Using Scrivener Placeholders to Streamline Front and Back Matter

Screenshot of List of Placeholders document in Scrivener
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

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I’m always looking for ways to make my processes faster and more efficient. Templates are a great way to do this, no matter what tool you prefer. A template is something (document, file, etc.) with a preset format we can use as a starting point, so we don’t have to create the item from scratch every time.

With Scrivener (my tool of choice), you can have project templates (fiction vs. nonfiction) and document templates (character sketches, scenes, etc.) within the project.

In this article, we’re going to look at using Scrivener placeholders to set up templates for our front and back matter. We’ll talk about how they work and some of the unhappy surprises I came across, along with the workarounds I found to make them work.

What are Placeholders?

Placeholders in Scrivener are a handy way to insert information into your text. They work like variables in a formula or code script.

If you look at the default Title Page that comes with Scrivener’s novel template, you’ll see placeholders like <$author>, <$wc100>, and <$PROJECTTITLE>. These tags pull information from the file to display in the final document after you compile it. The values in the Compile settings from the Authors field and the Title field replace the <$author> tag and the <$PROJECTTITLE> tag during the Compile process.

Scrivener has a whole slew of placeholders available for use. To see the entire list, from the Scrivener main menu, click Help > List of All Placeholders… This opens a separate document that you can scroll through to see all the “shortcuts” available. Common placeholders used include those used to insert images, page numbers, and endnotes.

Screenshot of List of Placeholders document in Scrivener
List of Placeholders

The one I’ve used in my templates includes the contents of other documents in the Binder. You can use the include tag in two ways: <$include> with a document linked to it or specify the name of the document like this: <$include:DocumentName>.

But before we get into how I use the placeholders, let’s talk about the setup of the template.

Template Set Up

Why Use a Template?

First, let’s discuss why we might use a template. Templates are useful when you use the same information again and again. Consider the copyright page for your books. Basically, each book’s copyright page will say the same thing every time except for information unique to that book, such as the title, the year published, the ISBN numbers, etc.

Instead of typing that information every time (or even copying and pasting, then editing) for each new book, what if you just had a template that could automatically pull over the small varying pieces?

Template Structure

The template structure comprises two parts: the info (documents containing the information) and the front and back matter (documents pulling the information in).

Book Info

For the book information, I create a separate document for each piece of information that differs by book. Each document contains ONLY the information as you want it to appear in your front and back matter pages. And nothing more! No titles, extra lines, or spaces. Only the exact text.

(For example, an ISBN document should contain only the ISBN number with dashes, exactly as it will appear on the copyright page: 978-1-958975-01-5.)

Here’s my list of documents in Scrivener:

  • CoverDesigner (name of cover designer)
  • ISBN-EB (ebook ISBN)
  • ISBN-PB (paperback ISBN)
  • ISBBN-LPPB (large print paperback ISBN)
  • Hero (my hero’s name)
  • Heroine (my heroine’s name)
Screenshot of Scrivener text document containing the cover designer's name.
Screenshot of Cover Designer document

Template Pages

Once you have each document set up, you can now use placeholders in your front and back matter pages to refer to them and pull that information in during the compile.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Front Matter Example – Copyright Page

Here’s how I use this information in Scrivener for my Copyright page in the book’s Front Matter:

<$PROJECTTITLE>

Copyright © <$year> by <$author>

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher is an infringement of the copyright law.

<$ProjectTitle> is a work of fiction. All names, settings, incidents, and dialogue have been invented, and when real places, products, and public figures are mentioned in the story, they are used fictionally and without any claim of endorsement or affiliation. Any resemblance between the characters in the novel and real people is strictly a coincidence.

Contact Info: https://lancymccall.com

Cover Design by: <$include:CoverDesigner>

ISBN: <$include:ISBN-PB> (paperback) <$include:ISBN-EB> (ebook) <$include:ISBN-LP-PB> (large print)

Published by KruizeTech Press | Houston, Texas

And here’s what it looks like after I’ve compiled to Word:

CODE BLOCK

Copyright © 2024 by Lancy McCall

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher is an infringement of the copyright law.

