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?


Nice Touches I Want To Steal: Josh Stallings & Tam Linsey

I read two ebooks recently I really enjoyed: Botanicaust, by Tam Linsey; and Beautiful, Naked & Dead, by Josh Stallings. Terrific stories, highly recommended, and both writers put some extra oomph into their ebook formatting with some nice touches. Which I’m going to steal (Hey, at my core, I am a fiction writer and that’s what we do–jackdaws and mental packrats every one).

First, Linsey’s novel:

After genetically altered weeds devastate Earth’s croplands, much of humanity turns to cannibalism to survive. Dr. Tula Macoby believes photosynthetic skin can save the human race, and her people single-mindedly embark on a mission to convert the cannibals roaming what’s left of Earth…

Linsey’s nice touch?

This is her chapter header. The plant theme, get it? Simple, elegant, and makes a nice use of how well the eink reader uses gray scale. Then she followed the theme with her scene break indicators:

This isn’t bells and whistles or flash and trash–and I appreciate that. I’m not a graphic designer, but I do have instincts. My instincts tell me that a simple motif, carried throughout and repeated, has an overall unifying effect. In this case, it also complements the theme of the book. Little touches like these make an ebook stand out from the pack, too. Nice job, Tam.

The other ebook is Josh Stallings, Beautiful, Naked & Dead, a crime thriller:

Moses McGuire a suicidal strip club bouncer is out to avenge the death of one of his girls. From his East L.A. home, through the legal brothels of Nevada and finally to a battle with the mob in the mountains above Palo Alto, it is a sex soaked, rage driven, road trip from hell.



His nice touch?

I dig the grayscale chapter head, but check out that drop cap. In theory I know how to do drop caps. (I don’t know if it is possible to code them in.) The only way I know is to use a graphic. In practice, my results have been less than gorgeous (a lot less!). This simple elegant drop cap gives me something to aspire to. I don’t know if Stallings produced his own ebook (he credits Heist Publishing) but whoever did it did a nice job. I like the subliminal effect of “shadowy characters” which is just about every character in the novel.

Here is something else I like:

But Jaye, it’s just a table of contents. Why get excited? The layout, sure, but the placement is what makes it stand out. It’s at the back of the book. And yes, if you go to the menu, the ToC link is live, so it isn’t as if you have to page through the entire book to find it. In an ebook, back of the book placement makes such terrific good sense. Custom and tradition say ToC’s belong up front. But we’re at a point where we can make some new traditions and customs, and I think this is a good one. The sample feature at retail sites can make or break a sale. Some front matter is necessary and desirable, but too much can weary potential buyers who want to read some actual writing. Moving the ToC to the back makes one or two fewer extraneous pages in the sample.

(If your ToC has real information in it–descriptors, sub-titles, etc.–it can serve as its own draw in the sample readers see. In most fiction, with simple Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc., the ToC is little more than a navigational tool. Something to consider.)

In my estimation, little touches like these add value to ebooks. Not hard cost value, but in the way just-right accessories add to an outfit or a bit of detail work adds to cabinetry. Little touches. Big effects. Very nice. Can’t wait to steal them.