Thursday, January 14, 2016

LET'S TALK NONFICTION! Front and back matter for your book

The art of writing nonfiction books, not articles, needs close attention to your book's front and back matter.

First off, I recommend you choose a few published books in your category and sub-category to study how they are setup at the beginning and end. Yes, there are rules to follow about what sections are needed and in what order. For example, the sequence of typical front matter is a full title page, copyright page (publishers do this for you), another title page, table of contents (TOC), list of illustrations, foreword, preface, acknowledgements, and dedication. An introduction before chapter one is not part of the front matter but actually part of the body of the book. I mention it here as intros are often misunderstood and misused, leaving acquisition editors shaking their heads!

Authors must include everything in their manuscripts and book proposals from the TOC onwards. You can choose not to have a foreword or a dedication, acknowledgements or even a preface, but I would suggest a foreword because it helps sales and a preface because it assists readers.

Confusion commonly arises around the use and contents of the foreword, the preface, and the introduction, so I have focused on them here:

Foreword: This is an endorsement of your book written by a well-known expert, the most recognizable authority on your subject you can think of. Typically it is about 500 words. You must invite this individual and get their agreement to write the foreword well before you send them the finished manuscript. In the invitation let him/her know the timeframe for the arrival of your ms. When you email the ms or mail a hard copy, remind him/her of the word count and your deadline. (You do not pay a fee for the foreword.)

Preface: This is easier to write after the book is finished — it's mostly about you. Many readers skip it. Most importantly, the preface highlights the benefits that you've decided to offer readers of your book - what will they know and/or be able to do when they turn the final page.
The preface can contain a brief description of the book's angle, philosophy, your criteria for inclusion/exclusion of material, its organization and how to read it. Many authors explain their motivation for the book's creation here and perhaps details about how they did the research.
I always include a paragraph about my credentials as I'm not a well-respected professor, which hopefully reassures readers that I know what I'm talking about. The preface is also the place to discuss tricky terminology or point the reader to a glossary in the back matter. If you have a limited number of acknowledgements - say four or five people - end with this. If you have many more use a separate Acknowledgements section.
The preface is the only place you use the first person in a nonfiction book that's not about you.
It helps when you're writing it to imagine conversing with a reader who is interested in your book's topic; tell them about it, about your passion for the project, and why you were ideal to write it. Make it a little personal too - every reader likes to get to know the author.

Introduction: This precedes the first chapter, is not part of the front matter, and is optional. It is for and about the reader.
If you opt for an intro, it's the place to hook your reader by captivating them with an offer they can't refuse; then reel them in. The intro is usually written by the author, but not necessarily, and offers a compelling overview including the purpose of the whole book and some background if appropriate to the topic. Remember that many readers skip the preface and start here.

Nonfiction back matter is much easier to handle and has fewer pitfalls. Your NF ms can include appendices, endotes, glossary, bibliography, afterword, and index (but don't prepare the index now — just mention it in your ms and proposal). And this reminds me to urge you to keep very accurate records as you write your manuscript — if you don't, you won't be able to recreate your research, cite your quotes, etc. Be diligent and the back matter will come easily.

NB: The best reference book on this topic is the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed., (left). Front matter starts at section 1.16; back matter starts at section 1.57.

© Julie H. Ferguson 2015

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