paperback book format

Paperback Book Format: 7 Great Formatting Tips

Salmaan Ahmad

Salmaan Ahmad

November 20, 2023

Looking for paperback book format tips? Writing and self-publishing a book gives you the chance to create, format, and print your book any way you want to, and many authors decide that paperback book printing is the best option.

Fiction and nonfiction paperback books can be found on every bookstore and library shelf, so authors who choose to publish their books in this format are in good company. If you are considering printing a paperback book for your next project, take a look as we review paperback book printing basics.

What Is the Difference between Paperback, Softback, and Perfect Bound?

Clarifying what we mean by paperback is the first step in understanding this book style. The terms paperback, softback, and perfect bound are interchangeable words that refer to a book with a soft paper cover the same size as the book’s pages. A hardback book, by comparison, utilizes a stiff cardboard cover that overhangs the printed interior pages of a book. Notable for the flexible cover, smooth spine, and sleek construction, paperbacks are a very popular style of book printing for many genres.

Construction 101: How a Paperback Book Is Made

The way a book is crafted depends wholly on the type of binding used. Perfect binding is used to make a paperback book, and this style of binding begins by printing each page of the book and then collating them together in the correct order.

Then, this large block of pages is joined with the cover using a strong adhesive, usually PUR (polyurethane reactive adhesive). A paperback book cover is usually made from sturdy cardstock, and its size is determined by the number of book pages as well as the thickness of the paper used in the rest of the book. A paperback cover is usually printed in vibrant colors, and it may be coated with a glossy or matte finish or even embossed to give texture and color dimension.

The coating helps to retain the bright color of the cover design found on the book’s front, back and spine. The final step in paperback binding is trimming the book’s pages to fit the size of the cover, giving this binding style the moniker “perfect” to describe the smooth edges that are trimmed flush with the cover.

Paperback Book Format Tips

Self-published authors preparing to print paperback book content can follow a few paperback book format tips to make sure that their book will turn out beautifully and without the small missteps that can keep a book from looking professionally crafted.

1 Paperback Book Format — Watch Out for Gutters

The inside margin of a book’s manuscript is called the gutter, and this space is especially important to manage correctly for paperback book format. Paperbacks are not made to lay flat, so this extra margin area helps protect the spine and the adhesive. Including expanded gutters impacts the manuscript formatting by adding about ½ inch of extra margin to each page’s inside margin.

2 Paperback Book Format — No Two-Page Spreads

Since paperback books are constructed with individual pages that are assembled into order after they are printed, designing pages with graphics or photographs that are intended to span two pages is risky. The minute, natural differences in page assembly may keep two facing pages from lining up perfectly, creating an unattractive image in a book.

In addition, for the adhesive to bind the paperback book’s pages securely, the gutters must be large enough to allow for the pages to open so there will undoubtedly be a blank space between the two pages – another less-than-desirable characteristic for a photograph or graphic two-page spread.

3 Paperback Book Format — Length

Books created with perfect binding can be between 8 and hundreds of pages in length. Paperback books that are shorter than 8 pages cannot use perfect binding. If the final draft of your manuscript ends up at 8 pages or less, the best binding option for your project would be to use saddle stitch binding which utilizes strong staples and a self-cover to create an attractive, soft-covered book.

Paperback Book Format — Sizing

Paperback books can be created in just about any size, and many authors print paperback book manuscripts in sizes from 6×9, 8 ½ x 11 or even 9×12 inches. But on the small size for a paperback is the trade paperback, also called the mass-market paperback, measuring a small 5 ½ x 8 ½ inches. Novels that use trade sizing typically are also paired with thinner paper and smaller font sizes.

5. Paperback Book Format — Spine Design

One of the big benefits of paperback printing is that the perfect binding process creates a beautiful spine space that authors can use to make their books stand out on the shelves. The size of the spine directly correlates to the thickness and size of the book before adding the cover, but authors are free to design an eye-catching spine using some or all of the spine space.

Typically, the spine includes the author’s name, and the book title, and if it is traditionally published, it will also include a graphic element that hints at the publisher. For this reason, many self-publishing authors choose to include a graphic element so their book will look similar to other books on the shelf when doing the paperback book format. But instead of a penguin or another company’s icon, self-published authors can use a graphic relevant to their book’s contents or title to the same effect.

6 Paperback Book Format — Connecting the Cover and Spine

Often, an author will choose to include the same paperback book format in all of their books to help readers connect the author’s works. The design of the spine can reflect the front cover’s art and color design, it can match the back cover, or it can stand alone in its design or color scheme.

Often writers will choose to “wrap” the cover and spine designs in one uninterrupted design, leaving the back cover for a different color scheme or design altogether. But the most important aspect of spine design is making sure that the book’s title and author’s name are readable when the book is on the shelf.

7 Paperback Book Format — Professional Support

Creating a paperback book is no less involved than printing a hardback book, and many authors may not feel comfortable making all of the design decisions for their writing project. Don’t be afraid to use a professional cover designer or a formatting program to help you craft a beautiful paperback book format.

Just like asking a professional editor to help you fine-tune your writing, engaging the services of a pro graphic designer or paperback book format program can make the difference in a book that looks good and one that appears professionally printed.

The Popularity of Paperback Book Printing

There are many reasons why self-published authors love to turn their writing into paperback books, but a paperback’s flexibility, cost, and transportability are high on every writer’s (and retailer’s) lists.

Flexible binding and covers make them lightweight, so shipping and transporting paperbacks is easier than hardback books.

Paperback books are lightweight and easy to carry. Since portability is high for paperback books, taking them on a trip, shoving a paperback in a backpack, or carrying multiple paperback books around is convenient and easy. Compared to hardback books, softcover books are ideal for students or other readers who may have more than one book to carry or use at a time.

Paperbacks are relatively inexpensive to produce. Since a hardback book’s costs are tied up in the hardcover and the stitched binding necessary to hold the heavier covers, hardback book construction is much more costly than printing a perfect bound book. A self-published author’s investment is smaller with a paperback book than when a hardback book is printed, and even more so when a trade paperback book is crafted with a smaller size and thinner paper.

Perfect bound books match reader expectations in size and shape, so a self-published softback book will feel familiar to potential readers and not stand out from traditionally published books. For a self-published author, paperback book printing is the easiest pathway to creating a professional-looking book that will blend in with the other books on a retailer’s shelf.

Print Your Paperback Book

Authors ready to print paperback book content right now can partner with Publishing Xpress to turn their finished manuscript into a gorgeous book in just a few days. Every self-published author needs a printing partner like Publishing Xpress that can bring their paperback book dreams to life with quality, fast printing.

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