Beware the Ebook Front Matter Trap

The great thing about self-publishing is that there is no one telling you what you have to do with your book. You can write in whatever genre you like, include whatever type of character you want, and write in any style you prefer.

Don’t want to have any chapters at all in your book? No problem. Want to use a lot of very short chapters? That’s fine. Want to write your book entirely in verse, like some of the ancient Greek epics? Go ahead.

But like with everything, that freedom comes with a price. It’s easy to fall into traps that you might not be aware of. And one of the biggest we see is the front matter trap for ebooks.

What am I talking about? What I mean is the mistake of putting too much text before the actual content of your book.


Why too much front matter can be a problem

Having a lot of front matter can cause problems because when ebook retailer sites (like Amazon) offer the reader a chance to see a sample of your book, they only give the reader the first X% of your book (usually 10%).

With a sample, you want the reader to read enough of your book that they get hooked, and when they get to the end of the sample they immediately buy your book so they can keep reading. If you put a lot of material in the front of your book, all that extra material takes up space in the sample, reducing how much of your actual book the reader gets to see (and reducing the chance of hooking them).

Because the sample is a percentage of the total book, if your book is long (say 100k+ words), it’s probably not going to be a problem. But the shorter your book is, the less material you should put at the front.


Two things that don’t affect the sample size

There are two important things to clarify with the sample. Images might seem like they take up a lot of space in a book (eg: maps, a family tree, or just decoration), but when it comes to determining what is included in the sample, they actually count as only a few words. So keeping pictures at the front of the book is fine.

The other thing that has no effect on what will be shown in the sample are page breaks. It doesn’t matter if you keep all your front matter as just one long “page” (with no page breaks to split it up), or if you put in manual page breaks so it is spread across 20 different “pages”. It will still count as the same amount of text when calculating what is included in the sample.


The minimalist front matter

So what is the absolute minimum you could do for your front matter? It’s really simple:

  • Your title page
  • The table of contents (TOC)

All books should have a title page, and in almost all cases they should include a TOC page. We used to recommend authors put the TOC at the back of the book (because of the front matter issue), but unfortunately Amazon had a minor meltdown about that in January 2016, so now it’s less hassle to leave it at the front.

(You can still put the TOC at the back – just be prepared to argue with Amazon via email about it 🙂 )

One side note about the TOC – it doesn’t matter if the TOC is listed like this:

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

Or like this…

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 …

It still counts as the same amount of text either way when determining the sample.


Adding more to the front matter

Obviously just a title page and TOC is very minimal. Three additional sections that you may want to include at the front (because they are preferable to have there, even if they take up a little bit of space) are:

  • Your book blurb (to remind the reader what your book is about – usually you set it as the page the book opens to, so if the reader opens your book days or weeks after buying it to remind themselves what it’s about, they read your blurb and immediately think “oh yeah, I really wanted to read that!”)
  • A dedication (if any)
  • An also by list (note: just a list – not something with book descriptions, etc)


The question of praise

Praise pages are something that can be both a pro and a con in the front of an ebook. Obviously they work great as social proof; while you lose space for the content of your book, the reader can see how others have loved your book, and will feel more confident that your book is something they will enjoy too. But it’s a balancing act. Praise only helps with your credibility to a certain point – put in too much, and the reader will either tune it out (so it’s wasted space), or think you’re overselling the book (and be turned off).

There is no right or wrong answer here – go with what your gut tells you 🙂


What you should usually keep at the back

  • Any synopsis for previous books in the series (but include a note at the front of the book telling the reader that you have included the synopsis at the back).
  • Your about the author page
  • Acknowledgements
  • Glossary
  • Author note (unless it has important info the reader should know before reading the story – if it does, but it’s also long, see if you can split it so the required info is at the front, and everything else is at the back)
  • Character cast (usually a list of names won’t mean anything to the reader beforehand)
  • The also by list (where you include descriptions of each book)


The copyright page

The copyright page is one of those things that can go either way. Having it at the front takes up space, but ensures the sample includes a copyright note. But if you have a lot of content on the copyright page, it again has the problem of taking up sample space, so would be better placed at the back.

What we’ve seen some authors do (and I think is a great idea for long copyright pages) is include just a simple copyright line at the front (perhaps on the title page, after the author name), but then have the full copyright page at the back of the book. This gives you both a copyright notice in the sample, but ensures you aren’t wasting very much space on it.


The takeaway message

When it comes to ebooks, try to keep what you put at the front of the book to a minimum, and move everything you can to the back. Your readers will be able to see more of your book when they sample it, and hopefully more people will get hooked and buy it!


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