Fun With Ebook Formatting: The Title Page and Front Matter

I have a conflict…

I love front matter When I open an ebook I want to see all the good stuff the writer wants to include: title page, epigraph, publishing history, dedication, introduction, foreword and whatever else there is. I read all that stuff. I get annoyed when I get a new ebook and it opens to the first page of the story. I have to go back, go back, go back (sigh) to get to the real beginning.

The conflict comes with samples and “Look Inside.” When I’m contemplating purchasing a book, I want the writing, the story, and I get annoyed if I have to page through all the front matter, especially if there is a lot of it and precious little writing to sample.

How to resolve this conflict? Until the distributors allow the producer to customize the sample, this will continue to be a problem for me. I honestly don’t know if it’s a problem for anyone else.

We’ll leave that alone for now and talk about the mechanics of title pages and front matter.

Does your book need a title page? I think so, yes. An ebook without a title page feels like a manuscript and I don’t pay to read manuscripts. In some cases, such as for distribution through Smashwords, it’s a requirement. Let’s get that out of the way first. For Smashwords you need a title page that looks like this:

The Greatest American Novel Evah
JW Manus

Smashwords Edition
copyright 2013, JW Manus

Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


That’s what is says in the style guide. That’s what you should insert in your Smashwords edition.

With just about everything else, how your title page looks and what information it contains are entirely up to you. I like the fancy bits. As for what to include on the title page, as long as the title and author name are in place, you have a title page.

titlepage1A title page is a good place to insert the publishing history and copyright information.

titlepage2If you don’t want a separate “legal” page, you can also include disclaimers and design information.

titlepage3A quick word about the Table of Contents in the front matter. They’re a pain in my patoot. New devices have an excellent built-in ToC. If you click “Go To” on a Paperwhite or Fire, you’ll open up a window with a complete Table of Contents (if the ebook has been properly built). On older Kindles, though, the Go To menu sends you to the user generated Table of Contents. I have heard rumors that Amazon will automatically start the ebook after the ToC, ignoring whatever the producer has designated as the beginning. Ay yi yi. That’s swell–unless your ebook has 70 named chapters. Then readers who “Look Inside” will see page after page of Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, etc ad nauseum. I am trying a bit of a cheat.titlepage4That’s the “official” Table of Contents, the very first “page” in the ebook. Click the index and it takes readers to an index that contains all the chapters along with links to photos.

titlepage5My best advice is to figure out how the devices work and learn to work with them, always keeping in mind that the Look Inside and sample features are selling tools and readers want prose, not a long list of cryptic chapter titles. That said, if you are formatting a non-fiction project, a detailed Table of Contents might actually be one of your best selling tools. I know when I’m looking for reference materials, for instance, the first thing I look at is the ToC to make sure the book contains the information I’m looking for. The same thing applies to anthologies with multiple authors.

What about other front matter? Dedications are nice. Acknowledgments tend to be longer. My rule of thumb is, if it fits on one “page” then put it in the front matter. If it’s longer, put it in the back of the book. The same general rule applies to A Notes to the Reader or A Note From the Author.

Introductions and forewords, and even prologues, can be a problem if you’re not careful in how you build your ebook. If you aren’t building your own toc.ncx, you need to make sure your essential front matter is styled with Heading 1 or Heading 2, (h1 or h2) otherwise the conversion program might home in on Chapter One and readers will miss essential information. If the rumors are true, and Kindles are determining the “beginning” as the first “page” after the ToC, you risk ending up with a mess. So test your book on an actual device and make sure the beginning is where you want it to be.

A perfectly serviceable layout for the front matter of a novel:

  • Table of Contents (truncated if it’s a long non-informative list)
  • Title Page
  • Copyright or Legal page (if your novel has a lengthy publication history, it might be best to put this page in the back matter)
  • Dedication or short acknowledgement (put a long acknowledgements page in the back matter)
  • Epigraph (if you have one)
  • Foreword or Introduction
  • The Story

What about the rest of you? Any opinions on Title Pages and front matter in ebooks?



23 thoughts on “Fun With Ebook Formatting: The Title Page and Front Matter

  1. Truth be told I like title pages, albeit brief title pages. Like the title, the cover image, the little dedication, the acknowledgments (also brief). However I don’t like scrolling through a long TOC on my kindle. I do appreciate your setup. Seems to make sense.

