Or everything you thought you wanted to know about trim size but were afraid to ask
Who knew you could spend almost an entire day researching trim sizes? I didn’t. I didn’t even know what trim size was a month ago. And I certainly did not know how much variation there is in trim sizes in the publishing world.
So what is trim size? Trim size is basically the size of the book. It is called trim size because that is where the book is trimmed at the end of production.
Trim size affects a lot of things including (obviously) the size of the book, the number of pages in the book, how the book looks and feels, and the cost to produce the book. These are important things to keep in mind as you make choices about trim size.
There are industry standard trim sizes, there are certain trim sizes offered by self-publishers (usually industry standard) and there are certain trim sizes that are customarily used for certain kinds of books, such as children’s books or graphic novels, but there are no set rules.
The only real rule is that mass market paperbacks – the ones you can usually buy in grocery stores – must be 4.25” x 7”. Most other books, other than hardcover books, manuals and workbooks and photography or art books, fall under the general category of trade paperbacks. Trade paperback novels, memoirs and non-fiction can range in size from 5.06” x 7.81” to 6” x 9”, although some non-fiction can be larger at 7” x 10”.
The most common/popular trim sizes are:
5 x 8 inches (203 x 127mm)
5.06 x 7.81 inches (198 x 129mm)
5.25 x 8 inches (203 x 133mm)
5.5 x 8.5 inches (216 x 140mm)
6 x 9 inches (229 x 152mm)
Joel Friedlander is really the guru on trim size (and many other aspects of book design) so check out his posts in this regard.
Certain trim sizes are favoured for certain types of books. Children’s books are often smaller at 5.06” x 7.81”. Longish literary fiction is often 6” x 9” to accommodate longer word counts.
Trim Sizes and Types of Book
Despite reading all of this, I still was not sure what trim size was best for my novels given their word counts and genres. My middle-grade novel is 79,000 words and thus may be too long for a 5.06” x 7.81” trim size. My adult action-adventure is a hefty 138,000 words. Is that going to be a tome in a 6” x 9” trim size? How are they going to look and feel?
I needed some data. The best place for that of course was my bookshelf. Armed with my very irritating metric-only ruler, I started pulling books off my shelf. I made the following interesting observations.
There is a lot more variation in book sizes than I expected. I thought all the children’s books would be 5.06” x 7.81” and all the adult books would be 6” x 9” but in fact, some of the children’s books were bigger than 5.06” x 7.81”, and many of the adult books were smaller than 6” x 9”.
Middle-grade Fiction Books
The middle-grade fiction books on my shelves tended to be more “square” at 5.25” x 7.55” (?? – I don’t see that on the list of industry standard sizes) with a few, such as The BFG, clocking in at the standard 5.06” x 7.81” and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series measuring 5.5” x 8” (again I can’t find that on the standard size list… maybe my ruler is broken). I also had one that was 5.06” x 7.55”.
Young Adult Fiction Books
The YA books tended to be slightly larger, but still smaller than the adult books, with the smallest at 5” x 8” and the largest at 5.5” x 8.25”(again not on the standard list) and one in the middle at 5.25” x 8”. These books tended to be much longer – all over 480 pages with lots of front and back matter.
Adult Fiction Books
These also ranged. Many of the books on my shelf, including, notably, all the self-published ones were in fact 6” x 9”. But there was also significant variation and some were 5.25” x 8.25” and some were 5” x 8”. When She Woke measures a strange 6” x 9.1”
To be clear here, I held the books up to each other to compare sizes after I measured to make sure the non-standard sizes were not a result of bad ruler use – they weren’t.
All of these books look fine. In some respects, the 6” x 9” ones border on feeling too big, but are fine. I would not go any bigger, and if your word count allows it, I would consider going smaller. As Friedlander observes, smaller sizes can make for a more intimate reading experience.
