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Parts of a Nonfiction Book: A Detailed List

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April 29, 2021

All books need some components. This includes the title page, copyright page, and, for chapter books, a table of contents. All these features are in the book for one reason: to make the material more understandable for the reader.

In any book, the reader is the most important consideration for the format. No matter how brilliant the thesis or argument, the reader won’t be able to make sense of it if the presentation is poor.

Three sections

Most nonfiction books can be divided into three main sections:

  • front matter–everything in the book before the first chapter begins
  • the text–the beginning of the first chapter to the end of the last chapter
  • back matter–everything in the book after the text has ended

Your book

Keep in mind that your book may not need every one of the parts listed below. But for those you do need, make sure you check the preferred style manual for your work to make sure the parts are correct in the following areas:

  1. the information they contain
  2. the way they are paginated
  3. the way they are formatted

 

Parts of a nonfiction book

Front matter

  • Half-title and title pages. The half-title page has only the title (and the subtitle if there is one). The title page comes after this with the full title of the book, the author(s) or editor(s), the place of publication, and the publisher.
  •  Copyright page. The Copyright page has traditionally gone on the verso (left-hand side leaf) immediately following the title page. It contains the copyright date of the current edition and any other editions published previously. Many things can (and if applicable, should) be placed on this page. Please consult a style guide like the Chicago Manual of Style if in doubt. There has been a trend in recent years to place copyright information with the back matter. Only do that if you are specifically permitted by your style manual.
  • Dedication and/or Epigraph. A dedication is someone or something you wish to dedicate your work to. The epigraph is a quote that seems appropriate to the work as a whole. It’s a sort of poetic rendering of a book’s message. Give credit to the person quoted.
  • Table of Contents. The table of contents contains the name of each chapter or part, followed by the page number on which it begins. It also gives the name and page number of any additional front or back matter included in the book.
  • List of Illustrations. If you have illustrations scattered throughout the text and they are helpful in understanding the book, you will want to give the name of the illustration and the page number on which it can be found. Line drawings or art reproductions are sometimes called figures. If they are colored reproductions on glossy paper, they are sometimes called plates. Consult a style guide to see how they should be treated.
  • List of Tables. In any book that presents information in tables, charts, and graphs, it’s helpful to have a separate page listing each item with its title and the page number.
  • Foreword. If someone besides you makes opening remarks about the book, it would be called a “Foreword.” Editor or publisher comments often go here.
  • Preface. The preface is for you if you choose to write one. It may tell why you decided to write the book or any interesting background information about this particular edition. It should not repeat information found in the text but can expound on it.
  • Acknowledgments. If you want to thank people but opt not to do it in the Preface, you can alternatively have a separate section for them in the front matter or in the backmatter. You can also leave them out. Keep in mind that generally, only the people included will be interested in it, and brevity is a virtue.
  • Introduction. Usually, you won’t need a separate introduction. It’s usually better to include it in the text (before the first chapter) or just have an introductory paragraph or section within the first chapter.
  • Abbreviations. You won’t need this list unless your work has a lot of abbreviations that could confuse the reader. But if you do need it, place it either here in the front matter or with the back matter.
  • Chronology. The Chicago Manual of Style indicates this should go in the back matter. I’ve seen it in the front matter, though, and for what it’s worth, some readers prefer it in the front.

Text

  • Chapters. Not all chapters have names, but for nonfiction books, they can help orient the reader.
  • Illustrations. These can be in separate sections. Sometimes books contain a group of colored plates (illustrations) called a gallery. If you have a collection of figures scattered throughout the text and have a list of these figures at the beginning of the book, be sure the page numbers on the list are correct.
  • Conclusion. The conclusion sums up the work. After the argument or events have been laid out in the text, the conclusion lays out explicitly what you hope the reader gleaned from the work.
  • Epilogue or Afterword. The epilogue or afterword briefly brings the reader up to date on what has happened since the writer moved past the events of the book. Or it updates the reader on more recent research findings that shed further light on the issue. “If in doubt, leave it out” applies here.

Back matter

  • Acknowledgments. As mentioned before, keep this brief and only add it to the back matter if it was not included in the front matter.
  • Appendix or Appendices.  Appendices contain information that clarifies or explains points made in the text. They are placed in an appendix because including them in the text would distract from the narrative.
  • Chronology. A timeline should be included only if you feel the material needs one. It can be placed here or in the front matter.
  • Abbreviations. Please see the front matter, above, this list can go in either place if it is needed at all.
  • Glossary. If your book has a lot of specialized terminologies with which your audience may not be familiar, a glossary is a nice thing to add. If you have a lot of foreign or scientific terms, it would be helpful.
  • Notes. If you need to include source citations or added information as an aside, you can add them all in one section in the back matter. Alternatively, you can also add them add the bottom of the page on which they occur, in which case, they are called footnotes. You also have the option to add them at the end of each chapter and label them as endnotes. The style guide you use may specify which type, although some allow you to make that choice.
  • Bibliography or References. This is the list of books consulted for the work or a list of the books referred to in the notes. If you have no notes, you can add a “Further Reading” section for books with more information on your topic.
  • List of contributors. If you are publishing a book in which each chapter is written by a different author and you serve as editor, you may want to place a list of the authors of the included works in the back matter. They would need to be in alphabetical order by the last name.
  • Illustration credits. This would be a list of the illustrations or figures placed in the text, followed by the source information. Consult a style guide for proper formatting.
  • Index(es). Indexes are alphabetical lists of terms in the text that people may want to refer to by page number. For most books, one index will include all terms in alphabetical order. Some reference books or specialized books may have one index for subject terms, another for author names, and another for titles.
  • About the author. While you can opt for three pages, one to two paragraphs is sufficient. Many paperbacks have a blurb on the back and some hardback books have them on the back flap of the dust jacket.
  • Colophon. An inscription, which is usually placed at the end of the work, about the designer, the artist, and the printers’ names. Sometimes the typefaces and paper used are noted as well. Colophon also refers to a special mark or icon that publishers sometimes use.

Consult a style guide before publishing

In addition to the Chicago Manual of Style, here are just a few you may need. Keep in mind there are many others:

What to put on the page, in what order, and how to format the pages are not the only types of information you need. Style guides also specify how to handle abbreviations, capitalizations, grammar rules, and hundreds of other issues you may run into while writing your book.

Putting it all together

So what do you think? Will your book need more attention than you realized?

Take a deep breath. You now know where to look (find your style guide and study it). And remember, a good editor is an absolute must to help you get the book ready to publish.

 

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