What Is Frontmatter, & How Do I Set It Up In My Book?

You might’ve heard of books having a backmatter before; glossaries, appendixes, author biography pages, so on and so forth. Most people encounter this term thanks to their textbooks in school. But once you get into the publishing industry, you learn that books have a frontmatter at the beginning too. It’s just easier to skim past and forget entirely.

So what does a proper frontmatter contain?

Firstly, a title page. A title page could be as simple as the title stated in plain text, but an experienced book designer might introduce ornamentation and decor as is relevant to the rest of the book.

Optionally, you can also have a half-title. It’s similar to the title page, but it may have smaller text and different decor, and it might include other text too, such as the author’s name or website.

The page you’re likely most familiar with skimming past is the copyright page. Theoretically, you could create a book without a copyright page, but it’s such an expected part of a book that leaving it out looks unprofessional. Not to mention that it helps stamp your rights as a creator firmly onto your story. Copyright pages can be confusing to approach for the first time, so I’ve already written a guide to creating them.

If you want, you can create these three pages (or two if you opt to skip the half-title) and then jump right into your actual story. But there are other pages that you could add in as well.

The most common addition is the dedication page. If the author hasn’t chosen to put their dedications in the backmatter, they’re probably in the front. It’s a pretty flexible page, and while it’s typical to just have the dedications in a single centered paragraph, you can play around with the formatting on this one.

Your book could also feature a quotations page. Here, you can quote opinions from reviewers. Or if you are so bold, you can drop in a quote or two from the characters.

A preface is a preliminary statement by a book’s author or editor. It’s most useful in academic texts where one or more of the contributors wanted to provide context for the research or creation of the book, or in fictional works that are trying to emulate the feel of an academic text. If what you’re writing doesn’t fall into one of these two categories, you probably don’t need one.

A table of contents is a feature that has fallen out of fashion for most paperback fiction; this is partially because it’s one of the more difficult pages to properly design, and partially because it’s not as useful in texts where the reader doesn’t need to jump around between chapters for reference (since most fiction is very linear). But that doesn’t mean that a fiction book should never have a table of contents. There are some books where it lends an extra stylistic flair.

And finally, a map page or map spread can be useful if you’ve written a story with a lot of geography references that a reader may want to see for themselves. Fantasy stories and travel stories are most likely to feature these.

Typically, one finds that the title, half-title, and copyright order is non-negotiable. Everything that comes afterwards can be arranged however looks best for your book. Keep in mind that not every one of these pages belongs in your book all at once. A frontmatter should be relatively brief, to help the reader on their way to the actual text.

We’ll get into the difference between verso vs recto another day, but one last thing to remember is to avoid white space on the front side of the page, ie, the right page or the “recto” side. Most readers have gone through enough books to instinctively know what one should look like. A blank right page is an unconscious signal to the reader that the text has ended, and may feel off to them.

If you ever feel uncertain as to whether you’re formatting a page correctly, I recommend opening other books for comparison. With a little study, and a little practice, you can create a gorgeous frontmatter for your story!

And that’s it for book design for today. If you find this helpful, then you can support me as a creator by buying me a Ko-fi or purchasing Shadow Herald, my debut novel! Thank you, and have a lovely day.

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