Everything you need to know about parts of a book
If you’re an avid reader like me, you’ll know the general anatomy of a book – that it has a cover, some preliminary pages, the main text, and some pages at the end – but do you know what all the different book parts and pages are called? Can you distinguish a prologue from a preface, an epilogue from an epigraph, and a foreword from a frontispiece?
Like any other industry, the publishing world is full of specialised terminology, aka jargon. If you’re writing a book, you need to know what all the different parts of the book are called so you can communicate effectively with your editor or potential agent, publisher, and readers.
In this post, I’ll break down the parts of a book (both fiction and nonfiction) into 4 main categories: book cover, front matter, main text, and end matter. Within those categories, I’ll break it down further to look at 30 book parts altogether. Of course, it would be rare for a single book to have all these parts, but all books have at least some of them. By the end of this post, you’ll be an expert in book anatomy, and you’ll be able to conduct an autopsy of any book, including your own.
Let’s start with arguably the most important part of a book – its cover.
You know the saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”? Not true. Readers do judge books by their covers, all the time. A book cover is the marketing package that makes readers want to engage with your book’s content.
And when I say “cover”, I’m not just referring to the front cover. In fact, a book cover has 3 key elements: front, spine, and back. These should be designed as one coherent whole that packages a book into a delicious nugget of reading goodness.
So, let’s dive into book parts 1 to 3 of our 30.
1. Front cover
The front cover usually includes a photo, graphic image, or other artwork; book title and subtitle (if any); and author’s name. An effective front cover is creative and eye-catching but also conforms to the conventions of the book’s genre to spark an emotional response in the reader.
The spine of a book is the section between the front and back covers that faces out when the book is on a shelf. It contains the book’s title, author, publisher’s logo, and sometimes an edition or volume number. The words on the spine usually run down the spine but may run across if the book is very thick – like the 17th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style (pictured), which I’ve been known to use as a doorstop.
3. Back cover (including blurb)
The star of a book’s back cover is the blurb. This should be no more than about 200 words and is designed to lure your target audience into buying your book.
Essential components of a great blurb include a hook or tagline of 15 words or less to pique readers’ curiosity (a question can work well); an 80–90 word lead-in that quickly communicates the flavour, tone, and experience a reader can expect from the book; the body of the blurb, where you establish the book’s core conflict (resist the temptation to include sub-plots here); and a snappy closing line that sparks the reader’s desire to find out more.
The back cover should also include the book’s barcode – printed vertical lines that provide a graphical representation of the book’s ISBN (international standard book number). A barcode is required for any book sold through major retailers and can be purchased from Thorpe-Bowker Identifier Services.
Optional extras for the back cover include a recommended retail price, testimonials or reviewer accolades, and a brief author biography (especially for nonfiction) with author website URL.
Now that we’ve covered the cover (haha), let’s look at what lies inside, starting – as you’d expect – with the front matter.
Front matter (aka preliminary matter)
The front matter of a book, also known as preliminary matter or prelims, consists of everything before you get to the main text or story. Typically, this includes a title page, copyright page, and contents page, and often also a foreword, preface, and dedication page. Less common parts of the prelims are a frontispiece, half-title page, specialised contents pages (for figures/tables/maps/colour plates), and list of abbreviations. Some of these parts may appear in the end matter instead of the front matter, especially in ebooks.
In a printed book, the pages in the front matter are usually numbered with lower case Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, and so on).
Here’s a little more about each of these parts, covering numbers 4 to 13 of our 30 book parts.
4. Half-title page
A half-title page comes before the full title page and carries only the title of the book. It’s usually the first page in a printed book (p. i), but not all books have one.
5. Title page
In a book without a half-title page, the title page is usually the first page of the book and displays its title and subtitle (if any), author or editor (if it’s an edited collection), publisher, and edition (if more than one).
