Standard Elements for Fiction and Nonfiction Books
As a book coach and editor, some of the most common questions I receive are from authors who wonder where all those pieces go.
Do I need a foreword? If so, who writes that?
Will my non-fiction book be taken seriously without an index?
Where do I put the acknowledgments? The dedication?
What should I include in my About the Author (ATA) content?
If you've been wondering about what your book should include, use the checklist below to see what you still might need to create. The starred* elements are essential, and you can decide whether you’d like to include the others. Be sure to have your editor look over these elements for grammar, punctuation, and standard formatting.
You will want to have your back cover copy written and ready for your cover designer when you begin production of your book.
Tip: If you’re not sure what to write, read the back covers of a few books in your genre to get an idea of what is expected for these elements.
*Book Description: About 150-200 words – Think of this as your thirty-second elevator pitch. After your book’s front cover, this is the most important selling feature of your book. You want this to be as intriguing as possible for the reader so they are compelled to buy your book.
For fiction, you want a short, intriguing synopsis with a hook that makes the reader wonder what happens next.
For non-fiction, you want to provide a brief overview of what the reader will learn, as well as the problem you are solving with your book. Help them understand the burning question of “what’s in it for them” and why they need your book!
*Author Bio: About 50 words – This is a condensed version of your bio with only the highlights. You will be able to include more details in your About the Author on the back page of the book.
Author Picture: 300 DPI high resolution image. This should be in standard picture format (JPG, PNG, etc.). Your author picture does not need to be a professional head shot, but it should be clear with good lighting. You may also opt to not include a picture, and that is fine as well.
Inside Book - Front Matter
If you have requested written endorsements, these will be included on the first page of the book. If there is a particularly compelling endorsement, you may want your designer to include a short snippet on the front cover or a longer snippet on the back cover.
Tip: You can begin to request endorsements as soon as you have an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) PDF of your formatted book.
Your designer will create this for you. When there are no endorsements, a “half title” page is the first page of the book followed by a full title page that displays the title, subtitle, author, and publisher. Both title pages will reflect the style of the text on the cover.
Your editor or designer will create this for you. The copyright page contains author name, title, copyright year, standard copyright information and disclaimers, ISBN numbers for each format of the book, and the Library of Congress number. It may also contain specific copyright and licensing information for lyrics, Scripture, or other material used with permission.
This is a short sentence or phrase acknowledging one person, i.e., “For William, who encouraged me to finish this work,” or a few key people: “For Tasha, Robert, and Jay, who inspired me to dream.” No title of "Dedication" is needed over this text.
Table of Contents (ToC)
Your designer will create this for you automatically when formatting your book. A ToC is standard for nonfiction books, while fiction will typically not utilize a ToC.
A preface is a short, personal introductory note from the author, often explaining the inspiration for the book or the reason for printing a new edition.
A foreword is an introduction and endorsement of the book written by someone other than the author. This person will be familiar with the author’s work and may be recognizable in their field or industry. This person can even be included in the title information as a contributor.
Inside Book - Body
The introduction should kick off the subject matter of the book and tell the reader what they will be learning, and it often explains how to approach the book’s content.
The prologue of a fiction book should set the stage for the reader and often contains action or intriguing events that will come into context later in the narrative.
Your chapters make up the main content of your book, and they may be divided into various sections. Fiction chapters work to move the reader forward in the plot or story arc, and non-fiction chapters organize the material in a meaningful way for the reader.
Also called “Final Thoughts,” this chapter will sum up the core ideas and themes of the book and provide encouragement and direction for next steps.
The epilogue wraps up the story in a meaningful way for the reader, and it is often placed some time in the future. If there is another book in the series, you may want to include hints around the next story arc.
Like the foreword, the afterword includes thoughts and insights about the book. This element, however, can be written by either the author or someone they know.
This is a brief final comment after the narrative has ended, i.e., “The last of the survivors of Flight 937 passed in 2010, but their heroics live on.”
Inside Book - Back Matter
Bibliography / End notes
Depending on the style guide you’ve followed for citations, you or your editor will create a bibliography or page of end notes to properly cite any reference material.
A glossary contains a list of terms used in the book, appearing in alphabetical order.
The index notes the pages relevant terms appear in a book, arranged in alphabetical order. Many publishers still favor the use of an index in nonfiction books over 100 pages, particularly in the genres of scholarly or academic work.
This is the place to acknowledge all those who helped you along the way in your writing and publishing journey. Authors often include special notes of thanks to friends, family, agents, editors, designers, and publishing professionals in this section.
If your book’s topic lends itself well to book club or small group discussion, you may want to consider writing a page of discussion questions.
“About the Author” Page (optional): About 250–300 words – This is a longer bio and elaborates on you as much as you want, including ways to find you online or on social media. Include degrees or distinctions held, career highlights, and any pertinent details about your life, career, or family that you want to share with your readers. This will go on the back page of your book and should expand on your short back cover author bio.
I hope this has been helpful! If you need more support or are ready to work with a professional editor, I'd love to connect with you!