    • I’d like to do better with the ToCs in ebooks. They really are necessary, even with novels. They’re excellent navigation tools. They can be better, though. Much, much better. I’d like to see ToCs in fiction that are informative. Interesting possibilities.

  2. Hi Jaye:

    Perfect timing on this post! I’m trying to get these items nailed down myself.

    The abbreviated ToC makes a lot of sense, especially in a fiction work where the entries are mostly enumerated variations on the word “Chapter.” But with named chapters, I would like to see them, even in a “free preview” download, as I feel they lend some intrigue and interest to the work that follows.

    What has tripped me up is the “legalese” that seems to be necessary. ::sigh:: One more revision to make….

    • Hi Jon, read my cheat sheet about legal stuff in ebooks. It has links to the US copyright website. The “legalities” are optional in ebooks (except at Smashwords, which requires a copyright notice) but I think their inclusion makes books look more professional and makes it clear the work is NOT in the public domain.

      As for the ToC, the possibilities are wide open. Named chapters (as opposed to numerical) can be a lot of fun. Even using the first line of the chapter could work. I’ve seen that done in a print book, which was interesting. The thing to keep in mind is context. If the chapter titles don’t make sense WITHOUT the accompanying chapter, then it’s just a list, and we’re back to the same problem. The place to look would be the old serial novels. The chapters were published in newspapers, then compiled into novels. Some of the titles were very clever, mini-synopses of what was to come. The ToCs are fun to read by themselves.

      • A detailed ToC on Non-Fiction is a must for the sample. For fiction (if there are subheadings) you can do something like:

        Chapter 1 – The Dark Stormy Night
        Chapter 2 – An Even Darker Night

        That seems to work well and provide a sampler a rough idea of the story.

  3. That’s some classy-lookin’ front matter, Jaye. The short ToC up front and long ToC in the back is definitely cool.

    On the “Beginning”, where are you seeing this bug and on what device? I’ve heard it too, but never been able to test (some jackass stole our shop’s Kindle Fire). Did these books have the proper XML entry in the Guide section? We usually do the Beginning to Chapter 1 or the Prologue for fiction and I haven’t heard of any problems (yet).

    • All I’ve heard is rumors and complaints, Paul. I’ll see if I can find the links.
      It hasn’t affected any of my books that I know of, but here is what I’m thinking. Word. Amazon started letting people upload Word docs for conversion. If people aren’t using Heading 1 and 2, the conversion is having trouble recognizing the beginning of the book. God only knows what is happening with Scrivener. So folks at Amazon thought, ah ha, we’ll just start the books after the ToC. So no, that wouldn’t affect anyone who’s building a proper toc.ncx. UNLESS, the Kindle programmers get the bright idea that ALL Kindle books need to begin after the ToC, and update the Kindles to do that. Which could end up breaking books, even those that are properly formatted. No? Having been affected by some update-induced bugs in the past, I’m a bit gunshy about updates in the future. So just in case, I’ll create those truncated ToCs (if the situation calls for it) and make them the first entry.

      • Yak. Getting on iBooks with the Meatgrinder is a nasty, nasty affair. Why don’t we just publish text files like some Urkel IRC chatroom from 1993?

        From a nerd perspective, iBooks can render stuff pretty well compared to most of the junk out there (even EPUB3). The only major bug is when images go across two pages (well that and large PNG images cause crashing). Although, the Apple ecosystem for books sucks and no one buys there. If clients ain’t selling there, we tend not to care.

        Jaye, you figure out EPUB3 yet?

      • Ah Paul, I’m still mastering EPUB 2. I am interested, though, especially with the interactive features and fixed layouts. All I’ve been doing is reading rather than trying–so far. I’d love a project that would immerse me in a hands on experience. My partner is a graphics whiz, which opens up terrific possibilities for kids books especially. Getting there, eventually.

