Where Do You Think An Ebook Should Start?

Oakland Running FestivalHere is something that has been bothering me for a while now. When you publish your Kindle books do you consider carefully where your readers start?

Did you know that you can choose the place that you want your readers to start? This is the place that the ebook will open, by default, the first time it is opened by a reader.

Who was it that came up with the idea of starting ebooks from the beginning of the first chapter?

I don’t know about you but when I open an ebook, I prefer to see the front matter. I like to see the author’s name before I start reading.  I usually have a quick read through any dedications and acknowledgements.

I also quite like to see the cover image. Remember that some e-reading devices list the ebooks on the device in text form rather than showing the book covers. For example on the Kindle 3 (keyboard) – which many readers are still using – the user sees the text of titles only when selecting a book saved to the device.

Occasionally when I don’t read the front matter of an ebook I find myself reading with no visual image of the cover; without any memory of the author’s name; and without reading any information that the author may have thought important to include in the front matter.

With non-fiction it can be even more important. You might miss an important disclaimer; you might have skipped the Table of Contents; and you even might have missed an invitation to download additional helpful material such as videos from the author’s web site.

I have explained here how I feel as a reader. So what does this all mean for self-publishing ebook authors? I believe you should consider carefully where you want your readers to start.

How do you change the starting location? I’ll quote from Kindle Direct Publishing:

“Kindle has the option to “Go To” the cover image, beginning and the Table of Contents of your book, anywhere from the content. These are defined by what is known as “Guide Items.” If you upload a cover image, the first Guide Item will be set automatically. To define the other Guide Items, follow the below steps:

For the Beginning:
Place the cursor where you want the book to start, click on “Insert > Bookmark.” In the “Bookmark name:” field, type “Start” (without the quotes) and click “Add.

Remember part of your success as an author depends upon how well you build your brand. I think that choosing carefully where your readers start can help them to become more familiar with you as an author.

DSC02100CrEdSqSm150x150About the Author

Gary McLaren is the author of “The Indie Author’s Guide to Publishing Ebooks“. You can connect with him via this blog or on , Facebook and Twitter.


About the Author: Gary McLaren

Gary McLaren is the author of 'The Indie Author's Guide to Publishing Ebooks'. He also manages several web sites for professional writers including Publish Your Own Ebooks and Worldwide Freelance.

Comments from Twitter:


  1. Actually I tried this method to define the “beginning” guide element, but it won’t work. It still points to the first item of the table of contents.
    So I created a guide element for the beginning on the opf file, before converting the html filtered file into mobi with Kindlegen. It works much better.

  2. I just assumed all e-books opened with a cover, copyright, title page and dedication, so this is a first for me. I want to publish my 10-year fiction project as an e-book, hoping to follow with a paperback… now I’m thinking I should do it the other way around. Thanks for your info.

    • Hi Jill, thanks for your comment. I think many writers are now doing an ebook first, but I’m sure it can work either way. And it might make a big difference whether or not you can secure a traditional publishing contact for the paperback.

  3. I’ve often thought it odd that e-books start with Chapter 1, instead of with the cover as they would if you picked up a paperback to read it. Nice to know that can be changed, and I certainly see the advantage going forward. But as a reader, I habitually just back up page-by-page to see the full cover and front matter or, on my iPad Kindle app, use the slider bar at the bottom of the page to choose the beginning point.

  4. I hate it when books open to anyplace but the cover image. If a reader bookmarks their position, it is not inconvenient to go to the bookmark, but seeing the cover image and having the option to review the front matter a second or third time is also very nice for readers.

  5. Just last night my son and I were talking about this. I agree with you Gary, I hate it when a Kindle ebook opens at the start of the main content, and skips the front matter.

  6. That always freaked me out when I first bought my Kindle years ago. With my own book, I didn’t find any way to set such a marker, so I left it at the default. As a reader and author, i totally agree that I want to read the book from the cover forward, or else what’s the point of all the front matter?

    I always assumed it is just another nod to the now-now-now ADHD culture in which people can’t wait to get started.

    I also assume that Amazon started the trend, or maybe Sony who pioneered before them. Maybe we should write to Mr. Bezos and ask him?

  7. Thanks for the info Gary, again a small detail that can add to the reader’s experience. Useful to know!

  8. Thanks for the pointer. It’s always really annoyed me when books open at the start of Chapter One. I want to see the cover etc and always end up flicking back the pages so I can start at the ‘proper’ beginning of any book.

