Choosing your book trim size

If I were to hand you a book and ask you to show me the book trim size, would you know which part to show me?

Book trim size is one of those obvious-sounding phrases that you’ll come across when thinking about book printing. But although it may sound obvious, sometimes it’s the obvious things that hold the most potential for error. We think we must already know, so we don’t ask.

So if you don’t really know what a book trim size means, beware that it does matter.

Never fear, though: we’re here to help.

What is a book trim size?

The trim size of your book corresponds to the size of your book’s pages. To put it another way, when someone prints your book, the trim size is the size that they’ll cut your pages to before they bind them together.

In the US, we show this dimension as width x height (in inches), and in Europe, it’s shown as height x width (in millimeters).

When you approach a book printing company to have a book printed, the trim size will be one of the first things they ask you about. It’s a tricky thing to change further down the line because, as a measurement, it determines just about everything else.

The physical size of your paper pages will affect what will fit onto each page, and so determine the number of pages.  It will also dictate the printed size of any photos or illustrations that you’d like to include. All of this will impact on your printing costs. To give you an accurate price, companies need to know your paper trim size straight off the mark. You’ll even need to know your paper trim size before you can order your ISBN.

Picking the right book trim size, then, is essential. It will change not only how your book looks and feels in your hands; it will also change how much it costs to make. And that will change the sale price and how much profit you’ll make.

See? We told you it was important.

So how do you know which book trim size to choose? Read on, and we’ll tell you.

Let’s look at common trim sizes

It’s a good idea to know what book trim sizes are considered “popular” for different book types.

We’ve shown all dimensions here in their US sizes as width x height in inches.

Pocket books: 4 x 6, 4 x 7, 4.25 x 7. These thin guides or handbooks are created to slip easily into a shirt or hip pocket.

Mass market paperback: 4.25 x 7. Cheaply-produced, small paperback literature books. Think of the type sold in airports and supermarkets.

Novels: 5 x 8, 5.25 x 8, 5.5 x 8.5, 6 x 9. These tend to range from smaller to larger trim sizes as the word count increases. The longer the book, the slightly larger the trim. This helps the book from becoming too bulky.

Non-fiction: 6 x 9, 6.14 x 9.21, 7 x 10, 8.5 x 11. The US trade size, 6 x 9, is by far the most popular in this category. However, non-fiction books with sidebars, pull-quotes or tab navigation sometimes suit a slightly wider page.

Workbooks: 8 x 10, 8.5 x 11, A4. These larger page sizes suit instructional books or recipe books with large, detailed graphics, full-bleed images, and multi-column layouts.

Coffee-table books: 8 x 8, 10 x 8 (landscape). These depend heavily on the dimensions that showcase the book’s artwork or photography to best effect.

Children’s books: 7 x 10, 8 x 8, 10 x 8 (landscape). Sizes here vary according to the target age-group and orientation of the illustrations. Printers often print landscape illustrations across a two-page portrait spread.

Look at other books

Pull out a book of a similar genre to your book from a bookshelf, library or local bookshop. See how each size looks and feels in your hands. Does it look right? Is there too much or too little content on a page? Can your eyes easily follow the text from line to line?

Carefully examine the pages and think about how you want to present your content. Get a ruler and measure the size of the inside pages. Do your thumbs get in the way of the words when you hold it open? How much of each page gets lost into the binding?

Now place the book back on the shelf. How does it look? Does its size make it stand out, or blend in? Is it easy to find? For example, large landscape books often don’t fit on standard bookshelves, so stores tend to limit their stock and selection accordingly.

Imagine someone using your book

Let’s think through some scenarios:

A children’s book. Nobody wants a children’s book that is too heavy for a child to lift. But if the book is intended for parents to read to their kids, then larger pages would stay open more easily when held in larger hands.

If your book is destined for an older audience, then a larger trim size will lend itself better to larger type. This would reduce eye strain and make readers think they are making more rapid progress through the book. However, readers may find a very thick, heavy book too daunting to start in the first place.

A book about a celebrity will typically have a profile photo on the cover. The bigger the face, the more likely people are to see it. Again, however, the bookshop may find larger pages more awkward to stock.

A large book of poetry would give a nice airy, open feel to the content, but it is likely to feel much less intimate to read when curled up on the sofa.

With each example, it all becomes a question of balance: weighing up pros and cons.

One of your biggest gifts as an author is your imagination, so use it. Think about your book: who will read it; where they might read it. Once you begin to get a picture in your head of what size book might fit the scene you’re imagining, jot down likely pros and cons. Do the pros make any negatives worth it?

Time to find out what your printer offers

If you decide to print your book digitally, for example using a print-on-demand (POD) printer like IngramSparkCreateSpace or Blurb, then the size of your book must be selected from their list of specific trim sizes. Each of these printers offers a broad range of trim sizes, but be sure to check their website for the complete, up-to-date list. Digital printers often won’t offer custom or landscape trim sizes, so you’ll need to stick to standard portrait sizes.

It’s important to keep in mind that the trim sizes available will also depend on other aspects of your book. The trim sizes you can select will vary according to your choice of bookbinding, paper weight, and whether you want to print in grayscale or color.

Yes, I’m afraid that will mean some more careful thinking, so give yourself time. Our blog features a range of guides on different book printing terms, options, and common issues to help you decide.

For offset printing, there are far fewer print restrictions. While you may still be best sticking to common sizes, you can print your book at virtually any size you choose. Contact your printer directly for full details of what they can offer.

Think about production costs

Bigger pages mean fewer pages, which means cheaper print costs, right? Not necessarily, we’re afraid. Authors on a tight budget will sometimes go for a larger trim size thinking it will shave a few pages off the total page count. But there are problems with that.

Our advice here is that you should never decide on your trim size based on hoped-for cost savings. For example, squashing content onto fewer pages by using a tiny font won’t make a significant difference to the per unit cost. However, it could totally wreck the reading experience. In the long run, it will always be more cost effective for you to select the trim size that works best for your content.

So now you know…

It’s a lot to think about, but trust us, it’s worth it.

You’ve looked at common book trim sizes and thought about how your book might fit alongside similar books. You’ve imagined how your readers would use your book and you’ve thought about how it might feel to read. You’ve also, hopefully, considered the options offered by your printer and the impact of trim size on cost and other printing decisions.

With all this in mind, you’re in a much better position to go ahead and choose your book trim size. And if you conclude that more than one trim size would work? Pick up the phone and have a chat with your book designer. That’s what we’re here for.