Building a professional looking book

Happy Writer

Sorry about the amazing and captivating tittle of this post!

I tried a few others, tried to get those creative juices flowing, some were subtle, some vague, some oblique; but they did not say what I wanted, so you got this…the premise of the blog as today’s title.

This post is NOT about formatting your book, there are loads of blogs, sites & people which offer that advice or service and many publishing sites that have some kind of template to help the unsure and uncertain.

This post is about understanding the construction of a book, its ‘parts’, the ones often overlooked or misunderstood by the author and, if I am honest, by many small publishers too. Now, I am not knocking small publishers, not the true professional ones anyway…if you get my drift.

So, to move on.

Without delving into the annals of history or being too historically accurate, books developed from ‘pamphlets’ which were originally hand scribed notelets produced to spread a message to the public. In the later part of the fifteenth century along came the first printing presses and mass production, well…larger volume production…of these pamphlets became possible.

This enabled many people the ability to produce their own works in large(ish) numbers and compete with the traditional and expensive hand written and illustrated tomes of the time. (Digital self-publishing of the age?).

Anyway, as these printers, or publishers became established they began to create certain conventions on how a ‘book’ should be constructed.

The first and foremost goal was to identify the ‘parts’ of said publications and name those elements. Once done it became easier to produce new works because it was simple to fit these elements together in a certain order.

Clearly there are many types of book and not all the books will have all the said parts, but by selecting the elements that were needed for each type, the production process was simplified by a form of standardisation.

This is still true of modern publishing, even digital e-books. But do not just take my word:

“Many publishers have been guided by the history and traditions of print publishing even as they have moved toward electronic publishing … including the logical order of elements in a printed work.” Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition


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- flickr / Creative Commons

Major Divisions of a Book


Books are generally divided into three parts: The frontmatter, the body of the book, and the backmatter.

Each contains specific elements and those elements should appear in a specific order.

Certainly authors who know and understand these divisions may well have aesthetic or organizational motives to stray from these conventions, but usually they have a good reason to do so.

Deviation for no reason does not help your book.

Keep in mind that there is no book that has all of these parts. Use this list instead to make sure you have the right content in the right category, and that elements of your book appear in the sequence in which they are expected.

For ease of explanation and assimilation, let’s start at the beginning of a book and work through to the end.

Frontmatter. (The stuff at the front of a book!)

(That’s the pages at the beginning, before the body of the book. These pages are traditionally numbered with lowercase roman numerals.)


Half title; also called the Bastard title:

This page contains only the title of the book and is typically the first page you see when opening the cover. This page and its verso (the back, or left-hand reverse of the page) are often eliminated in an attempt to control the length of the finished book.



An illustration on the verso facing the title page.


Title page:

Announces the title, subtitle, author and publisher of the book. Other information may be found on the title page can include the publisher’s location, the year of publication, descriptive text about the book. Illustrations are also common on title pages.


Copyright page:

Usually the verso of the title page. This page carries the copyright notice, edition information, publication information, printing history, cataloging data, legal notices, the books ISBN and/or identification number.

In addition, rows of numbers are sometimes printed at the bottom of the page to indicate the year and number of the printing. Credits for design, production, editing and illustration are also commonly listed on the copyright page.



Not every book carries a dedication but, for those that do, it follows the copyright page.



An author may wish to include an epigraph—a quotation—near the front of the book. The epigraph may also appear facing the Table of Contents, or facing the first page of text.

Epigraphs can also be used at the heads of each chapter.


Table of Contents:

Also known as the Contents page: this page lists all the major divisions of the book including parts, if used, and chapters.

Depending on the length of the book, a greater level of detail may be provided to help the reader navigate the book.

History records that the Table of Contents was invented by Quintus Valerius Soranus before 82 bc.


List of Figures:

In books with numerous figures (or illustrations) it can be helpful to include a list of all figures, their titles and the page numbers on which they occur.


List of Tables:

Similar to the List of Figures’ A list of tables occurring in the book may be helpful for readers.



Usually a short piece written by someone other than the author, the Foreword may provide a context for the main work.

Remember that the Foreword is always signed, usually with the author’s name (that’s the author of the Forward, not the book!), place and date.



Written by the author, the Preface often tells how the book came into being and is often signed with the name, place and date, (although this is not always the case.)



Where the author expresses their gratitude for help in the creation of the book.



The author explains the purposes and the goals of the work. They may also place the work in a context, as well as spell out the organization and scope of the book.



In a work of fiction, the Prologue sets the scene for the story and is told in the voice of a character from the book, not the author’s voice.


