Skip to main content
Michigan State University

Publishing and Book Design Basics: Frontmatter

This guide is designed to help self-publishers with common questions about the logistics of book publishing and basic book design.

Self-Publishing Resources

The term frontmatter refers to everything in your book that precedes the first chapter. Sometimes called prelims, short for preliminaries.

Before the title page

It is customary to start with a blank page, a half-title page, or both, before any other content. 

A half-title page contains only the title of the book, omitting the author and publisher as they appear on the full title page.

A bit of history: the blank pages before any printed content have become a convention of book design because traditional book printing is done on large sheets of paper, about 30 x 40 inches. Each sheet holds 12, 16, or 24 actual pages, which means the book has to contain a multiple of 12, 16, or 24 pages. Usually the book design does not work out to perfectly fill the number of pages needed, so extra blanks are placed just after the front cover and just before the back cover.

Title page

The title page and reverse title page are necessary for every book. All other elements of the frontmatter are used only if they are relevant to your book.

The title page should contain:

  • the full book title (main title + subtitle)
  • edition statement, if this is a second or later edition
  • author’s name
  • publisher’s name and city (city + state if not a major city)
  • year of publication

If relevant, the title page should acknowledge other major contributors to the book, using a statement below the author’s name such as: 

  • With an introduction by…
  • Color illustrations by…
  • Translated by...

Reverse title page

The reverse title page, sometimes called the copyright page, is a left-hand page because it continues the information on the title page.

The items listed here are not a legal requirement, but the reverse title page is where people will expect to find information such as: 

  • the publisher’s full address 
  • a copyright notice; it can be as simple as “© 2014 – All rights reserved”
  • country the book was printed in
  • the ISBN 
  • acknowledgements (for example, authors or publishers who gave permission for material to be quoted)
  • a statement about the manufacture or durability of the paper used in the book
U.S. copyright law no longer requires an explicit copyright statement for a work to be protected, but most publishers include one anyway as a warning against infringement.

Reverse title page example

Published by the Michigan State University Libraries, 366 West Circle Drive, East Lansing, MI 48824. Website: lib.msu.edu/publications/

The cookbook reprinted here is in the public domain. Introductory essay © 2014 by Wolfgang Puck. 

Good Things to Eat was first published in 1911. 

ISBN 978-0-62610-000-0

Printed in the United States of America, on acid-free, SFI-certified paper (Sustainable Forestry Initiative, www.sfiprogram.org)

Dedication

A dedication page is completely optional, but if you include one, it should appear immediately after the reverse title page.

Contents page

After the title page and reverse title page, the next most common element of frontmatter is the table of contents. Every book should have a table of contents unless the chapters have no titles.

  • Novels are the only genre where you can reasonably go without chapter titles.
  • In poetry collections, each poem is typically treated as a ‘chapter’ and therefore each poem is included in the table of contents.
  • In drama, use the contents page to list the first page of each act, or each act and scene.
  • All nonfiction books should have chapter titles; they help keep the reader oriented.

The table of contents comes immediately after the dedication, if used, or the reverse title page. It lists everything that follows. The half-title page (if used), title page, reverse title page, and dedication (if used) are not listed on the Contents page.

After the contents page

After the contents page are all the other sections preceding the main body of the book. Your book may have some or none of these sections. It’s a rare book that needs every single one of them.

  • List of illustrations and/or list of tables
  • Foreword, Preface, Author’s Note, Acknowledgements  
  • Introduction (may be placed within frontmatter or within main body of book)
  • Other helpful material for the reader, such as a timeline or list of abbreviations

Michigan State University