Book Elements: A Literary Anatomy Lesson

One of the most frequent questions we hear editors and copy editors get from writers is about book elements.  Surrounding the text are sections of information used by librarians, schools, retailers, researchers, and more. But it can be hard to know what you need to use for your book, where it goes, and what information you need to supply. But we’re here to help! .

The following is a list of parts and their definitions to help you make sure you have the right content in the right category, in the right order. Recommendations here adhere to the see the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, which is the most commonly used House style for publishers

Elements of the Book

(this is a list of the most common terms — there is a whole chapter with more terms and information in the Chicago Guide)

  • Leaf — What publishers refer to as pages.
  • Recto — when a book is open and laying on its spine, this is the right-hand leaf. Always odd numbered.
  • Verso — when a book is open and laying on its spine, this is the left-hand leaf. Always even numbered.

Order of a Book

Books can be divided into three parts. These are the “front matter,” or “preliminary matter” and “prelims;”the “text” of the book, and the “back matter” or “end matter” Each section has guidelines for its order of parts. It is not required that all these parts appear in any one book. Just know that book matter matters.


Front matter introduces your book to your readers. The front matter section, which appears before the main text, comprises a few pages that include the book’s title, the author’s name, the copyright information, table of contents or some other method of navigating the book,  perhaps even a preface or a foreword, and “introduces the book and sets its tone.”

BOOK ELEMENTS WITHIN THE FRONT MATTER (in order of typical appearance)

1. Book Half Title Page — p i
The half title page is the first page of your book and contains your title only. This page does not include a byline or subtitle.

2. Series Title, Frontispiece, or a Blank Page — p ii

Series Title Page
Use the second page of your book to list any of your previously published books by title. It is customary to list the books chronologically from first to most recently published.

An illustration on the verso (the back, or left-hand reverse of the page) facing the title page.

3. Title Page — piii
The title page is the part of your book that shows your full book title and subtitle, your name, and any co-writer or translator.

4. Copyright Page — p iv
The copyright page contains the copyright notice, which consists of the year of publication and the name of the copyright owner. The copyright owner is usually the author but may be an organization or corporation. This page may also list the book’s publishing history, permissions, acknowledgments, biographical note on author, publisher’s address, country of printing, impression line, ISBN, ISSN, original language information, Cataloging-in-Publication data, paper durability statement, and disclaimers.

5. Dedication — p v
Not every book carries a dedication but, for those that do, it follows the copyright page.

6. Epigraph — p v or vi
A short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book or chapter, intended to suggest its theme. The epigraph may also appear facing the Table of Contents, or facing the first page of text. The source of the epigraph typically follows the selection. Only the author’s name needs to be supplied, but the title of work may appear as well.

7. (Table of) Contents — p vi or vii
Also known as the Contents page, a table of contents is the part of a book that is usually used only in nonfiction works that have parts and chapters. A contents page is less common in fiction works but may be used if your work includes unique chapter titles. A table of contents is never used if your chapters are numbered only (e.g., Chapter One, Chapter Two). Subheadings are usually not included, but may be if needed.

8. List of Illustrations and/or tables.– recto or verso
When a book includes several key illustrations that provide information or enhance the text in some way, this page lists them. It can be helpful to include a list of all figures, their titles and the page numbers on which they occur.

9. Foreword — recto
The foreword contains a statement about the book and is usually written by someone other than the author who is an expert or is widely known in the field of the book’s topic. A foreword is most commonly found in nonfiction works.

10. Preface — recto
The preface usually describes why the author wrote the book, their research methods and perhaps some acknowledgments if they have not been included in a separate section. It may also establish their qualifications and expertise as an authority in the field in which they’re writing. A preface is far more common in nonfiction titles.

11. Acknowledgments (if not part of preface) — recto
An acknowledgments page includes notes of appreciation to people who provided the author with support or help during the writing process or in their writing career in general. This can also be placed in the back matter.

12. Introduction/ Prologue (if not part of the text) — recto
The introduction describes something about the main text that the reader should know before proceeding to read the book. Unlike a preface, which usually addresses the qualifications of the author, an introduction refers to the main body of the work itself.

In a work of fiction, the Prologue sets the scene for the story and is told in the voice of a character from the book, not the author’s voice.

13. Abbreviations (may also be placed in back matter) — recto or verso

14. Chronology ( if not in back matter)  — recto


This is the main portion or body of the book.


1. First text page (p. 1), or Second Half Title/Part Opening page (p.1), Blank Page (p. 2), First Text Page (p. 3)

Part Opening Page
Both fiction and nonfiction books are often divided into parts when there is a large conceptual, historical or structural logic that suggests these divisions, and the belief that reader will benefit from a meta-organization.

Second Half Title
If the frontmatter is lengthy, a second half title, identical to the first, can be added before the beginning of the text. The page following is usually blank but may contain an illustration or an epigraph.

First Text  page
Most fiction and almost all nonfiction books are divided into chapters for the sake of organizing the material to be covered. Chapter Opening pages and Part Opening pages may be a single right-hand page, or in some cases a spread consisting of a left- and right-hand page, (or a verso and a recto).

3. Epilogue — recto
The ending piece, either in the voice of the author or as a continuation of the main narrative, meant to bring closure to the work. Mostly used in Fiction

4. Afterword — recto
May be written by the author or another, and might deal with the origin of the book or seek to situate the work in some wider context.

4. Conclusion — recto
A brief summary of the salient arguments of the main work that attempts to give a sense of completeness to the work.


At the end of the book various citations, notes and ancillary material are gathered together into the backmatter.


1. Acknowledgements (if not in front matter ) — recto

2. Appendix or Addendum — recto
An appendix includes any data that might help clarify the text for the reader but would have disrupted the flow of the main text had it been included in an earlier part of the book. Some items included here might be a list of references, tables, reports, background research and sources, if not extensive enough to be included in a separate section.

3. Chronology — recto
In some works, particularly histories, a chronological list of events may be helpful for the reader. It may appear as an appendix, but can also appear in the frontmatter if the author considers it critical to the reader’s understanding of the work.

4. Notes — recto
Endnotes come after any appendices, and before the bibliography or list of references. The notes are typically divided by chapter to make them easier to reference.

5. Glossary — recto
A glossary comprises alphabetically arranged words and their definitions.

6. Bibliography or References — recto
A list of source materials that are used or consulted in the preparation of a work or that are referred to in the text.

7. (List of ) Contributors — recto
A work by many authors may demand a list of contributors, which should appear immediately before the index, although it is sometimes moved to the front matter. Contributor’s names should be listed alphabetically by last name, but appear in the form “First Name Last Name.” Information about each contributor may include brief biographical notes, academic affiliations, or previous publications.

8. Illustration Credits — recto

9. Index—An alphabetical listing of people, places, events, concepts, and works cited along with page numbers indicating where they can be found within the main body of the work.

10. Errata
A notice from the publisher of an error in the book, usually caused in the production process. These are not used to correct typographical errors or to insert additions or revisions. “It should be used only in extreme cases where errors severe enough to cause  misunderstanding are detected too late to correct in the normal way but before the finished book is distributed.” (Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed.  p. 33)

11. Colophon
Typically used for a specially designed/ produced book. Found on the very last page of the book. A brief notice at the end of a book usually describing the text typography, identifying the typeface by name along with a brief history. It may also credit the book’s designer and other persons or companies involved in its physical production.

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