A frontispiece is a decorative illustration printed on the page facing the title page. Frontispieces are rare in books nowadays, but I have fond memories of the glossy and colourful frontispieces in some of my favourite childhood books – like this one (pictured) by H Weston Taylor from Anne of the Island by Canadian author L M Montgomery (published in 1915 by the Page Company). As you can probably tell from its rather ragged condition, this book has been very well loved by several generations of my family.
7. Copyright or imprint page
This usually appears on the reverse of a book’s title page and includes publisher information, a copyright notice and year, rights reserved notice, ISBN, library classification data, disclaimer (if any), permissions notice (if applicable), credits to editors, designers, photographers, and illustrators (if any), country of printer and printing edition, and author website (if any). Phew! That’s a lot for one page, but it’s vital information to include in your book to make it “legit”. Check out any traditionally published book on your bookshelf or ereader and you’ll see it’s got one of these pages, although in ebooks, it’s often part of the end matter rather than the front matter.
8. Contents page
The contents page, also called a table of contents (TOC), comes after the title and copyright pages and lists the parts of the book and the page numbers where each part begins. In ebooks, instead of including page numbers, TOC entries are usually hyperlinked so you can click on a chapter or section title to jump directly to it – a handy feature that I love.
9. List of illustrations/tables etc.
Many nonfiction books include these specialised contents pages to list all the illustrations and other display material appearing in the book. There may be separate lists for photographs, figures, maps, and tables.
10. Dedication page
This is the page where the author can dedicate their book to someone important in their life.
The foreword is an introductory statement to explain the purpose of the book and why it’s important. It’s usually written by someone other than the author, often an eminent person, to lend credibility to the publication. Note the spelling: it’s foreword (fore + word), not forward.
12. List of abbreviations
Often found in technical books or reports, the list of abbreviations is an alphabetical list of shortened forms (abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms) used in the text and the full terms they stand for. It can appear in the front or end matter.
Similar to a foreword, a preface is an introductory or preliminary statement, but it’s usually written by the author of the book and may include the author’s signature. The preface may describe how the book came into being, set forth the book’s purpose and scope, acknowledge assistance from others, and so on. If the book is a new or updated edition, the preface can describe any changes from the previous edition.
Body (main text)
Well, it took a while (so many preliminary parts!), but we’ve finally reached the main text, often called the body of the book. Still, you might be surprised to learn how many parts can make up the body of a book. Besides chapters, the body could have a prologue, epigraphs, footnotes, illustrations, and a little something called a dinkus, which is … well, read on to find out. We’re going to cover 9 book-body parts, numbers 14 to 22 of our 30 book parts.
This is a preliminary or introductory part of the main story to be told in the book. It aims to intrigue the reader and set the stage for the main story, but it is best kept short.
Prologues are sometimes criticised because inexperienced writers may use them to dump a chunk of backstory they think the reader should know before the main story starts. Often what an author thinks should be in a prologue can instead be woven more naturally into the narrative or can simply be part of the first chapter. But a short prologue can work well in some circumstances, such as where an event that has important ramifications for the story or characters happens before the timeline of the main story begins.
In a nonfiction book, an introduction orients the reader to the subject matter of the book. It often provides information needed to understand the content, such as definitions of terms.
This is a pertinent quotation or pithy saying that appears at the beginning of a chapter, or sometimes as part of the front matter, like the pictured epigraph from Rilla of Ingleside by L M Montgomery (first published in 1921 by McClelland and Stewart in Canada and the Frederick A Stokes Company in the USA).
Epigraphs are often direct quotations from other works and therefore may require copyright permission, even if they are short.
As you would expect, chapters form the bulk of the body of a book. They are the divisions an author makes in the narrative to structure it in the way that best serves the story or subject matter. In fiction, a chapter can consist of one scene or multiple scenes and does not have to be a set length.
