It’s easy to think of a book as pages between a paper cover, but as a ghostwriter, I’ve come to appreciate the many critical components that come together to form the books we read. If you’re thinking about working with me to craft a non-fiction book, or you’re trying to write one yourself, here’s an overview of the many elements to consider including so your book is fluent, coherent, and complete.
Terms to Know About Book Anatomy
- Cover — The cover is often thought of as one piece: a front, spine, and back that wraps around the inner pages. Digital books usually only have a front cover. A hardback book may have a dust jacket.
- Book Block — Everything inside your book is known as the “book block.” This term refers to how the pages of a book are all pressed together into a block-like structure before being bound to the cover.
- Spread — Any two pages that face each other when the book is closed could be referred to as a “spread.” When laying out your book, every spread should be visibly balanced with consistent spacing and font sizes.
- Verso/Recto — The front or face of a sheet of paper, or the right-hand page of an open book, is called the recto. The back or underside of a sheet of paper, or the left-hand page of an open book, is called the verso.
- Gutter — When you bind a physical book to a cover, part of the inner edge of each page becomes hidden. This obstructed space is called the “gutter.”
- Margins — Whether digital or physical, your book pages need to have carefully defined “margins,” which refers to the white space between the text and outer edges of the pages. Proper margins prevent text from being lost in the gutter of the book or sitting too close to the edges.
The “front matter” of your book consists of a few pages that most of us flip right by when we’re diving into our next read. While they may not be the most exciting pages, they are critical to publishing your book.
Endpapers and Flyleaves
“Flyleaf” or front free endpaper refers to the completely blank pages at the start or end of a book. Traditionally, extra paper was needed to attach a book block to its cover. A wide piece of paper was folded in half, with the left half attaching to the board (to cover the inside of the front cover) and the right half becoming the new first page of the book. For the same reasons, a blank page is added at the end of a book to adhere the back of the cover to the back of the book block.
Technically, the side of the paper that attaches to the cover is known as the “endsheet” and the free page that you have to flip by is known as the “flyleaf.”
With modern-day printing capabilities, we no longer need to leave these pages blank, but many do for tradition. Also, the glue used to bind books isn’t foolproof, so sometimes one or more blank pages are added at the start or end of a book to act as a buffer, ensuring the important pages of the book block are fully adhered to the cover.
Most books begin with a half-title page, which is simply a page where the book title is printed at the halfway point.
The title page of a book includes the book title, along with details about the author and publisher. This is usually the third page of the book, and always on the right-hand side.
On the left-hand side of the title page spread, sometimes you’ll see a “frontispiece,” which is an illustration. You can see an example of this in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Seas, pictured above.
You don’t technically need a special page to copyright your book; it’s copyrighted from the moment you write it. However, it’s a good rule of thumb to include a copyright page (especially in a digital book) to clearly spell out your expectations that readers will not wrongfully use or distribute your work.
The copyright page should include the date the book was published, the publisher, and a statement that describes who has legal rights to the contents of the book. For instance, you may own the rights to the text, but a photographer may retain rights to the image you used on the front cover.
Here’s an example of a typical disclaimer: “All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without the prior written permission of the copyright owner, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.”
At the very bottom of the copyright page, you should include the edition number. First edition books should include a “1” at the very end of the edition number so readers know they have a first edition book, which is generally more valuable. Subsequent printings should remove the “1” and increase the edition number accordingly.
Including a dedication is optional, but it remains a common practice amongst authors, especially for their first book. If you want to dedicate your book to someone, write a few heartfelt sentences talking about the efforts that went into it and how that someone has inspired and/or supported you along the way.
One of my favorite dedications can be found in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, which reads:
“My Dear Lucy, I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand, a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather.”
While a dedication can be short and sweet — or even cryptic — I love when a dedication gives a humbling reminder of the years of tiring effort that has gone into the pages I’m about to speed through; it reminds us that great books, fiction or not, always come from the author’s heart.
Another optional section, the acknowledgments area gives you the chance to thank those who contributed time, talent, and resources to help you write your book. Generally, acknowledgments are only for people who were only indirectly involved in the book’s creation. You can add a colophon at the back of the book, which thanks the people who were hands-on in the process, like your editors.
Table of Contents
The table of contents lists all of the sections and chapters within your book, including page numbers. While uncommon in fiction books, including a table of contents is often standard in non-fiction works, especially self-help and reference guides. If you’re publishing an eBook, the table of contents will include clickable links instead of page numbers (since the page numbers will change dynamically based on each reader’s chosen font size and screen size).
Not all books have a foreword, but it’s an excellent way to introduce you as an author and position you as an authority on the subject. Typically, the foreword is written by someone other than the author and that person might be an expert in the field or a popular writer of a similar book. Consider a foreword to be an endorsement of you and your work.
For instance, Daniel Vaughn wrote a book entitled The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue and secured a foreword by famous chef Anthony Bourdain, adding his own culinary insights and experience, setting the stage for a mouthwatering read.
Meanwhile, theoretical physicist Lawrence M. Krauss wrote a book titled The Physics of Star Trek and was lucky enough to have renowned physicist Stephen Hawking write a foreword that discusses the theoretical feasibility of Star Trek technologies, giving credence to the concept and efforts behind Krauss’ book.
The inner matter is what most of us think of when we think about a book’s contents; it’s the heart of your book that you may spend months or years crafting.
Most non-fiction books include an introduction before the first chapter. Use this to explain what problems you will solve for the reader and then introduce yourself in the context of why you are a person worth listening to on the subject. Generally, this should not be a long backstory about you, but rather a framing of what you have written and for whom it is intended.