Second Half Title:

If the frontmatter is particularly extensive, a second half title identical to the first, can be added before the beginning of the text.

The page following is usually blank but may contain an illustration or an epigraph.

When the book design calls for double-page chapter opening spreads, the second half title can be used to force the chapter opening to a left-hand page.


OK, so you have got all that? Do not worry too much! As I said above not ALL of these elements are applicable to ALL books.

The trick is to select the ones appropriate to YOUR book.

The next PART is the BODY. This is the main portion of the book and one that we, as writers, are and should be, most familiar with.


Part Opening page:

Both fiction and nonfiction books are often divided into parts when there is a large conceptual, historical or structural logic that suggests these divisions, and the belief that reader will benefit from a meta-organization.


Chapter Opening page:

Most fiction and, almost all nonfiction books, are divided into chapters for the sake of organizing the material to be covered.

Chapter Opening pages and Part Opening pages may be a single right-hand page, or in some cases a spread consisting of a left- and right-hand page, (or a verso and a recto).

Statistically, if a spread opening is used, half the chapters (or parts) will generate a blank right hand page. This is not desirable, so the author and/or publisher will have to work with the book designer and formatter to decide how to resolve these right-hand page blanks.



An ending piece, either in the voice of the author or as a continuation of the main narrative, meant to bring closure of some kind to the work.



May be written by the author or another, and might deal with the origin of the book or seek to situate the work in some wider context.



A brief summary of the salient arguments of the main work that attempts to give a sense of completeness to the work.

Well now, that was simple wasn’t it? So now let’s move on to something possibly less familiar!

Yep, all that stuff at the BACK of the book! The various citations, notes and ancillary material are that is gathered together into the backmatter.





From the Latin post scriptum, “after the writing”. 

Meaning anything added as an addition or afterthought to the main body of the work.


Appendix or Addendum:

A supplement of some kind to the main work.

An Appendix might include source documents cited in the text, material that arose too late to be included in the main body of the work, or any of a number of other insertions.



In some works, particularly histories, a chronological list of events may be helpful for the reader.

It may appear as an appendix, but can also appear in the frontmatter if the author considers it critical to the reader’s understanding of the work.



Endnotes come after any appendices and before the bibliography or list of references.

 The notes are typically divided by chapter to make them easier to locate.



An alphabetical list of terms and their definitions, usually restricted to some specific area.



A systematic list of books or other works such as articles in periodicals, usually used as a list of works that have been cited in the main body of the work, although not necessarily limited to those works.


List of Contributors:

A work by many authors may demand a list of contributors, which should appear immediately before the index, although it is sometimes moved to the frontmatter.

Contributor’s names should be listed alphabetically by last name, but appear in the form “First Name Last Name.”

Information about each contributor may include brief biographical notes, academic affiliations, or previous publications.



An alphabetical listing of people, places, events, concepts, and works cited along with page numbers indicating where they can be found within the main body of the work.



A notice from the publisher of an error in the book, usually caused in the production process.



A brief notice at the end of a book usually describing the text typography, identifying the typeface by name along with a brief history.

It may also credit the book’s designer and other persons or companies involved in its physical production.

Now you know what all those unread and unloved pages, in all those books you have read, are doing there and what their reasons for being are, don’t you feel just that little bit guilty about skipping by them all?

From a cynical point of view they all go towards your ‘page count’ and, I’m afraid, your production costs. But it is possible to tweak them slightly, combine one or two onto a single page, if you wish to risk the wrath of the book fairies?

On the other hand, if your work has been on a forced diet, possibly prescribed by your editor, then adding as many of the elements from both the frontmatter and backmatter could significantly beef up you work.

I hope you have found this post informative and, dare I say, helpful?

For those of you who regularly enjoy Rambling from a Writers Mind, I apologise that this one not as free flowing or humorous as I general. But I had an awful lot of information that needed to be shared.



I promise I will try and be a little more satirical next time!

Oh, if you have not yet ‘followed’ or ‘subscribed’ (or whatever it’s called) to this blog, please do.



You could also visit my website, by my books, read my magazine and join Sneak Peek and…..Oh, just go and look at my website for heavens sake…go on…go…what are you waiting for….scamoosh….


10 thoughts on “Building a professional looking book

  1. Pingback: Building a professional looking book | Annette Rochelle Aben

  2. Very thorough. People should keep in mind that not all books contain all these parts. Anyone contemplating designing a book should find a few examples of professionally published books similar to their book (e.g., novels, poetry collections, memoirs, how-to manuals) and use them as models.


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