novel or nonfiction book is by far the hardest part. But while that journey is over (until you start your next book 😉), another journey is just beginning. And it entails getting to know the parts of a book so you can publish a professional, optimized, and amazing product for readers to enjoy!
So read on as I cover all the different parts of a book, along with what goes into them, which ones you absolutely need, and which ones are optional.
The Book Parts: An Overview
Books are separated into the cover and then three broad sections, which each contain a number of sub-sections. These sections are:
- The Book Cover
- The Front Matter
- Title Page
- Copyright Page
- Table of Contents
- Dedication Page
- The Body
- The Back Matter (sometimes called End Matter)
- Appendix or Addendum
- Author Bio
- Coming Soon/Next in Series Teaser
- Also By
Let’s start on the outside and work our way in!
The Book Cover
The cover is one of the most important parts of a book. A good cover design can do you a ton of favors when it comes to catching the potential reader’s attention—which is what marketing is.
But the cover isn’t just the front of the book, which should have the title, subtitle (optional), and author’s name. It’s also the back, where you often have the title again, the blurb, the barcode and ISBN, and possibly even a small author bio.
Cover design deserves its own article, so I won’t get too deep in the weeds here. I just want to say that research is important to determine what your cover and overall book design will look like. Seeing what the covers of the top-selling books in your genre look like is essential. Personally, I use Publisher Rocket to do this quickly along with my other research. But you can just as easily peruse the top 100 pages in the Kindle Store for your specific genre.
Okay, now onto the inside of the book!
The Front Matter
The front matter is everything that comes before the body of your book. Some books have front matter sections that are very long, while in other books they’re just a few pages.
No matter what, you need to have a Title Page, a Copyright Page, and a Table of Contents in your book’s front matter. Everything else is optional.
The title page should have—you guessed it—the book title and subtitle (if there is one). It should also have the author’s name or pen name. If published through a publishing company, you’ll also find the publisher’s name on this page.
There are different types of title pages, though. And while you probably won’t have to worry about creating a half-title page, you should know that this will usually have only the book’s title and not the author or publisher.
In cases where the front matter is long, you may employ a second half-title page to tell the reader that the story starts on the next page! Almost all title pages, whether half or full, will be on the right-hand side.
If you want to get really fancy, you can include a frontispiece on the left-hand page facing the title page. A frontispiece is an illustration, and they’re often found in fantasy books and children’s books.
The copyright page is the boring legal page that tells people not to steal your stuff. You don’t need to worry about it. Only kidding!
In fact, I wrote an article all about copyright pages, and it includes some templates you can use! Check it out by clicking the link.
Far from only helping protect you against plagiarism, a copyright page can also contain important information, including:
- Book edition information, with dates and versions.
- Publisher information (perhaps you have a self-publishing company or will have one someday.)
- Library of Congress catalog number.
- Legal disclaimers.
- Typefaces used in the book.
- Printer’s key.
- Printing history.
- International Standard Book Number (ISBN).
For most authors, a simple copyright page will do the trick.
Table of Contents
A table of contents (ToC) provides readers with a way to navigate the book’s content. In a nonfiction book, a table of contents is essential, and every chapter title should tell the reader broadly what that chapter is about.
In a novel, not so much. However, you may remember that I said you absolutely need one. And if you’re going to publish in ebook form on Amazon, you do need one. It’s a requirement for publishing through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing — if your book has chapters or sections.
But there may be instances when you may not want a table of contents in your print book. If you have chapter subtitles that could conceivably give away important plot points, you may not want to include a table of contents in the front matter of your novel.
Luckily, you can have a table of contents that just has the chapter numbers and the corresponding page number. You don’t have to include the subtitles. This is easy to do when you use a formatting tool like Atticus, as you can just tell the tool that you don’t want chapter subtitles in the ToC.
Check out my article on formatting your Table of Contents for more info.
The dedication page is optional. It’s where you can dedicate the book to anyone or anything you like! Most often, this page is only a few lines of text, but sometimes it can be several paragraphs.
There are norms here, but no hard-and-fast rules. You can get as creative as you like when crafting your dedication page shout-out. Some authors thank their dogs. Others dedicate their books to family members, partners, editors, caffeine, or even alcohol.
The foreword is a section that’s about the book, the author, or both. It’s almost always written by someone other than the author, and it serves as an introduction from a third party. You’ll often find forewords in nonfiction books. They’re entirely optional.
The preface is another optional section that is often found in nonfiction books. It’s where the author talks directly to the reader about the impetus for writing the content to follow. It can tell the reader why the author is in a unique position to share the information, and list qualifications to that effect.
While similar to the preface, an introduction is the place where the author introduces the subject matter of the book. It’s essential for the reader’s understanding of the content to follow because it includes context, terminology, and/or themes. It should tell readers, in so many words, what they will be getting out of the book! Not every book needs an introduction, so this section is entirely optional.
An epigraph is often a short quote, poem, joke, or saying that connects to the theme of the book. It could even be song lyrics or a well-known idiom. You can have an epigraph at the start of your book (right before the body), but you can also have an epigraph at the start of each chapter if you so choose.
The body or the main text of the book takes up most of the pages. It’s what you’ve been working on for months or years or even decades. It’s the content readers have come for. But within the body, there are three potential sections: the prologue, the chapters, and the epilogue.
The Prologue is unique to fiction books. If your book is nonfiction, you don’t have to worry about it. But it’s common enough to see prologues in novels and even movies. This is where the story starts, but it’s often a scene that stands apart from the rest of the story in some way.
