(where would we be without decisions?)
When it comes to choosing the form in which your book will be sent forth into the world–hardcover, paperback, small, or large–it’s the rare author who has considered the book’s actual trim size. Those other elements? They’re easy to visualize in your head, to picture your book as taking one such form. Trim size is not so easy, in part because many authors don’t even know what the term means.
Thanks to Dictionary.com, we can safely interpret trim size to mean the page area left after final production is completed–which is not the same thing as the page area throughout the printing process. While a book is being printed, the pages are slightly larger than their final size. Once your content has been printed, the pages are cut down to their final size–their trim size.
Depending on which self-publishing company you choose, you ought to have a choice of trim sizes to select from. Print on Demand (POD) options will often constrain your choices simply because each size uses its own machinery, so the more sizes on offer = the more expensive the machinery is to purchase and maintain for the operator, and ultimately, the end user–you.
There are so many sizes to choose from, it almost boggles the mind.The most common trade paperback sizes, for example, run from 6″ by 9″ to 5.5″ by 8.5″, but you’ll also see 5.25″ by 8″ and 5″ by 8″ in some POD services. It’s not unheard of to choose even larger sizes–6″ by 9″, 7″ by 10″, 8.25″ by 8.25, or even 8″ by 10″–especially if you’re working within the children’s picture book or technical manual markets.
Sometimes the decision might be self-explanatory. If you’re a photographer, for example, it makes sense to go with a larger trim size to allow your images to be shown off to greatest effect. But why does size–or even deciding between hardcover and paperback– matter at all to everyone else? The answer boils down to reader perception, and reader perception can be greatly affected by the minutiae. A nice balance between text and white space, for example, is a subconscious clue that the author took great pains to be professional while designing their book. A crowded page, while maximizing the text-to-page ratio and lowering the total page count (and therefore cost) of a book, looks clunky and dense, making it difficult to read. Similarly, a hardcover book is a sign that, on a fundamental level, the author cares about creating a durable, treasured possession–while a paperback enables portability and a voracious consumption of words.
Think about how your book will be used, and by whom, and what the typical expectations are within a genre. Fiction titles typically run in smaller trim sizes, since readers typically read them for pleasure–whether on the train to work in the morning, or while sitting on the back porch. Nonfiction titles, including memoirs and the ever-growing Creative Non-Fiction (CNF) field typically run in the middle of the pack–unless they’ve been penned by someone famous, like a film or a football star. Those are often oversized, just like the personalities they describe. Technical manuals, cookbooks, photography tabletop books, and children’s picture books are always the largest books on the shelf–and often, they are used while lying flat on a table or the floor.
I guess my recommendation is rather simple: take a ruler with you to the bookstore and library. Measure the books that fall within the “if you like my book, you might also like X book” category, whether you’re thinking of similarities in genre or thematic content. Weigh it in your hand. Are you more likely to pick up the hardcover or the paperback of that book? And don’t just measure the outside cover. Look inside–at the trim size, the the margins. It may not be an easily quantifiable thing, but readers are most likely to buy books that strike them as visually balanced and attractive–and the trim size of a book contributes to this a great deal!
You are not alone. ♣︎
* And when Thomas himself took the poem seriously and made some rather intense life choices–for example, going off to WWI–Frost was devastated. He was even more devastated when Thomas died in Arras. The moral of this story being, it would seem, to make major life decisions upon thorough research and consideration, not the (misread) interpretation of a poem.