To TOC or not to TOC

Open any printed novel on your physical book shelf and tell me if it has a table of contents. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Does it? Probably not. Now open a novel on your digital reading device. Does that have a TOC? Does it consist of nothing but a list of numbers? Is that helpful to you?

I have never referred to a TOC in a digital novel. Not once. As I read, I barely notice the chapter numbers. If I’m reading a good book, I may not even be aware when I progress to a new chapter, so I certainly couldn’t go to the table of contents to find my place the next time I pick up my Kindle. Fortunately, my Kindle opens to the point where I left off. It also has a bookmark function, and a “Sync to Furthest Page Read” function.

I understand a TOC in non-fiction book because usually those chapters have titles, or at least subtitles. I do find those helpful. I even understand a TOC in a novel when each chapter has a descriptive name or subtitle—though I doubt I would ever refer to it anyway. But what is the purpose of a TOC in a novel when the chapter headings are numbers only—no subtitles? Apparently, I’m missing the point. Someone enlighten me, please.

37 thoughts on “To TOC or not to TOC

  1. I made a compromise with the TOC. My novels have abt. five parts (with titles) and within the parts a bunch of chapters (untitled). I created a manual TOC (easy step-by-step instructions can be found in the Smashwords Guide which you can access and/or download for free) rather than the automatic TOC in Word. I only included the Parts, About the Author, and Excerpt for the sequel to the novel in the TOC. I also put the Acknowledgements in the back. So now, when you click on the cover on Amazon, you just get a short front matter and several chapters of the book to peruse. I hope to both fulfill the TOC requirements and not irritate the reader who wants to check out my novel before buying it.


    1. Thanks for explaining your method, Christa. I don’t have “parts” in my WIP, so I guess I’ll have to list the chapter numbers. You don’t have to include a linked TOC to have the navigational chapter tickmarks show in the progress meter, but if Amazon insists …


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