Tables of Contents in Ebooks: Yes!

There’s a big brouhaha going on now with Amazon. Scammers and other crooks have flooded Kindle Unlimited. Amazon is making one of their sweeps in an attempt to root them out. As per usual, when automation is unleashed, innocents get caught up in the net–sometimes with very expensive consequences.

One of the ways publishers are being dinged has to do with the tables of contents. Crooks are manipulating them to game the Kindle Unlimited page reads, so Amazon is going after ebooks that lack a standard (in form and in placement) ToC. Amazon highly recommends that every ebook has an active (publisher generated) table of contents, and requires an internal table of contents (this is what you see when you use the Go To feature on a Kindle). For more information on Amazon’s policies, start here and don’t forget to read this.

ToC Blog 1

The two most common arguments I get against building a Table of Contents in an ebook are (1) It’s a novel. It’s stupid to put a table of contents in a novel. And (2) A long list of chapters eats up the sample/Look Inside features at Amazon and hurts my chances at a sale.

My answer to #1 is: Novels don’t need tables of contents, but ebooks do. A reader can’t just open a book to the middle and leaf through a few pages to find Chapter 9. They have to navigate. An ebook without a ToC requires endless paging through to navigate and that’s no fun. As a reader, an ebook without a useful navigation guide is a broken ebook, and it’s irritating. For those who point out that the internal ToC is the navigation guide, my answer is that not every Kindle device (or other reading devices) displays the internal guide. Instead the device points to the user generated table of contents and if there isn’t one, the link is grayed out–useless.

The answer to #2 is not so easy. For non-fiction, it’s a no-brainer. A comprehensive table of contents IS a sell point. Readers want to see what they are getting and a solid ToC in the sample/Look Inside can often tell them everything they need to know.

ToC Blog 2

For novels, especially with a lot of chapters, it does get trickier. I’ve read ebooks with up to ten “pages” of chapter lists. Endless Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3… This does eat up the sample/Look Inside. It’s useful once the reader has purchased the ebook, but for tempting them into buying in the first place, it can be harmful. The temptation is strong to forego the ToC altogether or to move it into the backmatter. Normally, I’d recommend putting the ToC in the back of the book, but with the current Amazon crackdown, I would say that for any ebook enrolled in Kindle Select/Kindle Unlimited, DO NOT DO THAT. Any perception that you are somehow gaming the system or bending the rules can cause you to run afoul of Amazon’s policies.

Let’s explore some practical options.

The Internal ToC (required by Amazon)

If you’re building your ebook from scratch, you will hand-build your internal ToC (tocncx). It will look something like this:

Blog ToC 4

This produces the NCX view/Go To list, along with giving a strict order to display the sections of your book. (If you want to learn how to do this, which will allow you to create more sophisticated and better ebooks, check out The eBook Design and Development Guide, by Paul Salvette.)

For those of you formatting in Word, onsite conversion will build your internal ToC. The conversion seeks out sections based on styles and/or chapter headings (It picks up “Chapter” for instance). For a full explanation, look here. The easiest way to do this is to use Word’s built in heading styles: Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, etc. Apply these to the chapter/section starts. Conversion will do the rest.

The Publisher-Generated (active) Table of Contents
(highly recommended by Amazon)

If you have up to thirty entries in your ToC it’s not going to eat up too much of the sample/Look Inside (about two “pages” worth). I would build a standard ToC and call it a day, having done due diligence. Where to put it? As long as it’s in the front matter, it’s up to you. (My personal preference is to have the title page be the start page, so I generally place the ToC before that.)

What if you have thirty+ entries? A simple solution is to put all the entries in a block.

Blog ToC 3

The above example is for a seventy chapter ebook, and the ToC takes up one “page”. This can also work well with non-fiction that contains a large number of sub-entries:

Blog ToC 5

In Word, if you use the built-in Heading styles, all you have to do is style your table of contents to look the way you want it, then use the automatically generated bookmarks to link to the entries.

