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Front Matter Matters

February 2, 2015

open book

Photo Credit: Jo Naylor via Compfight cc

In publishing lingo, a book usually contains three major sections: front matter (also called preliminary matter or “prelims” for short), the text, and back matter (or end matter).   There are long-standing conventions for content, sequence, and numbering within each section.

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), now in its 16th edition, is the industry source of authority for matters of manuscript preparation and book anatomy.  CMOS provides a level of detail I won’t even try to match in a single blog post.

For example, go to CMOS to find out  what a half title page is and where in the front matter it should appear. What information should appear on the copyright page? Why are some pages numbered with lower case roman numerals and others numbered with arabic and some don’t show numbers at all? Be sure to refer to CMOS if you’re a self-publisher and didn’t realize you need to know the answers to such questions.

The foreword, preface, and introduction are three components of front matter, and contrary to what many writers appear to believe, these are not interchangeable terms. Each has a specific function within a book.


A foreword is a short piece written by someone other than the author of the book. It is usually provided by an expert in a field directly related to the book’s content—someone whose status will lend credibility to the book.

The author of the foreword addresses their connection to the book’s subject matter and author, explains the importance of the book’s content, and tells the reader why the author is the best person to write the book.


A preface is written by the author of the book and establishes credibility.

In 2 to 3 pages, your preface should explain who you are and indicate your experience with the subject matter. You might write about your research for the book or what you learned and how you changed during the process of writing it. Explain how the book came into being and why.


The introduction,  written by the book’s author, sets the stage for readers by describing the book’s content.

The introduction explains what to expect in upcoming chapters and how the book is organized and gives any other information that will help the reader understand the text. For example, it might explain that features (such as exercises) appear at the end of each chapter or include suggestions about how to read the book if there is a special structure.

The introduction is an opportunity to grab readers and pique their curiosity about what will be revealed when they continue reading.

Learn and employ the conventions of front matter, and you will impress publishers with your professionalism when you submit your manuscript and as you communicate with your editor during the publishing process.

It is even more important for self-publishers to understand standards for book design. While it’s great to do it yourself, you want to achieve a result that meets professional standards. As always, break the rules if you want to, but do it purposefully and consciously, not out of ignorance.

Mary Ann de StefanoMary Ann de Stefano is the editor of The Florida Writer (the official magazine of the Florida Writers Association) and MAD’s Monday Muse. She is also a writer, editor, and organizer of writing workshops with 30+ years experience in publishing and writing consulting. Besides working one-to-one with writers who are developing books, she designs author websites. Mary Ann does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing.

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