Too Close for Comfort
Book Cover Margins
Book covers invite us to enter the realm of the author’s imagination. They should entice and lure us into discovering what is within. A defective or poorly designed cover may lose the author a reader before a single page is turned.
Over the last few years, I’ve looked at a lot of books. It’s amazing how many covers I spot with design errors. Margins, or lack of, is a major culprit. The text and images are positioned too close to the outer edges of the book, or the spine. While it’s not critical for eBook covers, it can impact the printed cover.
A paperback cover template is composed of three elements that contain text or images: front cover, spine, and back cover. The cover’s width and height dimensions are based on the bleed margin, spine width, and book size. For example, the measurements for a 6” x 9” book with 300 pages would be:
Width—.125” (bleed) + 6” (page width) + .675” (spine width) + 6” + .125”
Height—.125” (bleed) + 9” (page height) + .125”
The total template size is 12.925” x 9.25”.
The template is printed as one large sheet. The excess, the .125”, is trimmed, and the cover is wrapped around the interior book block. Printing presses are not always precise. The cover paper as it passes through the machine can be out of alignment and creates a shift of the template as it prints on the paper. This can occur in any direction, toward the top or bottom, or left or right. When the cover is trimmed, text or images too near the outer edge can be cut off. Text or images too close to the edge of the spine will end up on the spine.
I discovered the problem when I ordered my first shipment of Sentinels of the Night. I examined each book and noticed the text and images on several books had shifted. The text on the spine was no longer centered. The book title and my name were at the edge of the spine. I use gridlines for the exact placement of each element and knew the shift was not a design error. I contacted Amazon. Their response: “Sometimes, the paper doesn’t feed right.”
I’ve published four books in paperback and hardback. I’ve seen the same problem several times on my author copies, including the hardbacks. As an author, you will never know a reader has received a book with a defective cover. While it is impossible to correct the printer alignment problem, it is possible to minimize the impact on the cover.
For the front and back, I recommend a .5” margin from the outer edges and the edge of the spine. The .5” margin is in addition to the .125” bleed margin on the top, side, and bottom. Setting a perimeter of .5” around the back and front cover will leave an available space of 5” x 8” for the text and images. A quick note, this doesn’t apply to a background image that covers the template. It should extend the full width and height of the template.
If the paper shifts from the left or right during the print process, the .5” margin next to the spine protects from an undesired intrusion of the back or front cover text/image onto the spine. When setting the spine text and author’s name on the spine, leave a .0625 margin between the text and each side of the spine.
Please note these measurements are only for a paperback. A hardback template has another set of requirements.
A few simple steps to set a margin can minimize the damage a misaligned paper feed can create.