Book Parts and Better Engagement - Anatomy of an Afterword
By Kris Maze
Quick quiz. Can you tell me the difference between a foreword and a preface? Or the purpose of an Epilogue versus a Conclusion? Maybe you can with a few internet searches to clarify the fine details, or maybe you are a literary expert, but the essential parts of a book are more than necessary texts when publishing. They can help authors better engage their readers too.
This is the first installment on the anatomy of a book, which will cover many of the confusing book elements, when to use them, and where they are located. We will examine the purpose and placement of these parts but will also find meaningful ways to use them to reach your readers. If you’ve recently finished writing your first draft, or have multiple best sellers under your writerly belt, this series can improve your connection to readers if you reflect on how these parts can best support your novel.
Author Notes and Afterword
An author can make a personal statement to their readers in a few ways when constructing a book. It is an optional part of a book, but it can deepen the reader’s experience as they get a window into the author’s world and mind. Think of it as a letter to your reader, in your voice, and adding your behind-the-scenes insights.
Writers can add their letter to the beginning or end of the main part of their novels. When included at the beginning, it is called a preface. When used at the end of a novel, the author’s note is called an afterword. There is no major difference between the two, except their placement.
The author can choose between the two types of author notes but wouldn’t use both because it would be redundant. Depending on the content of their book, some authors want to explain more after the conclusion of their story, to wrap up major questions readers might have. Other books may benefit from setting up the reader’s expectations or explain why they wrote the book before the readers engage with the story. We will go over what things to address in the afterword and you can decide whether an afterword or preface would be better in your novel.
Key Aspects Covered in an Afterword
The purpose of an afterword is to share the writer’s world with the reader and give them information about various aspects that would not be directly covered in the book's content. Common topics covered in this part of the book will depend on the type of story written, the underlying wow factor of these topics in the book's formation, and the author’s intent. It is up to the author to write about what they believe would be an additional treat to the reader, so choose wisely.
Common topics include:
the author’s background and why they are qualified to write this specific story
the sources used to form the book and their connection to story or the real world
the writing process used to create the book
the challenges and success moments the writer had writing the book
the elements of the story itself that may need clarification or further explanation
the intended audience and why the book was written with them as an inspiration
The afterword should have just enough background details to satisfy the readers’ questions about who wrote this book. Think of it as a cherry on top of a perfectly balanced banana split sundae with all the works. It should complement the story, and highlight key points, or underlying themes the author wanted to make clear.
Whatever content the author uses in an afterword, it should be short, as in a page or two. Short and sweet will keep the reader from wandering off. By picking only a few of the topics above that connect deeply to your ideal reader’s interests, and avoiding less juicy tidbits, this book part can truly tighten up a novel’s impact on a reader.
Writing About the Story
Writing about the story itself can add depth to the reader’s understanding of your work. Here are various ways to connect your readers to your story. See if any of these would work in your book.
Summarize the key points of themes to drive a main point home
Try a different format and share it with your readers. Maybe create a poem, news clip, or diary journal entry that speaks of the story and its characters.
Reference other works and point out parallels and intended nuances between your work and others
Explain any poetic leave-takings describing elements of your story that could be debatable. Show facts versus fiction, and when you relied on temporary-suspension-of-belief in order to carry the momentum of your story.
Identify and explain omissions, abridgments, simplifications, and inventions in your book.
Provide background on why your settings, timeframes, character flaws, and the like were chosen and perhaps share how omitting them would change the story you wrote.
Describe events occurring before or after the main content of your story to add context for the reader.
Talk to your readers about controversial themes or occurrences of sensitive material in your book.
Discuss the remaining questions or intentional mysteries in your work.
Open a conversation on the broader impact of stories like yours.
The way a writer writes fascinates many readers. Let them into your creative journey and tell them the personal struggles and victories you had along the way.
Pull back the curtain on your writing process and describe the logistics of where and when you are the most inspired to write your books.
Share how long it took to write your book. A decade, or all-at-once-from-a-dream, the time it took you to write your book could be an interesting fact to a reader.
Give readers a visual on a unique part of your writing process. Do you write the first chapter with a quill pen? Do you have a closet full of thumb drives from individual projects? Mood boards that cover all the walls of your living room? Show the readers an unusual aspect of your writing routine.
Tell readers about your challenges and disappointing moments. This can make the reader have empathy for you and your characters. It builds up their feelings towards the book and their own reader’s journey. These are the connections that keep readers coming back for more.
Give readers a laugh. Do you have a funny story or a mishap to share? Tell them in a blooper-reel style and let them know writers are human too.
Share something you learned while writing your book. Tell them about research you did or places you traveled to for background on characters, setting, and story. Take them along on your adventure and give them insight into your writerly curiosity.
Get deep and share a reflection you had while writing. Our stories may be made up, but they conjure up real revelations about important issues and personal understanding. Opening up to readers on topics shared in the book can add value to the content of your book.
