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Ask an Editor: What are the parts of a book, and how are they laid out?

Have you ever flipped through a book and wondered why there are blanks in the back? Or why some books get praise pages, teasers, or excerpts, and some don’t? It may seem random from an outside perspective, but actually a huge amount of thought and effort goes into the layout and pagination of books.

Who decides what goes into a book?

Typically the editor starts the process of figuring out what will be in a book, with a lot of help from production editorial (often called managing editorial) and design.

In addition to being a Swoon Reads editor, I’m the editor for Square Fish, Macmillan Children’s paperback line. That means I work on about 150 paperback titles per year (with the help of Anna P.!). And for each book, I think about whether anything should be added to, moved within, or cut from the contents of the original hardcover edition to make all necessary elements fit. (But of course, I don’t make any decisions alone—I get lots of input from the publishers, originating editors, sales, marketing, and the rest of the team.)

How do you decide what goes into a book?

Let’s pretend you’re an editor trying to decide what goes into a book, and where it will go. You have to fit in the text, an author note, the required frontmatter, plus some backmatter—if you can make the backmatter fit.

It’s like a logic puzzle. And the rules are:

1. Books are printed in signatures of sixteen pages. So no matter what, the final number of pages must be a multiple of sixteen.

2. You can add and delete signatures in order to fit everything in. But if you add a signature, you have to find a way to fill it.

3. You can’t have more than five consecutive blank pages in the back of the book.

4. All frontmatter must go in the front of the book

4a. Title pages and half title pages have to be on the recto (right hand page)

4b. Copyright pages have to follow the title page on the verso (left hand page)

5. All backmatter must go in the back of the book

So how do you solve this puzzle? First, you come up with a pagination showing where you want everything to go. Here’s an example of the pagination for a paperback that will be publishing this summer:

pagination

During the production process, the pagination gets checked and revised over and over. Especially if some pieces that are being typeset out of house by the compositor—then you have to guestimate how long you think the pages will be in order to create the pagination, and then revise later if needed.

What are some elements that might be included in the book?

Frontmatter

Anything that comes before the start of the text is considered frontmatter. Usually, frontmatter is numbered using roman numerals, and the text (or half title page, or part opener) starts with page 1. Here are some things you might see in the frontmatter (some of these are required, and we have to make space for them no matter what):

Teaser/Excerpt page (optional)—you may decide you want to put in a short, compelling teaser of the text as the first page of a book, to give readers a taste of the book.

Praise Page (optional)—if the book or author has rave reviews, you may want to add in a page rounding up all that praise!

Half Title Page (optional)—This is like a title page, only it just includes the title, not the author name, imprint/publisher name and logo, city, etc.

Ad Card (optional)—if the author’s written a lot of other books, then you might add an ad card, or a list of the author’s titles.

Title page (required)—a page listing the book’s title, the author name, imprint/publisher name and logo, city, etc.

Copyright Page (required)—a page listing the book name, author, copyright information, ISBN, Library of Congress CIP data, the print line, etc.

Dedication (required)—this comes from the author. Pro tip: If the author writes a short dedication, you can move it to the top of the copyright page if necessary, and save yourself one, or more likely, two pages (the dedication page and the blank verso page following it) if you need more space in the book.

Epigraph (required if the author wants one)—some authors provide epigraphs, short pieces of poetry, quotations, or a snippet of prose, for the beginning of the book.

Backmatter

Anything that appears after the text is called backmatter. That may include:

Acknowledgments—here’s where authors say thank you to everyone who helped with their books.

Author Note—if the author has something to say, sometimes they’ll have an additional note about their inspiration for the book, research, etc.

Index, timeline, glossary, resources (if nonfiction)—if appropriate, some nonfiction titles have lengthy informational backmatter.

Bonus Materials Turner—this is like a mini title page for the bonus materials in the back. It’s the first thing we cut out if we’re running out of pages in the book.

Author Q&A or Illustrator Q&A—if there’s room, we like to include questionnaires in the back of paperbacks.

Excerpt opener—this is like a title page for the excerpt. Usually we include a cover image and some copy explaining what you’re about to read.

Excerpt—sometimes we excerpt the next book in the series, another book by the author, or, in the case of Swoon Reads books, another Swoon Reads title.

Back ad—sometimes we’ll include an ad for similar books, the author’s other books, the whole series, or a website that readers might want to visit. Fun fact: Our team often calls them BOB ads (which stands for back of book ads.)

Believe it or not, the process of figuring out what goes into a book, and where, is even more complex than the steps above (this is me trying to keep it short and sweet). But this gives you a good idea of why your favorite book might have some cool backmatter or extra blanks in the back, and now you can impress your friends by knowing book terminology!

Do you have any other questions about the more technical side of publishing? Do you have any questions about publishing that we haven’t answered yet? Ask away!

Author spotlight

Christine Barcellona

Editor / I blog and edit for Swoon Reads, plus I'm the editor for our paperback line, Square Fish. Find ...

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