Effective Ebook Front and Back Matter

This article is not about the story itself. It will assume you have finished the work in questions and are now making the hard decisions that come with publishing. One of the most time-consuming is putting together the front matter and the back matter of an ebook for the first time.

Yes, we can use the print books we likely have around us as a guideline, but those are print books. Ebooks are completely different animal when it comes to the format, presentation, and mode of selling. Items which may seem like a no-brainer need to be rethought.

Many ebook buyers have learned to download samples from their favorite retailer to be sure they like it enough to buy it. This is the equivalent to readers browsing through the pages of a print book in a bookstore, flipping to the start of the book, then maybe to the middle.

Only, an ebook sample is not the entire book. A reader cannot flip to various areas to see if it suits them. A typical ebook sample is the first 10-30% before the reader needs to buy the work before reading anymore. Because of this, be careful of what you put at the front of an ebook. This is valuable space, as many retailers have pre-defined sample percentages which the author or publisher cannot alter.

Make the most of this space.

To help you along, below are a few guidelines of items which one might see in the front matter or back matter of an ebook:

Title Page: Is a title page still needed in the ebook world? Doesn’t it just repeat the title and author name? Well, it does those two things, but it can also do much more. Many times it will include a curtailed copyright notice (more on this later), but there is also something else an author/publisher should consider, and that is “sample conversion.”

This is one area where ebooks really excel. Many readers are downloading samples of the work to their ereaders or ebook programs, and then going through them at their leisure. This is great for the readers, but it presents a problem. Readers are sampling so much now that they are losing track of all of them. They cannot remember what the story was about or what attracted them to a specific work by only the title or cover. How is that sampling converted into a sale?

My advice: Place a very short description on the title page. By short, I mean very short. Two paragraphs maximum, and if you can manage it, one paragraph or even one sentence. The shorter the better, otherwise you threaten to take up valuable sample space.

Dedication: In print books this is always in the front matter of the ebook. It’s a way to thank special people or for the author to make a specific declaration.

My Advice: As the sample becomes so important, it may be time to push this off into the ebook back matter. Or, another option may be to combine it with the title page.

Character Lists: Some books are so long and complicated they need a ‘cheat-sheet’ listing the various characters. Often, this will include where they are living or where they are from, or other information to help a reader remember them.

My advice: List on the Table of Contents and put it in the back matter. A reader shouldn’t need it to get started.

Images: Have a map you want to include in the ebook? As a reader, I find these fun sometimes, and give me a visual cue of where characters are moving or where events occurred. Mysteries are one genre where maps are particularly popular.

My advice: List it on the Table of Contents, and then put in the back matter of the novel. If the reader wants to see it, they can navigate to it using the (usually automatically generated) internal TOC linking.

Other Books Available: If a writer has produced more than one book, the front matter will often list several more. I love these as a reader, as I will hunt down all the other books written by a writer I like. For promotion and marketing, this can be the best way to drive backlist sales.

My advice: Keep this, but reconsider where it is located. As I mentioned before, the sample is valuable. Place it in the back matter immediately after the finish of the story. The only exception would be for a series. I’ve personally found that it works well to list other books of the series, in order, on the title page right under the title and author name.

About the Author: I love these as a reader, as well. We get to learn a little bit about the author, what their interests are, and hopefully ways to follow more of their work.

My advice: As a reader of print books, I see the “About the Author” sections most often on the back jacket of a hardback or in the back matter of a paperback. This is a good place for it. For marketing and promotion reasons, also include your webpage address and other ways readers can connect. This is also a good way to drive traffic to a newsletter.

Copyright: In print books the copyright statement usually goes in the front of the book. It’s usually written in small letter, and almost everyone skips them.

My advice: For ebooks, rethink the placement. Again, the front of an ebook is valuable for selling the ebook to samplers. If you feel uncomfortable leaving everything out, then craft a small one-paragraph copyright and place it on the title page (you can use a modified version of Smashwords’ copyright declaration) and then place the larger and expanded version in the back of the ebook. This will save front sample space as well as keep intact the full copyright page with all the information you may need to include.

Samples of Other Work: This is something that is showing up more and more often even in print books in the form of the first three to five pages of another work to be available by the same author or the imprint in the near future. It’s been used with great success, and so ebook publishers and authors have followed copied the technique.

