Sunday, 8 May 2016

To TOC Or Not To TOC

Here's one I made earlier

A Table Of Contents (TOC) is standard in non-fiction, but what about fiction? Well, opinions vary.

Let me start by clarifying that I am talking about printed fiction. Generally all e-books have a TOC to make navigation easier, and it is a requirement of publishing on some sites. Amazon KDP says "A working table of contents allows readers to go directly to chapters or sections by clicking links in the table of contents (TOC). This feature is so important to Kindle customers that Amazon requires all Kindle eBooks with chapters or sections to have a working TOC." [Source] Their guidelines also specify that "To avoid interrupting the customer’s reading progress, we recommend placing it at the front of the book."

But for printed fiction a TOC is generally optional, with the exception of a collection of poetry or short stories which would definitely need a TOC.

If the book is made up of chapters that are just numbered sequentially - 1, 2, 3; Chapter One, Chapter Two - then a TOC adds little and is rarely added. One book I saw recently alternated between two chapter titles as the perspective switched, something like The House, followed by On The Island, then the next chapter being The House again - another case where a TOC would look strange.

That leaves a liminal area, such as books with evocative chapter titles that can be enticing, and may benefit from being grouped together at the start of a book. Or if there is a lot of endmatter (book club questions, notes, a section about the author, and so on) then a TOC can help in finding the section you want. Some people say include one in those cases because the reader can ignore the TOC if they want, but it is better to offer the option than take away the reader's choice. Another benefit is that a TOC can be useful and intriguing; sometimes I refer back to them to get an overview of the novel's structure and thereby (sometimes) its meaning; or just to remind me of what happened after a break from reading. On the other hand, since traditional publishing generally doesn't bother with them in a normal printed novel, a ToC can look amateurish and indicate self-published status.

How do you feel about a TOC in printed fiction? Old fashioned, or useful?

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1 comments:

Karl Drinkwater said...

I changed my mind. TOCs in all e-books (it is a requirement) but only in print if it is a short-story collection.