Yes Your Book Needs a Table of Contents, In Fact It Needs Two!

There are table of contents, and there are tables of contents; specifically you need a HTML and a NCX table of contents. You need both. So let me explain. First don’t blame me that it’s a bit tricky, it’s entirely the fault of the committee that invented the ePub standards

What is a NCX ?

Well according to Google:

Central Expressway is a north-south highway in Dallas, Texas

Which goes to prove that Google doesn’t know everything. So what does Wikipedia think  a NCX is?

Navigational Control for for Xml.. contains the hirerachial table of contents for the EPUB file

Which all goes to show you may well be sorry that you asked!

Think of it an alternative way to get around your book.  Many technical books have a shorter table contents and a comprehensive TOC. Or possibly an index, all alternatives to find what you need. A NCX TOC is an alternative to an HTML  TOC

Here are some examples when a reader will use the NCX to navigate

Using the Adobe Digital Editions App displaying an ePub file.


In ADE ONLY the NCX TOC Is Used For navigation

If you are on a Kindle Keyboard or similar you won’t see the actual labels of the NCX menu, but you will see the positions in the file as tick marks along the progress bar and you can jump from one to the next using the 5-way controller (Keyboard) or by swipping down/up (Touch).

The NCX file is actually a separate file which I hand craft after I’ve created the HTML file for the eBook

NCX TOC Kindle

NCX Marks on the Progress Bar of a Kindle Keyboard

What is a HTML Table of Contents?

This is the table of contents complete with hyperlinks that you include the text of your eBook. Just as you normally use a link to jump from one web page to another, you can use a link to jump from one part of a page to another part. 

HTML Table of Contents - from the  same book.

HTML Table of Contents – from the same book.

Note the HTML and NCX menus can be entirely different – I tend to make the NCX menu a simplified version of the HTML one.   Just like a web page an underlined blue text indicated that you can click (or touch) to  jump to a different page.

How To Test Your Table of Contents

Whichever method you are using to create your table of contents – you should test  that both the NCX and HTML versions are working correctly before  you put book for sale. (Actually you should test your entire book, but that’s a different post). The easiest way to do this is to download the free Kindle Previewer software – available from Amazon.

Once you have installed the software  use it to open the file that you are uploading to Amazon. If you are uploading a Word file then you will need to download the file that Amazon creates for you as part of the book publishing process and test this. That will be a MOBI format file, other acceptable file formats are HTML, OPF and ePub.

Once you open the file in Kindle Previewer note that you can show both the NCX view and the HTML table of contents view while clicking the two buttons on the right of the top ribbon menu.

Kindle Previewer NCX TOC Menu

Kindle Previewer NCX TOC Menu

KIndle Previewer - HTML TOC Menu

KIndle Previewer – HTML TOC Menu

I Don’t Want A TOC

Yes, you do. If you are publishing at Amazon, it’s a requirement for all Kindle books. If you are using an ePub elsewhere it’s a requirement for validating the ePub, and some retailers will decline a book that doesn’t have  both a NCX and HTML TOC.

Best Practices For Table Of Contents

  • Do NOT ever include page numbers in a table of contents for an ebook. With reflowable text, page numbers are irrelevant and entirely dependent on the device the reader is using,  and the size of font they’ve selected. Think about the differenece between the number of words that will show in large font on an iPhone, and the same page displayed with small font on an iPad. Loose the page numbers. 
  • If you are writing fiction and you think that the table of contents is of limited value – put the HTML version at the back of the book.
  • If you are writing non-fiction, then  yes you do need to provide the customer with an easy way to jump around your book.
  • If you are writing non-fiction and want different level of headings, unfortunately this is not directly supported by Amazon or many other eRetailors at the moment. Instead use font size, font face (bold etc), and spacing to emphasize major headings over minor headings.

3 Responses to “Yes Your Book Needs a Table of Contents, In Fact It Needs Two!”

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  1. Debi says:

    Good info, Lis, and succinctly presented!

    • Lis says:

      Thanks Debi – yup I’m going to do a series of these I think, formatting issues that irritate me!

  2. J Drew says:

    Thanks for the link to your blog. I’m not sure that I understand everything that I should. But I at least know better what to look for when I get to testing the e-book.