The Basics of Book Design: Frontmatter Pages

The many parts of a printed book can be grouped into three main categories: 1. the frontmatter pages, 2. the main text pages, and 3. the backmatter pages. I am going to describe the various elements that make up the design and layout of a professionally produced book. Many of the following rules are not applicable to the design and layout of eBooks. I will address design issues specific to eBooks at another time.

Half-Title Page
The typical book actually has two title pages. The first is the half title page—also known as the bastard title, which is the first page of the book and almost always begins on a right hand page. The frontmatter should be numbered using roman numerals, beginning with the half-title on page i, followed by a blank left-hand page ii, and then the full-title on page iii.

The half-title page usually consists of just the book title set in a typeface derived from the book’s cover or interior design. The title is often simply centered on the page, dropping a couple of inches from the top trim. The half-title page was an invention designed to protect the actual title page of a book, which was easily damaged in the days before hardcover and bound books became common.

Some publishers repeat the half-title page as the last right-hand page of the frontmatter, followed by a blank left-hand page. These are usually two of the first pages to be cut when it’s necessary to reduce the page count.

Following the half-title page, page ii of a book should either be blank, or contain the frontispiece, which is an illustration or photograph that is somehow related to the book. The frontispiece is often an image that also appears in the main text of the book

Title Page
The full title page is usually page iii of a book, and should contain the book’s full title and subtitle if there is one, the names of the author(s) and editor(s), and the publisher’s name and/or logo—also known as the colophon—and often followed by the year of publication at the very bottom of the page.

In some cases, the title page can be designed to spread over two pages, where page ii might contain some text or design elements that are continued on page iii.

Copyright Page
The title pages are followed by the copyright page, usually appearing on page iv of the book. The text on the copyright page is generally set two or three points smaller than the main body text so all of the information will fit on a single page. The copyright page contains all relevant publisher and author information, including the Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication data.

Dedication Page
The copyright page is often followed by a dedication page on page v of the book. The dedication is usually about one to four lines of text, set it the main text typeface of the book (sometimes in italics), centered on the page about 2 incles from the top trim, or top aligned with where the text on the copyright page begins. The dedication can be moved to another spot in the frontmatter to reduce the page count. The dedication would then appear on the first available left hand blank page, facing one of the frontmatter opener pages, such as the Preface or Acknowledgments.

Contents Page
The contents page is set on the first right hand page after the copyright page or dedication. This is the first frontmatter opener page and establishes the design motif for the rest of the frontmatter, chapter opener, and backmatter pages that follow.

At a minimum, the contents page should list all of the frontmatter pages that come before the contents page, and all of the chapter openers, part openers, and backmatter pages in the book. The contents pages may also include all or some of the subheads from the book, but does not include the dedication or the contents page itself.

The design for the contents page can be very simple or quite elaborate, depending on the subject matter and content of the book. If the book contains photographs or ilustrations, some of them can be used as design elements on the contents page or pages.

A simple contents page might have the word “Contents” set in 18- or 20-point type, centered on the page, and falling about 2 inches from the top of the page. It is customary to leave about an inch or so space between the contents title and the text that comes below. The matter and chapter opener text would be left aligned on the page, and the page numbers would be right aligned. The contents text could be set as small as 10 points or as large as 14 points or more in some cases.

The contents page can get more complicated if there are additional text elements that need to be designed. Some books have chapters that are written by multiple authors whose names and business or university affiliations appear on the contents page.

Books that are divided into sections with part openers also require a special design treatment. This can be something as simple as setting the text like a subhead, bold and centered on the page, or something more complex, like using a graphic element such as a special font or a dingbat (ornamental character) to distinguish the text in some attractive manner.

The contents page may be followed by a list of tables and figures opener page followed by regular text pages, if applicable.

The acknowldegments opener page is usually the first of the frontmatter openers following the contents pages. Whereas the dedication is usually only a few words or lines of text, the acknowledgments pages give authors a chance to acknowledge or thank anyone they wish to, especially people who may have been involved in the book writing or production process.

The foreword may be written be the author or by another person, preferrably someone who will add something to the book’s content, and help to sell more books. When a foreword is written by a particularly well known person, the writer’s name may appear on the book’s cover or title page, usually below the author’s name and in smaller type.

The foreword always ends with the name of the writer and often includes the date (month, year) it was written. Although it can be any length, the typical foreword is four to eight pages.

The preface to a book is almost always written by the author. Unlike the introduction, which contains information that is essential to understanding the book, the preface is a chance for the author to speak directly to the reader. The preface may contain the author’s thoughts on how they got the idea for the book, but there are no limits on what the author can write.

The introduction can be placed in one of two positions in the book. It should either begin at the end of the frontmatter section, or it can be set as page 1 of the arabic numbered text. The introduction contains information that is vital to the reading of the book. This may take the form of a summary of the book, or just about anything the author wishes to say to introduce the book.

(to be continued)

12 thoughts on “The Basics of Book Design: Frontmatter Pages”

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  3. Super helpful, thanks! Am finishing artwork for a book I already turned in the manuscript for, and trying to figure out what pages need little bits–this is simple, clear, and helped me enormously. Thanks again.

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  4. Even I had been in typesetting for many years, I confusion arise whether we include half title page to the total page count. It is cleared with your simple and valuable description. Thanks You Andrea

Thank you! Andrea