It could be where you introduce your antagonist or, as is the case in pretty much every James Bond movie, where your protagonist is introduced in an exciting, action-filled manner. It should set the tone for the rest of the story, provide genre elements, and be as brief as possible.
Some people think that prologues shouldn’t be used. They insist that a prologue should be called chapter one. But it’s completely up to you whether you call the prologue by that name. Some authors leave the prologue untitled altogether and then start the next section as chapter one. Really, it’s up to you!
Most books have chapters. If they don’t, they have parts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, etc.), or they have sections (separated by page breaks or subheadings). Many books have all of the above. If your book is nonfiction, your potential readers will thank you for breaking the information up into chapters and sections at the very least.
If your book is a novel or memoir, then it’s up to you to determine how to break the text down. You will occasionally find books (usually in the literary fiction genre) that don’t have any breaks in the text. However, most readers today expect books to have breaks, whether they be chapters, sections, or parts.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for chapter or section lengths. Some of James Patterson’s books have chapters that average around 600 words. Meanwhile, some books have chapters that are over 10,000 words long! You probably don’t want to jump back and forth between super long and super short chapters. Otherwise, there are no hard guidelines to follow.
However, you generally want to keep the formatting the same for every chapter. This just makes for a pleasant reading experience.
The epilogue is the very last section of a fiction book’s story. Like the prologue, it often stands apart from the main story in some way. This can mean it’s told from a different character’s perspective, it takes place many years after the main storyline, or it sets up the next book in the series. It could also be the place to answer any questions your readers may have, wrapping things up nicely.
The Back Matter
The back matter (or end matter) is everything that comes after the main body of the book. It’s also one of the most important areas of the book for indie authors. It’s the place where you can direct readers to the next book in a series, ask them to leave a review, or offer them a reader magnet to get on your email list.
If you’re going to do one or more of these things, it’s best to do them right after the main story. So if you have an epilogue, put a page break in there and then tell them about the next book in the series, or whatever it is you want them to do.
This is because not every reader will read the back matter. In fact, if they’re reading on a Kindle, a little window from Amazon may pop up to ask the reader to leave a rating (not a review). This pop-up will also offer other books for purchase that may or may not be yours.
An afterword is a place where a writer (usually not the author) can talk directly to the reader about what they’ve just read. It’s a place to share more about the creation of the book, its critical success, and its cultural significance. For this reason, you most often see an afterword in the second edition (or third, or fourth) of a book.
It’s rare to have both a foreword and an afterword in a book. And if it does happen, the two are usually written by different people.
Similar to the dedication page in the front matter, the acknowledgments page is where the author can shout out all the people who had a hand in the book’s creation — either directly or indirectly.
Many authors thank their editor, beta readers, family members, friends, cover designer, illustrator, parents, and anyone else who supported them or encouraged them during the writing of the book.
You can also put the acknowledgments section in the front matter of your book, as some authors do!
Appendix or Addendum
Although appendix and addendum are sometimes used interchangeably, they serve slightly different purposes. An appendix provides extra information about the information or story in the main text. This is supplemental information and is not usually essential to the main text.
An appendix may also contain a glossary, an index, or a chronology.
- A glossary is an alphabetical list of definitions used in the book.
- An index is a list of relevant terms, subjects, or keywords that are mentioned in the book, along with relevant page numbers for them. This is also listed in alphabetical order and is a way for readers to look up information without having to spend time digging through the book to do it.
- A chronology is a timeline of events pertaining to the book. These could be fictional events that relate to the world you’ve created, or they could be real events that relate to your nonfiction book.
An addendum usually provides information on changes to the book in subsequent printings. If the author had to change or correct something, it would be mentioned in the addendum.
The endnotes portion of the book includes information about certain excerpts of the main text. While this information isn’t important enough to be included in the main text (like footnotes), they are supplementary and provide additional information for interested parties.
The bibliography is where nonfiction authors list all the sources they used in writing the book. Listing sources is not only important for legal reasons, but it’s also a good idea to show your reader where you’re getting your information (and that you’re not just making it up).
Of course, the whole point of fiction is to make stuff up, so you generally don’t need a bibliography in the back matter of a novel.
The author bio is where you get to tell the reader about yourself! It’s a place to provide some information on who you are, where you’re from, how you got into writing, and what you do for fun.
If you have any accolades (Amazon Bestselling Author, Hugo-Award-Winning Author, etc.), then this is a great place to brag a bit. 😉 You can also invite the reader to connect with you on your website or social media.
Coming Soon/Next in Series Teaser
If you write in series, this section is a great place to put a teaser. This could be the first chapter or two of the next book in the series, or it could be a selling paragraph about the next book.
If you don’t write in series, this is a good place to showcase any other books or projects you have. This could be a YouTube channel, a Patreon Page, another book in a different series, a collection of short stories, or pretty much anything!
The Also By section is the place to mention any books that you didn’t discuss in the Coming Soon/Teaser section. This is where you can list your entire catalog! It’s a good place to link to your Amazon Author Page, as well!
Parts of a Book: Finishing Up
There are many different book parts, but you definitely don’t need all of them. In fact, some readers skip the front and back matter altogether. There’s nothing we can do about this, but it’s good to keep in mind if you’re stressing over which parts to add. If you’re not sure you need a section in the front or back matter, don’t add it! I hope this has helped you figure out what your finished book will look like. If you need help with turning your manuscript into a beautifully finished product, check out my article on formatting your book!