Does your e-book need a table of contents?

You have written your e-book and are ready to publish it. So do you need to include a table of contents? Well, that will depend on the type of book. If you have written a non-fiction book or are publishing a collection of stories (whether they are an anthology, short stories or a “box set” of your trilogy), then yes you do need a table of contents (TOC). This will aid the reader in finding the story or section (in a non-fiction book) that they want to read.

As for your fiction novel, well that is a matter of preference. I have seen many readers comments that it is a “must” and others who don’t care at all whether there is a TOC.

Here are a few opinions from the Kindle Boards:

“Personally, I hate e-books that have page after page of TOC links before the book starts. And in view of the problem this creates with readers who sample first, I’m pretty sure such a strong argument can be made against using them. Additionally, I have never once pulled up the TOC in any book I’ve read on my Kindle. Why would I when my Kindle saves my place?”

“When I get stuff on my Kindle from Amazon it automatically starts on Chapter 1 bypassing the TOC stuff. I always scroll back to re-look at the cover, so I see the TOC then, and it always looks odd, so I don’t put them in my books…though I understand it can be useful to people.”

“When I read a novel in e-book format, I always skip right over the TOC. Unless the chapter has a descriptive title, as in nonfiction, a TOC is useless and pointless.”

“As a reader, it is a bit of a slap in the face to read ‘I don’t use a TOC, so I don’t add one.’ I want a TOC.”

“What I’ve found is that people who don’t want them can skip them. But people who do want them will be vocal about not having them. So I think it’s safer to have them then to not have them.”

“I never used to–until I read a thread here where readers very vocally preferred to have them.  I don’t use them, so I never thought about it.  But I posted new versions of all my stuff last month that have TOC’s now.  If readers want them, that’s all I need to know.”

“I am baffled to read the posts that this is even considered as optional in an ebook. I am also baffled by those saying most of their owned ebooks don’t have it. Most of the ones I buy do, and I expect it. If it’s not there, I look at it as unprofessional.”

As you can see, opinions (from readers and authors) vary greatly on this subject. When I published my first two novels (Summoned and Quietus), I had never heard about readers wanting a TOC, so I did not include them as I never use the TOC. My next release was a short story (The Search) which only contains five chapters. Again, I felt no need to include a TOC on such a short work.

When I published Destiny (the final installment of my trilogy), I decided to go ahead and include a TOC since it seemed some readers prefer them as you can see from the comments above. And of course when I published The Elemental box set, I added a basic TOC that linked you to the start of each individual novel but did not create a TOC for each individual chapter in each novel.

So whether you add a TOC to your novel is up to you. I feel that if some readers prefer it, I will continue to add a TOC with those readers in mind. The easiest way to add the TOC is to follow the instructions in the Smashword Guide. I used it both times I added a TOC and found it simple to follow and worked beautifully.

6 thoughts on “Does your e-book need a table of contents?

  1. Joan Lindgren says:

    I personally don’t care about a table of contents, but if others find it helpful, add it.

  2. Spearcarrier says:

    Often I’m asked by clients not to add a table of contents into their fiction books. Not having a table of contents in a linear story has quite the precedence besides: all those books out there with no table of contents… just starting out with a chapter 1 as if they expect the reader to know what they’re doing or something… So when I format and with my own books it just depends on the material. But when I do add a TOC I try to keep it short: pages and pages of TOC can be overly verbose and annoying.

  3. In fiction I make sure that the ToC is at the end so that it does not interfere with a reader getting immediately into the story and it doesn’t take up space in the preview. Plus it shows in the ToC feature of the ereader, which adds to the professional appearance of the finished product.

  4. Good article.
    I am including one in my debut YA Sci-Fi ebook.

    I’m not one that takes much notice of contents, as electronically you can place a bookmark or have the device remember where you are.

    The only reason I’m putting it in, is if the reader is intrigued by what the chapter titles are.

    I think I will keep adding ToC, and if the reader doesn’t want to know about them, they can swipe their fingers and skip them.

    When it comes to the paperback/PoD, I will leave the ToC out, as it feels a little superficial.

    Agreed that ToC for Non-Fiction is a must.

  5. […] is most often added to non-fiction books. Now whether your fiction book needs a TOC is a matter of preference. If you do include a TOC, it should be right before your first chapter or […]

  6. itsabusyday says:

    Then i guess adding a table of content is better than having none at all.

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