Back Matters

Just as what you put in the front of your non-fiction book matters, so does what you put at the back of the book. Whereas the front matter introduces your reader and gives them a reason to go on to Chapter One, the back matter lends support and credibility.

Credibility? I thought I already established my credibility, I hear you moan. I know, I know – you’ve worked hard to create an authoritative persona, you’ve done research, you’ve got the expertise in your subject matter and have worked hard to prove it. However, when that credibility is backed up by lists of references, bibliographies, and further evidence of support from other sources, your reader begins to believe it too. Yes, those things support your work but they support your authority as well.

So let’s look at different flavors of back matter:

This is especially important for informative works – unless it’s of the “I was there and here is what I saw” variety, you will be drawing a lot of information from other sources. Cite them. Remember the endless bibliographies we wrote for term papers? This is why you did it. Whether you follow the MLA (Modern Library Association) or APA (American Psychological Assocation) guidelines, make sure every item is properly cited and listed.

This is a good time to take a detour into footnotes and endnotes: it is vital to cite sources and references throughout the writing of the book. There are several ways to do this – you can put it in the body of the text, a la MLA…

The circle of trust is different in that “is not about solving a visible problem: it is about honoring an invisible thing called the soul” (Palmer 66).

…or the APA…

“But when we learn to trust the invisible powers within us, we will watch ourselves, other people, our institutions, and our society grow in integrity” (Palmer, 2004).

…which then refers to a book in your bibliography:

Palmer, Parker. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004), pp. 66

Or, you can just use a footnote and list the reference there.

Now: do you use real footnotes? Or end-of-chapter notes? Or collect them all into one big pile of endnotes at the back of the book? I would say it depends on whether your footnotes are almost entirely citations, or if you’re offering clarifications, definitions, additional stories, perhaps even alternative views that you aren’t in a position to discuss in the main text in those footnotes. If all you have are citations, endnotes make more sense.

References are different from bibliographies in that you may not actually be quoting from the references but still want your reader to know about them. They are often resources that you talk about in general in the text (like lists of marketing professionals or spiritual directors). Be certain to list as accurate and current information as you can, knowing that websites die and companies go out of business. Your references lend these organizations credibility, so be sure you stand behind their work.

Many, but not all, non-fiction books carry an index. In some cases, an index is not feasible or helpful; in others, it means the difference between the book being usable or not. But whether you choose to use one or not, make sure it is (a) accurate and (b) as detailed as you need it to be. I do think you can get too detailed on an index, but that’s me. Now I do appreciate detailed indexes in cookbooks – but I always wish cookbooks were better indexed by ingredients. Not just the main ones (beef, potatoes, etc.) but some of the minor but significant ones (almonds, tomatoes).

I also recognize that there are times I wished for an index – and now that I’ve published some non-fiction without one, I see why it may not exist: they are difficult to create and take a great deal of time. In Recounting Minnesota, I wish we had an index. However, due to the time constraints, we decided to forgo one in favor of a timeline. If we do a second edition, I’ll insist we add one, but we won’t be under the gun either.

Speaking of timelines, I really appreciate this feature in books that explore a chronology of any sort, whether it be a history, biography, or the development of an idea. (For example, it would be great to see a timeline of significant discoveries on the search for a unified theory.) If your book lends itself to a timeline, consider adding it. At least one reader (me!) will be thankful.

An appendix offers additional material, often written after the book is complete. It could be a more thorough explanation of some key concepts (perhaps the actual proofs or theorems in mathematical or scientific tomes), the profess steps for a concept you describe, charts of detail that don’t fit into the body of the text, or stories/bios that don’t otherwise have a home.

Deciding what to add here is between you and your editor; sometimes it provides a way to focus the main text and still get in what you want. In Generations of Faith, Carl Eeman’s original manuscript included references to a Trinitarian view of generational dynamics that the editor found too limiting; The Alban Institute prides itself on serving people of all faiths. Carl took out those references in the body of the text and turned those Trinitarian ideas into an appendix; thus, he was able to share these ideas and maintain the non-denominational character of the main text.

While it is possible (and advised) to define terms in the body of your text, you may also want to offer definitions in a separate glossary. Here, you can give perhaps a more thorough definition that you don’t have room for in the manuscript. You can also define some terms you figure almost everyone will know and won’t define in the manuscript but want to ensure are clear.

As with your front matter, your final choices on back matter will depend on your book’s needs and what your publisher requires.

Next week, we will talk about editors – the different kinds of editors, what they do, ways to work with them, and why you should laud them with praise (and roses and chocolates and champagne and money). See you next week!