Before you start designing your book or cover, you really need to take a trip to a bookstore to check out the competition. (Yes, you will have competition!) Visit the section of the store where your book will be placed and take notes on the following:
- Trim sizes
- Number of pages
- Prices (these first three items are interconnected)
- Cover designs and color trends
Now make a little chart with a row for each book and columns for trim size, number of pages, and price.
The trim size is the physical size of the pages (not the cover if it’s a hard cover), measured in inches, horizontal by vertical. For this you should really bring a ruler, as many sizes look almost the same. It’s best to use a trim size that is close to the others. Here are some very generalized suggestions for normal uses of common sizes:
5.5 x 8.5″ is mostly used for fiction, but also some nonfiction.
6 x 9″ is mostly used for nonfiction, such as history or essays.
7 x 9″ to 8 x 10″ is often used for textbooks and illustrated how-to books, such as Book Design Made Simple.
8.5 x 11″ is for workbooks or those with full-sized reproductions of letter-sized documents.
Horizontal (landscape) orientations are mostly used for children’s books, but also for heavily illustrated nonfiction and how-to books.
Notice that we have not mentioned the 4 x 7″ trim size that is common for mass paperbacks. That’s because those books are printed on presses that require a minimum of thousands of copies, with as many pages as possible to make the economics of it work.
The number of pages is somewhat dependent on the trim size. Just make note of how many pages each competing book has. It is also dependent on how large the type is, and the space between the lines of type (called the leading), and the margins. If any of the books are obviously padded, or obviously crammed in, make note of that, too.
The price of each book is somewhat dependent on the number of pages. Just make a note of prices so you’ll have a record when it comes time to figure out the price of your book. In a future blog entry I will discuss pricing.
Now go back and study the covers of these books. If there are any that you love, take pictures of them or make sketches. Notice whether there are any similarities in the colors in the group. If so, can you figure out why? For instance, if the books are about the American Civil War, are the covers all predominantly blue and gray? If they are diet books, you might notice that there are a lot of flashy colors. Maybe there is no color trend, but you might notice other characteristics common to the group, such as script type, old sepia-toned photographs, cartoonish illustrations, or no illustrations at all. Just make note of whatever you find.
Also pay attention to whether you like this group of covers or not. You might want to do something quite different. But whatever you do, it will be as a result of the knowledge you’ve gathered on this field trip to the bookstore.