Anatomy Lesson: Parts of a Book
by Cheryl Whittaker Views: 948
Faced with a publishing industry wall that’s seemingly impossible to scale, a lot of us are choosing the self-publishing route for our fiction these days. Even those of us who are just starting to investigate this option can benefit from knowing what actually makes up the innards of a book, whether we’re looking at print or electronic publishing. “Prologue”, “blurb” and “acknowledgements” are probably familiar to us, but what if a designer tells us to get rid of the bastard title? To avoid giving them a blank face, let’s get dissecting—from skin to skeleton to guts.
Above are the outer parts of a real, physical, paper book: its skin and skeleton. Of course, if you’re looking towards e-publishing only, there’s not much “skin” to speak of, and only a little “skeleton”—the file type. For instance:
- .epub – open format, readable by iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Sony readers, Kobo, Nook.
- .azw – Amazon kindle format, readable by (you guessed it) Kindle and any Kindle app
- .pdf – Adobe’s product wasn’t originally created for e-books, so it’s not great for using on smartphones due to scaling
Dissecting deeper now, we come to the guts, the inner parts of a book. And even e-books have innards! They are listed below largely in order of appearance, although this is flexible to some degree, and more so in e-books because they are less bound by tradition. Not all parts will be found in every book; indeed, most are optional. The parts we’re going to focus on here are relevant for fiction.
Usually in paper books the pages in the frontmatter are numbered with Roman numerals.
Half title / Bastard title: a page containing the book title and nothing else. In paper books, this can be removed to save space if book length is problematic. In e-books, this will sometimes also contain a publisher’s logo and can look different depending on whether you’re viewing the book in portrait or landscape.
Colophon: often appearing in the backmatter instead, this is a brief description of the typeface and those involved in the book’s production. In e-books, it can contain a recommendation for the best reading font if, for example, a number of different fonts are used for effect.
Other books by the author: also sometimes appearing in the backmatter, this page lists the author’s other works, usually grouped by genre (e.g. novels, short story collections, etc).
Praise for the author: where favourable quotes from famous critics and/or reviews about the book and/or the author are listed. Can also appear in the backmatter although, because e-books often offer a free sample of their opening pages, there is greater selling-point value in it being placed in the front.
Title page: an important page where the book title, any subtitle, and the author’s and publisher’s names appear. The publisher’s location (city and country, usually) and the year that the book was first published are also printed here. In e-books this information is usually absorbed into the copyright page.
Copyright page: in paper books, this is usually the verso of the title page (so two important groups of information on one leaf). All the legal, copyright, publication and edition information goes here. You’ll also find the ISBN (or eISBN), as well as any necessary design, production, editing and illustration credits, and any disclaimers (e.g. “This work is entirely a work of fiction…”).
Dedication: often simply two or three words—e.g. “For Annabelle”, “For my parents”—this is the author’s opportunity to honour (or, indeed, dishonour) a person or group of people by dedicating their book to them. Famous dedications include George R. R. Martin’s “for Phyllis, who made me put the dragons in” (A Storm of Swords). (If that whet your appetite, take a fascinating peek into the art of the dedication.)
Table of contents/Contents page: very often but not always included in fiction, this table lists book sections/parts, chapters and sub-chapters. In e-books the table of contents is more useful as jump links can be enabled.
Preface/About the book: here the author describes the book’s germination and motivation. Sometimes the author will date it with their signature. “About the book” can appear in the backmatter instead (of course then it is not a “preface” any more).
Epigraph: an optional quotation, which can also appear at the heads of chapters in the main body.
This is where, in paper books, the Arabic numbering begins.
Prologue: although less frequently employed in modern works, the prologue is a scene-setting device, sometimes featuring a piece of “pre-history” for the story, or sometimes told in the voice of one of the story’s characters. Proponents of in media res will argue against the prologue, though there are some benefits too. A case-by-case assessment is best employed.
Main body: the parts and chapters and all the text that make up the story.
Epilogue: as the counterpart to the prologue, the epilogue provides closure for the story. Again, it can be written in the voice of a character, or be a flash-forward to show a conclusion and outcome of events.
Acknowledgements: different to the dedication, and occasionally appearing in the frontmatter instead, here the author lists with thanks all those who helped the book come into being. Agents will be listed here, as well as peers and supporters. Acknowledgements have in recent times aroused some ire for being too gushy.
About the author: a passage on the author, which can vary from a line to a whole page. Sometimes appears in the frontmatter. Content-wise, it can vary hugely: the author can be anything from glib, to factual and informative, to dreamy.
Blurb: technically not backmatter, as it’s placed on the outside back cover of a paper book. A short, snappy description of the story written with the intention of attracting readers to buy the book, there is no equivalent of blurb for the e-book—at least not in the file itself. The blurb now appears on the book’s information page when you’re buying online.
You can use this as a checklist when considering what to surround your manuscript with. Now you know where to place the copyright information, and what other prelims are necessary. Beyond that, how much you want to say about yourself and your story is up to you.
Do any Mashers out there have any pearls of wisdom to add from their self-publishing experience?
Our Chief Editor, Cheryl, has been with MASH since day one. Her poetry has appeared in Riot Angel magazine, and one of her short stories was published in This Is It. Cheryl’s creative streak also reaches to art, craft and photography, and her favourite way to combine all these passions is in art journaling and mixed media. You can view Cheryl’s work by visiting her website: www.cswhittaker.com