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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What goes between the covers?


The main parts of a book are the spine, front cover, front matter, body (or body matter), back matter and back cover. There’s no anti-matter unless you’re writing sci-fi.

The front matter may seem utilitarian and as boring as a real estate lease, but it can be very important. Potential buyers, both in bookstores and online, often read or skim these pages as part of a buying decision, so pay careful attention to them. They should be written as well as your main text, and should help to sell the book.

What follows is a typical sequence for front matter. Sometimes pages are skipped or sections are combined or switched around. Pages in the front matter traditionally have no page numbers printed on them, or have Roman Numerals. Since I publish my own books, I make my own rules, and I like numbers on every page and avoid Roman Numerals. When you publish your book, do what you prefer.

The half title (or bastard title) page is the first right-hand (“recto”) page and has nothing other than the title of the book. Half titles are often added to create an additional page with something on it as opposed to a blank page. The half title page is not necessary, is somewhat archaic, and its use seems to be declining, particularly in less formal books. It’s a pompous waste of paper. Why the heck should anyone have to read your title THREE TIMES (four if you count the spine) before starting to read the book? If you have a half title page, the back of it (the first left-hand or “verso” page) is usually blank.

Sometimes the first recto page will have comments from readers or reviewers to help sell the book. Some books have several pages of comments. I think one is enough. Three pages of glowing and gushing endorsements may help to make a sale if someone is browsing in a physical store, but they are wasted on a reader who has bought the book online and wants to skip the “commercials” and start reading. One page may help reassure customers that they made a good choice, but don’t waste any more trees.

Sometimes the first verso page will have a list of the author’s other books, blogs, etc.

The title page may be the second recto page if you have a half title before it, or it may be the first recto page. It may even be farther back if you have a comments page. It has the title, subtitle, author’s name and publisher’s name. It may also have names of other people involved in the production of the book, such as a co-author, editor or illustrator. The address of the publisher can go on this page or the next page.

The back of the title page is usually called the copyright page. It has the copyright notice, the ISBN to identify your book, Library of Congress catalog information, and the printing history or revision or version. It may also contain disclaimers or legal notices, and contact information. Tip: If your book is published after September, use a copyright date for the next year. This way your book will always seem to be one year fresher as it ages.

The next recto page is often a dedication, where you get to thank or kiss the butts of some important people in your life, whether or not they were involved in making the book possible. I often push this page a bit farther back, after the table of contents, because it’s usually less interesting to potential purchasers. Traditionally the page will not say “dedicated to,” but just “to” or “for.” Don’t forget to thank your parents.

The table of contents can be an important sales medium, so make it complete, clear, informative and well-written. If chapter titles don’t explain what the chapters are about, put in some explanation. Although I hope you are not self-publishing a fiction book, if you are, you can skip the table of contents, unless it’s a collection of short stories. The sequence of chapters and the numbers of their starting pages will frequently change as the book evolves, so make sure the final version is accurate.

It’s frequently recommended that you call it simply “contents” and leave out “table of.” However, James Felici, author of The Complete Manual of Typography, one of the best-looking and most informative books about the publishing business, has a full-fledged “Table of Contents.” I would never criticize him, and if you put out a book as good as his, I won’t criticize your table of contents either, no matter what you decide to call it. James came up with a nice innovation that you may want to emulate. Ahead of his complete 10-page table of contents he has a one-page “contents at a glance” to make it easier to find the major sections. If you have a large complex book, try it.

If you have charts, tables or illustrations, you can put a list of them and their pages after the table of contents. If you don’t think people will be impressed by the list, or will look for specific items, it’s probably a waste of paper. As with the table of contents, make sure the page numbers are accurate.

The foreword (not “forward”) is an introduction, but it’s not written by the author. It’s often written by someone who knows the author, or — even better — by someone fam-ous. If the writer of the foreword is famous enough to possibly increase sales, the name can go on the book’s cover and title page. The foreword generally includes a reference to some interaction between the foreworder and the author (“The first time I met Pete I was arresting him for smoking crack. I had no idea he’d become a brilliant business consultant.”) The forward should explain why the book is important, innovative, well-written and tastes good.