The prologue is the “story before the story starts” that sets the context for the narrative to come. Most non-fiction books do not include a prologue, but narrative non-fiction and memoirs sometimes do. Fiction works almost always include a prologue, but it’s not critical.
In non-fiction works, chapters are often organized into sections just to keep the book orderly. For instance, Atomic Habits by James Clear is divided into sections like the “1st law,” “2nd law,” “3rd law,” and “4th law.” Each of these sections has a few chapters that break each law along with the author’s associated rules and advice. Sections like this provide additional structure.
The contents of your book should be broken up into chapters. There’s no set length and a chapter can be as short as a page, although that’s very non-traditional. Most modern books have chapters ranging from six pages to 32 pages.
In the spread pictured above, you can see that this version of Pride and Prejudice has ample margins on either side for notes that further explore the characters, story, and meaning behind it all. The book title is placed in the header of the left-hand pages while the volume, chapter, and page numbers are placed in the header of the right-hand pages.
An epigraph is a short phrase or quote. Some non-fiction authors place an epigraph before each chapter or section, acting as a divider and giving the reader food for thought. The phrase or quote is then expanded upon and given deeper meaning at some point in the pages to follow.
An epilogue is placed after the final chapter. In fiction, it’s included to tell what happens after the story ends and perhaps lead into a sequel. In non-fiction, the epilogue can be used for a variety of purposes. For instance, in a leadership book I ghostwrote for a client, the author wanted an epilogue to share more information about some of the colleagues he had mentioned throughout his book, with interview excerpts where they reflected on how he had impacted and inspired them professionally.
Afterword or Post-Script
Like the epilogue, the afterword follows the core contents of a book, but instead of continuing the story, it focuses on how the story came into existence. Unlike a foreword, the afterword is usually written by the author. Still, it’s rare to include both a foreword and afterword.
Oftentimes, authors won’t add an afterword until a later edition where they’ll use it to discuss how the book was received and its cultural significance. In other cases, authors like Stephen King will use the afterword as an opportunity to share story notes. He also adds generous advice on writing, and aspiring authors can learn a lot about storytelling by reading the post-scripts of King’s novels.
The end matter of your book isn’t often read word-for-word, but provides references and contextual information that readers may need, especially in a non-fiction work.
An appendix may be added to provide supplementary information about the topic you explored in the core chapters of your book. For instance, an appendix may be used to recommend other books on the subject.
A glossary may be used to define technical terms and, sometimes, explain how words are pronounced. Glossaries are most common in non-fiction books, but some fantasy authors include a glossary so readers know how to pronounce obscure names of characters and places.
In the book pictured above on bowling, published in 1892, the author defines various terms used in the game, providing a very short and helpful glossary. People do have the internet these days, but it remains a best practice to define technical jargon and niche terms if you’re working on a specialty book that will use them often.
As an alternative to a glossary, you can include a footnote defining a term on the page where it first appears. This is a good idea if you don’t have that many terms to define (i.e., can’t fill a glossary) or you just want to make the definition easier to find for the reader, so they don’t have to flip to another page.
All non-fiction works need to include a bibliography to cite any sources referenced during the writing process. Citations will ensure readers can verify the information you’ve given them (or based your claims on), adding credibility to your work and avoiding plagiarism issues. If you need to include a bibliography, make sure you consider which style guide you’re going to follow.
An index may be added at the back of your non-fiction book to help readers track down all the pages where certain terms or topics are mentioned. For instance, Understanding Bird Behavior by Wenfei Tong includes an index for hundreds of concepts, such as: “imprinting,” “light pollution,” and “pesticides.” Someone studying birds can flip to the index and quickly navigate to areas that may answer questions they have on specific topics like these.
While acknowledgments go at the front of the book and generally focus on people who indirectly influenced you and your work, the colophon goes at the very end of your book and gives credit to those directly involved in the publishing process. For instance, you may use the colophon to thank assisting writers, editors, or photographers.
Most authors work on the cover at the very end of the writing process, just as they prepare to publish. Hardback books tend to have the most words on the cover since the dust jackets they come with have inner flaps. Here’s a look at what goes where on a typical book cover.
The front cover of your book should include the title and author name. If your book has won an award, you may include it on the front cover, usually in the form of a gold shield or badge so it doesn’t distract too much from the design of the book cover.
The spine of your book should include the book title, author name, and (sometimes) the publisher logo. If your book is part of a series, the spine should also specify its place within the series so libraries and readers can easily organize all of your books on a shelf.
If you have a hardcover book with a dust jacket, there will be an inner flap at the front and back of the book. This is where the author bio is often included. Otherwise, it can be found on the back cover of the book. If you plan to publish another book or you already have, you can include a “Coming Soon” or “Read More” under your bio.
The back cover of your book is where potential readers will find the most important pre-purchase content of all: The synopsis. Your synopsis needs to summarize the purpose of your book in a compelling manner. The back of the cover may also include testimonials or critical acclaim.
For a physical book, the back cover should also include a barcode, publisher logo, and (sometimes) a QR code that potential readers can scan to easily go to your author website where they can learn more about you and your work.
Need Inspiration for Your Book?
I’ve come across some incredible gold mines of inspiration and writing guidance through the years. Here are a few that I suggest starting with:
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
- How to Get Published by the NY Times
On the other hand, if you’re thinking about working with a professional to help you bring your book to life, check out the Ultimate Guide to Hiring a Book Ghostwriter.