Blog ToC 6

Don’t forget to test all your links–no matter how you build your ebook. It’s easy to mis-link an entry, but even easier to fix it. So test, test, test.

A Word for those who are Dead Set against a Chapter List

There are those who just cannot bring themselves to include a ToC that contains a list of chapters. If you are one of them, include, at least, a truncated ToC. It can be very short. For example:

Title Page
The Story
About the Author

It won’t be very useful for your readers, but it will put you in compliance with Amazon.



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:


Ebook Formatting: Lest They Forget

So, last night daughter-in-law showed me what an ebook looks like on an iPad (I had never played with an iPad before). I suffered a moment of pure, unmitigated envy. The pages were set up to look like printed book pages–including the author’s name and the book title on opposing pages.

I want my Kindle to do that.

You can’t format a header into an ebook. That would really mess things up. The technology is in place for automatic headers, though. When I first open an ebook, the bar across the top shows the book title and author name. As I page into the book, the bar disappears. I wish it wouldn’t because I am terrible with remembering names and titles. I’m not the only one.

My problem is not around the details of the story line specifically, but the name of both the author and the ebook itself, both of which I find I always forget by the time I have read about 10 pages or thereabouts.  I am pretty sure that this is caused by the fact that one misses the reinforcing clues of seeing the cover of any paper book you read every time you pick it up and start reading it.  With an ereader, once you are past the title page, you no longer see the title or author’s name ever again while reading the ebook – Thus unless it is a particular favourite book of yours, there goes the title and writer’s name…

That’s from eBookAnoid in his blog post titled, Do You Remember the Name of the Ebook You Just Finished Reading?

Is this a huge problem? An earth-shattering problem? No, not really. I know it annoys me when I’m reading and realize I have forgotten completely the author name and title, then have to GO TO the beginning or toggle HOME so I can see it on the main screen.

In the reformat I did for Marina Bridge’s Pickers & Pickled Punks, I tried something new:

This is a collection of four short stories. On the title page for each story I inserted a mini-header with the book title and author’s name. (10 pt font, centered) Here’s how it looks on the Kindle.

It’s not nearly as good as having the author and title on every page or every other page, but it’s something. This method would also work on a novel by putting a header at the start of each chapter.

But, here lies danger. Conversion programs such as MobiPocket and Smashword’s Meat Grinder now automatically generate tables of content. This is a good thing since getting the links right can be a pain in the butt. The programs want to use the first line of text on the page after a page break to insert the link in the ToC. With Scrivener this is no problem. I break each chapter/story/section into a file and give the file a name. Scrivener’s ebook generator uses those file names to create the ToC.

Notice how in the ToC I tagged the recipes with “Recipe:” to make them easy to find. In the book itself, I omitted the “Recipe:” and just went with the title.

I haven’t figured out yet how to do this in MS Word. If I were to insert running title/author heads, the conversion program would pick that up for the ToC. I tried doing a manual ToC with links, and that appeared just fine, but then the conversion program generated one, too. Which was very confusing and none too neat, or nifty.

I think it’s worthwhile to figure this out. Discoverability and name recognition are important to indie writers. Every chance we have of locking our names in the readers’ minds has to be a good thing.

Adventures In Self-Publishing: Making ereader Navigation Easier For Readers

It started with a head’s up post from PG over on The Passive Voice blog leading to dbasch’s blog where he talks about how Amazon has drastically changed the way he reads book. (very interesting post, though I disagree vehemently with his justification for piracy. Theft is theft, folks, no matter how badly you want something.) Anyhow, at PG’s blog I left a comment about how the Kindle and Amazon has turned me from a voracious reader into an outright glutton. I also made an off the cuff comment about Tables of Contents:

My biggest weakness is short fiction. .99 cent stories are better than chocolate. I am falling in love with short stories all over again and discovering a lot of really good writers to boot. My only gripe is that I wish authors of collections would do a better job across the board of clickable Tables of Contents. There is also plenty of room for a short description of the stories along with the title to help those of us with minds like steel colanders to find a favorite again.

