June 30, 2022
You’ve finally finished your book. You reached the end of the story or at least it’s first installment. If it’s a nonfiction book, you’ve presented your argument and your supporting research. Now, you can relax and send it off to the printer. Not so fast. If you want a book that looks and feels like it was professionally written, you should consider adding the final pages known as the book back matter. Doing so will give your book a polished, finished feel that your readers will appreciate.
The book back matter is the back of book and, as its name implies, includes everything that appears after the words “The End” or other closing parts of your book.
Think of your book as a fine meal you’ve spent time preparing and serving to your readers. With luck, your readers have been compelled to turn the pages with so much delight that they get to the end of the book feeling hungry to read more. When they do, give them the chance to get a final taste by offering “dessert” in the form of a complete book back matter.
The following sections are traditionally at the back of most books. You may not use them all, but it’s helpful to know what they are and when to employ them.
Your story may end on a high note that leaves the reader wondering, “What happens next?” Sometimes, an author wraps up the ending in a way that fits the story but doesn’t explain what happens to the readers. Epilogues are more common in fiction than in nonfiction, but they have their place in both.
An epilogue serves many purposes.
It wraps up a series by telling readers what happened to each character. This is the most common use of an epilogue. If your story was long and involved many characters and events, an epilogue can wrap up the loose ends. An epilogue can’t replace a weak ending, but it can enhance and fill in what might be missing in the ending.
The “Hunger Games” series ended with an epilogue set years after the events in the books. In the epilogue, the reader learns that Katniss has married Peeta, and they have children.
One of the most famous examples of an epilogue is in the classic novel “Jane Eyre.” The book ends with the two main lovers reuniting after many difficult years of separation. In the epilogue, the author says, “Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had: He and I, the parson, and the clerk were alone present.”
That simple, two-sentence epilogue has gone down in literary history for the way it answers the main question hanging over several chapters of the book.
Movies often use visual epilogues that consist of photographs or news clips. For example, the movie “The Blind Side” is the real-life story of football player Michael Oher. Although actors portray Oher and his family in the movie, it ends with an epilogue showing family photos and a news clip of Oher being signed by the National Football League.
It points to a sequel. In some cases, the epilogue sets the scene for a sequel. For instance, your book ended with the death of a particular character, but in your epilogue, a character receives proof that the character may, in fact, still be alive. This sets up the tantalizing possibility of a sequel that will be based on this new plot development.
An epilogue gives readers updated information. In nonfiction, writers may use epilogues to relate news about the real-life people involved in the story. For instance, true crime writer Kathryn Casey will often add an epilogue updating readers on what happened to the victim’s family, the detectives, and the lawyers involved in a particular crime. A biography of Lincoln might end with Lincoln becoming president and then add an epilogue describing his assassination.
The afterword is sometimes confused with the epilogue. They are similar, but the afterword is more like a comment on the story. It isn’t part of the story itself, but a comment from an outside observer. It could be the author speaking directly to the reader or a fictional character commenting on the action.
In a nonfiction book, an afterword may also present a viewpoint that contrasts with the viewpoint of the author. The afterword may be written by someone who’s an expert in the subject of the book or someone who can share first-hand experience of the subject, but doesn’t have the time or inclination to write a book about it.
This is another important part of the back book matter. In the Acknowledgements, the author takes time to thank everyone who helped with the writing in any way. This is your place to explain what motivated you to write the book, what inspired your story, and who stood out by being especially helpful or supportive.
Many authors use the book back matter to thank researchers, editors, family members, or the real-life people who inspired the story. It can be anyone. James Lee Burke makes a point of acknowledging research librarians at his local library in almost every book he writes. In her recent book “The Palace Papers,” Tina Brown acknowledges the help of her many editors and her late husband, who died while she was writing the book. She describes trying to write while in a “chasm of grief” and says her children helped her stay strong enough to finish the book. These personal stories help readers feel closer to the writer.
What do you want your readers to know about you? Most authors note where they live, who they live with, and what they enjoy doing. If you’ve published other books, list them in the book back matter.
If your book is nonfiction, you must have an index. If you’re relying on published journals, books, or other sources to develop your book, you must have a way for the reader to find them. Indexes are also necessary for recipe books.
Writing an index is tough, and not everyone has this skill. There are professional indexers, but you don’t have to hire one. Fortunately, you can use built-in indexing tools that come with most word processing programs. Microsoft Word, for instance, has an indexing tool you can use to add an index to any document you write. If you’re writing a nonfiction book, it’s a good idea to get familiar with this tool.
The Appendix is where you place any reference material that helps the reader gain a better understanding of your material. Many authors include maps of their real or fictional settings here. The book back matter is also the place to put graphs, illustrations, and charts that aren’t in the main body of your book.
If your book has a lot of characters, use this list to help the reader keep track of who everyone is. This is a common feature in historical fiction, which often deals with many characters that have similar names and titles. Including a list in the book back matter will help your readers remember which historical Henry, Katherine, or John you’re talking about in each chapter.
Does your book involve specific terminology that is related to a particular field? Is it set in a fictional world with its own words? Use a glossary in your book back matter to help your readers understand these terms.
A bibliography is a list of references often included in the book back matter. It should include all the references you cited in the text. It should only relate to works you cited in the text.
The colophon is a brief section that lists the publisher’s name, date of publication, and the font used in the book. You may include the book’s designer, paper, and type of ink used. Colophons are traditionally part of the back book matter, but many modern books place the colophon in the front. The choice is yours.
Many authors wonder how they should format the back of book for printing. That’s easy. These pages should be included in your final manuscript and the PDF. These pages are part of your book and should be positioned in the order you want them printed in the book back matter.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to writing your book back matter. At Publishing Xpress, we specialize in helping authors create high-quality books at affordable rates. To get a printing estimate, use our price estimator.
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