Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Front Matter, Back Matter, Why Does It Matter?

*Edit: This blogpost is geared toward print books rather than ebooks.

Okay, so you're putting together the finishing touches on your manuscript. It doesn't matter your route to publication here, except that if you are going the traditional route, follow your publisher's guidelines to the letter.

You have the text of the book, but then there are the other things that go into a novel and new terminology called front and back matter to grasp. Basically, front matter is what goes in front of the actual text of your book and back matter is what comes after the text.

These can include:
Your copyright page
Maps, Tables and/or Charts
Pronunciation Guides, Glossaries
List of Characters
List of Illustrations, List of Tables (contained in the text)
The Principles of Magic (if applicable and your readers need a chart)
List of other works you've published
Title Page
About the Author page
Table of Contents
Preface or Foreword
Epigraphs (Quotes, Sayings, or Poetry connected to your book)
List of Contributors
Excerpt from the text to entice readers

If you're publishing a novel it can be a head scratcher as to what you need and where it goes.

So let's talk about needs and wants.

The two pages which are definite musts are a title page and a copyright page. The title page restates the title of the book before the reader plunges in. The copyright page contains pertinent information regarding the copyright of the book and its publication. Both are front matter.

If you want to dedicate your novel, you can have a separate page for a dedication or you can include it near the top of the copyright page. I've seen it done both ways. Some people opt out of the dedication because they plan on an extensive Acknowledgement page(s). Or you can have both. Dedications are front matter usually. Acknowledgements can be either front or back matter, although for novels, I usually find them in the back.

A quick word about Acknowledgement pages; novels didn't use to have them. Then authors started using them to recognize the help of their agents, editors, or to replace a dedication page at the front. Nowadays it's common to not only list everyone involved in the creation of a novel but to include the author's quirks when around those people. It's kind of like sitting through five minutes of credits after a movie. The only people reading through the entire list are the people mentioned, or their relatives. Express gratitude, acknowledge that putting out a novel is a team effort, but then think about editing your Acknowledgements page for the sake of brevity, just as you would the actual text of your novel. It's your personal preference, just know that most people won't care about the people you mention or what you do during late-night critique sessions. I've seen novels that have an Acknowledgement section at least four to five pages long.

Maps can be either front or back matter. Tables and charts are usually back matter, along with pronunciation guides and glossaries; lists of characters, principles of magic; bibliography/reference material; chronologies; appendixes and notes; and list of contributors.

Do you need all of these things? No. In fact, less is more. I've heard of writers who want to include all the bells and whistles of their world-building with their novel and what it does is add extra cost for extra pages. From a personal point of view, I can't count how many times I've read a large novel only to find pages of world-building information at the back where I no longer need it because, well, I've finished the book. So should you include the world-building stuff at the front to make sure readers know about it?

Well, that's a problem too, because the more pages you put between the front cover and the actual text of your novel, the more readers aren't going to actually get to that text because you've weighted the front matter with too much information. You want your readers to get to that hook on your first page as soon as possible.

It really boils down to what is necessary. Many readers know to check the back for further world building info and sometimes when they finish the book they want more in order to savor the experience.

Maps are pretty much the one thing you can get away with stowing in the front matter. They don't give away spoilers and can pique reader interest before they start the story. Pronunciation guides are useful tools if you have difficult names but putting it at the front is a red flag to readers that their ability to blissfully read at their own pace through the text might be impeded by a lot of unpronounceable names. You don't want to place anything at the front that might deter readers from getting to that first page of your story. The same thing goes for Glossaries.

Not all novels need a map. They're fun to come up with and are a great tool for the author, but readers don't always need them. Consider the world of the novel. Is it a made up place? Is it huge? Do you have settings in many different places? Are your characters traveling a lot? If you answered two of those questions with a yes, then you might need a map. If you answered three or more with a yes, then a map is a good idea.

List of your other published works; a very useful promotional tool. I've seen these either in the front matter or the back matter. Sometimes its helpful to the reader to see that list before they start the book so they can take comfort in knowing they've picked up book #1 in your series and not #7. If the story's not in a series, you can keep your front matter nice and sparse by putting your list of publications at the back where you can entice the reader to check out more of your work after they've finished this book. You could also split it, if you're prolific and have a lot of books out, by having the series list for this book at the front and promotional lists for other series and books at the end.

Likewise, an About the Author page is a great promotional tool for back matter. I've never seen it in the front matter. The reader has just finished your novel and is now curious about the person who wrote it and there you go, you have a brief bio for them to look at. Links to your website, blog, or author pages on social media go great here.

Prefaces and Introductions aren't common in fiction unless a novel has been annotated, abridged, or re-released for a special anniversary edition. Another person usually writes these. Don't think that you have to have one if this is the first publication of your novel.

Epigraphs are front matter. A quick word about using them: they can be another great enticement for the reader to get to page one and start the novel, but often readers skim past them. I think I've only seen a couple of instances where an author used an epigraph to their advantage, usually sharing pertinent backstory or world-building in lieu of a prologue. Cute quotes, poetry, and sayings from other people don't have the same effect. You should want to immerse the reader in your world and your voice. Epigraphs are another feature that are often gratuitously applied by authors. You usually don't need one. They're extra candy flowers on the icing of a cake.

An excerpt from the book: I've only seen these done in paperbacks. They are one page and typically found right when the reader opens the book as another trick to capture their interest in the story. You don't have to use this tactic, but can, if you're putting out a paperback novel.

The Table of Contents is a front matter element. Do you need one? Chapter books for kids and middle-grade novels usually name their chapters and a table of contents is a handy tool to help kids navigate through a book. It's less important in young adult and adult novels. It boils down to the style of your novel. Think again about weighting your chapter openings. A title can be an enticement or a spoiler. If you are using epigraphs or location information before your chapters (which some people do effectively) you might want to avoid chapter titles because it's a case of too much information at the start of every chapter.

I do recommend naming your chapters for your personal use when writing and editing, since it can help you as a basic outline. That doesn't mean those chapter titles have to appear in the printed version of the story. Numbered chapters streamline the reading experience and let the reader flow from one chapter to the next without stopping to process other information.

Deciding on front and back matter is a matter of personal style (or the style of your publishing house) and something I haven't seen discussed too much online. Consider your reader and get them to the story as quickly as possible. Balance that out with information the reader will need or might want in connection to your story and you as the author. Don't give in to the temptation to use every front and back matter device known to man.

Questions for you:
What front and back matter elements do you like to see in a novel?
Do you know of any other front or back matter element I didn't cover and where it usually goes?
Are there any front or back elements you think are used too much or that aren't necessary in particular genres?
Do you have questions regarding front or back matter that I didn't cover?

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