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.