Ebooks: Back Matter Matters

Do you enjoy extras in your ebooks? About the Author, reader letters, a note from the editor, teasers from other books, lists (in order) of the author’s other works, reviews? I do. I read everything. Even ads for other books and special promotions. I even read the little notices in some hardcover volumes that describes the typeface used and gives a bit of history.

I admit I am an oddball, but surely I am not alone in this? I didn’t think so.

What surprises me is how poorly many self-publishers exploit the back matter in their ebooks. I read ebooks that might have a tiny About the Author blurb and maybe a few titles listed. I’ve read others that have no back matter at all. The text ends, then nothing.

Let’s discuss this a moment, shall we? As I’ve stated before, the back matter in an ebook is valuable real estate. And it is, hard cost-wise, free. Print volumes can’t always justify the cost of extra pages and added labor costs. Ebooks can’t justify the cost of NOT including extra material. For indies, it is probably the absolutely best way to talk directly to readers and hand-sell their other works.

The best thing of all? You are not limited as to what you include (except by the distributor’s TOS). No space limitations. The more readers read, the more YOU will sink into their consciousness. If you make that connection, the next time they see your name on a book cover, the more likely they are to give it at least a second look.

So let’s brainstorm a bit. What makes great back matter material?

  • About the Author. Of course. And of course, most writers don’t do them well. They get self-conscious. Worry about looking like an idiot. Don’t know what’s important, what’s not. Many About the Author pages read like a resume or a curriculum vitae. They’re boring and sound pretentious. If you are comfortable talking about yourself in a friendly manner, you are ahead of the game. For the rest of you (me, too) a few suggestions. Keep it short and sweet (a hundred words, more or less). Show a bit of personality. Tell readers something they might never guess from reading your books (at his day job, Novelist is a tree surgeon). If you’ve won a major award(s) readers might actually have heard of, include that, briefly. Clue readers in to your geographic location (it is astonishing how powerful a connection location can be).
  • Dear Reader Letter. Unlike About the Author, the reader letter is more about the book and the writing. Come on, writers, what question do you hear from non-writers all the time? Say it with me now: Where do you get your ideas? The reader letter is your opportunity to answer that question. Talk about where the book was born, the inspiration, the research, maybe even liberties you took with the facts. This is your opportunity to get chummy with readers, to make them feel part of the process. You know you love talking about your work. Here’s your chance. Have fun with it.
  • Reviews. Yes! If you have advance reviews or the book is a reissue or you have reviews for other titles, by all means include them. I suggest you show restraint out of consideration for the readers. Take your cues from the big publishers and include excerpted blurbs of one or two sentences, max. Trust me, no reader cares as much about your glowing reviews as you do. Your goal is to assure readers that others have liked your books. It might inspire them to leave their own review. Make sure you properly attribute the reviewers.
  • Book Covers and Descriptions. Promo your other titles with a thumbnail of the book cover and a description. Make sure your name is prominent on the page.
  • Teasers. A first chapter or a juicy excerpt from another of your titles makes a sweet bonus.
  • Cross-Promotion. A teaser from another writer’s title. You might also consider an If You Like page. Can’t go wrong helping out your fellow indies.
  • Bonus Fiction. Do you have a short short story or flash fiction? Or how about poetry? Think of it as a little gift, a surprise for the readers.
  • Recipes or How-To Instructions. Another bonus for readers. If your characters enjoy meals made with your own recipes, include it. If your characters do something interesting in the book that you exhaustively researched or have expertise with, why not provide how-to instructions? (How to mount a cannon on a Buick: Materials: Cannon, Duct Tape)
  • Letter From the Editor: This can serve two purposes. One, that you even have an editor ups the reader’s opinion of your work. Two, it’s an opportunity for a third party to talk about how special your work is. Can’t hurt.
  • Acknowledgements. It’s always nice to say thank you.
  • Maps. Have you created a fantasy world? Is yours an historical novel? Are you a smart aleck on par with Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt? (the maps in the Joe Pitt Case Books are hysterical) This bit of back matter might cost some dollars, unless you’re a graphic artist and actually know how to draw maps. It is something to consider.
  • Bibliography. If you’ve done extensive research, your readers might be the type who enjoy research, too.
  • Links. Read your ebook distributor’s TOS to know what is allowed. Generally, live links to your website and blog are okay. Invite readers to follow you on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. Create a special email account for fan mail.

I don’t recommend special promotions. Even though it’s fairly common in mass market paperbacks, there is a Right Now quality about ebooks without the clues that a book is older. Unless you are willing to re-upload the ebook after the special promotion is done, it could create bad feelings if a reader tries to redeem an expired coupon code or finds out the book you touted as on sale is now back at the regular price.

So there are some ideas for you to consider. Does anyone else have suggestions?

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21 thoughts on “Ebooks: Back Matter Matters

  1. Thanks, good advice to remember when I get to that point. I also like to read the back matter, at least if I enjoyed the book.

    I’m wondering, marketing people always say to use a call to action. Would it be too crass to ask the reader to leave a review on Amazon/GoodReads/wherever if they enjoyed the book?

    • I have deeply mixed feelings about asking for reviews, R.E. I personally find it obnoxious (I read the book, now you want me to write a report about it?). On the other hand, it never hurts to ask. Maybe somebody who’s put such a request in can chime in with their results, if there are any.

  2. I always used to read author’s notes and almost never read advertisements and sample chapters unless it was for the next book in the series.

    In particular, I remember that Piers Anthony often had extensive author’s notes where he talked about his writing process and his life. It was like getting a letter from a pen pal you only hear from once or twice a year.

    It was pretty awesome.

    • Scott Sigler put out a short story collection, BLOOD IS RED, and the author notes he included were almost as entertaining as the stories themselves.