  4. Oh Jaye, preaching to the choir again I have to read EVERY line from the moment I open the front cover I want to see where it was first published, I want to see the author asserting their rights, I want to see what typeface is used and the ISBN number I want to see who they have dedicated it to and I WANT TO SEE THE GLOSSARY AT THE FRONT OF THE BOOK , am I repeating myself again

    • Obsessive Front Matter Readers Unite! Now, if i can just convince the powers that be to let producers customize the Look Inside and sample features, then we will live in a perfect world. 😀

  5. This is an issue I’ve been thinking about a lot (and coding). There is a real issue when producing books for KDP. Amazon really, really wants the reader to be dropped into page 1 of the story. According to some posts on the Mobiread forums, something changed back in December 2012. Normally, the way to control what Amazon calls the “Start Reading Location” (SRL) is to set a “guide” item of type “text” in your opf file. Amazon’s conversion process would set the SRL to that link. You could have the book open wherever you wanted. Since the change, if the conversion detects that you have set the guide item to point to a location before the ToC, it will set the SRL to the first item in the ToC that follows the ToC in the reading order. And this happens only with the purchased books, not any of the preview versions.

    Nobody actually knows how this process works. It may only affect books that have the actual content following the ToC, but set the guide to a position prior to the ToC. For now, my advice is to have a ToC that come immediately before the opening of the story and set the guide item to the first html page after the ToC.

    • Great… so Amazon decides based on magic where the book should start. It doesn’t help that the purchased version is different from the previewer version. At least the entire guide section is going away with EPUB3.

  6. What to folks think about having the a brief copyright notice on the title like this:

    The Greatest American Novel Evah
    JW Manus

    Copyright © 2013 JW Manus

    But having the copyright line be a link to the full copyright page?

    • I leave it up to the writers to decide how much information is on the title page (except with Smashwords). Putting the legalities in the back matter is rarely a bad idea. I usually do that with anthologies, to make sure individual authors get all their info in. It makes things tidier.

      I also recommend writers take a gander at the way the trad publishers have a tendency to include legal info that is lifted straight out of the print edition. I’ve seen them running three and four pages worth, and that gets pretty obnoxious, especially when no one edits out the information that only applies to the print edition and has nothing to do with the ebook.

  7. Jaye: “Obsessive Front Matter Readers Unite!”
    That’s ME!!!!!! I’m with you 101% (or even more, if possible). 🙂 Samples ought to give the reader a sense of the book, *not* a list of chapter titles. One book I previewed was basically the first several (old-fashioned-type) chapter headings that go on and on (and on) with detailed descriptions such as “Bill’s Tale: Wherein A Rabbit Jumps Out Of A Hat; Sewer Gases Erupt; Fish Fly And Pigs Wallow; In The Public House Afterward; The Sherrif Is Not Amused; Frank’s Bicycle Runs Amok And The Widow Jeffries Is Heard Across Town”…that sort of thing but less amusing, it being a much more academic treatise on a Very Large Metropolitan Area from the 19th century, if I recall correctly. The sample never got to any actual text. Nor did I make a purchase.

    William: “Amazon really, really wants the reader to be dropped into page 1 of the story.”
    Note to Amazon: That is STUPID. I have read more than a few e-books which begin at page 1, entirely skipping the introductory chapter which sets the stage or tone for the story. Even some non-fiction titles contain extremely useful introductory matter which really should be read before embarking on the first page of the first chapter.

  8. You bring up a really good point, Chris. Producers MUST figure out how these devices work. The previewers are handy dandy tools, but they only tell half the story. And sometimes they outright lie. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent puzzling over the differences between the older and newer eink Kindles and then the differences between them and the Fire. Most fiction projects jump from device to device with ease, and any degradation is so slight only the most obsessive of us would even notice. But start getting into complex formatting and it gets really interesting. Sometimes the only way to figure out if something will work is to try it and then load it up on a device to see what happens.

    Considering how many devices I do NOT own, it’s nerve-wracking when I create a file I can’t test in real time.

    I have found that some of the things that Amazon sez to NOT do, actually work just fine. My guess is that they say, “Do not do that!” because Word, Scrivener, InDesign and other programs handle the forbidden function poorly. It’s easier to tell everybody to not do something then it is to convince only some people to not do something.

  9. Pingback: Bookmark – Ringing the Changes on “The End of Books” (2014) | Books On Books

  10. Thank you sir, gonna go ahead and git ma’ first book published tonight, now that I have a first page publishing format! Blessings!

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