How to Create a Table of Contents for Your Book
You’ve researched your book and become an expert in your field. You’ve done the hard work of slogging through your first draft, getting words on the page. And you’ve finished editing the manuscript and adding those final touches.
But as you glance back through your book, you suddenly realize you forgot one extra-important step: the table of contents!
It’s important to add a table of contents to your book. This page gets your readers excited about what’s coming up and helps them stay organized as they jump in.
However, you might be wondering how to create a table of contents. What information should you include? How should you structure it? What heading styles should you use? And how does this step work if you’re writing an ebook?
Read on for everything you need to know about how to create a table of contents for your book.
The Importance of Creating A Table of Contents
Maybe you’re on a different page. Maybe you forgot about the table of contents completely and you weren’t planning to add one to your book at all! But this part of your book is extremely important for your readers.
Think about it: When you open a new book, you skim over the table of contents to get a birds-eye-view of what’s coming. As you’re reading, you might flip back to the table of contents if you have a question. And later, even years after you’ve read the book, you might still be using the table of contents if you’re trying to find a certain part of the book you remember reading.
A table of contents tells your readers what to expect in the coming pages. It’s a way to organize your book — and it tells your readers the initial story to hook them into the deeper story.
The following types of books should all include a table of contents:
- Memoirs or biographies
- Self-help books
- Books of poetry or short stories
- All nonfiction books
These kinds of books may or may not need a table of contents:
- Novels (while it’s helpful to have a guide to the story, some people think a table of contents in a novel can spoil the ending if the chapters have names)
These two lists are not hard-and-fast rules. In some cases, you might need to make your own decision about what’s best.
If you’re planning to pursue traditional publishing — where you submit your manuscript to a literary agent or a publishing company, hoping they’ll publish your book — a table of contents becomes even more important.
Your book proposal will need to include the table of contents for your book. And this table of contents could be the ultimate deciding factor for whether or not your book gets published.
Phew! No pressure… but your table of contents is important.
When to Write the Table of Contents
It’s good to start early and leave room for this page to change. As you get ready to start writing your book, use a book writing template to help you map out the potential chapters you’re going to include. Make a list of these chapters to serve as your base table of contents. Later, you can update the list by adding, deleting, or changing items as needed.
Once you add your table of contents to your finished manuscript, this page should be located after the title page of your book but before the first page. This probably goes without saying, but your table of contents will list all of the chapters in your book and the page number where they can be found.
How to Create A Table of Contents
Ready to get started? Here are some tips for how to create a table of contents for your book.
Reference Other Books
Use other books for inspiration as you plan your table of contents. Pick up a few books from the library — books that are in the same genre as yours are ideal — and page through them, looking to see how their table of contents was formatted.
Look for things like how page numbers and heading text is formatted. Also, consider if it appears to be a basic table of contents or if a more creative spin was put on it and it’s more of a custom table of contents. eBooks may appear to have more custom styles as they have the ability to be a bit more interactive, clickable and unique than a print book.
Doing this research can help you figure out what you do and don’t like when it comes time to create your own table of contents.
There are some unique formats out there! Once you’ve given yourself a crash course in the table of contents section of a book, you’ll be equipped to create your own.
Use an Automatic Template
Microsoft Word makes it easy to create a table of contents in the document you’re drafting your book in, so there’s no need to type it out manually.
Instead, to insert an automatic table of contents in your Word document, go to Document Elements and choose the table of contents style you’d like to insert.
If you’re not interested in the idea of taking the time to figure out what your table of contents should look like and piece a manual table together, using these templates is a great way to create an automatic table of contents in just a few clicks.
Microsoft word isn’t the only system that allows you to create an automatic table with features like built-in heading styles, though.
Google Docs also allows you to insert a preformatted table of contents.
Click “Insert,” scroll down the list of choices, and click “Table of Contents” at the bottom. Similarly, Google Docs will drop a ready-made table of contents into your document, utilizing your headers to automatically update and create the contents and page numbers.