Trim Sizes and Word Counts
So what word counts work for what trim sizes anyway? Obviously with longer word counts, you want to consider bigger trim sizes so your book is not massively thick. Font size and line spacing are going to play a key role here in determining page length, but it is still good to know (vaguely) what word counts work for what trim sizes, as nobody wants to read 8 point font. Font sizes in printed novels tend to range from 10 point font to 11 point font with line spacing set at 120% to 125% of the font size. But there is a lot of variation in how much space different 11 point fonts take up.
I found the following rules of thumb, in terms of calculating number of pages based on word count and trim size, from Fiona Raven:
For 5.5” x 8.5” trim size, divide your word count by 390 to determine number of pages. So for my middle-grade novel, that would be 79,000/390 = 202 pages.
For 6” x 9” trim size, divide your word count by 475 to determine number of pages. So for my adult action-adventure, that would be 137,000/475 = 288 pages. Sounds like a positively slim volume!
But there seems to be a wide variation in these guides. I have also read from reasonable that you should assume 300 to 350 words per page no matter what the trim size (?). At 300 words per page, my adult action-adventure will be a more unwieldy 457 pages. Ack!
My formatter has just informed me that for 5.25” x 8” my 79,000 middle-grade novel will be about 300 pages. So that is about 263 words per page. I sincerely hope that if I choose 6” x 9” for my adult novel that I will get more than 263 words per page.
Update: I chose to make my adult novel In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation a 6" by 9" and had it set in 11 point font with 16 point spacing. It clocked in at a tidy 394 pages including all the front and back matter. Very relieved. One thing I did discover after originally having it set too small and too tight (10.5 font and 13 point spacing) and the doing line counts on many of the novels on my shelf is that most 6" by 9" novels have 32 to 34 lines of text per page. This is another good thing to check if you are in doubt with regard to your font size and spacing. But I will do another separate post on this sometime soon.
Word Counts and Printing Costs
My calculations started to panic me a bit. What if my action-adventure novel is too long? We’ve all heard that rule that novels should be between 80,000 and 100,000 words. I’ve been told by agents that they won’t consider anything over 100,000 words. Is this the ideal size of a novel? If so, my 139,000 word behemoth is way over the mark.
But, still, the books that I grabbed from my shelves to do my measurement exercise seemed to suggest otherwise. Not one of the adult novels was under 390 pages. I’m not sure what word count they are but surely they are over 100,000.
I did a quick check of word counts on popular novels and was stunned to find that a huge number of them are well over 139,000 words. All this time spent writhing in shame that I am way out of the ballpark!! Look at these numbers (from commonplacebook.com):
138,098 – Snow Falling on Cedars – Guterson, David
143,436 – The Two Towers – J. R. R. Tolkien
144,523 – One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
145,469 – Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper
156,154 – Watership Down – Richard Adams
157,665 – Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
186,418 – Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
190,858 – Goblet of Fire – JK Rowling
196,774 – The Corrections – Franzen, Jonathan
216,020 – The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier and Clay – Chabon, Michael
225,395 – East of Eden – John Steinbeck
257,154 – Order of the Phoenix – JK Rowling
349,736 – Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
418,053 – Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
455,125 – The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien
561,996 – Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
587,287 – War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
591,554 – A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
Check out the list at Indefeasible as well as it includes some analysis of award winners too.
This list tells me there is no ideal novel size in terms of reader preference – at least it is not necessarily under 100,000 words. There is an ideal novel size in terms of printing costs though and, according to Novel Writing Help, for many publishers, that ideal size is between 80,000 and 100,000 words. This is because it costs a lot more to print a longer novel, but you cannot increase the price of a longer novel to match the printing costs (we don’t pay twice as much for a 600 page novel as we do for a 300 page one). As a result, publishers must sell more units in order to make a profit. Thus, they tend not to take chances on first time novelists with long novels.
However, as ebooks are on the rise, length may not be as critical, as obviously they do not have to be printed. That said, I think I better investigate the costs of printing my not-quite-a-behemoth adult novel before I proceed. That will be the subject of one of my future blog posts.
As with all my posts, this is just an overview of what I have learned through a little bit of research. Please feel free to add or clarify, I would love to learn more and hear your thoughts!
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