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Michigan State University

Publishing and Book Design Basics: Parts of a book

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

Self-Publishing Resources

Front cover

The front cover of your book should contain:

  • at a minimum, the title and the author’s name 
  • the edition number, if this is a second or later edition
  • the publisher’s name and/or logo may appear

The title given on the cover should match the title on the title page. In library catalogs, your book title will be given exactly as it appears on the title page. Within libraries the title page is considered the most authoritative source of information about the book. 

However, most readers will consider the front cover to be the ‘real’ title, or not notice if it’s different. If the front cover title does not match the title page, and the catalog record leaves out this alternate title, users may may have difficulty finding your book.


The amount of text you can fit on the spine obviously depends on the size of the book. Very short books may have a blank spine. If you do have room for text on the spine, use:

  • main title (subtitle usually omitted)
  • edition number, if second or later edition
  • author’s last name
  • publisher’s name or logo, if space permits

If the spine is quite wide, these elements can be printed horizontally, as you look at the book standing on a shelf. For most books they are printed vertically, reading from the top down. (In Europe, the standard practice is for the spine to read from the bottom up.)

Back cover

The back cover should include:

  • the main title
  • the edition number, if second or later edition
  • a short description of the book 
  • a short biographical statement on the author 
  • publisher’s name and/or logo

and may include these elements, if applicable:

  • a credit line for art or photography used on the front cover
  • the barcode, typically in lower right corner of back cover

What's the difference between a printing and an edition?

The sections above advise that a book title should be followed by an edition number if it is the second or later edition of that book. If you're making corrections or updates to your book, at what point do you identify it as a second edition?

Suppose you start off having 200 copies of your book printed. You sell them all, and decide to have another 200 printed. The second batch has identical content to the first. This is not a second edition; it's merely a second printing.

If you correct typos before producing the second batch of books, that would generally count as a second printing too, not a second edition. A new edition of a book means that the content has been significantly revised or expanded. 

Suppose you write a book on the current political situation in Country X.  After a few years, you have new material to incorporate. You rewrite your book, adding the new material here and there, or you add a new chapter at the end. This is a second edition: the content is clearly different from the first edition. You should assign a separate ISBN and add “second edition” or “revised edition” to the end of the title.