Episode 102 – Scams, Tables of Contents, and Digital Book World

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Question of the Week: What’s your take on back matter Tables of Contents needing to change and how will this impact you? Will you need to reformat your books?

A front matter firestorm erupted this week in the indie author community, and Jim and Bryan are here to shine some light on it. After thanking their latest patron (W.C. Hoffman and his book Twins of Prey http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JCSDYTK ), they took on a trio of tips about networking, extroverting, and finding beta readers. News stories included the sins and virtues of email marketing, takeaways from Digital Book World, Data Guy’s first public appearance, Kindle Unlimited scam artists, and Amazon’s knee jerk Terms of Service change. This week’s Question of the Week: What’s your take on back matter Tables of Contents needing to change and how will this impact you? Will you need to reformat your books?
What You’ll Learn:
  • How to connect with other members of the indie community
  • Why you shouldn’t consider extroversion as a permanent trait
  • How to find beta readers for your next book
  • The sins and virtues of email marketing
  • Four takeaways from Digital Book World
  • How Data Guy charmed the Big Five during DBW
  • What scammers are doing to exploit Kindle Unlimited
  • How Amazon overreached and damaged indies
Question of the Week: What’s your take on back matter Tables of Contents needing to change and how will this impact you? Will you need to reformat your books?

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  • Lavie Margolin

    The first time I heard about placing TOC in the back, it was a technique so that when readers “look inside” on Amazon, they are more likely to engage in the actual content of the book quicker. I never did this so it will not affect me. A book that places a TOC in the back just seemed unprofessional to me as a reader.

    • Bryan

      Understood. Glad you won’t have to make any changes, Lavie!

    • Most fiction doesn’t need a TOC, but you need one if you want to be able to swipe from chapter to chapter on your kindle (like my Touch). Might as well put it at the back, since no one wants the actual visible TOC in fiction, as they usually don’t even have names, just Chapter 1, Chapter 2.

  • Chris Syme

    I know this ToC thing is a bummer for many but if people can scam it, we all need to comply or run the chance of getting books pulled. I think Mark Dawson recommended this technique a while back but he was not aware that this was coming down the pike. How can we know these things ahead of time? It isn’t until Amazon lowers the hammer that we find out. I agree with Jim that links may go away in ebooks. This is a great example of why indies need to stay on top of Amazon. Agree with Bryan about giving us a heads up–why couldn’t Amazon generate an email to everyone (via KDP) at the very least. I haven’t seen any such email–has anyone?

    • Bryan

      I haven’t seen an email from KDP for sure.

  • I’ve moved all my HTML TOC to the front. For years, we all used the industry standard of an HTML TOC in the back to increase the sample size for search inside. When Amazon made it mandatory to use NCX TOC, they relegated HTML TOC to the “nice to have” category. The HTML version is really only useful for the older devices, which can’t use NCX (first and second gen kindles). Those devices are passing into history now.


    I have maps, about the author, copyright, other titles, etc all in the back of the book. So in theory, clicking the TOC to view the map will STILL take people to the back of the book. So I’m not sure what the answer is for Amazon. I think each page of a book needs a pixel or something, that flips a counter in the device like this: on,off,on,off,on… each flip = 1. So jumping to the back is 1 flip = 1 page.

    The other way is to break all links in Kindle Unlimited books. I’m not in KU, so I don’t mind if they do that.


    • Bryan

      The pixel idea is nice. I also like the thought of breaking links in KU books. I mean, I don’t like it for email list clicks. Maybe breaking all non-external links?

      • Yes, internal would be good enough. Dump the HTML TOC idea altogether as well. So only NCX TOC would work, BUT how would that stop my map in the back from registering a full read when ALL pages including the map ARE in the NCX too? I think the pixel idea is the ONLY sure-fire way to solve this.

  • TOC: The way the KU scammed works is that Amazon cannot really determine how many pages you’ve read, but only LAST page read. By Putting the TOC in the back, if you click through to it, it’ll show up as reading the whole book, thus earning you MAX KENP. What the scammers were doing was pushing out 3,000 page ( Or more: 3,000 pages is the new MAX payout) junk books: scraped content, Gutenberg, whatever, and then putting a link at the beginning saying “TOC here”, or “Click to win a Kindle!!!” then linking to the back of their junky book, thus triggering the Max Payout. Because of the limited pot,this makes legitimate authors payout per page much less. Frankly, it sucks for amazon and writers who rely on KU.

    • Bryan

      Ah ha. That makes sense. Thanks for the clear up.

      • That Being said, I think this is a back eye to Amazon. Overall, it doesn’t hurt Amazon, since KU is such a tiny slice of their pie. They used their own deep pockets to support KU and then used that to further commoditize eBooks. But
        realistically, they sold you on payment per page, without having any way
        to actually deliver. Authors should be upset, but so far, the writer’s I’ve seen have been kind of resigned to it: If
        you’re Kindle Exclusive, you rely on KU Money and Amazon’s Whims.

