The Basic Parts of a Book: A Guide for Aspiring Authors

What do self-published, traditionally published, and hybrid published books have one thing in common? They share the main three parts of a book – front matter, body matter, and end matter. However, the elements of each matter can vary. Some may have an alphabetical list of terms, while others do not, creating confusion for first-time authors.

So, without a further ado, here are the parts of a book and its elements.

Parts of a Book Overview

ElementsPart of a Book
Half Title PageFront Matter
Copyright Page Front Matter
Dedication PageFront Matter
Epigraph PageFront Matter
Table of ContentsFront Matter
ForewordFront Matter
PrefaceFront Matter
PrologueFront Matter
ChaptersBody Matter
EpilogueBody Matter
AfterwordBody Matter
AcknowledgmentsFront or Back Matter
About the AuthorBack Matter
BibliographyBack Matter
ColophonBack Matter

What Goes in the Front Matter of a Book

A fiction or non-fiction book’s front matter goes beyond the book cover. The front matter or preliminary matter includes book information like copyright, publisher’s address, and ISBN. Basically, any pages before the narrative fall under the front matter. 

Unlike other parts of a book, the front matter is the shortest, typically around 3-5 pages long. However, it can be shorter as some elements are not mandatory. 

Expert Tip: Pages of a front matter use lowercase roman numerals, whereas the body matter uses Arabic numbers. 

Here are the front matter parts of a book in chronological order.

Half Title Page

When you open the first page of a book, you’ll find the half-title page on the right-hand page. This element includes the title of the book and the author’s name. However, some books like George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Blood and Dan Brown‘s Angels and Demon come with the publisher’s name and logo. 

If you see an artwork on the left page, that’s called “frontispiece.” It is typically a copy of the book cover design, but in some cases, the illustration is different but related or significant to the story.

An example of a copyright page for a book

Moving on to page 2 or 3 of a book, you will find the copyright page. Contrary to common belief, having a copyright page is not mandatory in a book but well-advised as it protects your work from plagiarism. 

Fun fact: As soon as you write a book, it is automatically copyrighted as per US Copyright Law. 

A copyright page typically includes the following: 

  • ISBN: This term stands for International Standard Book Number. It is a 13-digit numeric code unique to your book. If you intend to have an eBook version of your fiction book, it will need a different ISBN. For instance, the hardcover ISBN of Fire and Blood is 9781524796280, while its eBook counterpart is 9781524796297.
  • Rights and Permissions: With this copyright page, most books just have “All rights reserved” as the copyright notice already outlines what a reader can and can’t do with the book. However, some fiction and non-fiction books include a disclaimer saying that the book can’t be reproduced or distributed. 
  • Copyright notice: This element will include the Β© (or the copyright symbol), copyright year, and the copyright holder’s name. Here is an example: 

“Copyright Β© 2018 by George R. R. Martin”

You will also find the copyright of the illustrations, which is normally owned by the publishing house. 

  • Disclaimer: A disclaimer is included in most books for lawsuit protection, should your book resemble events and people. A disclaimer can be: 

“This book is pure fiction. Names, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”

Disclaimers are also applicable to non-fiction works like memoirs. Non-fiction disclaimers typically say that the characters’ names have been changed to protect their identities. 

Other details include: 

  • Year of publication
  • Publisher’s address
  • Edition information
  • Trademark notices
  • Translations
  • Author or publishing house website
  • Publishing location (country where the book was published)

Dedication Page

The dedication page is exactly what you think it is. You dedicate, honor, or give thanks to a certain person or group who inspired or supported you through your writing journey. Although there is no word count limit on the dedication page, most books give thanks using two to three words like “For my wife,” while others write a sentence or two. 

Fun fact: There are some books that have the acknowledgments (a typical element of the back part of a book) as the dedication page. 

Epigraph

An epigraph is often a poem, a line from a song, and even a quote from another book. This page is crucial as it previews the book’s subject matter and tone. 

Here’s the epigraph of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby” 

“Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her; If you can bounce high, bounce for her too, Till she cry. Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover, I must have you!”

Table of Contents 

The page Table of contents also exists in the front parts of a book. In fiction and non-fiction books, the table of contents (or simply called contents) lists the chapter title names and page numbers. Some also include the acknowledgments, preface, and foreword. 

Foreword

After the table of contents, you will find the foreword. This element is one of the few parts of the book that the author does not pen. Another individual, often a prominent, well-respected figure or a colleague, writes this section. A foreword typically details how your book came into being, but it can also explain why readers should read it.

Preface

The preface is the complete opposite of the foreword. Instead of letting somebody else introduce your work, you’ll write it. It includes insights into how you researched the book, built the setting, plotline, characters, and why you wrote it. 

Prologue

You will find books like A Game of Thrones with a prologue. But what exactly is a prologue in a book? A prologue is not the main text or chapters of your book. Instead, it provides your readers with critical details to understand the main plotline. 