Figures can be any pictorial representation in a book, including illustrations, diagrams, photographs, charts, graphs, or maps. These are also sometimes referred to collectively in the publishing trade as pix (short for pictures). Figures generally only appear in children’s or nonfiction books, although some adult fiction genres, such as fantasy or a family saga, might include figures like maps or family trees (generally as part of the front or end matter).
Tables (i.e. grids consisting of columns and rows) are often used in nonfiction works such as technical books and reports to present information and data in a way that makes it easier to absorb and understand.
These are notes or comments at the foot of a page referring to a specific part of the text on the page. A footnote is indicated using a superscript number or symbol directly after the word or sentence to which the note applies. Footnotes can be distracting and should not be used for essential or detailed information, which is better placed within the main text or in an appendix.
This cute word describes a small drawing or symbol used to decorate a page or to break up a block of type in a book. Sometimes a dinkus is just a line of three asterisks (or even a single asterisk) to indicate a scene break within a chapter. Another name for a dinkus is a dingbat.
An epilogue is the opposite of a prologue. It is a concluding part appearing at the end of the main story. Often the epilogue moves the timeline of the story months or years ahead to show where the characters are in the future and tie up any loose ends. If you’ve read the Harry Potter series, you’ll know it includes an epilogue set 19 years after the main story ends. Like a prologue, an epilogue is often unnecessary but can be useful to give the closure many readers crave.
We’re on the home stretch now! The end matter of a book, as the name suggests, is everything that comes after the main text. This might include a glossary, appendices, bibliography, and index. Sometimes, material that would normally appear in the front matter in a printed book (like the copyright page or the acknowledgements) is placed in the end matter in an ebook. Here are the final 8 parts of our 30 book parts, numbers 23 to 30.
An appendix, or appendices if more than one, consists of supplementary material relating to the main text but considered too detailed or technical to be placed there. Each appendix should be mentioned or “called out” in the main text, and the appendices should appear in the same order in the end matter as they are called out in the text.
These are notes printed at the end of a book (or each chapter). Like footnotes, they are indicated in the body text using a superscript number or symbol directly after the word or sentence to which the note applies.
25. Reference list
This is a list of source materials cited in the book. A reference list does not include sources that may have been consulted in preparing the book if they are not cited within the text.
In contrast to a reference list, a bibliography lists all source materials used or consulted in the preparation of the book, whether or not they are cited in the book.
A glossary is a list (usually alphabetical) of technical, dialectal, or difficult terms used in the book, with brief definitions. In fiction, a glossary may contain entries about characters or settings.
This part is where the author recognises and thanks all those who assisted in the book’s creation, such as their publisher, agent, and editor(s); their close friends and family; and other sources of inspiration.
29. About the author
As its name makes obvious, this part consists of one or more paragraphs (usually between 50 and 150 words) of biographical information about the author of the book. It’s also called an author bio (biography). Your author bio should start with an opening byline that summarises your profile in a nutshell and mentions the title of your latest book. Next, it should outline your area of interest or expertise and your qualifications or other credentials. Finally, a good bio ends with a personal touch or a quippy one-liner.
The index is an alphabetised list of topics and corresponding page numbers given at the end of the book to enable a reader to locate specific content within the book. If your book needs an index, I recommend contacting a professional indexer from the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers.
But wait, there’s more!
Well, there you have it: everything you need to know about parts of a book. Actually, not quite everything. There’s one more book part I haven’t mentioned yet because it appears throughout the whole book (except on the cover). Can you guess what it is? Yep, page numbers. Also called, in old-fashioned publishing parlance, “folios”.
And if we’re talking about page numbers, naturally we need to mention headers and footers, which are the areas at the top and bottom of the page (respectively) where the page numbers appear – usually in either the header or the footer, not both.
But I’d better stop now because this blog post is in danger of becoming a book in itself! I know it’s a lot to take in, so I’ve prepared this handy PDF guide to parts of a book that you can download and keep for future reference. And if you’d like help to get your book parts ready for publishing, please get in touch.