Wait until you’re fully ready before adding this in — if you make any further changes, you’ll have to manually edit the table of contents to reflect those.
There are other online tools that can help you create a table of contents, too. For example, many authors choose to draft their book in a word processing program called Scrivener. This program has a table of contents feature.
Bottom line: If you feel nervous about figuring out how to create an entire table of contents on your own, don’t worry. There are plenty of digital tools out there that you can use to help get the job done.
Refer to Your Outline
Step one of your book writing journey should always be to create an outline.
An outline helps you stay organized, making sure your ideas flow in a logical order. It also helps prevent writer’s block because you know where you’re going when you sit down to write. You can create an outline by brainstorming ideas, shuffling them into an order that makes sense, and fleshing out the details.
When it comes time to write your table of contents, you can draw on your outline if you aren’t sure where to start. What you wrote in your outline may be slightly different than what you want to include here, but the outline will help guide you to write the best table of contents for your readers.
Should you copy your outline verbatim? Probably not. Your outline is likely much more detailed than your table of contents will be. Your table of contents should include chapter names or numbers, and potentially subheadings or subsections within those chapters — but that’s about as deep as you want to go.
However, even though you shouldn’t necessarily copy your outline, it can serve as a helpful guide if you’re trying to structure your table of contents.
Decide on Chapter Titles
Some authors don’t name the chapters or sections of their books. They simply list the chapters in numbers, such as:
- Chapter One
- Chapter Two
- Chapter Three
In other cases, you might decide to give your chapters names:
- Early Life
- My College Years
- Entering the Workforce
While it isn’t necessary to give your chapters titles or names, including chapter titles can be a good way to get your readers excited about what’s to come.
Think of the chapter titles as little previews of each section of the book, hooking your reader and grabbing their attention so they’ll want to keep reading. Chapter titles can also help you stay organized, serving as a benchmark or guideline to ensure the location of the chapter breaks makes sense.
If you do decide to create chapter titles, it should go without saying that these titles need to be relevant, engaging, well-chosen, and match the tone of the rest of your book. They should also be consistent with each other. If you use a long sentence for one chapter title (“The One Where I Got My First Job”), you should use similar sentences for every chapter title. Or if you title your first chapter “How to Write A Speech,” every chapter following needs to use the same how-to format. This consistency looks nice on paper and helps your readers know what to expect.
Make Tweaks For Ebooks
Ebooks are a great way to publish your book and get your story out there. Anyone can use the Internet to easily publish and distribute an ebook. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to complete the publishing process — and your book will be highly accessible to readers all over the world.
Another great feature about ebooks is that you can use all of the cool, fancy options the Internet offers you. Add hyperlinks in your book. Include interactive elements. And consider adding a drop-down table of contents.
If your book has multiple parts within chapters, this could be a good feature for you to use. With a drop-down table of contents, a reader simply taps on an arrow and the table of contents expands. You can make your own HTML table of contents. Or, if you’re publishing via Amazon Direct Publishing, use Kindle Create to easily design a Kindle Interactive table of contents.
An ebook table of contents should always include embedded links to each chapter. That way, all your reader has to do is tap or click on the chapter name, and they’ll instantly be redirected to that chapter.
Like any book, your table of contents in an ebook will also help readers decide whether they want to buy that book. Platforms like Amazon allow readers to peek under the cover and take a deeper look at the book — viewing pages like the table of contents. If it’s well-written and well-formatted, your table of contents can go a long way in drawing them in.
Succeed With My Book Writing Template
Writing a book is hard. But some authors may argue that writing the book’s table of contents is harder! Luckily, neither one has to be that difficult.
My Book Writing Template teaches you everything you need to know to write the book of your dreams. In this template, we explore how to map out your book one page at a time and how to tie those ideas together into one comprehensive story.
Ready to see your name in print — table of contents included? Click here to download my book writing template today.
About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian's goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.