Question: I'm trying to self-publish a Sci-Fi book and found someone to do book cover artwork, but she's asking me for a template for style and sizing. Not sure how to answer this...can you help me?



Using the right dimensions or size for your book’s cover is just as important as the cover artwork and other cover elements. When you peruse the bookshelves at a bookstore or library, you will notice a range of book sizes as you move from one genre to another or as you browse paperbacks versus hard covers. This is not random; there is a rhyme and a reason for the varying sizes and finishes. An engaging cover that meets expectations will compel readers to buy your book. When you browse a bookstore shelf, you'll notice varying sizes and finishes on the books.

Books cost money to print and publishers are always looking for the most economical way to print books while also following some trim size and design standards that were set long ago in the industry. Your book’s size, along with a few other factors, will greatly affect how much it costs to print and ultimately, the amount of money you make on each book sale. Experienced book and cover designers understand there are standards and specifications to follow in order to produce a high-quality book that won’t eat into your profits unnecessarily.

What are the Standard Trim Sizes for Books?

To explain book trim sizes, it’s easiest to break the standards down into the three primary categories of books: Fiction, Nonfiction, and Children’s. Here is a list of the most common book trim sizes in each category:

The publishing industry has several common book trim sizes.Fiction

Pocket Book/Mass Market: 4.25" x 6.87"
US Trade Paperbacks: 5” x 8” / 5.5” x 8.5” / 6” x 9”
Hard cover: 6” x 9”


General Nonfiction: 5.5" x 8.5" / 6” x 9" / 7" x 10"
Memoir/Self-Help: 5.5” x 8.5” / 6” x 9”
Textbooks or Workbooks: 8.5” x 11”
Cookbooks: 7.5” x 9.25” / 8.5” x 8.5” / 8.5” x 11”
Hard cover: 6” x 9” / 8.5” x 8.5” / 8.5” x 11”


Picture Books: 8.5” x 8.5” / 7” x 10” / 8.5” x 11
Middle-Grade Chapter Books: 5” x 8”
Young Adult Books: 5” x 8” / 5.5” x 8.5” / 6” x 9”
Hard cover: 6” x 9” / 8.5” x 8.5” / 8.5” x 11”

This is not an all-inclusive list of book trim sizes out there today. The options available to you will ultimately depend on your printing method and provider.

Choosing Your Book’s Trim Size

So, which of these trim sizes is right for YOUR book? The best way to determine this is to research and study recently published and popular books in your genre. If your local bookstores or retailers stock a book on their shelves, it likely means it meets the industry standards. You may notice some outliers here and there that fall outside of the common size recommendations or have unusual design elements. These authors may have chosen those specifications for a reason, or, misunderstood the standards. Your best bet is to follow the standards for your genre because this is what readers, book buyers, and librarians have come to expect. If you produce a book outside of the norm, it may negatively affect your distribution options and sales.

Make sure your cover designer knows if they are designing for a paperback or hard cover format, or both. Hard cover books have special layout requirements and if your hard cover book will include a dust jacket, your designer will need to know the width of the inside flaps and the information you want the flaps to contain.   

How Do You Know What Size the Spine Will Be?

In addition to your desired trim size and print format, your book cover designer will need to know how wide to make the spine of your cover. There are two things that will determine your spine’s width: number of pages and printing paper weight (thickness).

If your manuscript is still in progress and the interior formatting has not been finalized, you can provide your cover designer with an estimated number of pages based on your word count goal. You’ll just want to make sure you provide an accurate number of pages when finalized. In addition, don’t forget the front and back matter of your book when calculating total number of pages. This can include your title page, copyright page, dedication, table of contents, bibliography, a thank-you to contributors, and more.

If you want a higher-quality paper or are printing in color, your book will require an upgraded paper. Paper weights can range from 50 lb. to 80 lb. and can be uncoated or glossy, depending on your printing method and provider.

You’ll also want to understand the typeface and font size you will be using when printing your book, along with the amount of space between lines. The larger the font and spacing, the more pages your book will be. Book Design Made Simple provides formulas for calculating your estimated book page count based on your manuscript word count and chosen font size.

Once you know your estimated page count, you can use these DIY self-publishing tools to determine an estimated book spine width and download a design template to give to your designer:

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing - Print Cover Calculator and Templates: this tool will provide a downloadable cover template once you input your specifications.

IngramSpark - Spine and Weight Calculator: this tool will provide your estimated spine width, and then IngramSpark’s Cover Template Generator will provide a cover template via email when you input your specifications.

Lulu - Pricing Calculator: when you input your specifications, Lulu will provide downloadable interior formatting and cover design templates.

Authors using Amazon KDP to publish have access to the Print Cover Calculator and Templates.

What Else Might Your Book Cover Designer Need to Know?

The clearer you are in communicating your design preferences and needs, the better the chances a designer will meet your expectations. Here are some things to share with your cover designer that will help them understand your vision:

•  What your book is about and in what genre it fits.
•  What formats are being printed – paperback or hard cover, or both? Is there a dust jacket if hard cover?
•  Is it a matte or glossy finish, and are there any special spot treatments?
•  What colors, fonts, and other design elements do you prefer? Examples are always helpful.
•  Your budget and timeline.
•  Your book’s title, description, and author biography.
•  Your printer’s requirements and whether offset or print-on-demand – your designer will need to know the recommended bleeds, margins, and accepted file types for the artwork.

You’ll also want to understand the print cost estimate for the size, format, and finishes you choose so that your book’s retail price can be set wisely. Hard covers cost more than paperbacks, which is why publishers charge readers a premium for the hard cover version of a book. A full-color children’s book will cost more than a black and white novel due to the inks and thicker paper that are required. Your print provider should be able to provide a print cost estimate once you have all of your desired specifications finalized. DIY online publishing platforms such as Amazon KDP, IngramSpark, and Lulu have print cost calculator tools on their websites.   

There is a right way to design a book and cover, and a wrong way, which is why it’s so important for authors to find experienced formatters and cover designers that understand the book market and book design standards. Don’t let a poor design affect your book’s marketability. It’s often your first and only impression on potential readers.

Photo credit: Ivan Pantic via Getty Images