        • Bryan

          It’s true.

  • I originally had the TOC in the front, but then I read that placing it in the back allowed the reader—who is previewing the book—to see more of the actual content, so I moved it. And, yes, I will be moving the TOC back to the front of my books. I have already moved one, and will work on the others when I have time. It is a real pain doing this, not only because of the time involved, but because I’m afraid I will break something 🙁 

    And just like Bryan and Jim said, Amazon wants the TOC in the front.

    5.1 HTML TOC Guidelines
    Place the HTML TOC towards the beginning of the book and not at the end of the book. This ensures that a customer paging through the book from the beginning encounters the TOC naturally. Incorrect placement of the TOC affects the accuracy of the “Last Page Read” feature. Correct placement ensures that the TOC appears in sample downloads of the book

    • Bryan

      Thanks for the quote from the TOS, Connie :).

  • I’m in the process of moving to a new domain for my website so I already need to republish all my books. As a customer, I like to preview the TOC for story/essay collections and nonfiction books. The TOC can be a selling point, giving the customer a better idea of what topics are covered, but for novels, the TOC in the preview is wasted real estate.

    • Bryan


  • If your book is short and your TOC long, you can contact Amazon and increase your sample size. I don’t think a reader is going to get bored by paging forward a few more pages to get to the meat of your sample, although I like the idea of being able to keep the TOC from the sample in theory. In a perfect world, they’d let you customize the sample with some sort of tool, but that’s work.

    • Bryan


    • But why would the TOC for a short book be long? I think you can increase your sample size as well.

      • In general, it wouldn’t be, but it might be long in relation to the total book. In this case it would make up a high percentage of the sample.

        Non-fiction books sometimes have LOTS of tiny chapters or the author sometimes lists 1 or 2 levels of heading under the chapter name to give readers the ability to jump to a specific spot.

  • Laura Morelli

    Traditionally, European nonfiction books have TOCs at the back. Readers know to go to the back, just as readers in the U.S. know to look in the front for it. I wonder if and how this new “TOC must be in the front” rule could impact international authors?

    If amazon really has no way to count pages read but they are selling their whole KDP model on the idea, that’s a horrible abuse of trust between amazon and its authors.

    • Bryan

      Yeah. Boo on them.

  • I’d love to say I was prescient enough to know this type of thing would happen, but as has often been the case in my life, I simply got dumb-lucky. I’d read David Gaughran’s perfectly sensible tip about putting the TOC in the back, but then made a form-over-function decision and kept mine at the front just because I liked it better that way, aesthetically speaking.

    I also enjoy coming up with chapter names rather than simply numbering them—and readers have told me they like that aspect of the book—so the TOC does give a bit of a taste of what’s to come.

    As I said, though, I can’t claim any sort of wisdom on this front. I just happened to stumble into the right decision.

    • Bryan

      I’ve always thought you were particularly prescient.

  • Crissy Moss

    There are other ways to optimize TOC, like keeping chapter titles short, and formatting them so they only take up a page.

    I feel like a TOC at the back of the book serves no purpose, and if you’re going to do that you might consider removing the TOC all together.

    Another thing to consider… I put an advert in the front of my book for a free book if you sign up for my mailing list, as you suggested Bryan, and now these scam artists might make people think twice before clicking that button. That’s unfortunate.

    • Bryan

      Agreed. That is unfortunate.

  • TOC’s help those purchasing the book decide if they want to do so. The book blurb and what is in the sample should be enough to tell someone if they want to invest in a purchase, really.

    The sample issue isn’t as much an issue for readers in KU. KU readers aren’t paying by copy; those readers who want the TOC as a guide for what’s in the book are those who are paying for the individual copies. In other words, for KU reads, there’s no logical reason to put the TOC in the back OTHER than to link it in the front and have people click to it. Think of it this way–even a legitimate collection of short stories would ping as being completely read if someone borrowed it on KU and clicked to the TOC to get to the one story in the collection they wanted to read.

    • Bryan

      That last point is very true, A. I was recently doing exactly that on a collection of short stories.

    • I’m not a KU author, so in curious…can you submit a different version of your book for KU as opposed to for sale? Because I would think even KU authors would want to maximize their sample content for buyers outside of KU…

      • Perhaps, but if a single page is going to keep someone from buying my book, they probably aren’t going to buy it any way. The words on a TOC aren’t likely to cut that much into the 10% total.

