Publishers do various things with their layout, which may or may not follow guidelines published in books like the Chicago Manual of Style. The differences progress through hardback, print, and eBooks.
The most basic of front matter is the inclusion of what is called a half-title and the full title page.
The half-title page consists only of the title. It’s also known as the “bastard” title. The full title contains the title, author name, and it might also have the name of the publisher at the bottom of the page. The designs between the two can be similar—like shown above—or they can be slightly different.
The title pages are important because it tells what the book is in case the cover is torn up, it’s a place where authors can sign, it protects the prose, etc. Some full-title pages are these artistic renderings of beauty and sometimes they aren’t much different from the half-title page.
But do we really need the half-title page? That info is clearly in the full title page and doesn’t it do the same?
For the answer to that, we’d have to look at why the bastard page exists to begin with.
At one point, books were expensive to own. They were a labor of love and wealth, expertly bound with ornate covers. The wealthy would have a book bound to match their library. It’s why in some old photos/paintings, an entire library seems to be filled with the same color. They were purposefully bound that way. It showed wealth and immeasurable wealth to some regard.
The half-title started out as a blank sheet of paper, used to keep the book and the ornate full title page safe while it was being stacked, like a bookmark, and protect the book in binding. That single page was a “bastard” page. It wasn’t part of the book.
With the invention of printing presses, the interior of a book could be produced, but they weren’t bound. The first few runs (sometimes just a couple hundred copies) were printed for the wealthy, and those were bound on better paper and in beautiful volumes. The other copies were stacked, like a newspaper being delivered to a newsstand, and sold for those who could afford them.
The top page of the stack of the “book” was blank, and people wrote the title by hand. That page would look like a well-worn menu at a busy restaurant—discolored, torn, stained, etc—by the time some copies were sold. The age when this was going on, there wasn’t plastic wrap and file folders. It was twine or glue/leather binding, and for the poor, the binding wasn’t an option.
Books when bound, at one point, weren’t stored with the spines facing out. In fact, titles on the spine are a fairly new addition to the whole book process. People would tear out the page, write the title, and wrap it along the loose edge of a book. In a library of hundreds of books, the hand-written bastard page became the “spine.” Printers stopped including a blank page and began printing just the title because of that act.
The page still lingers even with the modern advantages of the printing process.
- The process is fairly automated. The paper isn’t expensive. If the process screws up, it doesn’t take days of long hours to replace the work.
- Sometimes we leave it because it’s “traditional.” It’s something that was done, and we’ve forgotten why. I think most people fall under this one.
- Some of us leave it in as a nod to what that single page accomplished. Similar to why we don’t indent the first paragraph of a chapter.
- Some writers leave it in, because that’s the page they know they will autograph. Why do they need their name in print when they will sign it? That page can be removed and framed, and the book loses no value.
It’s fairly obvious why the full-title is needed. We never see people argue that point. It’s there to make a statement. To give information. It’s to protect the actual book from being manhandled during the process.
Do we need the half-title page? In eBooks, I rarely include it, and unless a client asks for it to be removed, I always include it in print; somewhat because of tradition, but also because that half-title page helped shape how books look and how important that page was in helping those who couldn’t afford traditional binding to be exposed to a wealth of knowledge shared by thousands by the simple arrangement of the alphabet into ideas.