Typography Tips for Writers: Anatomy of a Book

Let me begin by repeating that the purpose of this series of articles is to provide you, the writer, with enough typographic savvy to judge the quality of the design of your books.

Today’s topic is the anatomy of a book. It deals with placing the parts of a book in proper sequence and on the correct pages. Why should a writer have to think about that? Isn’t that someone else’s job? Yes, it is. But how do you know if that someone is doing the job right? If you don’t feel qualified to judge this aspect of the designer’s work, the information in this article will help.

There is a traditional framework to follow in putting book pages in proper sequence. It has a long history and it makes good sense. Most designers follow it. But if they don’t, I think you should know. 

Front Matter Sequence 

Text Sequence

Back Matter Sequence

Everything—appendix, notes, bibliography, illustration credits, glossary and  index, in that order—begins on right pages.

Tradition vs Innovation

Most of the self-published books I have seen are well designed in regards to the sequence of book elements. But there are exceptions. Sometimes designers break the rules for sensible reasons, but in order to do that, they must first know what the rules are. Rules may not be the best word here, because the traditional order of book elements isn’t composed of rules as such, but is is based on venerable and respected customs. It is wise to follow them unless there are good reasons for not doing so. Now that you know what these customs are, you can check out that design aspect of your next book to see if it is done sensibly.

A Closer Look at the Book Structure Elements

I’m changing the subject now for a reminder about a couple of terms whose meaning can be hard to remember—foreword, introduction and preface. Let me paraphrase Adrian Wilson again:


A foreword is written by someone other than the author, often an expert in the field. It points out the special features and importance of the work. Incidentally, this is an easy word to misspell as it can be confused with the word forward.


A preface is written by the author to provide the rationale for writing the book, and often a story of how the idea developed. If the preface is short, the acknowledgments may be included at the end.


An introduction may be written by someone other than the author.  It states the purposes and goals of the writing that follows.  If it is written by the author, it is considered part of the text and follows the half title page.

Design as Typography

In reality a book’s design is all typography, or nearly so. Please note that on the title page examples shown below that typography is about all I, as a designer, had to work with. The books are: “Without Noise of Arms” by Walter Briggs, “George Elbert Burr” by Louise Combes Seeger.

Some samples of title page typography

Your comments and questions are welcome.

Robert Jacobson email