Contents pages can go very wrong. See below
This Friday, around 50 indie authors (including yours truly) will gather in Foyles bookshop in London’s Charing Cross Road to showcase their books as part of the Indie Author Fringe Festival. We’ll see some swish productions from experienced selfpublishers – but not all indie paperbacks look quite so slick.
Peter Snell, my bookseller friend and co-host of So You Want To Be A Writer at Surrey Hills Radio, is a staunch supporter of indie authors – but he often shows me paperbacks with rookie mistakes that scream ‘amateur’. So here’s our checklist of goofs and gaffes – and how to make sure your book passes muster.
Some indie books launch straight into the text, which looks rather underdressed. Why?
Look at the opening pages of any print book and you’ll see the following:
- a half-title page – this shows the title on its own, or the title and author name in the text font, or a brief (one-paragraph) introduction to the author and the book
- a copyright page
- a full title, maybe echoing the cover typography, with author name and the publisher imprint
a page that lists other works by the author
- contents page
- start of text
Half-title page of Lifeform Three, showing a teaser for the novel’s content and a reviewer’s reaction. This is the first page the reader sees, so a good position for endorsements and a tantalising summary.
You might also have a dedication page before the text starts or a foreword (which is an introduction not written by the author).
On the other hand, some indie books dither around too much before the text, with pages of acknowledgements and biographical material.
The reader wants to get on with the book. So front matter should be concise and useful – eg contents pages, of which more in a minute. Contents pages go very wrong.
Right or left?
Certain pages have to be on the right, others on the left. Here’s that order again:
- half-title – right
- copyright page – left
- full title – right
- other works, dedication etc – left
- contents – right
- start of text – right
Yes, that’s two rights. If necessary, insert a blank page so that the text starts on the right. After chapter 1, though, you can start new chapters on a left. You’d have to go through mad contortions otherwise. But if your book is divided into sections (like My Memories of a Future Life) you want those to start on a right.
A well-designed and useful contents page
You don’t usually need a contents page in a novel. Does the reader need to know that chapter 11 starts on page 49? I draw your attention to Exhibit A at the start of this post.
If your chapters have titles of their own, you might list them to whet the reader’s appetite. But it’s not compulsory, and novels, memoir and narrative non-fiction don’t usually need contents pages.
Instructional and reference non-fiction, on the other hand, definitely needs a list of contents. Here’s an example of one that is helpful to the reader and also a good appetiser for the book. (It’s Reports from Coastal Stations by Geoff Saunders.)
Who’s the author?
Some indie books fail to give any information about the author. Readers like this context – who the author is, where they live, how many books they’ve written. If the book is set in a special world (eg the circus), this is where you reveal you were the offspring of trapeze artists before you ran away to study accountancy. If you’re writing non-fiction, readers need to know why you have the temerity to bother them with your opinions.
Biographical details on the back cover of Lifeform Three
You might put this in the front matter, if you can keep it brief. Or it might be on the back cover. But don’t miss it out.
Speaking of back covers…
Back covers need to look properly furnished. Make sure you have
- a punchy summary
- an enticing quote, if possible
- author details, and preferably a picture
Other sundry howlers that stop your book being taken seriously:
- white paper stock for fiction, memoir or narrative non-fiction (better to choose the cream-coloured paper)
- squashed typesetting and tiny print – authors do this to reduce the pagecount and save costs, but it makes the book a chore to read (there’s more here on formatting your book for print)
- narrow margins, either around the edges or in the gutters (the central margin). Again these decrease readability, and if the gutter is too narrow, you have to break the spine to read the book.
- amateurish or unnecessary artwork. Tables and charts might be necessary in non-fiction, but probably aren’t in adult fiction. Maps and family trees might be helpful for certain genres of fiction, and facsimiles of handwritten notes or other ephemera might funk up a YA novel. But you might not need your aunt’s watercolours, unless a lot of your straight-talking friends agree they add to the book’s charm. (They usually don’t.) And covers are a whole subject by themselves. (More about covers here.)
- lack of an ISBN – CreateSpace and Lightning Source require an ISBN, and CS will issue you with one if necessary. But Lulu or local printers will let you print without them. Most readers probably wouldn’t notice if your book lacks an ISBN, but it really, really annoys Peter, who is still reeling at the author who had regained the rights to her work and printed 1000 copies without obtaining an ISBN. (There’s more here about ISBNs.)
- Peter also grumbles about books that are in a big or unusual format that won’t fit on his shelves. And cut-outs or holes in the jackets, because they catch on other books and get torn. (They probably also cost you more.) He does, however, approve of French flaps, which make a book more solid, though they’re not standard issue and most people won’t mind if you don’t have them.
So, to sum up. The well-dressed print book:
- has a complete set of front matter that is concise and helpful
- follows the conventions of right and left
- has a contents page only if necessary
- gives information about the author
- has an informative (and enticing) back cover
- doesn’t cram the page with type
Have I missed anything out? Or do you have any questions? Head for the comments!
If you’re in or around London next Friday, come and say hello at the Indie Author Fair, which is part of the Indie Author Fringe Festival in association with the London Book Fair. Entry is free, though you need to register and print out a ticket. More here. If you’re further flung (and even if you’re not) you can take part in Indie ReCon, from April 15 to April 17 – an online festival of indie movers, shakers, experts, veterans, trailblazers, and the odd person who was surprised to find themselves volunteered. You’ll find seminars, live chats and roundtables and …. oh just click this link. http://indierecon.org/indierecon-events/ To wet your appetite, here’s a video discussion from last year in which a few authorly types talk about how we tame our creative muse.