  9. I recall someone suggesting once that Amazon should replace those “screensaver” pictures of authors (or add an option) and have the device display the cover of the current ebook when the Kindle is turned off. Does anyone know if this has been done on any models, or on other manufacturers’ e-readers?

    • Kobo uses the cover (or the first page, if there is no cover defined inside the ebook, like with many from Project Gutenberg) for the sleep and power off images – though it does give you the option to not do so (so the world isn’t being told you’re reading 50 Shades when you set it down for a minute.

  10. As a person who is a tad older, I’m still struggling with the idea of reading something where I can’t feel paper as I turn the pages. My vote is for every book to start with the cover, especially as the cover sometimes is the thing I remember best about the book. Also, that stuff at the front is important to get a feel for the author.

  11. The mobi formats from Amazon turn off the ability to have the cover appear on first open, unless you create a separate page in addition to the cover image that’s embedded when Kindlegen runs. Otherwise, you can make the book’s first-open location anywhere you like. For people making their own ebooks, you set this in the guide by giving the reference type a value of “text.” The code should look like this:

    For ePub files, the code is a little different depending on which device or application is playing the ebook. In most cases, as long as you define the cover page in the reference type and point it to the cover’s HTML/XHTML file then that’s what will appear on first open. The notable exception is iBooks, which requires that you set the cover’s linear property in the spine to true.

    As an ebook designer, I tend to set the first-open page to whatever the first page of content is … if for no other reason than the vast majority of the authors with whom my company works want it that way. The only thing I caution authors on is loading up the front matter with too much stuff that ultimately does little or nothing to help them convert samplers to buyers. I usually tell them to keep it lean: title page, contents, epigraph (if they have one) and dedication. Everything else can move to back matter.

    As a reader, I could not care less about your book’s front matter … just get me to the story. That’s how I read paper books, too.

    • Hi Rob, thanks for stopping by and sharing your feedback and advice with our readers. For those who don’t know Rob his company designs excellent ebook covers with some well known indie authors as clients including JA Konrath and Barry Eisler. Learn more at 52Novels.

  12. Frank Skornia says:

    I don’t really find the need to start an eBook at the cover. Especially since I read most on a black and white screen, the subtleties of the cover art are lost in a mess of gray scale. I do prefer that even my fiction books start at the table of contents, though. I like to get a sense of how the book is organized. Are there lots of tiny chapters or is the book divided into larger sections? Are the chapters named “Chapter 1”, “Chapter 2”, “Chapter 3”? Are they dates? Are they descriptive of the narrative or are they quotes? Is there a prologue or epilogue? I love reading ebooks, but these sort of clues are necessary when we can’t just flick through the pages to get a greater sense of the book.

    • Frank, thank you for your comment. One of my favorite reading devices is the Kindle 3 (Keyboard version)and like you I find the cover doesn’t look so great, or memorable in black and white. Every now and then I see a cover elsewhere in color and think, “Wow, so that’s what it was supposed to look like!” I find those chapter clues helpful too, depending upon the book.

  13. Count me among the readers that vastly prefers to start with the actual text of the story, rather than having to wade through page after page after page of acknowledgments, publisher information, author information, copyright information, cover image, table of contents, and so forth. Reading apps display books with cover images on a bookshelf and usually the ability to zoom full-screen, though without color, many covers are too dull or obscured to bother looking at.

    To be honest, when I have time, I use Calibre to \’explode\’ epub files, fix them to start on page 1, then convert back into a device-specific (Nook Touch) epub. That way, I can always click through the ToC if I do have a strange urge to read all of the information irrelevant to the actual story, and I\’m not stuck wading through all of it the rest of the time.

  14. Can you manipulate what Amazon shows in the Preview (Take a Look Inside)?

  15. Where Do You Think An Ebook Should Start? – this is an awesome questions and great write up.

    I totally agree with the importance of having a good cover, I too would be looking at (or for) the cover first thing before reading the book. However, I myself really don’t care too much about the author’s name or other stuff like acknowledgements. I mean, I would have read the “about the author” section below downloading the book.

  16. I’ve had issues as well with the ebooks not opening where I want, despite following directions. Which means they are opening to where Amazon wants. I think they should all start in the same place.

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