Wednesday, March 25

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, March 25, 2015 2 comments
How well do you know the parts of a book and their names and functions? Below I've gathered a list of the most common elements in a printed book.

Photo credit: pschubert from

Front Matter

All the pages prior to the main body. Numbering is done in lowercase Roman numerals.

End papers/leaves
Blank pages, sometimes with images, at the beginning and end of a book. They usually exist to fill out a printer's signature (huge paper sheets from which book pages are cut) and give a polished look. Paperbacks are less likely than hardbacks to contain them.

Praise from other authors, important book reviewers, or experts on your topic often appear first. Keep in mind that readers will be likely to skip or skim, so put the most important first, and have plenty of white space on the page. Dense text on an endorsements page will be a turn off.

Half title page
In traditionally published books, it's common to have a page with the title and nothing else.

"Also by" page
A list of the author's other works typically appears on the back of the Half title.

Title page
The book title and the names of the author(s) and the publisher go on the front of this page

The back of the title page should include the copyright notice, the ISBN, the publisher’s address, the year the book was published, any disclaimers, information about the cover art and/or designer.

Cataloging in Publication information also goes here--the categories for library search engines-- for traditionally published books. Self-published books are not eligible for this service (see Library of Congress FAQs for more info). Don't try this at home, either. You can pay to have CIP data generated, but it's pricey and won't guarantee your book will make it into a library.

Spot where the author gives special recognition to someone or something. The word "dedicated" or "dedication" need not appear. Simply "In memory of my mother" or "For Sam, who makes it all worthwhile" is often plenty.

Specific thanks to all the people who helped the author, and can sometimes cleverly incorporate the story's themes or images. Acknowledgements can also appear in the back matter, if preferred.

Table of contents
This list of the elements included in the book is more common in nonfiction than fiction. It should include pertinent front matter--such as a foreword or preface, the chapters, and all back matter.

Foreword (note spelling!)
A special introduction written by someone other than the author, that gives supportive information regarding the book. Forewords can be included in nonfiction, fiction, and poetry books.

Written by the book’s author, this contains important information related to the book topic, such as explaining the author's expertise, or research methodology. Prefaces are largely used in nonfiction.


In nonfiction, the author gives the reader more details about the book, typically a rationale for "why I wrote this book" or an informal letter to readers, highlighting the benefits of reading the book.

In fiction, a chapter occurring outside the main narrative time frame or location, typically before the main story action picks up. Sometimes the prologue will be a fictionalized outside source, such as an imaginary newspaper clipping, TV broadcast or online article. Using part of a scene from the climax as a prologue has been done (Twilight) but will likely come off as gimmicky. Keep in mind that some readers will skip prologues, so use with caution.

The text of the book is typically broken into parts called chapters. These might be named with a simple number (Ten, 17), the word "chapter" and a numeral or spelled out number (Chapter 23, Chapter Six), a descriptive heading ("In which the heroine uncovers a ruse"), a date (especially for diary-style fiction), a location (Chicago, Dave's house), the point-of-view character's name, or a combination of these (Chapter 6, March 21, Chicago; 15 Vanessa).

Quotations from other sources that summarize the theme of a chapter can be inserted at the beginning of a chapter, or the book as a whole (usually right before the body). Beware of taking more than about 400 words from any single source--that's the UK threshold for "fair dealing," a copyright concept more strict than US law. If you use Bible verses, use several different translations (say, NIV, ESV, NASB) to ensure you don't stray out of fair use or fair dealing territory, and be sure to attribute correctly (in an appendix, and in your copyright information).

Frank Herbert's Dune used epigraphs from a fictional source written by one of his characters who is a small child in the book. In doing this, he avoids copyright issues and also signals that this person will become significant.

Chapters are composed of subsections called "scenes" in fiction and "sections" in nonfiction.

How separations between scenes are demarcated can depend on medium. In paper books, extra space is typically added. In e-books, scene breaks are often marked with centered asterisks, dashes, or even line art. Indie authors should determine what their "house style" will be and use it consistently.

Nonfiction sections usually have descriptive headings.

A final chapter, typically dramatized scenes, that takes place sometime after the main narrative. This might be a day or decades later. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, for example, J.K. Rowling provides a glimpse of how our favorite characters are faring 19 years after the Battle of Hogwarts.

Back Matter

All elements that appearing after the body of the book. Be sure to include them when numbering pages and constructing your table of contents.

Afterword (note spelling!)
Unlike an epilogue, an afterword is not in a character's voice, but is instead follow up information for the audience from the author. This might include an explanation of how the author got the idea for the story or a testimonial from another source.

Appendix (Appendices if more than one)
Appendices include supplementary information, such as "further reading" with recommended books, or a list of resources such as organizations and websites related to the book's topic. Maps of your fantasy world and lists of characters and their relationships (for large casts) would also appear here. Appendices might also include additional content related to the book, such as discussion questions or recipes for foods featured in the story.

Vocabulary words and their definitions. If you coin a lot of terms in your worldbuilding, readers will appreciate a glossary. Don't forget to include pronunciations.

Lists the references used in writing the book. It's rare to include this in fiction. More often, fiction writers mention important research sources in their acknowledgements.

An alphabetical list of significant terms found within the text and the pages where they appear. Nonfiction books usually include this element.

Author biography ("About the author")
A sentence, paragraph or even a page with information about the author. Increasingly, authors include information about how to connect on social media. Some also include a personal plea for reviews.

Sneak Peak
A sample chapter of the next book in the series, or of your next release can build audience.

Did I miss anything? Which elements do you wish authors and publishers used more often? Less often?


  1. This is a pretty comprehensive list, and the way you described everything helps keep all the parts distinguished (such as which parts are in the author's voice, the character's voice, or written by an outside person -- very important.)

    I like including my acknowledgements at the end, because when reading someone else's book, I'm more likely to read acknowledgements after having been involved in the story. Just personal preference. :)

  2. Wow! This is a comprehensive list! I have a tough time with blurbs, but I write them anyway.