book design, indie publishing

Does Size Matter? Choosing the Right Book Format

This weekend I’m trying to choose the optimum book size. Specifically, fantasy novel size. This isn’t an abstract decision—what I pick will be the size I ask my designer to do for my covers. This is going to be a dorky technical post consisting of me working through my logic on the subject, so forgive me. More scintillating posts to follow, I promise.

Obviously, e-book covers don’t have a size so much as a ratio of width: height. I don’t think anyone particularly notices or cares whether the ratio is 1:1.6 or 1:1.5 or 1:1.45 so long as it’s, y’know, a rectangly bookish ratio and not a square.

comparison of cover ratios
A selection of sort-of-the-same-genre-as-mine ebook covers. Difference in width:height ratio = no one notices or cares!

So this is a decision where I think print preferences can rule and dictate the corresponding ebook cover size.

There are two big print-on-demand outfits for indies: Createspace and IngramSpark. The print-on-demand bit is important, because it means I don’t have to pay for warehousing or minimum print run costs; these guys print-and-ship individual copies as they are ordered and charge me on a per-copy basis. IngramSpark offers more formats and wider distribution options, but Createspace is cheaper and easier to set up. Long-term, I think I may use both, but to start with I intend to go through Createspace.

Because I’m not a heathen, my novels will be printed on cream paper rather than white. Createspace offers expanded distribution, but only for some formats (especially in cream paper). Expanded distribution means they will distribute a book to places other than Given the constraints (cream paper, expanded distribution, available on both Createspace and IngramSpark), my choices become instantly quite limited:

  • 5” x 8” (127 x 203 mm)
  • 5.25” x 8” (133 x 203 mm)
  • 5.5” x 8.5” (139.7 x 215.9 mm)
  • 6” x 9” (152 x 228.6 mm)

All of these sizes are…odd, from a New Zealand reader’s perspective. They’re just slightly off the common sizes we get here, which are the same as the UK:

  • A format “mass market paperbacks” (110mm x 178mm)
  • B format (129mm x 198mm)
  • C format “trade paperbacks” (135mm x 216mm)
A, B, and C format books from my shelf.

Presumably the odd USA sizes are actually common book sizes over there and not just randomly made up to be difficult, but I’m struggling to find any examples in my bookshelf in any of the standard Createspace formats. However, they’re not that different from A, B, and C format books, so I’m using those as a basis.

Step 1. Immediately remove 6” x 9” as a choice because that just seems unnecessarily enormous. I’m not writing Game of Thrones; I don’t need all the extra page space I can get. Also I don’t even own any books that big.

I think 5.5” x 8.5” (139.7 x 215.9 mm) is my best option.  It’s a decent size without feeling monstrous, and it’s almost trade paperback size (135mm x 216mm) but about half a centimetre wider. It also has a width:height ratio that’s comfortably in the middle of the examples I put above ( 1:1.55). I think I can live with this.

OK, decision made. Almost-but-not-quite C format paperbacks, here we come!

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