Just as construction workers follow blueprints, so should you when creating your cover. If you don’t, you’ll probably build something that can’t be uploaded or that won’t pass your self-publishing company’s vetting process. You’ll then have to start all over or will end up paying someone to fix your errors.
To begin with, understand that the cover you build will be a single piece that contains the front cover, the spine and the back cover. You can’t submit three separate pieces of your cover.
Ideally, you’ll use a software or an online app that will allow you to save the document in a format so you can go back and work on it and change what you’ve created. For example, in Photoshop, you’ll save it as a .psd rather than a .jpeg or a .pdf.
Unfortunately, you can’t really determine the actual cover size until your book has been formatted. That’s because the size of the pages you choose effects your cover size while the number of pages in the book affects the width of your spine. Whether or not you use color images in the book also affects the cover size. Once you’ve formatted your book, continue here.
Now that you have a formatted book, begin by writing down the trim size of your book – that is, the dimensions in which the book that was formatted. If your book’s trim size was 5.5 x 8.5 inches (width always is first and height second), then that’s the size of your front cover.
It’s also the size of your back cover. You can add the width of the front and back covers so that your book size is now 11 x 8.5 inches.
You also need to add the spine’s width. To determine that, you need to know how many pages are in your book. Once you have that number, round it up to the next number that can be evenly divide by four. For example, if you have 198 pages, you need to round up to 200. Next you need to know if your book is purely black and white or if it has color in. Color pictures, illustrations and text require a thicker paper than a book printed in black and white.
The typical paper used in self-publishing for black and white books has a thickness of .002252 inches per page while a book using paper for color pictures or illustrations is .002347 inches thick. To determine your spine’s thickness, simply multiply the page count by the thickness of the paper you’re using. So a 200-page book for a black and white book would be 200 x .002252 or .4504 inches thick. A 200-page book done in color is 200 x .002347 or .4694 inches thick.
Now add the spine’s width to your front and back covers’ width. Your black and white 200-page 5.5 x 8.5 book now has a book cover size of 11.4502 inches x 8.5 inches.
But that’s just the printed size of your full cover. The actual cover you need to submit to a self-publishing house needs to be slightly larger. This is because when printing, the self-publishing house’s printing press requires what is called “bleed area”; this ensures that if the printing paper is a little off when going through the press or if the printing press’ blades cut at the wrong spot, your book cover still will look good and you have a saleable book.
So you need to add the bleed area to your cover’s dimensions. To do that, add 0.5 inches to the book cover’s width. Then add 0.25 inches total to the book cover’s height. For our aforementioned 200-page book with a trim size of 5.5 x 8 inches, that means your book cover size is 11.9502 inches x 8.75 inches.
Now that you know the measurements of the cover you must upload, create a document in that size. You can do this on Photoshop or similar photo editors. Make sure that the background is the color you’ve selected in your sketch and if you have the option that it is 300 dpi. At 300 dpi, your cover will be plenty large enough to look good when shrunk onto a website.
Next, we’ll draw guidelines so you have a good idea of what is the bleed area and where the front and back panels, as well as the spine, fit on your cover.
Begin by creating a horizontal guide that is 0.125 inches from the document’s top. Create another horizontal guide that is 0.125 miles from the document’s bottom. Next, place a vertical guide that is 0.25 inches from the document’s left side and another vertical guide that is 0.25 miles from the document’s right side. The actual cover that will print is the rectangle inside this box. The “frame” around this box is the bleed area.
Next, create the space that the back cover will fill. Readjust your guides so that the “0” mark is where the guidelines marking your bleed area intersect in the upper left corner. Place a horizontal guideline however many inches wide the back cover is to the right of that intersection; for example, if the back cover panel is 5.5 inches wide, your new guideline should be 5.5 inches to the right of the guideline for the bleed area.
After that, create the space that the front cover will fill. Readjust the ruler so that the “0” mark is where the intersecting guide indicating your bleed area in the lower right corner. Place a horizontal guide however many inches wide the front cover is to the left of that intersection; for example, if the back cover panel is 5.5 inches wide, your new guide should be 5.5 inches to the left of the guide for the bleed area.
You now have “boxes” that mark the front cover, the spine, the back cover, and the bleed area.
There’s one more set of guide that you probably should set – for the text margins. Generally, KindleDP doesn’t want any text you place on the page to be within a third of an inch from the bleed area. If the paper behind printed on isn’t quite set right, any lettering close to that edge might get cut off.
For text margins, I prefer to go with a half-inch. This prevents any problems with text being too close to the bleed area and keeps the title lettering from running too large or too small (more on that later).
To set the text margin guides, readjust the guides so that they are at “0” on the document’s top left where the guides marking the bleed area intersect. Drag a horizontal guide 0.5 inches below the top guide. Then drag a vertical guide that is 0.5 inches from the left guide.
Next, reset the rulers so they are at “0” where the top guide for the bleed area intersects the guide you created to mark the back cover’s right edge. Drag a vertical guideline 0.5 inches to the left of that right edge.
Then reset the rulers so they are at “0” where the top guide for the bleed area intersects the guide you created to mark the front cover’s left edge. Drag a vertical guideline 0.5 inches to the right of that left edge.
Lastly, readjust the rulers so that they are at “0” on the document’s bottom right where the guides for the bleed area intersect. Drag a horizontal guide 0.5 inches above the bottom guide. Then drag a vertical guide that is 0.5 inches from the right guide.
You’ve now marked margins for your front and back covers. When you place text on the page, they never should go outside those margin guidelines.
There’s probably one more guide you may want to place on the cover. From the document’s bottom right, drag a horizontal line 2.5 inches above the guideline for the bleed area. This sets aside space for the barcode, which KindleDP will stamp along with a white box containing it onto your back cover. You don’t went text or important parts of your artwork to be covered by the white box and barcode, so knowing that you can’t go below that guideline is helpful.
The picture at this article’s upper right shows how this should look (White is the full cover. Gray is a guide. Black is the background the cover is sitting on and is not part of the cover).
By the way, do not place a white box for your barcode on the back cover unless you’re providing your own barcode. There’s no need to buy a barcode as KindleDP gives you a free one. KindleDP, by the way, ignores your white box and places it where it likes in your back cover’s lower left – and it almost never matches with your white box, creating a goofy looking effect on your book.
Once you’ve created the document, save it, including the words “PAPERBACK COVER” in its name. That’ll make it easier to find when searching through your files.
With the document created, you now can start placing your cover’s basic elements on it. We’ll look at how to do that during the next few sections.
My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.