Unlike the foreword, the preface (pronounced “preffis”) is written by the author. It’s an introduction to the book (but some books contain both a preface and an introduction). This is your first opportunity to talk to your readers. You can say a bit about yourself, why you wrote the book, what you went through to write it, and what you hope it will accomplish. The preface is usually signed by the author (in type) and the date it was completed and the city (but not the state) where it was written. The date and city seem a bit fuddy-duddyish to me so I don’t include them.

Sometimes the preface is followed by an introduction if the book needs a more formal explanation of what comes ahead.

The acknowledgment (or “acknowledgement”) is the section where you thank the people who helped you to research, write and complete the book. You can just have a list of names, but it’s more common to have at least a sentence to explain what each person did. I sometimes combine the dedication, thank you and acknowledgement into one section. I even thank the people who buy my books. This is a good place to flatter your seventh-grade English teacher if she was not listed earlier on the dedication page — especially if you think she’ll show off the book and help to sell more copies.

The prologue only goes into a fiction book, which I hope you will not try to self-publish. It usually introduces a character, event or back-story that’s important for understanding the book. Prologues are a bit old-fashioned, and often what is put into a prologue could function as your first chapter.

Now, at last, the front matter is finished and you get to the part of the book that matters most — the body matter, or just “body.” It’s usually divided into chapters, but the chapters may be included within several sections or parts. The body typically takes up 90% or more of the book.

Next comes the back matter, usually starting with the epilogue in a serious literary work (not a book on motorcycle maintenance). It may relate the fates of characters after the end of the main story, tie up some loose ends, or even prepare readers for a sequel. The tone of writing is usually the same as the body of the book.

An alternative or additional way of wrapping up is an afterword. This is a section where the author addresses the readers, as in the foreword many pages previously.

An addendum seldom appears in a self-published Print-On-Demand book. It’s a section where the author can provide additional material, explanations or corrections that couldn’t be in the body of the book because those pages were printed already. It may be an actual printed page bound into the book, or a separate piece of paper, a CD-ROM, or even an online file.

Endnotes are pretty much like footnotes, but they’re gathered together at the back of the book. Endnotes may be numbered to correspond to reference numbers in the text, or just refer to specific pages. They can offer information or explanations or cite the sources for statements in the text.

The glossary is an alphabetical listing of terms used in the book or related to the subject of the book, with definitions. Don’t bother to include common words.

The bibliography is a list of books and other reference sources consulted while writing the book. It may also suggest further reading, even if the recommended books were not consulted by the author.

The index is an alphabetical list of words and phrases used in the book, with the pages they are found on. Indexes can be constructed by a PC, or manually by the author or a professional indexer. If you make any changes that could cause words to shift from one page to another, you'll have to redo the index.

The term “colophon” comes from Latin and Greek words for “finishing,” and usually explains why the book looks the way it does. It may include a list of typefaces used, and indicate who designed and printed the book, and possibly some technical details of the printing. A colophon is not mandatory nor common, but I like to use one because it gives me a chance to sound off about bookmaking.

It’s common for a book to have a paragraph or a page or two “about the author.” It should be written in the third person, even if you write it yourself. Make it interesting and entertaining, and convince potential readers why they should trust you and your book.

If you have graphic images in your book, you should have a list of photographs and drawings, with the names of the photographers and artists who produced them. Try to list them in the same sequence they appear in the book, but page numbers are optional.

Finally, after all of the printed pages, most books have one or more blank pages. Books are printed from large sheets of paper called “signatures” that are cut to provide different quantities of different size pages. It’s unusual for a book to be designed with a number of printed pages that perfectly matches the number of pages provided by the signatures. Consult with your printer to find out the possible number of pages you can have. By slightly stretching or cutting your book, you can minimize the blanks at the back. It looks really stupid — and wastes trees — if you have half a dozen blanks. Some printers and vanity presses such as Infinity Publishing even put blanks in the front of the front matter. That’s unforgiveable.

Keep in mind that you’ll probably have to reserve the last verso page for a bar code, an identification number and “Printed in the USA.”

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