Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Front Matter

Recently I’ve come across a number of self-published books that all have the same flaw. The writers have hired editors and proofreaders, book designers and formatters, and cover designers. But they have still failed to get one part of the book right. And this is the arrangement of the front matter.

The extent of the front matter may vary; not every book needs a preface or an introduction. But the order in which the required items appear has been well established, and serves a purpose. The front matter leads us into the work by offering important clarifying detail. Arranged correctly, the front matter orients distributors, booksellers, and librarians, and provides necessary information in the expected place. They know where this information is located. Only, now it isn’t.

The front matter on too many self-published books has me flipping back and forth among the first few pages looking for the critical details (copyright, publisher, ISBN, etc.). The experience is disorienting. But learning the correct arrangement of the front matter is simple—just examine a book published by a traditional publishing house. All of them use the same setup, the one prescribed by manuals such as The Chicago Manual of Style. My copy dates from 1982. Another option is Words into Type, from Prentice-Hall.

The front matter consists of everything before the main text, which begins with Chapter 1, opening on the right-hand page. Traditionally, everything begins on the right hand page—opening chapter, section title (and following first chapter in the section), division title. After the first chapter, each chapter can begin on the recto (right-hand page), or verso (left-hand page), but the writer should be consistent about this throughout the book. Here is the standard list of front matter for a print book and its arrangement.

Half title (recto)
blank (verso) or series title or list of previous publications

Title page (recto) with title and author and occasionally the title of the foreword, along with the name and location of the publisher and date.

Copyright page (verso) with copyright notice, foreword or preface copyright notice, publisher and additional publisher’s information (if a special imprint), ISBN, Library of Congress Control Number (if known), jacket or book designer’s name, place of manufacture, edition. This is also a permissions page if the list of permissions is short enough to be placed here. If not, place a note here referring the reader to the end of the book for the list of permissions. This will also be indicated in the Contents. Some publishers put the list of previous publications here.

Dedication (recto)
blank (verso)
Contents (recto)
blank (verso)
Preface (recto)
Foreword (recto if the first page of text; if not, either recto or verso).
Introduction (recto)
Section title (recto)
Blank (verso)
Chapter 1 (recto)

Pagination doesn't usually begin until the first page of text, be that a preface or foreword or introduction or chapter 1. But some publishers begin pagination on the Contents page. If the front matter is paginated, the choice is roman numerals. Arabic numerals begin on the first page of chapter 1. But some publishers begin the Arabic numerals on the title page.

If you’re putting together an eBook, you have more flexibility. You can omit the half title and blank pages, and combine some of the others. The Title page can include the dedication, followed by a copyright page with list of permissions. A series title can also go below the title on the first page.

The back matter in a book of fiction is the place for links to websites, other books, and teaser chapters for your next book.

The front matter is important for providing a lot of technical information, and the point is to make sure anyone looking for it can find it. This may sound confusing at first, but putting things in their expected order makes the entire publication appear more professional.

To find my books (with front matter), go to:





  1. Good information, Susan. First time I did anything using CreatSpace I deleted one of those blank pages thinking I would save space. Big mistake. Took me two days before I figured out I needed to start Chapter One on the right hand side. Everything worked (looked) fine after I did that.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience, Maris. I also learned the hard way to keep track of blank pages when working on line. It was so much easier with paper.

  3. Your expertise will benefit many self-published writers. Valuable info, Susan. Good of you to share it.

    1. Thanks, Jacquie. I've seen a lot of terrific stories included in anthologies that looked like a beginner set up the front matter. I really do hope this post is useful (and used).

  4. Whew! Got my set up right. Interesting thing, though. Some ebook publishers were recommending putting the copyright information at the back. I'm glad that I ignored them.

    1. Anne, I didn't know about publishers asking for the copyright info to be put at the back. That's a terrible idea. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  5. For ebooks, readers don't want blank pages (especially if they're going to cut into the "free sample" where you want people to get to the book ASAP. I've seen books both print and indie, (and traditionally published) with pages of reviews of other books by the author as front matter, and most have "other books by the author" up front as well. I move as much as possible to back matter for my ebooks, but for print, I initially grabbed a selection of books off my shelves and followed that format.

    1. Terry, I agree that ebook readers don't need/want the blank pages, so I said those could be omitted and other pages combined. I put that near the end, so perhaps I should have put it closer to the beginning. The placement of ads is a separate matter, and I don't want to encourage writers to pack the front of the book with blurbs. And, yes, following a traditionally published book is the best way to understand how the front matter should flow. The resources are available to all, and I hope they'll be used. Thanks for adding to the discussion.