book front portion

How to Write the Book Front Matter

Ann O'Brien

June 27, 2022

If you’ve ever made a public presentation, you know how important it is to have all your materials in order. When you present your book to the world, your readers expect it to follow a clear, well-organized format. The book front matter sets up the reading experience and gets the book off to a good start.

What Is the Book Front Matter?

The book front matter is everything you put up front. It’s what the reader must see before they can settle in and start reading your story. You may not need everything that makes up a traditional front matter, but you will need, at a minimum:

  • Title page
  • Copyright page
  • Table of Contents

Whether you’ll need the rest depends on the type of book you’re writing and the amount of information your reader needs to enjoy your book to the fullest. Typically, a nonfiction book will need a more extensive book front matter than a fiction book.

Why the Book Front Matter, Matters

A reader opens a book with great anticipation. Once someone is intrigued enough to pick up your book and read it, they want to know what they’re getting into when they start. They also expect your book’s format to follow the traditions of publishing. The reader wants to see a title page and perhaps a dedication as a signal that the book is about to begin.

There are also legal reasons to include this material. Your copyright page is a sign that you hold the legal copyright to this book.

What Goes in Front Matter?

Title Page

This can be designed as a half-title page or a full-title page. This is the first official page of your book. It shows the title, subtitle if you have one, and byline. If your book has an illustrator, put their name here.

For example:

The Wind in the Willows

By Kenneth Grahame

Illustrated by Inga Moore

Copyright Page

This page has your copyright information, which includes the title, author, copyright year, and international standard book number (ISBN). Here is an example of a copyright page:

The Three Odd Sisters

Copyright 2022 by Alice Morton

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without written permission by the author.

ISBN 123456789

Printed in USA by Publishing Xpress

Dedication Page

Here’s where you tell the reader to whom your book is dedicated. It can be a simple phrase, typically, “To Janet” or “To My Father, with Love.” You may also dedicate it to a group of people, for instance, “To All the Dreamers.” Having a book dedicated to you is considered a great honor, so choose your designated person with care.

Epigraph

An epigraph is a short quotation, saying, or song lyric that sets the tone for a novel or story. Nonfiction books may also use epigraphs.

Table of Contents

In a work of fiction, a table of contents (TOC) is only necessary if your chapters have titles. In that case, list each one and its starting page in your TOC. A TOC is a necessity in nonfiction books, short story collections, recipe books, and books divided into several parts.

Foreword

A foreword is written by someone who’s not the author. The foreword may be written by a prominent person or the author’s friend. It should be someone whose viewpoint the reader will appreciate. Forewords typically appear in nonfiction books.

Preface

A preface is where the author briefly describes the thinking and creative process that led to writing the book. This is the writer’s opportunity to present the book in its best light and make the case for why it had to be written.

Introduction

An introduction is a summary of the book’s contents. It describes the author’s perspective, research methods, and the historical or social context of the book. An introduction is a preview or brief guide that tells the reader what to expect.

Prologue

A well-written prologue sets the scene for your readers by inviting them into the setting of your story or the viewpoint of your character. The prologue might describe something that happened long before the start of your story.

Shakespeare often used prologues to give viewers the setting and historical context of the story. “Romeo and Juliet” begins with a monologue about the ongoing feud between the Capulet and Montague families “in fair Verona, where we lay our scene.” However, playgoers at the time wanted to know exactly what was going to happen before they sat down for two hours to watch a play, and your readers probably don’t need that much detail upfront.

In a fantasy or science fiction story, you may need a prologue to describe an event from many years earlier that leads to the current conflict or inciting incident. This is not the place to supply all the information your reader needs about your fictional world. Let the story build your world. The prologue should leave the reader curious about what this event has set in motion.

In historical fiction, the prologue might describe the state of the country where the action takes place at the historical time. If you set your novel during the bubonic plague, you might use the prologue to describe how a mysterious, fatal illness held most of Europe in a state of terror for several years.

Do you need a prologue?

There is some debate on this. Some authors think they’re necessary to set a scene, offer context, and offer a foreshadowing of events. Some writers, however, think a prologue is unnecessary if your readers can get all that information from the story.

Writing coach Jerry Jenkins suggests asking yourself this question, “Do I have information the reader absolutely must have before Chapter One? Ideally, you want to work everything into the first chapter.” If you really think you can’t, go ahead and write a brief prologue.

Don’t Mix Up Prologue, Preface, and Introduction

Many people get the prologue, preface, and introduction mixed up. Here’s how to tell the difference.

Prologue: A prologue is part of the story. It presents essential information the reader must know before the story can get off to a good start.

Preface: The preface is not part of the story. It is a note by the author explaining something about the book, for instance, why the author was inspired to write it, who helped in its creation, and other information the reader may find useful. The reader can skip it without missing anything from the story.

Foreword: A foreword is written by someone other than the author. This is most common in recent editions of classic books or translated books. It explains why the book is a classic, its impact as a work of art, or how a new edition differs from an earlier version. The foreword might also explain why a book was published with a new translation.

Introduction: The introduction is often used to summarize the overall scope of the book. Introductions are only used in nonfiction books. They give the reader information that enhances their understanding of the book.

Some writers use the introduction to summarize the topic and viewpoint the book will cover. Others use a story as an illustration of their theme. For instance, a book about rare diseases might use the story of someone suffering from a strange illness as the introduction.

Printing the Book Front Matter

Your front sections are integral to your book. When you submit your book to a printer, include the front matter material in your PDF and hard copy.

Set the Scene

The book front matter is your chance to invite the reader in, convey valuable information, and set the scene for your story. If you write these parts of your book well, they add to your reader’s enjoyment and understanding. The copyright page and title page are needed for every book.

We hope you found this guide to your book’s front matter useful. Publishing Xpress helps self-published writers get their books into print. We offer affordable rates and fast, friendly service. Feel free to check out our online pricing calculators to see how much it would cost to get your book printed.

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