Parts of a Book Explained: Front Matter, Body, and Back Matter
Even if you've already polished your chapters to perfection, you still need to prepare various other parts of your book before publishing — namely, the front matter and back matter.
If you haven’t come across these terms before, don’t be intimidated! They simply refer to the first and last sections of a book: the bits that make it look put-together and “official,” rather than like randomly bound pages.
In this guide, we’ll dissect the anatomy of a book, covering which components a publisher can (and should) include in their final product.
In subsequent sections, we'll burrow deeper into the most common and important sections of a book's front, body, and back matter. But first, let's start with a wide-angle view, beginning with...
The front matter
The front matter of a book consists of its very first pages: the title page, copyright page, table of contents, etc. There may also be a preface by the author, or a foreword by someone familiar with their work.
Though many readers skip right over it, the front matter contains some pretty important information about the book's author and publisher. And for those who DO read it, the front matter forms their first impression, so make sure you get it right!
The full title and author's name — as they appear on the cover.
A decorative illustration or photo on the page next to the title page. Typically goes on the left.
Quotes from esteemed reviewers and publications in praise of the book. This praise often appears on the back cover as well.
Also called a “colophon,” the copyright page includes technical information about copyrights, edition dates, typefaces, ISBN, as well as your publisher and printer. Usually appears on the reverse of the title page.
A page where the author names the person or people to whom they dedicate their book, and why. This typically comes after the copyright page.
Table of contents
A list of chapter headings and the page numbers where they begin. The table of contents (abbreviated ToC) should list all major sections that follow it, both body and back matter.
An introduction written by the author, a preface relates how the book came into being, or provides context for the current edition.
An introduction written by another person, usually a friend, family member, or scholar of the author's work.
The body of a book is pretty self-explanatory: the main text that goes between the front matter and back matter. For readers and writers alike, this is where the magic happens — but it's not just the content that's crucial, but also how you arrange it. Don't worry, we'll show you how!
Prologue (for fiction)
A section just before the main story begins, a prologue aims to set the stage and intrigue the reader. Indeed, many prologues contain intriguing events that only become contextualized later in the story.
Introduction (for nonfiction)
A few pages that usher the reader into the subject matter. The intro goes over early events or information related to the main narrative, so the reader has a solid footing before they begin.
“What's the difference between a preface and an introduction? A preface is personal to the author, discussing why they wrote the book and what their process was. An introduction relates directly to the subject matter and really kicks things off — which is why it's part of the body, not the front matter.”
Every single book has chapters, or at least sections, into which the narrative is divided. These chapters may not be designated by a chapter heading, or appear in a ToC; some authors start new chapters just by using page breaks. But if you don't use anything to break up your content, your readers will not be happy. (Also, if you're unsure how long your chapters should be, check out this post on the subject!)
Epilogue (for fiction)
A scene that wraps up the story in a satisfying manner, an epilogue often takes place some time in the future. Alternatively, if there are more books to come in the series, the epilogue may raise new questions or hint at what will happen in the next book.
Conclusion (for nonfiction)
A section that sums up the core ideas and concepts of the text. Explicitly labeled conclusions are becoming less common in nonfiction books, which commonly offer final thoughts in the last chapter, but academic theses may still be formatted this way.
Any other final notes on the book; can be written by the author or by someone they know.
A brief final comment after the narrative comes to an end, usually just a sentence or two (e.g. “Matthew died at sea in 1807, but his memory lives on”).
The back matter
The back matter (also known as the “end matter”) is — you guessed it — material found at the back of a book. Authors use their back matter to offer readers further context or information about the story, though back matter can also be extremely simple: sometimes just a quick mention of the author's website or a note from the publisher.
A section to acknowledge and thank all those who contributed to the book's creation. This may be the author's agent and editor(s), their close friends and family, and other sources of inspiration. The acknowledgments typically appear right after the last chapter.
About the author
This is where the author gives a brief summary of their previous work, education, and personal life (e.g. “She lives in New York with her husband and two Great Danes”). For more on this topic, read through our guide to writing an author bio or check out some stellar About the Author examples.
If the author has sought permission to reproduce song lyrics, artwork, or extended excerpts from other books, they should be attributed here (may also appear in the front matter).
Thought-provoking questions and prompts about the book, intended for use in an academic context or for book clubs.
Appendix or addendum (nonfiction)
Additional details or updated information relevant to the book, especially if it's a newer edition.
Chronology or timeline (nonfiction)
List of events in sequential order, which may be helpful for the reader, especially if the narrative is presented out of order. A chronology is sometimes part of the appendix.
Supplementary notes that relate to specific passages of the text, and denoted within the body by superscripts. Almost always used in nonfiction, but occasionally found in experimental/comedic fiction as well, such as Infinite Jest.
Definitions of words or other elements that appear in the text. In works of fiction, the glossary may contain entries about individual characters or settings. The glossary usually appears in alphabetical order.
A list of specialty terms or phrases used in the book, along with the pages on which they appear, so the reader can find them easily. The index is also usually in alphabetical order.
A comprehensive breakdown of sources cited in the work. Your bibliography should follow a manual of style — luckily, it's easy to create one using free tools like Easybib. Note that this is a formal list of citations, not a bonus reading list on your subject; that would go in the afterword or appendix.
If you're ready to go a little deeper, head to the next part of this guide and prepare to get up close and personal with copyright pages!