What Do You Know About Book Trim Sizes?

If you're scratching your head right now, and you're an indie author who is publishing your own work, be concerned. Knowing about different trim sizes (aka your print book's overall size) is Indie Publishing 101, and not knowing how different sizes affect your print costs can prove to be costly to your bottom line. So, settle in, indie publishers, for a lesson on trim sizes and their effects on your bottom line.

Note: In the article that follows, I will give some general quotes based on Ingram's and CreateSpace's calculators. Your individual costs may vary depending on your vendor.

Standard Trim Sizes 101

There are some standard sizes that are offered by most print-on-demand vendors (all sizes in inches):

  • 4.25 x 7 (often called the "pocketbook" size)*
  • 5 x 8**
  • 5.25 x 8**
  • 5.5 x 8.5
  • 6 x 9
  • 6.14 x 9.21**

*Not offered by CreateSpace. **Not offered by Lulu.

How will different trim sizes affect print costs?

Let's look at the 3 most common trim sizes and assume we have a 100,000 word novel with the following standard formatting:

  • Top/bottom margins: 1" margins
  • Right/left margins: .75" margins
  • Line spacing: 1.25
  • Font: 11pt Times New Roman page

For the interior, I will use black and white printed on cream-colored paper, which is the paper I recommend for any fiction title. White paper, which is more common to non-fiction titles, has a slightly different thickness and affects print costs in other ways.

Here are the wholesale prints costs for each of the 3 trims:

  • 5.25 x 8 - 468 page count: Ingram @ $7.84 / CreateSpace @ $6.46
  • 5.5 x 8.5 - 418 page count: Ingram @ $7.10 / CreateSpace @ $5.83
  • 6 x 9 - 347 page count: Ingram @ $6.04 / CreateSpace @ $5.02

So, what does all this have to do with the price of tea in China?

Nothing. But it does affect your list price. Why? Because whether you use Ingram or CS, you need to offer retailers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, indie bookstores) a wholesale discount. This is taken automatically by CS (40%), but is set by the publisher (you) in Ingram. The industry standard is 55% off the list price for retailers, but most indie authors can't afford that, so I recommend 45%.

If you list through Ingram, here is the minimum you can charge as the list price through Ingram and still clear over $1 in royalties per book (which is the absolute minimum you should get per sale):

  • 5.25 x 8 at 468 pages = $16.99 = $1.50
  • 5.5 x 8.5 at 418 pages = $14.99 = $1.14
  • 6 x 9 at 347 pages = $12.99 = $1.10

For CreateSpace, it gets worse, due to the extra cut CS takes out of your royalties for orders outside of Amazon or the CreateSpace store, in their so-called "Expanded Distribution" (which is actually Ingram's distribution list). To clear over $1 in royalties on non-Amazon sales:

  • 5.25 x 8 at 468 pages = $18.99 = $1.13
  • 5.5 x 8.5 at 418 pages = $17.99 = $1.33
  • 6 x 9 at 347 pages = $16.99 = $1.77

Crap. $16.99 and $18.99 is a lot for small format paperback, and I only get $1.13-$1.50 per sale?!

You're absolutely right. So, my advice is this:

  1. Either don't do the Expanded Distribution through CS, and only sell through Amazon/CS, or split your title between CS and Ingram so that you make higher royalties for non-Amazon sales.
  2. For books with high word counts (75,000 or more), going bigger will probably work better for you. It's not unusual for a 347 page title in a 6" x 9" softcover size to cost $15.99. Through Ingram, that would net you $2.75 per sale in royalties, and probably a little more through CS on Amazon orders.
  3. For books with lower word counts (75,000 or less), going smaller on the trim size might work better for you. For example, if your book is just 300 pages in the 5.25" x 8" format, you can charge $13.99 and make $2.34 in royalties. Also, your book spine will be thick enough to fit your title at a decent font size (300 pages for the 5.25" x 8" trim is a spine .674" wide, versus .511" wide at 224 pages for the 6" x 9" trim).

So, clearly, before you start your next title with a POD vendor, you may have some new things to take into consideration. You may also want to look back at your existing titles and see if your current trim size is working out better than a bigger or smaller one.

As always, a little homework can get you ahead in the indie publishing game.