When talking about who you are as a writer in your afterword, you want to make it different from your author bio. This is the place to dive a little deeper into what makes you exceptionally qualified to write the piece you did. See if these ideas would be useful for your own afterword.
Add your background information that specifically connects to your story.
Tell your own powerful story that led to a striking aspect of your book, or of an experience that taught you about the tragedy or joy that one of your characters goes through.
Explain how your life experience has informed your story and why it gave you insights others might not have. What training, travel, or life lessons helped you write this novel? This is a great place to share it with the readers of your book.
Do you have credentials that make you an expert and are there unique reasons to share that with your readers? Tell them why you took that path and how it makes you a better writer.
How did events in history impact how you could tell this story? If you had first person engagement, perhaps this is a key to your authority to tell this story. For example, let’s say your father was in the Twin Towers on 9/11, learning from his perspective, or the family aftermath if he didn’t make it, would make an impactful story.
Do you have connections with someone affected by your book topic? A close friend, daughter, or parent who has a similar story? Here is a good place to add this inspiration to your book.
Is the tale closely related to a personal hurdle or a setback you overcame? Let your readers see how your own story influenced what you wrote. Share details about how your life was similar, but also how the story was dramatized.
Sources for the Book
Sometimes how a writer gets information to write a book is as interesting as the story itself. Tell the readers about where you got your sources, how you obtained specific pivotal information in your story, or why your sources were especially impactful for your tale.
Why did you use these sources instead of others?
Were there challenges that happened when trying to use these sources?
Were there interviews that changed the way you thought about your theme or topic?
Who was available or not available to share insights for your story?
What funny or ironic stories can you share about your sources?
Where could readers find out more about your topic or theme?
Could your readers reach out to or support the organizations or individuals that you used as sources?
List references and organizations that you found helpful. This gives your readers a point and a place to verify your ideas.
Since the afterword is basically a letter to your readers, this is a good place to address their needs. Acknowledge your audience by pointing out reasons they would likely choose your story to read. Take time to address questions you think they would have. Thank them for their patronage, following, and support.
How would your audience like to be thanked? Think of style and voice and give them a personalized piece of your writing.
Talk about why you wrote the piece with them, the audience, in mind.
Express known concerns of your collective readers about pivotal or controversial aspects of your story. Does killing off your quirky side-character cause a stir? Explain why you did it, or hint at a prequel story that highlights the life of that reader's favorite.
Give readers a heads up if you are trying something new. Did you play with a new genre or POV? Talk about why you made those changes, and why you thought your readers might appreciate your new additions.
Make a gentle call-to-action and prompt readers to give feedback or reviews at your preferred source.
Post a question to your readers to have them think deeper about your theme or topic.
Grow this audience by leading them to your community connection place. For example, if you regularly hang out on #AuthorTok, Facebook, Instagram, or Threads, share that place for readers to interact with you on that topic (just be prepared to show up regularly, in order to chat with your fans.)
Writing an afterword is an optional opportunity to engage with your readership. Keep these suggestions in mind as you reach out to your readers with this part of the book.
Connect, connect, connect. Readers more than ever want added value to the books they purchase. They want to have a special connection with the author. A wise author would share personal aspects of their writing lives with their readers and build their fanbase in the process.
Be authentic. Be yourself and share your real self with your readers. Lift the veil on what makes you write.
Identify and address the concerns, insights, and bent of your ideal audience. Give them something to think about critically. Give them a promise, if you want, to continue providing thought-provoking stories.
Build a relationship with your readers. Stories flood the book market today in nearly every genre, so how can an author stand out in the sea of pages? By finding your own school of reader-fish.
Build an audience by adding personal touches to your marketing and author presence. Let the audience see who you are, offer opportunities to connect with you, and show them you are worthy of their readership.
Being an author is all about reaching readers and to better engage them in your books. Don’t overlook the small-but-mighty afterword when putting together your next project. With the right touches tailored to your specific audience, an afterword can be a bonus that solidifies how a reader feels about your story.
This is one tool that authors can use to build a more engaging book. Look for future posts from me on anatomy of a book and how to use them for more reader engagement. Until then, keep on reading and growing with our posts at WITS.
Want to work with Kris? Find her office hours and book coaching service here.
A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors.
And occasionally, she cruises on bike trails.
Want to try one of Kris’s science fiction stories? THIS WEEK ONLY! Her novella, Blue Foot, is available FREE at her website. Please leave a review in exchange to let her know what you think of it.
Wrongly accused and exiled, Ernestina Après faces the destruction of her family and life beneath the Dome. The Silver-Waters blessings are not in her favor, despite her warnings to the Counsel that the stream and its resources are running out. Caring for a stowaway, she may find solace and a silver-lining in her dire circumstances.