      Not every reader will read every bit of back matter. Those are who do will feel as if they’re getting more bang for their buck, and that’s always a good thing.

  3. I’ve started including afterwords for any story I release. It is actually really fun to do as an author because as you mentioned at the other post, it is one of those common questions authors get. However, it was especially a challenge for my Free Five stories because all of them are under 1000 words, and I often found my author afterwords running sometimes half as long as the story itself was 🙂

    And you have lots of other great ideas for that back material. Getting ready to send these two posts out via Twitter. Hope you have a good weekend.

    Paul D. Dail
    http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    • It’s a judgment call and a personal one. If you are comfortable and confident about extra matter in your ebooks, readers will respond positively. I do believe that now, more than ever, it is important for writers to connect, somehow, with their readers. It’s the only way to stand out from the “noise.”

  4. Usually too much ‘serious’ details in the ‘About the Author’ of most books is boring. I mean, if you must say where you live and where you are from, make it conversational and not merely informative, right?

    Thanks for a great article!

    • Hi, Newbook. I know many charming, even gregarious writers who, when asked to talk or write about themselves, turn into shy, stiff mumblers. Here’s an idea, have beta readers look at About the Author blurbs and reader letters. The writer can ask, “Does this sound like me?”

  5. great post and no, you are not alone or strange in your reading of everything in a book. I wrote this in a blog,

    ‘Anyway, Books versus e-readers, I agree that there is nothing absolutely nothing that can take away from the tactile sensations of holding, especially for the first time, a new book, for me, preferably in hardback, but that is me probably being more than a little slightly pompous. You get that book either in the mail or you have just been to the bookstore and brought it home in the ubiquitous plastic carrier, you take it out, or you unwrap as delivered by the postman and you hold it in your hands turning it over, the cover is inspected as is the spine and then the back cover. Anticipations are building and indeed even some tenseness, especially if it is a book from a favourite such as Alexander McCall Smith, that you have been anticipating getting your hands on for many months. This happens with me regularly, and for your books I might add here.

    So, you have that new book in your hands and it has past first muster inspection and you pull open the cover to the first page, the fly leaf becomes clear and you read while being slightly distracted, but not in a bad way, if the inside cover and facing page have a design motif on them, row upon row of No 44 Scotland Street in ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Scones’, Elephants, Oil cans and Lizards in ‘The Good Husband of Zebra Drive’ or a lovely pale green empty space in, ‘The Careful Use of Compliments’ someone I know always refers to it as ‘The Careful Use of Condiments’, bless…. You carefully turn over the next couple of pages, and here I have to confess to what is probably a little bit of a strange indulgence or peccadillo, I look at the; First published, Copyright, All rights, Typeset, Library Catalogue details, don’t ask, I have no explanation for the strangeness that overtakes me when opening a new book, and, I guess to an extent it might be that I want to savour every single page of this delicious mind feeding entity that I am holding in my hands, who knows….

    Then, then we turn over another page and we find the beginning of the best time of your life for the next indeterminable period of time, that is for however long you are curled up on the sofa, in bed, on the train or sitting in the park, engrossed in the story that someone like Alexander McCall Smith, or other author of choice, has so graciously chosen to deliver to us, it is almost too difficult to describe the sensations that flow through you when reading a good novel. Authors, of whatever calibre and ability should be almost revered for the enjoyment they bring to so many millions of people each and every day. A Novel can be heart warming, it can be funny, it can be dangerous. You can be relaxed one minute and tense the next, reading one last week I was literally breathless and a little afeared one minute and the next I was welling up,…’

    So the more info the better and it is one thing I miss in e-books, Ah well

    • Ah, I knew there was a reason I like you, Tom. 😀 Did you ever get one of those books that had no front or back matter, not even a tiny blurb About the Author, then find yourself leafing through the pages in the vague hope the material had been misplaced? The poor books seemed so naked. I, the reader, felt so deprived.

      • I think if I won the lottery (a really big one where money no longer was an issue) I’d consider opening up a little bookstore coffee house, where I would browse all day, I love to browse. That’s why as much as I now love my kindle I hope we never run out of book stores xxxx

  6. Hiya Jaye. When I was preparing 40+ backlist books for ePublication by Open Road, I got the bright idea of writing afterwords for each of them, as a way to add value. Then I realized that it didn’t, really, in that no one would read an afterword until they’d already bought and read the book. It might enhance the overall experience, which was all to the good, but as a marketing took it left something to be desired.

    So I made lemonade. Gathered all the afterwords together and made an Open Road eBook out of them, called it Afterthoughts: A Piecemeal Memoir, slapped a bargain-basement 99¢ price tag on it, and it’s continued selling very nicely, I’m pleased to report. And every chapter gives the reader another book to buy.

    I love it when that happens.

    • See, nothing goes to waste. 😀 I wouldn’t consider afterwords and such wasted at all. My theory is that they add to the afterglow, so to speak. One problem I see with ebooks is they don’t offer a visual. No book on the shelf to remind the reader of what they’ve read. No cover on display with the author’s name. But when the back matter adds to the emotional experience, that sticks. I know I tend to remember an author’s name if he/she made some kind of “personal” connection with me through added material.

      I love how in your ebooks you include photographs. I forgot to put that on the list. Granted, some authors are more photogenic than others, but still… It’s a good hook to put a face with the name.

    • Thanks, Mollie.

      While we’re here, I can’t stress how important it is to have a linkable Table of Contents. I am currently reading a short story collection that doesn’t have one. Ack. I rooted around and found a table of contents, but it isn’t linked to the stories, so in a way it’s useless and annoying.

  7. Pingback: Pioneers in Ebook Design: Monica Pierce | J W Manus

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