4 Reasons Why You Need a Table of Contents

Ascentive presents: Writer’s Corner with Bryan Keithley

Table Of ContentsIn the digital age, many self-publishing writers question the value of the good ol’ Table of Contents. Similar to doubts about the end-of-book index (which actually has experienced a steep decline with ebooks), the thinking is: Why bother? With digital bookmarking and keyword search functions, who uses the Table of Contents anymore?

Well, there are four very good reasons why your book should not only include a ToC, but should start with a ToC. And here’s why:


Ease of navigation – Even though there are keyword searches, older readers in particular prefer to navigate an ebook from the handy Table of Contents. Well-formatted ToC’s should include embedded links to the chapters/sections of the book, which make it even easier to reach a desired section. You want to give the reader more guideposts, not less, and a ToC provides a simple and logical “nexus” of guideposts.

Readers judge your book by your ToC – If you use a service like Amazon to sell books, the “Look Inside!” feature will often be used by readers trying to get a very quick “handle” on the book—that is, if they get past the description on the product page. So, you should take special care to develop a comprehensive ToC with catchy (yet descriptive) titles to draw skeptical readers in.

Agents and publishers judge your book by your ToC – Many authors use self-publishing as a springboard to conventional publishing, or they self-publish while also pursuing literary agents and publishers. In these cases, book proposals will always include a ToC (along with a sentence or two description of each section). These busy book executives may give your ToC a glance and decide whether your book has merit or not.

The ToC is a good guide for your own writing – At a basic level, chapters divide a book into manageable chunks—whether that division is in terms of plot, theme, food types for recipes, periods in history, or anything else. For beginning writers feeling an ebook is a daunting task, a ToC is a great way to “reverse engineer” your book. Break apart your subject into discrete sections you can handle, and your book will be that much easier to write.

What do you think? Any other essential tips for novice self-publishers? Fire away!


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