It’s a well-worn cliché that editors are nit-picking and finicky, pedantic and scrutinising, but I’ve never related to that demand to be the person who provides rigid boundaries in which to write.
I don’t do structure.
I don’t do routine.
I don’t do one-size-fits-all templates.
I don’t do organised.
I don’t even do strict adherence to hard-and-fast grammar rules.
(Say, what? I know. I believe grammar is a means to an end but not the juicy bit of my job.)
Instead, I’m a huge believer in the loose outline, in creative flow, and in having the freedom to write your book your way.
With that said, some self-published books end up as complete duds because they aren’t professional. And much of that comes down to the parts of a book that the reader expects to see.
If you want your book to be up to scratch and compete with the best, including some of the professionally published books on those book store shelves, you need to tick a few boxes.
Rarely will I say something is obligatory and this is no different. Yet your audience has certain expectations and the parts of a book all have important functions that make it easier for you to connect, and walk the reader through the ideas and questions you’re answering in the book. These parts exist for a reason. They are tried and tested. This is not about structure for structure’s sake.
And yet, make them make sense for you and your book. If you don’t like the order, massage it a little. As always, take the parts you need and leave the rest.
- Title, subtitle, author: Inside the front cover, the first thing your reader should see is the title, subtitle, your name and nothing else on a single page. If you haven’t settled on a final title and subtitle, use a working title as a placeholder, but do write something because it gives your book an identity right from the very start. Pretty self-explanatory. Congratulations! You’re already onto page two of your book.
- Copyright page: Here’s where you write the ownership details about your book. Consult the global IP website to understand where to get country-specific wording or find a legal expert in publishing to help you.
- Disclaimer: Make sure you have the applicable legal wording about giving advice and your qualifications to do so, if you need it for your field. I suggest seeking legal advice if your field is regulated or you cover sensitive issues where there could be implications of disclosing information.
- Dedication: If desired, dedicate the book to a special person. This does not have to be someone who will read the book, someone living, or someone to whom the content of the book is related.
- Quotation: Also called an epigraph, you can capture the essence of the book with a well-known quotation, proverb or wisdom. Optional but powerful. Common in the non-fiction genre, particularly in wellness, spirituality, business, lifestyle and personal development topics.
- Contents: A list of the chapters (and sometimes sub-sections) that the reader can expect to see and the page on which the chapters start.
- Foreword: To situate the book in its field or the current climate, you might engage someone else to write an opening section called the foreword. Often a celebrity who believes in your cause or message, or reputable subject matter expert who can speak to the importance and relevance of your work. Not essential. Can be used for marketing purposes, as in “with foreword by...”.
- Preface: What prompted you to write this book? How did the idea occur to you? Why you? Why now? Often addressed to the reader in a personal letter style.
- Introduction: The first chapter, though often not numbered as Chapter 1, this is where you start writing the book. At last, right? Of courses, in practice, it’s probably where you started writing; all the other Front Matter and Beginning parts are added later, because you need to know what you’ve written in order to create a table of contents, for example, or ask someone to write a foreword. The introduction explains why this book is needed. It outlines the main question or problem that the book will answer or solve. It might then begin to break down the main problem into small questions that will be addressed along the way. The introduction makes the promise of what the reader can expect to gain and, importantly, sets out What’s In It For Them.
- Chapters: Although we’ve covered lots of parts so far, the main body doesn’t kick off until now. Here’s where you thematically, chronologically or progressively cover your content in a way that makes sense to you and what your reader needs to learn. Get test readers to sense check the order and a good editor to ensure a logical and stylistic flow. A loose outline will help give you an idea of the order you want to write things, while allowing you the flexibility to move ideas around as you write.
- Exercises: If your book is a workbook or personal development style book, exercises or activities may be scattered throughout the chapters, where an action is needed. Usually, the voice changes to
- Chapter summaries: It is increasingly common (especially in personal development and self-help) to recap chapters with bullet points of what the reader has learned or should be taking away from the chapter.
- Conclusion: Make sure you have answered the question or problem you set out in the introduction and summarise the learning pointedly.
- What happens next: Where a reader is converted to a client for other offers, products, events and services. Not essential, but a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs to market other ways of working together in an easy breezy way. Can include links to websites, programs, courses, newsletter sign-ups and social media.
- Endnotes: If you have made notes throughout the book, referencing more information or giving more thorough explanations of concepts, you can include them as footnotes or endnotes.
- Glossary: A list of the terminology you use. Especially helpful if you are introducing specialised concepts to a general or novice audience.
- Bibliography: A full list of the references used. Both those you cite specifically and those you rely on for your knowledge but do not mention directly. Websites with access dates, journal articles and other literature can and should be included; not only books.
- Index: A list of all the topics covered and where to find them. More often seen in informational books like text books, educational books, health and business books, manuals.
- Acknowledgements: A list of people you’d like to thank, including but not limited to the team that helped the book happen, the people who taught you the knowledge you are sharing, and those who support you emotionally.
- About the author: Your bio, the work you do, and your social media links to stay in touch.
- Other works: Another way of telling readers about other books you’ve written that they might like and encouraging readers to stay engaged.
Seems like a lot, I know, I know. Just as no two people are the same, no two books are the same. So above all, make it work for your book, make it fit your content.
Make it yours.