To my surprise quite a few people chimed in about the subject, which was actually kind of off topic, so I thought I’d address it here.

If you own an ereader you’ve probably noticed that navigating an ebook isn’t as easy as paging through a printed book. Sure, there’s a search function and on a Kindle you can make notes and leave bookmarks. I’m actually learning how to use those nifty functions. What often happens is this. I’m reading along, engrossed in a story, finish it, set it aside, then later realize I want to share something with someone. Or there was an interesting passage or quote I would like to copy or post in a blog or reference in a review. That’s when I have to use my memory (which is fabulous when it comes to useless facts and trivia, worthless for dates, names and titles).

Here’s how it works with a printed book. Can’t recall the title, but know it’s a red book–oh yeah, that one! Loved it. And the passage was in the last third of the book, near the beginning of the chapter. Flip flip flip. Found it.

Here’s how it works on my Kindle. Okay, stuff is organized by categories. It’s a novel. Fantasy… Okay, is that the one? Right. That’s it. The desired quote is somewhere around the middle of the book. No bookmark, damn it. Page, page, page ad nauseum yawn page page. What was that quote? Didn’t it have an unusual word in it? It might have, but what was it? Shit. Page page page. GO TO: Chapter Fifteen. Ah ha, middle of the book, and I remember this scene. Go back a few pages. Page page page. Damn it! Why didn’t I remember to use the bookmark! Ah ha! There is it. Found it at last.

It gets even harder when it’s a short story collection or an anthology. Some time might pass before I want to reread a story or share it with a friend or family member. Then I have to remember which collection it was in and then find the story again. That can take a while.

I don’t expect authors to accommodate my flaky memory. I’m working on making a Kindle bookshelf to hang on my wall (color printer? Should I invest in a color laser printer? Oh, wouldn’t that be lovely… I digress). There is, however, one thing authors can do that would add a bit of extra value to their ebooks and all it would cost would be a little time.

A Table of Contents that makes navigating the book easier. That means clickable links.

What I know for a fact is that if you use Word, clickable links are very easy to create. The Smashwords formatting guide (Smashwords Style Guide, free to download from Amazon) gives easy to follow instructions for doing it. Then when you upload your book to Smashwords, it mostly works though it might take some hair-pulling and tweaking as it goes through the Meatgrinder. If you use Word and convert using MobiPocket for Amazon, the internal links convert pretty well, too. I’m sure other word processing programs and HTML have the same capabilities. It’s all doable and if a non-nerd like me can learn how to do it, so can you.

The great thing about DIY is that you can take advantage of the programs’ capabilities and you don’t have to worry about extra costs in your P&L. With that in mind, you can turn your Table of Contents into a truly useful navigation tool.

For novels: Go beyond Chapter 1; Chapter 2; etc. Go for chapter titles, too. I’ve always had mixed feelings about chapter titles or headings. They often struck me as silly little affectations. As a navigation tool, they can serve as memory prompts to readers. I might see: “Chapter 12–Where our intrepid hero learns the real truth about his twin.” I can click the link and easily find that cool factoid about DNA or that funny bit of dialogue to quote in a review.

For short story collections: Again, go beyond story titles. Put a log line or even a short blurb about each story in the Table of Contents. Than I, Ms Holey Memory, can spot right off the story I want to read to the old man or push on a friend or talk about in a blog post.

For multi-author anthologies or short story collections: You can have two Table of Contents. Easy peasy. At the front, do a regular ToC. At the end, in the author bios, you can also link back to the individual stories.

create link from ToC——->STORY TITLE

create link from author bio—–>AUTHOR NAME

A little bit of effort in making your book easier to navigate on an ereader can pay off big in reader appreciation. Anything you, the author, can do to make your work more memorable can pay off in future sales, too.