parts of a book

The Parts of a Book (And How to Get Them Right)

15 Dec 2020 Publishing

Whether you’ve written and thoroughly self-edited your manuscript or are still developing the idea, submitting it to an agent or an acquisitions editor in the proper format is crucial to your success.

Before they read a word, they’ll notice what’s missing or needs to be reformatted.

Get it right and you’ll look like a pro—giving your manuscript the best chance of being read and considered.

Get it wrong and you risk a quick rejection.

Want to write a book but don't know where to start? Click here to download my FREE guide: How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps.

Parts of a Book that Must Be in Your Manuscript

1. Title Page

This should include, naturally, your title (and a subtitle for a nonfiction book).

It would include your title and A Novel for a fiction book. Then comes your name, and do NOT put By in front of it.

You see that only on self-published books (and it shouldn’t appear there either).

2. Dedication Page

Here you tell who the book is to.

Maybe a loved one or a favorite mentor. Keep it short.

It will mean the most to the person in question, so don’t bore readers with a paragraph about something personal.

To Sherry; she knows why is plenty.

3. Table of Contents

This is needed for a nonfiction book but may also be used in a novel if you’ve titled your chapters.

Ignore page numbers for now, because those will change when your manuscript is set in type.

And if you want to look like a pro, label such a list Contents, not Table of Contents, which is now considered redundant.

4. Epigraph

A short quote that relates to your theme.

It might be a snippet from a song’s lyrics, a line from a poem, or a statement from a famous person, living or dead.

Be careful to get permission for copyrighted material and fully cite the source.

5. Foreword

Found primarily in nonfiction books, this can be written by you or by someone else.

At all costs, spell foreword correctly!

It’s not forward, foreward, forword, or anything other than foreword.

6. Acknowledgments Page

This recognizes anyone who may have inspired or helped you in any way during the writing of your book—maybe your agent, an editor, etc.

When you’re still shopping your book among agents or publishers, naturally you would leave this page open so you can mention them when and if they accept it.

Acknowledgments is often misspelled too, most commonly with the British version: Acknowledgements. 

That extra e can look amateurish.

7. Prologue

These are found mostly in fiction, but they should be used very sparingly.

It’s becoming more popular to make prefatory material part of chapter one because research shows that many readers skip it and jump to Chapter 1.

If a prologue is absolutely necessary, try not labeling it at all.

Readers are less likely to skip it. And make it as captivating as any other scene in your novel or chapter in your nonfiction book.

8. Epilogue

The same is true of an Epilogue, which by definition would come at the end of your book.

Many novelists use an epilogue to provide closure and resolution.

They are generally discouraged because that content should appear in your closing chapter. And readers tend to skip back matter too.

You can always add an Author’s Note to promote a sequel or series.

9. Appendix

In a nonfiction book, you might add an Appendix or Endnotes to cite and footnote your resources, including interview subjects.

10. Glossary

This serves as a guide to esoteric terms in a nonfiction book or rare, unfamiliar, made-up terms in a novel and can include a cast of characters and/or locations.

11. Bibliography

Here, you would list every book cited in your manuscript.

12. Author Bio

On the final page briefly tell your story, give your web address, and other contact information (but not your phone number).

How to Format Your Book

Each agent and publisher may have slightly different submission guidelines.

Naturally, you want to give them what they require.

Some don’t give instructions beyond “standard manuscript format,” and in that case, consistency is key.

For example, if you write out numbers between zero and nine and use digits for any after that, do it the same way every time.

As for how to render your manuscript pages, compose your work in Word as either .doc or .docx files.

Following these general rules will make your manuscript look professional:

  1. Use 12-point type
  2. Use a serif typeface; the most common is Times New Roman
  3. Double-space your manuscript
  4. If Word defaults to extra space between paragraphs, change that value to zero, resulting in the same space between paragraphs as between lines
  5. Only one space between sentences, not two as many were taught in typing class
  6. Indent each paragraph half an inch (by setting a tab, not using the spacebar; even better establish this as automatic)
  7. Text should be aligned flush left and ragged right, not justified
  8. If you choose to add a line between paragraphs to indicate a change of location or passage of time, center a typographical dingbat (an ornament, character, or spacer used in typesetting, like ***) on the line
  9. Black text on a white background only
  10. One-inch margins on the top, bottom, and sides (the default in Word)
  11. Create a header with the title followed by your last name and the page number; the header should appear on each page other than the title page

For a more in-depth look at formatting, click here to read my post.

Click here to learn about the latest book writing software that will help you create, organize, and edit your manuscript.

Want to write a book but don't know where to start? Click here to download my FREE guide: How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps.

Don’t Fret

Too many writers worry more about formatting a book than about the actual writing.

More important to an agent or an acquisitions editor is what you have to communicate or how engagingly you can tell a story.

Just don’t discount formatting.

Follow the basics, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.