The Definitive Guide to Standard Book Sizes.

book sizes

You have written your manuscript and found a publisher too. Congratulations! Now comes the process of making the manuscript into something that a reader will hold in their hands. If you choose a traditional publisher, the editor in charge chooses the book size according to their publication guidelines. If you decide to format your book and self-publish it, you will need to understand the various sizes of books available in the market today. Even if you are approaching a traditional publisher and might not have a say in the book size, it’s good to know all the sizes and their associated genres.

What are Book Sizes?

So unless you are an alien visiting earth, you’d have noticed that books come in various sizes. Sometimes even various shapes, especially for young children. Some books are quite small and can be slipped into a pocket. Some are quite big, like coffee table books, which cannot be carried around.

You’ll be happy to know that if you have written a book to be published as an ebook, you don’t have to worry about size at all. The standard size 8.5” x 11” page size in portrait format on MS Word or any other writing software can easily be converted to an ebook format. Since the reader can customise the fonts, there is no fixed layout or number of pages for ebooks.

As you can imagine, audiobooks are not concerned with book sizes, as well. An audiobook is not so much as a book but a file.

So this article you can say applies only to physical books whose size matters to publishers, layout designers, marketers, printers, distributors, and bookstores. In other words, all those in the publishing business.

The History of Book Sizes

Today the names of book sizes that are used by publishers are a continuation of an old system. The size of the page/book is considered based on a large sheet of paper called the broadside. If you fold a broadside once, you get a folio. If you fold the folio once, you get a quarto. If you fold the quarto once, you get an octavo. If you fold an octavo once, you get a duodecimo.

history of book sizes

This is similar to the modern system of A3, A4, and A5 size paper.

Famous folios include Shakespeare’s First Folio collection edition of plays in 1623. Printed in 1455, the Gutenberg Bible was also printed as a folio. However, the two folios were not the same actual size. The reason is that this system does not specify the size of the original sheet. So prefixes were used, such as royal (meaning large), medium (medium), and crown (meaning small) to label the general size of the paper. For example, a royal octavo meant the size was one-eighth of a royal sheet; a medium octavo meant the size was one-eighth of a medium sheet; a crown octavo meant the size was one eighth the size of a crown sheet.

It is important to understand the history of book sizes in order to understand the modern book sizes. These terms are still in use today. Modern books are commonly produced in the folio, quarto and octavo sizes. However, there are books which are made that are larger and smaller than these sizes as well. The most common book sizes are octavo and quarto sizes.

Table: A: Old book sizes

old book sizes

The Trim Size of a Book

With that background information, we move to modern book sizes. The term popularly used in publishing is ‘trim size’ of a book. This is nothing but the dimensions of the book. The term comes from the process of printing the book. As we know, large pieces of paper are folded, glued, and later trimmed to a specific size.

The book is trimmed mechanically so that its edges are neat and uniform. Usually, it is expressed in the width x height format.

The Europeans and Americans choose slightly different ways to measure trim size. For the Europeans, it’s in millimetres and for the Americans in inches. In this article, we will be following the American sizes in inches.

During the layout stage of the book, the trim size is decided. How it is done, we will come it to it a bit later. While designing the book in any publishing software, be aware of the safe area, trim line, and bleed area. Make sure that important text and graphics stay inside the safe area. The trim line is where the final cut will be. All background graphics or colour should cover the bleed area if they have to be printed to the final edge of the book. The bleed area ensures that the graphics come right to the edge.

Importance of Trim Size

The trim size is important because of design and aesthetic purposes. A book is a tool for education and entertainment. It should be easy to read, be marketable, and be within the budget. The trim size impacts all three.

It affects the look and feel of a book and the cost and pricing. Let’s look at each in detail.

  1. Look and feel: the trim size affects the page count. A small trim size will lead to an increase in the number of pages. This, in turn, also affects the spine of the book. More pages mean a thicker spine. It also cascades into other aspects of book design, like the number of words per page, the margin size, the space between the lines, page numbers, chapter beginnings, etc. Basically, anything on the page is impacted by the trim size. You’ll need to balance all these aspects so that a beautiful book emerges during the layout process.
  1. Cost and pricing: Clearly, if the number of pages increases, the price will also be impacted. The cascading effect will also hit profit margins.

