I don’t mean “how many pages?”, but “how tall and wide should a book be?”. One problem that I’ve seen with a lot of books recently, especially self-published books, is that they’re too big to fit comfortably into a pocket or a bag.
Sometimes, this seems to be done in order to reduce the number of pages in a book, and therefore bring down the cost (the people who do this are probably the ones who use as small a typeface as possible in order to save space, and who also take the print right to the edge of the paper).
The printers I use for my books, Ingram Spark, happily have a wide range of trim sizes (the technical term for the page size of a book. Not every kind of paper is available in every size (there’s a choice between white, creme, and now something called “groundwood” which I’ve used for my latest, which has come out really nicely, and most of these sizes are paperback only, a few with hard covers and dust jackets. KDP, Amazon’s self-publishing service, offers a subset of these trim sizes.
Now, the cost to me of a hard cover is twice that of a paperback, even before I’ve paid the setup costs, and by the time I’ve factored in the very hefty discount that retailers demand, there’s really no incentive other than vanity for producing a hardcover for adult titles (but see below with regard to children’s books).
However, since I can choose the trim size, I’ve avoided the almost ubiquitous 6″ x 9″ and 5″ x 8″ options (sorry, since Ingram is an American company, they work in antique units for the most part) format which seems to be common to many books. I also, for the most part, tend to avoid the DIN A series of paper formats (1:1.41 ratio) which are OK for paper sheets, but don’t, IMHO, work for books.
When I started to produce On the Other Side of the Sky (at the top of this page) I decided to make it as close as possible to a “standard” or “classic” paperback size, whatever that might be. So I carefully measured up a Penguin, and designed around that. One thing about Ingram Spark is that they ask for a margin of 36pt (3p or 0.5″) on each side of the text block, so if you make your trim size small, remember to knock 72pt (6p or 1″) off each dimension for the text block.
And the reaction has been really positive. The people who have seen and handled the two above seem to love the small size – “a book you can take with you”. And for On the Other Side of the Sky, those who have seen advance copies have said about the paperback that it is a “real book, isn’t it? I can read it in bed”. Perhaps slightly insulting to an author who took many months to produce it, but flattering to the designer who took the words and set them in print. Very gratifying to have these decisions endorsed by readers.
But sometimes it’s a good idea to go slightly odd. For the hardcover of the anthology of our Sherlock Ferret series (hardcover comes into its own for children’s titles (the purchaser the reader is not always the reader and children’s books get a lot of wear and tear), I decided that a square page format would be eye-catching and practical, given Andy’s wonderful illustrations which need to be shown off to their best advantage, rather than being tucked away in a corner.