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Writers' Questions About Back Matter

You’ve likely heard it before: Back matter matters. And it does--even if you don't know the term. Back matter gives readers more information after the main part of a book--in the back of the book. I love to celebrate curiosity, and back matter helps me do this.

Back matter is important to the curious reader because it enhances, explains, or supplements the main text. Publishers love back matter because teachers and librarians love it. Though often found in nonfiction books, back matter makes a fabulous addition to fiction books, too. (Personally, I've noticed some fiction books miss a great opportunity to share more about their topic because they skip back matter.)

That extra information might be in the form of an author note, timeline, map, or photograph. It might be a craft, recipe, or activity. Back matter often includes a glossary and bibliography. 

When I teach writers about the craft of nonfiction writing, back matter inspires lots of questions. Here are some FAQ. 

Does Back Matter Get Included in Word Count?

When calculating the word count for your manuscript, only include the main text, not the back matter. (Or you can include two word counts. Main text word count: 475 words Total word count: 1,343. That's what I do.)

 As you look at published books, you might notice that some books’ back matter is longer than the actual text. That is often the case. 

How Do You Include Back Matter in a Manuscript?

At the end of the main part of my manuscript, I skip a line. Then I add [Optional Back Matter] as the heading of the back matter, including the brackets. I call it optional because I tend to include LOTS of back matter. I hope the editor sees value in what I include, but it won’t be a deal-breaker if they suggest only some of the back matter will fit in the layout.

When Do You Submit Back Matter for a Manuscript?

Writers often ask if they should wait to add the back matter until after an editor or agent expresses interest. The simple answer is no. Show what your whole book will look like.

Add the back matter directly to a picture book manuscript (both for fiction and nonfiction books) before submitting. For those writing a nonfiction middle grade or YA book proposal, you can add possible back matter ideas in your outline.

How Do You Make Room for Back Matter?

One more consideration when it comes to a picture book manuscript is that you must allow room for back matter. It’s easy to include all the back matter you want in a middle grade or young adult book. However, picture books are typically 32 pages. When you consider page turns and pagination, you need to remember back matter. Will there be enough room? (Learn more about pagination from editor Carol Hinz. Please note the second sentence as you read. Debi Ohi shares multiple picture book templates to help you, too.) 

Something to think about. If you're writing a 32-page picture book, especially if it is narrative nonfiction, the STORY is most important. Instead of squeezing every last fact you can into the story, save some of them for the back matter. It will likely make your story stronger. 

Examples of Back Matter

And now I'll share with you some examples of my back matter, but I hope you'll study other books, too, to find mentor texts

The Truth About series began with Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls. I knew back matter would be really important to include all some of those awesome owl details I couldn’t fit in the main text. In this 32-page picture book, I had 12 spreads that asked and answered a question. That means I devoted three full spreads to the back matter. (Note: That's six pages. That’s a lot.) If I had added another Q&A spread, a lot less room would be for back matter.

Take a look. (Click the image to view them larger.) 

Helping Owls (spread), Anatomy of an Owl (spread), an owl pellet dissection/STEM activity (page), glossary and resources (shared page)

Each book in The Truth About series is a bit different. Here's a peek at the back matter in Scurry! The Truth About Spiders

Finding spiders and Spider Scare (shared spread), STEM spider activity (spread), spider common/scientific name charts with images and glossary/resources (shared spread)

And here are the back matter spreads in  Woof! The Truth About Dogs.

How to help dogs (spread), meeting dogs and dog noses (shared spread), doggie tug toy and glossary/resources (shared spread), Which Dog? (spread).

You might be wondering about older readers. 

My book called The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide is almost like a book of back matter for the Little House books. The main text focuses on history, fact-or-fiction, discussion questions, and activities for the 9 Little House books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It's a middle grade nonfiction book.

But I still included (hundreds of) defined pioneer terms, resources to explore (which included museum homesites, books, videos, and more), a list of activities found in the book, and acknowledgements. I wanted an index in the book, but it didn't make it into the final product. 

More Back Matter Information with Links

Maybe you'd like someone else's opinion about back matter? How about Carol Hinz? She wrote a blog post all about back matter, AND she's the associate publisher of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books. (I haven't worked with her personally, but I have followed her and her great books for years.) 

I could talk all day about back matter...

And as an extension of this blog post, I'm sharing over at NF Fest another blog post with MORE examples of back matter focusing on a wider variety of authors instead 

If you haven't heard of NF Fest before, it's a month-long crash course for kidlit nonfiction writers from industry professionals. It's completely free...and includes tons of information AND prizes every year during the month of February. Look for more about back matter from me over there on February 15. I signed up for their mailing list a couple of years ago, so it's quite an honor to teach there next month.

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  1. Agree with your point about fiction books missing an opportunity to include back matter. My verse novels (historical fiction) are heavily researched and I LOVE to share the "story behind the story" through adding back matter to them. But I often read Y/A and adult fiction that screams for back matter and yet--nothing. Sometimes I wonder if that was the writer's intentional omission--or whether it was an editor's decision. Anyway . . .thanks for this insightful post!

    1. Thanks, Jen. I do appreciate when authors give resources directly in an author's note, but love it when more is shared. I'm also curious if that's an editorial decision or the writer's when it comes to fiction.

  2. Thanks, Annette! Looking forward to reading more on your NFFest post!