My advice: This is a good practice with a proven track record, but there are a few things to be mindful of when it comes to ebooks.
1. Keep it short. Do not allow all the back matter to go over 15% of the total ebook. This can result in reader complaints who upon reaching 80% thought the book would go on for a while more and suddenly find the story to an end.
2. With ebooks the reader has become addicted to and expects instant gratification. If they want a book they can buy it, download it, and be reading in minutes. For this reason, think long and hard before sampling a work that is not yet available for sale. The reader might move on to a book by a different author and completely forget about yours by the time it is released.
3. For an effective sample, choose something with a similar theme or genre/subgenre. It will increase the chances the reader of the current work will be interested in and purchase the sampled work.

Last advice: Once you have made the decisions on what format you want your front matter and back matter, consider creating templates. This will make any future ebook publishing faster, less stressful, and more accurate. Why make this harder on the future-you?

Front matter and back matter of a novel (or short story) may seem like a simple thing, but as demonstrated above, the decisions you make can make a big difference. Use them wisely and you will create a better reader experience, as well as convert reader samplers into sales and generate interest in backlist.

These are important considerations for anyone in the business for the long-haul. A little time and effort now can pay off big in the long run.


J.A. Marlow

Coffee Cup Dreams New CoverCoffee Cup Dreams

She wasn’t supposed to wake up when dead…

During what should have been a simple operation, Tish Douglas died. And yet, she also awoke… in what the doctors called a ‘psi event.’

Despite having no memory of the incident, it means she’s required to go on a life-time course of debilitating drugs designed to reign in her supposedly new psi gifts. She’s left with the option of existing on Earth in a drug-haze, or leave the planet.

When an opportunity for a good paying job on a space station known as Redpoint One is offered, she jumps at the chance. Even though she doesn’t have any experience as a ‘maintenance engineer.’ Even though the station sits in the middle of nowhere, a still-operating construct of a long-gone alien species.

Between pirate attacks, intelligent repair robots, and maintenance emergencies, Tish must find a place for herself.

All complicated by a growing attraction to the one person on the station she can’t have: boss Arthur Getty.

A stand-alone 48400 word, 193 page (approximate), science fiction romance novel.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Liked it? Take a second to support J.A. Marlow on Patreon!
Effective Ebook Front and Back Matter

8 thoughts on “Effective Ebook Front and Back Matter”

  1. Great advice. I’d add, don’t put the same sample in every book in a series — it’s kind of boring for the reader who reads all of the series.

  2. All good points, because I am one of the few who read every word of the front and back matter in both print and ebooks. 🙂

    What did you create your template in? Scrivener, Word Doc, other?

    • I have two sets of templates.

      .Mobi, .Epub, and PDB – For these formats I create HTML templates in TextWrangler (a free coding/text editor that does not insert invisible formatting). I use completed HTML files to create the finished ebooks in Calibre.

      .Doc and .pdf – For these I use Word, so this is where I have mirroring templates of the HTML files. Honestly, if Smashwords would get off the dime and provide .epub submissions I would drop using Word to create these files completely. I hate working with Word and how it loves to insert invisible formatting garbage that the Meatgrinder then chokes on.

      I am not using Scrivener at this point to create ebooks. It requires KindleGen for the .Mobi files, which will not run on my old Mac. So, I use the HTML and Calibre route at this time. When I get a new computer, whenever that is, I’ll look at my process again and see how I can streamline it.

  3. I use Word to write the story but could use JEdit instead. I don’t have any problems with hidden code because I do the copy and paste into Notepad to strip out codes then copy back to Word for formatting, using Macros I wrote. That is the file I use for PDF and Smashwords.

    I copy the Notepad text to JEdit for the HTML layout and process in Calibre for Mobi, etc. Quick and easy, but I will test run TextWrangler when I have some free time. 🙂

    • Diane, go with whatever process works for you! 🙂

      By the way, I nuke all my stuff before putting it into Word, too. Best to do it from the start to ensure the fewest problems. Still, once in a while, something will happen no matter how careful I am. No odd formatting showing up, no hidden bookmarks, but Smashwords will still give me an error as if there is one. Then I have to go nuke it AGAIN and recreate the file brand new. Muttering darkly the entire time… 😛

  4. Pingback: Structuring ebooks

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.