  • Dave Core

    There are so many problems with this issue Amazon hasn’t even considered. Suppose an author has a book with illustrations like maps or floor plans, and the author collected them as figure 1, figure 2 etc in the back of the book. Suppose a reader likes to flip to the back to get an idea how much back matter they have to account for in the progress bar? And now that we know about the glitch, what’s to stop a writer from getting all of his friends who have KU accounts from downloading and flipping to the back just to help the author make a few bucks?

    • Bryan

      Good points, Dave.

  • A comment on the beta-reader story–I went to the site and found that GoodReads is not one of the sites mentioned. Given a recent horrible experience with a beta reader (and a horrible experience beta reading for a couple of people looking for readers) in a group on GoodReads, I’m interested in hearing what others have to say about if they’ve used GoodReads groups to find betas or to beta for others.

    • Bryan

      Well, maybe that’s why Goodreads wasn’t mentioned ;).

      • Indeed. I’ve been lurking since and may have to exit (at least from the groups I’m in).

  • Chris Syme

    This is for Jim: even though we do not have a name, how about an email address? From Data Guy’s appearance at the DBW conference: http://publishingperspectives.com/2016/03/author-earnings-at-digital-book-world-conference/#.VuwAKuJri_4

    • Bryan

      It’s not enough! 😉

  • This one won’t really affect me. However, I do think its interesting that indies are being penalized for changing the traditional format of the book (it makes sense, when you start an Amazon book it usually jumps to the TOC, so if its at the back – you could scam the page reads). But the whole point of moving to a digital reading experience is so that we can experiment and alter that way people read books.
    If books still look/function the way they do now 100 years from now, somethings wrong.

    • Bryan

      Great point, David. Something’s gotta give.

  • Perry Constantine

    I think Amazon’s reasoning for the TOC having to be in the front instead of the back is that if someone wants to access the TOC, they might get sent to the back of the book, triggering a full read. That’s just my theory, though, not sure if it’s accurate.

    In regards to my take on it, I think Amazon’s trying to kill a fly with a shotgun, meaning that going after the TOC is not only overkill, but it’s also ineffective. There’s got to be a better way for them to go about doing this.

    All that being said, it doesn’t affect me at all. I thought about putting my TOC to the back of my books in the past, but I format my ebooks in Scrivener and the TOC gets put in right after my front matter. I’ve heard there’s a way to change this but I don’t know how. Now I’m glad I never figured it out.

    • Bryan

      “I think Amazon’s trying to kill a fly with a shotgun.” Great imagery :).

  • I’m a bit surprised at this knee-jerk reaction by Amazon. Clearly, based on all the comments, there are still a bunch of ways to scam the system. Moving the TOC Seems like it must be just a drop in the bucket of how people are manipulating pages read.

    I really like Mark Cooper’s pixel idea. It seems like it would be relatively easy to implement and would give Amazon all the data they need to truly represent pages read. Surely someone at Amazon has come up with a similar long-term fix.

    Amazon needs to stop punishing the many for the acts of the few, especially when it’s their own faulty assumptions that allowed for the scam in the first place!

  • Margarita Morris

    I think the TOC should be in the front of the book because it gives the reader an overview of what to expect before they start reading the text. However, authors need to think carefully about how many chapters their book really needs. Dozens of chapters result in unwieldy TOCs so authors should consider organising their content into fewer larger chapters with scene or section breaks within each chapter.

    • Bryan

      Maybe that’ll be a new adaptation for ebooks after the change. Thanks, Margarita.

  • Kendall Hanson

    The TOC change is a pain to adapt, though doable if irritating and costly. Jim’s suggestion of the eventual removal of links, though, would be a disaster for authors and for Amazon. Looks as though the impact will fall mainly on non-fiction.

    • Bryan

      Agreed, Kendall. Good point.

  • Connie B. Dowell

    Just got back from nearly 2 weeks of travel, already have a pile of work waiting, and now I have to fix TOCs! Boo. Frankly, I put them in the back not because it increases sample size, but because (at least on Kindle) you can access the TOC as a menu. A reader doesn’t really need to look at the TOC in the document itself at all, so (I thought at the time) why not get it out of the way? So much for being thoughtful.

  • Can Amazon tell the last page viewed even if it isn’t the page where you “closed” the book? I ask because I’d like to quit allowing the scammers to make me an unwitting accomplice. If I find myself with a scam book and go back to the beginning before closing, will it count as zero page reads? I’m thinking this won’t work with Kindle for PC because my computer is online all the time but my Kindle Fire only gets connected when I want to download books. Anyone have insight on this?

    • Bryan

      Great question. No idea!

  • Kendall Hanson

    No problem with Google Books scanning as long as they are only showing excerpts. If fact, I know from my own practice that showing off a bit of a book has led me to purchase the book, especially if it was one I might want for research down the road. Vice versa for the poorly written work, but as Lt. Drebbin said in Naked Gun, “I think that’s just common sense, don’t you?”