Prologues can be about: 

  • A background or history 
  • A character’s point of view 
  • A scene from the past or future 

Most authors add a prologue to give context and provide details outright rather than slowly introducing the elements throughout the chapters. So, do you need an epilogue for your prologue? It depends. Some authors typically only use one. 

How about the prologue and introduction? They are to some degree. An introduction page is typically for non-fiction books, while a prologue is for fiction novels. 

Other front parts of a book worth mentioning are: 

  • List of illustrations: If you use illustrations throughout your book, the artwork’s title and the page where it is found are placed in the list of illustrations. Keep in mind that photographs are also considered illustrations.
  • List of tables: For books that contain tables more than the illustrations, it warrants a separate page called a list of tables. However, if there are more images, the tables can fall under the list of illustrations. 

Body Matter of a Book

The body matter, otherwise known as the contents of a book, is wedged between the front and back matter. And as you might already know, it includes the main text that tells the story of your book. 

Chapters

Fiction and non-fiction authors divide their stories through chapters. Depending on the book’s structure and overall plotline, some chapters can be about the main protagonist’s dilemma, backstory, etc. Keep in mind that multiple chapter breaks can occur in one chapter. Authors use these for pacing and to ensure the readers can digest information. 

Epilogue or Conclusion

In a non-fiction book, you’ll often find a conclusion wherein the author expresses his comments about the text. On the other hand, fictional novels have an epilogue that tells what happens to the protagonist after the main plotline. Fiction authors often do this to weave the loose ends of a story tightly. However, some books also use the epilogue to give a sneak peek or preview of a sequel. Both the epilogue and conclusion appear after the final chapter of the main text. 

Afterword

The afterword of a book also appears in the body matter. In this element, it is typically written somebody else, which is similar to its front matter counterpart, the foreword. But there are some instances where the author of the book writes the afterword. The text length can be as long or short as you want it to be. An afterword is usually added because: 

  • The book has an interesting backstory. 
  • It warrants a commentary, especially if the novel is a reprint of a classic story. 
  • It serves as an alternative perspective. This is written by somebody else, often an expert on the book subject’s matter. 

What’s the difference between afterword and epilogue? The latter is from the perspective and voice of the protagonist or the narrator. On the other hand, an afterword is written from the point of view of either the writer or the commentator. 

End or Back Matter of a Book

The back matter of a book is not the back cover. Instead, it’s the pages after the epilogue or the afterword. It is intended to give you, the author, the opportunity to add more information about yourself and technical details about the book.

Some of the last pages include information about the author, an appendix, a list of contributors, and endnotes. Keep in mind that some sections like the acknowledgments can appear in the front matter. 

Acknowledgment

An acknowledgment page focuses on publicly giving thanks to key individuals who helped you create your novel. These individuals can be your family members, your literary agent, contributors, editors, etc. Keep in mind that there is no hard rule on who you should mention in the acknowledgments. If you feel that a person contributed or supported you during your book’s undertaking, you can mention them. 

Tip: The difference between a dedication page and an acknowledgment is that the latter is more detailed and longer, often two to three pages long. And as mentioned earlier, this element can appear in the front matter. 

About the Author

This back matter element is usually accompanied by a headshot of the author and a short but professional bio. Keep in mind that nailing the author biography is as crucial as the main text because it establishes your credibility to readers. Here are some tips: 

  • Highlight your achievements 
  • Mention other books you’ve penned 
  • Always write in third person  
  • Keep it short and simple yet impactful. The bio is usually 1-2 paragraphs long. 

Appendix

Appendix or appendices often appears in non-fiction books. It includes supplementary information such as references and citation that supports the book. Authors usually add an appendix to avoid disrupting the main text or chapters.  

Some books include the chronology or timeline in the appendix. 

Bibliography

Another common element in non-fiction works (especially in academic books) is the bibliography. This section is simply a list of citations or references you’ve used in the book. This section is typically in a Chicago Manual of Style. 

So, can bibliographies appear in fiction books? Yes, they can. In Michael Crichton’s Next, the novel includes a 7-page long bibliography.

Other back matter elements that exist in non-fiction books include: 

  • Endnotes: If you use references throughout your book, they are arranged on the endnotes page. Keep in mind that footnotes appear at the end of every chapter, while endnotes are at the end of your book.
  • Glossary: An alphabetical list of words, usually with definition. It is often added to help readers familiarize   
  • Index: A list of terms or words used in the book, accompanied by the page number/s where they appeared. 

Colophon 

This element is rarely seen in either fiction or non-fiction books. It details a book’s publishing process, including what type of ink, paper, and binding were used. 

Do You Have All the Parts of a Book?

Nailing the parts of a book may not sound important – after all, it’s the story that matters, right? However, as an aspiring author, understanding and nailing the structure can make your manuscript more professional and credible to publishing houses, literary agents, and readers per se.

If you are wondering where the book cover and dust jacket fall under, they are considered other parts of a book. 

Let us know in the comments if you have any questions!


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