Book Cover: Margins
Book covers invite us to enter an author’s imagination. They should entice and lure us to learn what is contained within. A defective cover may lose the author a reader before a single page is turned.
I have several book websites I frequent regularly. It is amazing how many covers I spot with design errors. Margins, or lack of, is a major culprit. The cover text and images are positioned too close to the outer edges. This isn’t critical for eBook covers, but 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 size) + .675” (spine width) + 6” + .125”.
Height—.125” + 9” + .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 edge can be cut.
I discovered the problem when I ordered my first shipment of Sentinels of the Night. I examined each book and noticed the elements (text boxes and images) on several books had shifted. The text on the spine was no longer centered. It was close to the edge of the spine. I use margins and grid lines for an 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.”
As an author, you will never know a book with a defective cover has been shipped to a reader. 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. This 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 is intended to cover the entire template. It should extend the full width and height of the template.
During the print process, if the paper shifts from the left or right, the .5” margin next to the spine protects from an undesired intrusion of either the back or front cover text/image onto the spine. Don’t extend the spine text (title and author name) to the edge of the spine. Leave a margin of at least .0625” on each side of the text.
Please note these measurements are only for a paperback. A hardback template has another set of requirements.
Whether you design your covers or work with a cover designer, I hope these Tips & Hints help.