This article, written by Mindy Klasky is from the August 2021 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc. (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership.
As authors, we pour energy into creating our novels, drafting, and revising and polishing until every word sings. But all too often, we send those creations into the world dressed in the equivalent of a burlap sack, setting the story between hastily thrown together front matter and back matter. (Front matter is simply the material that appears at the front of a book, before the story itself—think title page, “Also By” page, etc. Back matter is the material that appears at the back of the book—think “About the Author” page, etc. Front matter and back matter, taken together, are a book’s supplemental matter.)
The primary goal of supplemental matter is to sell the specific book in which it appears. That sale is made more likely by front matter and back matter that convey professionalism, reassuring the prospective buyer that an author understands basic publishing conventions such as title pages and copyright pages. “Also by” pages increase a potential purchaser’s confidence by demonstrating the author’s experience. Dedications, author’s notes, forewords, introductions, and prefaces all provide glimpses into an author’s thoughts, building rapport with would-be readers and making them more likely to want to continue the relationship by buying the book.
The secondary goal—which is almost as important as the primary one—is to sell additional books. But just as a Brooks Brothers suit stands out in a Silicon Valley office or a graphic T-shirt is frowned upon by Wall Street, appropriateness of specific front matter and back matter varies depending on setting. Ebooks and print books require dramatically different fashion statements.
A complete wardrobe
Grab a book off the nearest bookshelf. Take a peek at what’s in there, concentrating on all the things that aren’t actually the main text. Chances are, you’ll see some or all of the following, possibly accompanied by one or more blank pages:
- Table of contents (originally included only in nonfiction works, but now often included in ebook versions of fiction and nominally required by Amazon for all ebooks)
- Half-title page (usually including just the title, with no other information)
- Title page (usually including the publisher’s name and logo and sometimes including the publisher’s location)
- Also By page (listing some or all of the author’s works)
- Copyright page (including a copyright notice, other legal notices, and contact information for the publisher)
- Blurbs (excerpts of reviews or other promotional material specifically for this book)
- Author’s note
- Foreword, introduction, or preface
- (The actual text—the one thing on this list that is not supplemental matter)
- Interview with the author
- Book group or classroom materials related to the book
- Promotional material for other books by the author, including teasers (typically in the same series, but not always)
- Promotional material for books by other authors
- Invitation to join the author’s newsletter or other social media
- Request to review the book
- About the Author page
- About the Publisher page
A slim silhouette: ebooks
The selection of specific supplemental matter varies by format because readers experience electronic books and print books in very different ways. (Some traditional publishers have not recognized this different experience; many ebooks published by traditional publishers retain the identical supplemental matter as their print books. This arrangement is not optimal.)
Front matter is often dramatically curtailed in ebooks, supporting authors’ primary goal of selling the current book. This abridgment is a natural consequence of many vendors providing a free sample to potential ebook buyers, allowing them to read a percentage of the book for free. (The specific percentage varies from vendor to vendor.) Authors benefit by providing as striking a sample as possible, allowing the prospective purchaser to experience the author’s writing style, ideally hooking them to the extent that they buy the book.
Extensive front matter cuts into the “meat” of the sample available to possible buyers. Extensive blurbs, long lists of other works by the author, and promotional material for the publisher all build a barrier between the reader and the actual text of the novel.
Technically, no front matter is necessary; however, most authors retain a few basics: a title page, a dedication (if they’re including one in the book), and a prologue (again, if the story calls for one.)
All other supporting material—even the table of contents and copyright page—is shifted to the back. Once there is no longer a danger of alienating a reader who is considering a sample, possibilities open up. For example, an “Also By” list might include every book written by the author instead of a select few. A teaser might include entire chapters, rather than a few pages.
The whole nine yards: print books
Print books, on the other hand, tend to retain more front matter. Even though many potential purchasers of print books will use a vendor’s preview function (e.g., Amazon’s Look Inside feature), most print books retain the traditional front matter structure set out in the bullet list above. This structure is likely a holdover from traditional publishing, the source of the vast majority of print books sold.
Print books generally do not include as much supplemental matter intended to sell additional books. These choices are based, at least in part, on the nature of the medium, as well as the cost of paper and shipping. Most print books do not include a request for the reader to review the book or to sign up for the author’s newsletter, in part because the immediacy of that request is diluted by the reader’s need to set aside the book, to pick up an electronic device, and to follow through on the request. Teasers for other books tend to be relatively short—a few pages rather than complete or multiple chapters—because the cost of materials, manufacture, and shipping is relatively high.
Individual fashion statements
Within the general framework of ebooks (sparse front matter, more elaborate back matter) and print books (more elaborate front matter, relatively sparse back matter), authors still must make choices when they select and order their supplemental material, based on their specific publishing goals and their understanding of the publishing business.
The most important element of back matter is the one that immediately follows the actual text. Readers are far more likely to see that element as they tap to read the next page or turn an actual print page. (Their attention will likely wane with each additional element after the conclusion of a satisfying story.)
Some authors prioritize long-term connections with readers. For them, getting newsletter subscribers is the most important way to make additional sales. By definition, readers following a link to a newsletter sign-up will not be making an immediate purchase; however, they may be more likely to buy books in the future, based on the newsletters they receive.
Other authors prioritize the certainty of making an immediate new sale. Those authors will likely include a blurb, teaser, or sample chapter(s) for a specific book or books.
Still other authors prioritize building a community with their readers. They believe that their readers will be more likely to buy additional books if they “know” the author through websites, including social media. Those authors will conclude their main text with immediate invitations for the reader to visit Facebook groups, Instagram feeds, or other social media.
The nitty and the gritty
Once an author determines specific elements for front matter and back matter, those elements should be presented in a unified fashion across all the author’s books. Templates simplify this structure.
New authors and authors who value their time more than their royalties might rely on the templates created by Draft2Digital. This consolidator allows authors to distribute their work to multiple vendors with the flick of a few keys. Authors can designate supplemental matter, allowing Draft2Digital to compile electronic files incorporating that content across an entire catalog. (Of course, Draft2Digital charges for its services—15% of all books sold through their platform.)
More experienced formatters or authors who don’t want to pay Draft2Digital’s royalty share can create a template. In Vellum, for example, authors can create a file that contains each supplemental matter file, formatted according to the author’s preference. Then, it’s a simple matter to save that file under a new name for each new book, importing the specific narrative chapters to finish the book. (My Vellum format file also includes a page where I document each change I’ve made to my supplemental matter, stating the date and the change.) Similar templates can be created in other systems such as Scrivener or Word.
Front matter and back matter remain valuable tools for authors working to sell one book or an entire catalog of books.
Sample copyright page
Traditionally, the copyright page is printed on the back of the title page, with the text starting at the bottom of the page. A complete copyright page includes:
Copyright © [Year] by [Author]
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
[If a reprint: This book was originally published under the title [Title].]
[If you have licensed copyrighted work, such as a song:
[Title of song]
Words and music by [Author of song]
Copyright © [Year] by [Copyright holder of song]
[Rights notices required by license, such as Used by permission of [Rights holder]]]
Cover design by [Designer name]
Published by [Publisher name]
Discover other titles by [Author] at [website]
[Optional date code, indicating the date this book was last updated: DDMMYY]
USA Today bestselling author Mindy Klasky’s most recent novel is the romantic comedy The C Word, the first volume in her Love in the Age of COVID Series. Klasky learned to read when her parents shoved a book in her hands and told her she could travel anywhere through stories. As a writer, Klasky has traveled through various genres, including romantic comedy, contemporary romance, and traditional fantasy. In her spare time, she knits, quilts, and tries to tame her to-be-read shelf.