Front and Back Matter in Ebooks

I get a lot of questions about what front and back matter should be included in an ebook. Should is the keyword here. Technically and legally, there are no requirements for anything other than the body of the text–with one exception: Smashwords distribution requires a specifically worded title page that includes copyright information.

Producing an ebook with no front or back matter is, in my rarely humble opinion, a mistake. As a reader, I’m not browsing Amazon in search of raw manuscripts. I want my ebooks to look and feel complete–real books. Well crafted front and back matter tells me care and thought went into producing the ebook and that ups my opinion of the story before I even start reading. I think the writer should include at the barest minimum–

  • A title page with an assertion of rights
  • A Table of Contents
  • An author bio
Title Page with an assertion of rights.

Title Page with an assertion of rights.

As an ebook producer, my philosophy is: Put it there for those who want/need it, and those who neither want nor need it can ignore it.

Sky’s the limit as far as front and back matter are concerned.

  • Table of Contents
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication
  • Epigraph
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Reviews
  • Testimonials
  • Maps
  • Cast of Characters
  • Genealogy
  • Pronunciation Guide
  • Glossary
  • Indices
  • Appendices
  • Recipes
  • About the Author/bio
  • Afterword
  • Invitations (newsletter sign up, contests)
  • Excerpts
  • Bonus Short Stories
  • Advertisements
  • Games

It’s up to the writer’s creativity and their own preferences as to what front and back matter should be included. BUT, there are two very important issues writers/publishers need to take into consideration.

  1. Sampling. Many online retailers have a “look inside” feature that allows browsers to get a glimpse of your work in real-time and also to download a sample of the work onto their ereaders.
  2. Readers still haven’t figured out ebook sizes.

Number 1 can present problems with the front matter. If potential buyers click on the “Look Inside” feature at Amazon, for instance, and they have to scroll through pages of front matter to reach the text, they could be turned off and click on thru to something else. Unless, your work is non-fiction. Then a complete table of contents is essential. Quite possibly an introduction or summary, too. Readers often use the front matter to decide whether a non-fiction work contains the information they are looking for.

The Number 2 concern is because there are no visual clues for readers to judge the size of a work. File size is meaningless to all but the most technical, and even placing a “page count” or actual word count is iffy. I see many complaints from readers, especially with short fiction, about how they reach THE END and they are only 50% through the book. The rest is back matter. If the reader is grouchy, then the back matter can look like advertising or a trick that’s been pulled on them. That can lead to poor reviews. There isn’t much you can do about individual perceptions, but it is something to keep in mind. Come up with your own rule of thumb regarding the ratio of back matter to story.

So when you’re designing your ebook, keep in mind:

  • USEFULNESS
  • PRESENTATION
  • PROPORTION
  • READER PERCEPTIONS

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?