** Update: After a recent issue with scams on Amazon, a few people have had emails from Amazon because of their table of contents at the back of their novels. Amazon has publically said it is acceptable, but their style guild recommends putting them in the front for the best reader experience. I moved mine before I heard that, and am not moving them back. The small amount of room they take up in the look inside isn't a huge deal to me any more. Funny how things change once you've been publishing for a while! **
So, it's Valentine's Day (here in Australia, almost over in fact), and no novel yet. Sorry!
Formatting is mostly done. I sent it out to friends and family to proofread, expecting them to find a couple of spelling mistakes, or missing punctuation marks. But of course, they've found other issues that I need to fix. Hopefully not long now.
Today though, I wanted to raise a new question. One of the recomendations Amazon makes in their formatting guide is to include a Table of Contents.
On the surface, this recomendation makes sense. In an ebook, a table of contents enables us to jump straight to the chapter we want in a book. In a non-fiction book, they're essential, and I use them frequently. If you download a book sample, the table of contents can give you an overview of the topics included.
But in a novel?
Usually the table of contents consists of:
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3... and so on.
It doesn't tell you much about the book at all, except that it contains chapters. (Which hopefully you already guessed.)
I don't know about you, but I haven't used the table of contents in a novel once. If I pause reading, and need to get back to where I was, I just open the book and it's kept it's place. If I really need to find a certain place again, I can bookmark it.
I checked a few ebooks, and while almost all of the self published ebooks have one (probably because of Amazon's recomendations), many of the traditionally published ebooks didn't include one.
So what do you think? Does a table of contents have a place in an novel ebook? Have you ever used one? Do you include one in your ebooks?
Edited to add: I've had a couple of comments, both here and elsewhere from people who do use the table of contents in an ebook to refer back to certain scenes, so in the end, I decided to include one, but I placed it at the back of the novel, so it didn't impact on my front matter. I also like the idea of giving chapters more descriptive headings, so I'm thinking of trying that in a future series. I'd love to hear more opinions and discussion either way!
This is a never-ending argument, for both readers and writers. There was a time when novels had descriptive chapter headings, but modern print novels either have numbers or no chapter divisions at all (which is less common), and they hardly ever contain a table of contents. Much of the argument is based on what readers are accustomed to, which is irrelevant to ereaders. Every ereader allows us to set bookmarks which are easily accessed. Those bookmarks can be associated with notes. I think it’s kind of a mental block that makes people insist that they need a table of contents to tell them where they were in a book when they left off reading. With the ease of location that ereaders offer, the insistence on a TOC or numbered chapter headings is an atavism that needs to die. I’ve published three novels without a table of contents and will continue to do so.
I format a lot of ebooks, fiction and non-fiction. My fall-back position is, A ToC doesn’t hurt. In non-fic, it’s essential and should be placed near the front of the ebook so that readers can see what information the book contains. The more detailed the ToC, the better.
In Fiction, I place them at the back of the ebook. Most ereaders nowadays display an excellent nxc ToC/navigation guide and the producer’s version is redundant. Some older ereaders don’t have that feature. The ToC I generate is for them. If they don’t need it, don’t want it, they’ll never see it.
That said, writers could be having a LOT more fun with their ToCs by naming chapters or sections or even writing little teaser blurbs.
Catana: That’s what I thought, but I’ve had a couple of people tell me they use them for going back to find a bit of the story they want to re-read. Not sure how they remember which chapter it was in, but perhaps their memory is better than mine?
Jaye: Moving it to the back of the book is a great idea. I’m thinking I may do that.
Hi Rinelle – it’s an interesting topic and when I started indie pubbing my teen novel backlist last year I also wondered about the point of having a TOC which read Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. Yawn. However, interestingly enough, my most recent pubbed backlist title was originally written with Chapter titles, each of which suggested action or emotion, and I decided to keep these in. I know it might be old fashioned now, but actually, the reader can skim down and see if they like the sound of what they might encounter, especially when they look at the Amazon free sample. Whether it made a difference or not, this book is selling quicker than any of my previous titles and I wonder if giving these “teasers” has contributed to that? I don’t know the answer, but it can’t do harm and can form part of the marketing package, like the book description. In future, I am going to use this technique again and see what happens. It’s all a learning process!
I really like the idea of chapter titles Futureme. Would definitely give table of contents a use in novels. The only trick is to do it without spoilers.
Saw you Tweet this.
I hate them. Especially when I’m downloading a sample and 7/8th’s of the sample is the table of contents. For a novel! It’s pretty difficult to get a feel for a book based on maybe five paragraphs of actual novel.
Exactly. And it’s not like you can do much with them either, you can’t make them smaller, or you can’t click on the links, and you can’t even easily put them in two columns. They are such a waste of space in a fiction novel. Putting them in the back seems to be the solution though.
I’ve put mine in the back and the front. I’ve seen it both ways too. I kind of like seeing how many chapters a book has, sometimes it indicates length. But I agree that descriptive titles would give the reader a taste of your work and possibly lure people in…but these are hard to do well.
I came here casein Google why do some novels have a toc and some dont. I’m working on my first novel which is part of a four book series I want it published traditionally but I intend to market it in an untraditional way.
I wonderif there was a reason some novels had a toc and some didn’t and it turns out after reading this blog that it’s the publisher and authors choices I will include a table of contents because I’m marketing it by dramatically reading each chapter at a local theater making like a tv series in essence so a title name to each reading makes sense. but in the end the decision and ultimately the justification is entirely subjective ‘
For fiction ebooks yes – since one is dealing with the Internet and HTML than yes. However, on fiction printed books no – it is not needed
I’m not sure what the internet and HTML has to do with it? Do you mean because it’s easy to do?
I, too, came looking for an answer to a ToC in a print version of my novels. My first one is 31 chapters, and they aren’t titled. Was too lazy to try coming up with them. My second book has titles, but is only ten chapters long. I’ve reworked the story to tie in with the first one, and sometimes feel I should make the effort for titles in the first one. But–I’m lazy!
After reading this article, I’m going to take it out of the print version. It’ll make that version 2 pages shorter, and make the book look cleaner in my opinion. Not sure if I’ll keep it in for the PDF version. Maybe. The Kindle version has a ToC only because I checked that box when I was converting it on Draft2Digital. Maybe I’ll go back and reconvert without one to see how I feel about leaving it out.
When I preview the book – or any book on Amazon, it usually starts on Chapter 1 anyhow. Not the ToC. So, I don’t have a problem with it in an ebook.
I don’t have TOC’s in most of my print books. If it’s just a list of chapter names, I really don’t see that it’s important, and most traditionally published books don’t have them.
I’d leave it in your kindle version though. Amazon isn’t happy with books without at least a logical table of contents (the one you can access from the menu), and, I believe, highly recommends a HTML one as well.
I have recently self-published three e-books on Amazon and did not include a table of contents in them. They are fiction, so what’s the point? I never had any issues with it yet.
Apparently some readers do use them. When I was first pondering this question, I actually polled readers, and some do use the TOC to go back to previous chapters etc. A logical TOC (the one you access from the kindle menu) doesn’t even take up any room in the front of the book! I always include a logical and HTML TOC in all my ebooks. Yes, Amazon may not be taking issue with them right now, but they could at some point in the future, and I don’t need the hassle of running around to try to change them all later.