The first thing I want to say, is this is one area where it may serve you to disconnect eBooks from Print books, and think about the eBook reading experience alone.
I recently read a blog post by Joe Konrath concerning what elements should be in eBooks, and in what order. While I think Joe is right on with the vast majority of his comments, I would like to point out some thoughts around the eBook TOC and the menu system, and how you might use these in the most effective way.
First off, lets separate this idea into two basic categories – eBooks whose chapters are read in sequence, like novels, and eBooks that are not necessarily intended to be read in sequence, like short story collections, poetry and non-fiction.
Joe suggests putting the links to each chapter/story/topic in the front of the eBook, and that’s the point I disagree about – at least for novels – and possibly other eBook types.
It really bugs me when I open an eBook novel with 67 chapters, and I get to flip over page after page of nothing but links to the various chapters. I often accidentally click a link while flipping to the next “page”. If it’s a novel, I will start at chapter 1, and read to the end. I will not be using the TOC links to jump around inside a novel. Now, I still want a fully-linked TOC – just not in the front of the eBook. At some point, I may want to jump back to the beginning of the book to reread something, or jump to the end to read “About the Author.” But in that case, I’m not going to page backwards a page at a time to reach the links that are in the front of the eBook.
When I want to navigate, I will access the “go-to” menu on my Kindle or other reading device or app, select TOC, then click the chapter or topic I want to go to. If an eBook is formatted properly, you can access any major eBook topic or element through the menu system. On my Kindle Fire, if I click the “go-to” menu, I get options to go to the beginning, the cover, the TOC, or a specific location – for which I would provide a location number.
The developers of eBook devices and apps took the time to develop this menu system so that you can navigate an eBook from any location within the eBook – independent from the location of the actual links. The links can also be at the very end of the eBook – which is where I prefer to put them.
Putting the TOC links at the END of the eBook provides the exact same functionality, while saving space in the front of the book to allow for a better sampling of the book and avoiding the task of paging through the entire list of links to get to Chapter One. I have seen some eBooks with an extensive TOC that takes up the lion’s share of the eBook sample.
If you have a poetry book or story collection, you may want the links up front so the readers knows what stories are available and see that first off. Same for a lot of non-fiction and poetry. But for novels, I suggest placing the links in the back of the eBook.