Code Block is a work of fiction. All names, settings, incidents, and dialogue have been invented, and when real places, products, and public figures are mentioned in the story, they are used fictionally and without any claim of endorsement or affiliation. Any resemblance between the characters in the novel and real people is strictly a coincidence.

Contact Info: https://lancymccall.com

Cover Design by: [Cover Designer’s Name]

ISBN: xxx-x-xxxxxx-xx-x (paperback) xxx-x-xxxxxx-xx-x (ebook) xxx-x-xxxxxx-xx-x (large print)

Published by KruizeTech Press | Houston, Texas

Note: I don’t know my cover designer’s name yet, nor the ISBN numbers for this book, so I have temporary text in the related documents.

Back Matter Example – Author Note

I also use placeholders in my back matter pages as well. Here’s my template for the Author’s Note:

Thank you for reading <$ProjectTitle>. I hope you enjoyed <$include:Heroine> and <$include:Hero>‘s story. 

If you enjoyed <$ProjectTitle>, please consider rating or leaving a review on the online retailer of your choice. I’m always thrilled to hear my book made someone happy and would love to hear about it. Ratings and reviews help authors sell more books—not to mention, pay more bills—and the feedback helps us improve our craft. 

You can stay up-to-date on upcoming releases and sales by visiting the Reader’s Corner page of my website (https://lancymccall.com) or joining my newsletter, also found on that page.

Notice how I have the book title, hero, and heroine’s names as placeholders in the above text. And here’s how it looks after I’ve compiled it into Word:

Thank you for reading Code Block. I hope you enjoyed Claire and Noah’s story.

If you enjoyed Code Block, please consider rating or leaving a review on the online retailer of your choice. I’m always thrilled to hear my book made someone happy and would love to hear about it. Ratings and reviews help authors sell more books—not to mention, pay more bills—and the feedback helps us improve our craft.

You can stay up-to-date on upcoming releases and sales by visiting the Reader’s Corner page of my website (https://lancymccall.com) or joining my newsletter, also found on that page.

I’ll personalize this before publication time, but at least I have a starting block for my author’s note.

Problems to Watch Out For

I ran into a couple of problems when compiling and had to troubleshoot why my placeholders weren’t working as expected. Here’s what I figured out:

  • The <$include> placeholder only works once in the document. So if you have the book title referenced twice, only the first instance will pull the information. Any following instances will only show the formula you typed.
    • For example, “Thank you for reading <$include:BookTitle>. If you enjoyed <$include:BookTitle>, …” will compile like this: Thank you for reading Code Block. If you enjoyed <$include:BookTitle>, …
  • The <$include> placeholder ignores formatting. Italicizing it in Scrivener doesn’t mean it compiles as italicized in Word.
  • However, the <$ProjectTitle> placeholder will work every time and will maintain the formatting I used in Scrivener. (My workaround was to replace the include tag with the project title tag and delete the BookTitle document.)

Note: For the <$include> placeholder, Scrivener recommends using the tag with a document link rather than referencing the document name (<$include:DocumentName>) because it’s more reliable. And this makes sense because if you rename a document, the link will update, but the typed in document name won’t. Scrivener will look for a document that doesn’t exist.

Wrap Up

Placeholders give you the capability to set up timesaving templates to use with your book. But you want to be careful and verify they are doing what you expect them to do. It took me a while to figure out that glitch with the include tag only working once per document. (Doh!)

And while you can always copy and paste text you’ve already used, there’s a risk of missing a needed change or not catching a typo when you edit it. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed a word when updating something I pasted!) With a properly configured template, you reduce that risk.

I hope you’re inspired to check out the Placeholder feature in Scrivener and are already thinking of how you can use it to make your writing life easier.


Happy Writing!


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