Chip MacGregor

July 7, 2014

If you're new to the world of publishing…


I’m a big supporter of authors trying to self-publish their out-of-print works (and sometimes their new works, depending on the author and situation), and I’ve had a number of authors write to ask questions about publishing terms and traditions. I thought you might find it helpful to know some of the official nomenclature we use in the industry:

The FRONT MATTER is all of the information that goes in the front of the book, between the cover and the actual text. It usually contains a bunch of legal and technical information about the book, and the pages are all numbered, but they often don’t have actual page numbers showing up (at least not on what are called the “display” pages — the title page, the half title page, the copyright page, the dedication page, any blank pages, etc).

There are a number of elements to the Front Matter that require special terms: the title page (which has the complete title, subtitle, author name, and publisher) the half-titlte page (which just has the book’s title), the copyright page, the legal or copyright acknowledgements (if you needed permission for anything in your text), the dedication, acknowledgements, and table of contents. There will also be a colophon, a more recent development in publishing a book that details the font, the printer, and any special production notes about the book.

There are also a number of additional Front Matter pieces that are used less often: a foreword (written by someone other than the author, to introduce the topic), a preface (written by the author to explain HOW the book was written), an introduction (written by the author to explain WHY the book was written), a prologue (written by the narrator or a character in the novel to set the scene or give important background information), an epigraph (usually a poem or quote pertinent to the story), and the author’s acknowledgements (so you can tell everyone how great your editor and agent have been in the process). The fact is, in recent days we’ve seen a decline in much of these. There’s nothing more boring that picking up a book that has a foreword, a prologue, and introduction, and three pages of acknowledgments. By then, the reader has already fallen asleep.

The BODY MATTER is the text of the book — that is, the manuscript created by the author. These pages are all numbered, and the numbers normally show on most every page. Special pages in between for chapter breaks, section breaks, book breaks, or part breaks (that is, a page that says “Part One,” for example) normally don’t have a number on them. Sometimes a publisher will make an artistic decision to leave the page numbers off of blank pages within the text or the first page of each chapter, but that’s not the norm.

The BACK MATTER contains any content that is additional or subsidiary to the text. Examples include footnotes, an index, a glossary, an appendix, or a bibliography. Occasionally the Back Matter will also include an afterword (where the author says something about the creation of the book) or an epilogue (where the author brings closure to the story or explains what happened after the book was written). Other elements of Back Matter include an author bio and a list of other titles from the author. In recent years we’ve seen some of these elements move around — with author titles moved to the Front, or acknowledgements moved to the back, but for the most part this is where the various pieces fit.

The COVER COPY is simply the text that will appear on your front cover — the title, subtitle (even if it is simply the words “a novel”), and author name. Some nonfiction books will have additional information on the topic or the author to buttress the book’s validity.

The BACK COVER COPY is everything that appears on the back cover. For most novels, that’s a short elevator pitch to try and convince readers to get hooked on the story. For most nonfiction books, it’s a selling tool to get the potential reader to crack open the book and look at the table of contents. It may or may not contain a very brief author bio. Most publishers also lump the SPINE COPY in with back cover copy, and refer to it all as “BCC.” Your spine will be limited to the title, author last name, and publisher imprimatur.

If you’re releasing a hard cover book with a dust jacket, you will also have FRONT FLAP COPY and BACK FLAP COPY. The front flap of a novel offers a short synopsis for the story, and often replaces the back cover copy. The back flap of a hardcover novel will offer an author biography. With a nonfiction book, it’s common for the summary to start on the front flap and continue to the back flap, before presenting a very brief author bio.

What are the publishing terms you’d like to ask about? What about the production of book is unclear or do you have questions about?

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  • Rick Barry says:

    And if a writer has cranked out a poorly constructed novel without ever bothering to study the craft of storytelling or getting objective feedback, I believe the term for the final product is DOESN’T MATTER.” 😉

  • Lynn D. Morrissey says:

    Chip, this isn’t about a “publishing term” per se, but it’s about the platform needed/desired for publication. How important do you think writing a regular blog is in that regard? There are so many blogs now. Do you think that the market is saturated with them, and do you think that blogs, like other things, will become a passing phase?

    • chipmacgregor says:

      I think the market is filled to overflowing with blogs, but I also think an author needs to have some sort of web presence (whether blog, site, e-zine, journal, active Facebook page, or what-have-you). Amanda has talked about this topic a couple of times on her Thursday column, but we’ll explore it again, Lynn. A good question.

    • Lynn D. Morrissey says:

      Tx, Chip. I’d not read her posts, so maybe I can search it out in her past posts. Appreciate your tackling it further if you think it will help. One agent I met at an Allume conference told me he thought blogs would eventually become passe, which is one reason I posed this.

  • Lynn D. Morrissey says:

    Very helpful post. Thanks, Chip.
    So . . . where does an agent come in, in helping the author self-publish (or republish) an o.o.p. book? And, if the agent is not involved, what’s the first step for the author to do so? Of course, I am applying this as an author, thinking of my own book; and it’s tricky, because mine is an originally illustrated book. I share royalties 50/50 with the artist. Thanks for your input.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      I’m happy to post on that topic, Lynn. Give me a few days?

    • Lynn D. Morrissey says:

      Oh, I’d really be grateful, and likely this will apply to others of your readers (though, granted, the part about the artwork would be unusual). I’ll look forward to reading what you have to say whenever you wish to address it.

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