For the last few weeks, DiggyPOD’s blog has been discussing the various elements of a book’s front matter – that is, all the different pieces that fit together and introduce the author, the story, the themes, and its importance. The front matter, and all its components, is a seriously important part of the book. It’s a smooth way of opening a story without immediately dropping the reader into it. How do all of the pieces of the front matter fit together, though?
What Goes in the Front Matter?
The front matter is a section in the beginning of a book. The front matter in a book consists of: the title page (which includes copyright information, the ISBN number, etc.), the dedication, the epigraph, table of contents, acknowledgements, the foreword, the preface, the introduction, and the prologue.
The front matter comes before the onset of the story (otherwise known as body text), and the reason for this is that it contains information that is important to know before reading the story.
Front Matter Order in a Book
Listed below is the usual order of how the front matter is formatted in a book.
Half and Full Title Page:
The book’s half title page comes before the full title page in a book, and it is usually the very first page in a book.
The copyright page is basic information about the book: who published or printed it, the year, copyright information, publisher location, disclaimer, book designer information, etc.
A dedication page in a book is found at the beginning, before the story starts, and it is a space for the author to – that’s right – dedicate the book to someone. The dedication normally isn’t long, sometimes only a sentence or two, and is a sweet, heartfelt way to honor someone in the life of the author.
An epigraph is a short quote set at the beginning of a novel (or, in some cases, at the start of each chapter or section). It is usually pulled from some other work of literature, be it a poem, novel, Bible verse, etc. Sometimes it is a quote from the book itself, a sort of teaser of what’s to come.
Table of Contents:
A table of contents lists out what the book includes. This can be either section topics, chapter titles, or discussions. In fiction (romance novels, mystery, thriller, etc.), the table of contents lists the chapter titles and the pages they’re found on. In some instances, these chapters will have creative and unique titles. In others, they may simply read “Chapter One,” “Chapter Two,” and so on.
An acknowledgement page is (usually) a one to two page section in the front matter of a book (though sometimes it’s located in the back of the book), and its focus is thanking and bringing attention to instrumental persons who helped the book become realized, written, and published. This page is different than the dedication; the acknowledgements page is broader and includes more people. The dedication is normally to one person, or two at most, and is more of a memorialization than a thank you.
The foreword is a section in a book that is reserved for – usually – a different writer than the author of the book. The writer of the this section discusses the author and the book, and how they’re connected to it. Sometimes the writer is a friend of the book’s author or a mentor. The subject can vary, as well. It acts as an introduction to the book and helps market it.
A preface is written by the author, and it is about the book: how it came to be, what inspired it, what the writing process was like, etc. A preface is a place for the author to defend their book, essentially.
Where the preface is about the situation surrounding the book, the introduction is entirely about the content of the book – what the reader can expect to find and what’s important for them to know. This is a chance for the author to tell the reader anything they’ll need to know in order to fully understand or appreciate the book.
A prologue is a scene that comes before the story. It’s something of import but something that doesn’t flow with the chronology of the story. It must be relevant to the plot, and it is an excellent way to introduce something that will have importance on the following story.
Why the Front Matter of a Book Matters
There are so many different components of the front matter, and many of them are so similar (see: preface and introduction or acknowledgements and dedication) that you may begin to wonder if it all really matters for the self-published author.
Self-publishing comes with an unlimited amount of freedom. What you write, when you write, when you publish, and how you sell your book is entirely your decision. There will be no pressure from in-house editors, designers, or marketers. This can be incredibly liberating, but it can also lead to the complicated dilemma of should a self-published author include everything that a traditionally published book has?
The short answer is no.
Not all traditionally published books even include everything on the aforementioned list. Some books have prologues. Others do not. Some books have forewords. Some don’t. It’s better to leave something out rather than force it into the book – i.e., if your book doesn’t need a foreword, don’t include one!
However, this doesn’t lessen the importance of front matter. Certain aspects of the front matter are just as important to a book as the body text. For example, basic publishing information (the date, the copyright, ISBN, etc.) should be included if it’s applicable. This is simple and barely takes up one page. Same goes for a dedication – writing a book is tough work, especially if you’re a self-publisher, so chances are you have someone, if not dozens of people, to thank.
What it comes down to is author preference and what the book calls for. Take care in realizing and understanding what your book needs and why. The front matter holds those first few, crucial pages that a reader or reviewer flips through. Like any first impression, it needs to be strong and it needs to last.