Either your book will follow one of the standard trim sizes, or it won’t. If your book is going to be of an unusual size, then the trim size will be decided by the editor in consultation with marketing and sales. Now we look at standard trim sizes.

Industry Standard Trim Sizes

The standard trim size depends on the format of the book. Printed books are usually produced in three fundamental formats—hardcover, paperback and mass market paperback. Let’s look at them in detail.

  1. Hardcover: Also called hardback or hard-bound, this is a type of book in which the cover is hard, rigid, and has a protective cover (dust jacket). The pages are stitched and stapled. These are the most expensive to produce. The trim size usually ranges from 6” x 9” to 8.5” x 11”.
  1. Paperbacks: Also called trade paperback, it is a type of book which has a thick paper or paperboard cover. The pages are often glued together rather than stitched or stapled. Trade paperbacks are cheaper than hardcovers but not as cheap as the mass market paperbacks. The trim size ranges from 5.5” x 8.5” (a size called digest) to 6” x 9” (known as US trade). This is the range for all fiction books in the market. The difference in cost between the two is minor. Most self-published books follow this paper size.
  1. Mass market paperbacks: These are the books you see in airports, bus stands, and railway stations. They are compact and inexpensively manufactured. A mass-market paperback is an inexpensive version of the book. Mostly this format is used for fiction though this is not a size that is usually self-published. The trim size is usually 4.25” x 6.87”.

Other Trim Sizes

There are other formats as well, though not as popular as the three regular ones.

FormatTrim size 
Manuals, workbooks, directories, instructional books8.5” x 11”
Children’s books7.5” x 7.5”, 7” x 10”, 10” x 8”
Textbooks6” x 9”, 7” x 10”, 8.5” x 11”
Novella5” x 8”
Fiction4.25” x 6.87”, 5” x 8”, 5.25” x 8”, 5.5” x 8.5”, 6” x 9”
General non-fiction5.5” x 8.5”, 6” x 9”, 7” x 10”
Memoir, short story collections, collections of essays5.25” x 8”, 5.5” x 8.5”
Photography, coffee table booksVaried sizes

The Trim Size of Your Book

Now that we have covered so much about trim sizes let’s move onto to your book. How do you choose the trim size? You wouldn’t have to bother about this if you are going the traditional publishing way. However, if you are self-publishing, you might have to make some choices.

Most self-publishers publish in the 5.5” x 8.5” or 6” x 9” trim size, which works for many types of books. If you are self-publishing for the first time, these sizes work. However, you can choose a different trim size if that is what you need.

Depending on the following factors, you can choose your trim size.

  1. The purpose of your book: What do you intend your book to be? Is it a limited edition book? Do you really need the size you have chosen? For example, is your book a gift book or an atlas? If yes, you can go for offset printing, in which you are charged more for any customised trim size. Unless absolutely needed or you want to differentiate your book based on size, sticking to the standard sizes is a good idea.
  1. The number of words in your book: The more the words in your manuscript, the bigger will be the trim size. This is because the bigger size will reduce the page count.

You could keep an eye out for the number of words while writing the book or edit them down to the approximate word count later. In reality, there is no perfect or correct word count target for your book — just some guidelines as given here.

Table. C: Word count and trim size

3. The trim size and genre standards: Readers expect a trim size of your book belongs to a particular genre. A romance novel cannot be the 7” x 9” trim size because it will confuse the readers who expect a smaller size. To find out the trim size of the book based on the genre and connect it to the genre of your own book. Then choose your trim size.

4. The cost: Printing presses charge based on page count. So the more pages you have, the higher the cost and the lesser the profit. As you know, page count and trim size are connected. Page count also impacts royalties. Keep this in mind when choosing your trim size.

Popular Book Sizes

It’s best to spend some time in the book store to get a feel for the kind of trim size that might be best for your book. To get some idea, here are some popular book sizes in the US and UK markets.

Table. D: Popular book sizes 

As you can see, trim sizes affect almost all aspects of book, from writing to designing to marketing to display in bookstores. It is one of the most important decisions to be taken with respect to your book. Once you have chosen a trim size, you can go ahead and start laying out the pages. From this moment on, your book has a solid shape that will go out to the world and make its impact.​

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