Choosing what size to make your book can be simple or difficult depending on the kind of book you are writing. Most importantly, you need to consider what your readers will want and what size will make your book sell.
What size should your book be? Both beginning and longtime authors have to make this decision with each book, and depending on the kind of book, it can be an easy or a difficult decision. Here are some basic guidelines for determining your book’s size depending on the kind of book you are publishing.
Fiction books are the easiest for choosing a size. Most novels and short story collections are one of two sizes—the mass market paperback size (4.1×6.6) and the slightly larger 6×9 size (occasionally some are 4.1×7.4). Books that are 6×9 have become more popular in recent years—they also usually cost more to buy than mass market paperback sizes—partly I think so publishers can charge more because they look more substantial. In any case, either size is acceptable for fiction. These sizes are appropriate because novels are some of the most portable books from how readers use them. Novels should be easy to hold, relatively light, and portable so readers can take them on airplanes, read them on the beach, etc.
The only real consideration in choosing between the two sizes of fiction books is how thick the book will be. A large novel like Gone With the Wind (my mass market copy has 1,024 pages) would be easier to read as a 6×9 which I would guess would run more around 800 pages, simply because your hand would have to apply less pressure to hold it open, especially if you’re able to hold a book open with one hand—a small feat for most men who have larger hands, but more difficult for women. You don’t want to make your book a size that is awkward for your readers to handle, no matter what kind of book you are publishing.
Children’s books come in a wide variety of sizes. If they are novels with chapters, then I’d recommend the above sizes for fiction, but for picture books, you want a larger book that will display the pictures to more advantage. Even if you pick a hardcover book, you want it to be lightweight so children can easily open it. Larger sizes also mean the book is thinner and easier to hold. Books that can stay open by themselves are a definite advantage; a larger size and the right binding will make them do so.
You also want a book that is easy to hold open. Remember that with picture books, adults often read them out loud, and they will hold them open wide so children can see the pictures.
With picture books, you want to make sure you determine the size of your book before you get far into your project so you can plan out the individual page layouts. With children’s books, you’ll want pictures to match the text, so you’ll want to plan out what the illustrations will represent, and if you have pictures on each page or every other page, you’ll want to figure out how much text will go on each page, which requires you to know the book’s size so you can write the proper amount of text to fit the page.
Knowing the book’s size beforehand is imperative for the illustrations so they can be drawn at the size of the final book; otherwise, you’ll have problems later with the resolution when you try to shrink or enlarge the photographs to match the book size.
Nonfiction books allow the most flexibility when determining size. Depending on the book’s purpose and contents, a simple non-fiction book is appropriately sized at the same options for fiction books. More complicated books with photographs or charts may benefit from a larger size.
The main thing is to make the book look substantial enough that readers will feel they are getting their money’s worth. A large but thin book with 50,000 words in it may make the reader feel it is overpriced at $15.95, but a book at the same price with the same word count may look like a good buy if it is smaller and thicker.
One small publisher of non-fiction titles told me his goal is for all their books to be roughly 200 pages. The company sells books ranging in size from 6×9 to 8.5×11, but the size is determined by what will result in that 200 page goal. Why 200 pages? They’ve determined that size makes readers feel they are getting their money’s worth without feeling the book is too long and intimidating to read it.
If you’re going to have photographs in your book, you probably want a larger size so the pictures do not look small or cramped but can be viewed easily, and the larger the book, the more the photographs will stand out. Depending on your audience, books with lots of photographs or illustrations, including pictorial histories and art books, or books with lots of graphs, timelines, genealogy charts, or other special design elements may be best in coffee table sizes.
Finally, consider your book cover. When posted online, your book will look small regardless—book images at Amazon are at most two inches in size. But in a bookstore, a larger book is going to stand out amid stacks of mass market paperbacks. Books too large to fit on a regular bookshelf might make some bookstores less willing to carry them, but in most cases, large books are more likely to end up on display tables where they will easily be noticed rather than be buried on a shelf with only their spines showing.
Remember that the cover is the first thing the customer will see, and it is first and foremost what will affect the vast majority of customers’ buying decisions. A bigger book might well make the difference between it being bought over another simply because it stands out more.
Other Considerations and Recommendations
The size of your book has many other considerations involved with it such as the size of the font in the book. Larger books can have larger fonts so they are easier to read. You might even be considering producing a large print book for people who have difficulty reading.
Most importantly, you need to consider your potential customers. Go to the bookstore and look at books on topics similar to yours. See what you like and don’t like about their sizes. Ask bookstore owners what they would recommend. Talk to printers and book designers to see what they would recommend as well.
In the end, size does matter, so find the book size to satisfy your customers.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.