Complete Guide to Book Cover Sizes – Why Do They Matter?

In the first part of the series, we looked at some cover design services and tutorials to help you design the best cover possible and showed you how to 3D it. In the second part, we talked about typography and layout design. Today we are covering some less creative but just as important elements of cover design: book cover size in terms of dimension, file size, format and colour modes.

If converting a picture file gives you the heebie-jeebies, you are at the right place: let us guide you through this maze of guidelines and rules. We also have some good news: when you are done with this, you are good to go! Your book will attract readers and be accepted to the stores.

If you get it right on the first try, you save yourself all the pain and suffering that comes with being rejected from the stores and having to format and resize and save and upload all over again.

How large should my cover be? (Guide for dimensions)

We have terrifying news: there is no golden rule for cover dimensions. You as an ebook author, however, are in a fantastic position, because your cover dimensions don’t have to match the page proportion: you don’t have to think about your book being too thick or difficult to handle, since everyone is going to display it on a gadget.

You don’t need to worry about your cover looking odd on the screen for the same reason, as every reader or phone screen is a bit different. Currently the most popular e-readers have a screen size of 6 inches, but various resolutions: while the classic Kindle and the Nook Simple displays 600×800 pixels (giving you a ratio of 1:1.33), Nook GlowLight goes with 758×1024, resulting in a ratio of 1:1.35. IPads currently have a ratio of 1:1.33, and most android phones (independently from the size) have a ratio of 1:1.5.

It is impossible to follow, right? Don’t worry, you don’t have to.

Your cover won’t look silly on any reader independently from book cover size; the phones and e-readers won’t resize it and display it disproportionately, but merely display it at the center.

If you are not only interested in ebooks but would like to design your cover with a future print edition in mind, you can still follow our guide below, as the process is very similar. For a detailed article by genres, see The Book Designer.

As long as you stick to digital, the only thing you actually need to worry about is how your cover looks like. For most fiction genres, a 1:1.5 (6”x9”) or 1:1.6 (5”x8”) ratio works well. Although the shops won’t enforce an exact ratio, you are advised to go for something like this, so your book won’t look out of place (just like Helter Skelter does on Amazon) among all the other books. (Or the sides don’t get cut off by the store.)

If your genre is not fiction, go to your favourite webshop and check the top list for trends and inspiration on book cover size. It is really easy to calculate ratio: just divide the longer side with the shorter one; then you can multiply the length of the shorter side of your cover with the number you got to get the length of the longer side. (The “It looks approximately the same” approach never works out well.)

The biggest stores (including Apple iBooks) currently require at least 1400 pixels or more for the shorter side; Kobo recommends 1600px, however, so better go with that. With a ratio of 1:1.5, this would mean 1400×2100 or 1600×2400 pixels. The good news are that you don’t need to remember this, because as the book market evolves (with new gadgets and shifting reading habits) these numbers constantly change as well. Obviously, we track the changes and keep you updated; and, luckily enough, PublishDrive is going to do all the adjusting for you based on the specific requirements.

How do I make it happen? (Guide to programs, online editors and getting feedback)

If you set out to design your cover by yourself, you can either use a picture editor software, like PhotoShop or its free alternative, Gimp, or go online and try a book cover designer app, like Canva. It has pre-set Kindle Cover samples with the dimensions of 1410×2250 pixels. They saves you most of the work but you lose out on customizing and fine tuning your cover.

If your cover is smaller than the recommended, let’s say 1000×1500, you are suggested to make it larger. It goes without saying that the same applies for your cover picture: if you are trying to fit a small picture onto a large cover, do not just drag the corners to make it bigger.

Sherprog.com offers you an excellent step-by-step guide for upscaling your image and turning lo-res into high without making your picture look pixelated. Our advice is that you only use a program like this if you know what you are doing.

Your book might be a masterpiece; don’t accidentally ruin your chances of making it a hit with an amateur cover.  If you artificially “enlarge” the cover, you could end up with a cheap-looking result. You want to avoid anything looking like this image, unless your book is about 80s video games.

On the note of feedback: if you don’t trust your spouse and are afraid of your Facebook friends, you can pay people to get a honest opinion.

There are several crowdsourcing websites: you ask your question and collect the answers from nice strangers.

PickFu, for example, is specified for book covers: if you would like to know whether you are as good a designer as a writer, you just upload your cover to test it. They can also help you to decide between to competing titles.

Joining a writer’s group, however, might be a better choice not only for your wallet but also for your social connections. If you become part of a self-publishing community, you can both get help and advice from like-minded individuals and start building valuable connections you can use once your book is out.

How do I make it look nice when printed? (Guide for resolution)

Although your cover is likely to be viewed thumbnail size, on a black and white e-reader or on a smartphone screen (remember:LARGE TITLE!), aim for high resolution.  Resolution refers to the actual number of pixels when printed, and is nicely explained here. You can easily check resolution by right clicking the image, selecting “Properties” and then details.

Here you see dimensions (this can be measured in inches, centimeters or pixels), book cover size (width and height) and resolution measured in dpi (dots per inch). Thankfully, resolution is usually not defined in ebook publishing (as it is only the important in printing), but the web standard is 72dpi, so don’t go under it. While “the higher is the better”, having a 300dpi picture might unnecessarily increases the file size; and many shops don’t let you upload anything over 2MB.

(Image source)

You say TIFF, I say bless you (Guide for formats, colours and file sizes)

Most sites accept JPG, PNG or TIFF. If you don’t want to have several versions of your cover (which can get confusing), go for JPG, this being the most widely accepted. Make sure to keep the original high resolution, just in case you end up with a print version or you need to change something later. Since JPG is a compressed picture format, if you don’t want any loss (eg. your picture to look blurry), make sure you choose the “high quality” option (or something similar, depending on the illustrator program you are using).

For file size, unfortunately you will have to stay under 2MB for being accepted at most stores. If your file is too big, you can try and reduce dimensions but keeping the original ratio (but still staying over 1400 pixels). If it is still too big, reduce dpi to 72. If for some reason your file would still be too large, reduce quality at JPG compression (but this really should never happen).

For the colour settings, choose RGB. RGB is designed for the web, other colour modes (like CMYK) might don’t get recognized and your cover won’t get displayed properly. You can check the colour mode of your picture at the properties, like you did with resolution. If you don’t know how to change it, follow this step-by-step guide for Photoshop.

How do I make it appear on the shelf ? (Guide for metadata)

In order to your cover appearing on the virtual shelf of the e-reader, you have to make sure that you set your image as “cover” in the metadata of your book. For this, you need to open the ebook editor you are using, like Sigil or Calibre, and set the image as cover. You have to do this even if you have previously added the cover image as the first page of the book. If you are using Calibre, you just have to right click your book, “Edit metadata” and select the image. For Sigil, we already have a guide. The image you are using here cannot be larger than 4 million pixels (so a 1600×2400 size works just fine). It should go without saying, but the title written on your cover, the title at the metadata and on the first page of the book should match, otherwise it is likely that stores won’t accept it. (Just use normal title capitalization for metadata, even if you use all uppercase or lowercase on the cover.)

Same goes for the author’s name. You could try to be fancy and not put your name and the title on the cover, but unfortunately it is compulsory; the only exceptions from the rule are albums, where you can get away with a picture only.

As always, please share your questions in the comments and we do our best to answer them.
Happy publishing!

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