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The Elements of a Physical Book Cover

There are different types of physical book covers ranging from case-wrapped hardcovers (cloth or laminate) or dust-jacketed cloth hardcovers to perfect bound paperbacks. Although they each have their own unique requirements in content and design, some basic elements are common to them all. Using two of my backlist paperback books as examples, you can see all the elements of a physical book cover. Each one is made up of at least the following three components: the back cover, the spine, and the front cover.

The Elements of a Physical Book Cover

Back Cover

As shown in the above visual aid, the back cover portion of a physical book cover begins on the left-hand side. The dimension of the back cover must match whatever trim size you’ve chosen your book to be (i.e., 5.5 x 8.5 inches as shown in the examples) with a minimum 1/4-inch bleed around the outside edges for trimming. It will also contain the following features:

  • An author photo (optional)
  • Back cover copy (marketing copy that summarizes the contents of the book in a compelling way)
  • Room for the book’s barcode and ISBN on the lower right-hand corner
  • Room for the publisher’s logo on the lower left-hand corner
  • A short author biography (optional)

Spine

The spine portion of a physical book cover sits in between your back and front cover. Its height will match your chosen trim size (in the case of these examples 8.5 inches). Meanwhile, the width is determined by other factors. Two factors are the final page count of your designed interior and the paper stock being used. The spine also contains the following features:

  • The book title at the top
  • Author name (pseudonym) in the centre
  • Room for the publisher’s logo

Front Cover

The front cover portion of a physical book cover sits on the right-hand side. The dimension of the front cover must match whatever trim size you’ve chosen your book to be (i.e., 5.5 x 8.5 inches as shown in the examples) with a minimum 1/4-inch bleed around the outside edges for trimming. It will also contain the following features:

  • The book title (and subtitle, if applicable)
  • Author name (pseudonym)

Additional graphics will require additional graphic design time

The Elements of a Physical Book Cover

Your cover artwork can wrap around the spine of your book and span the entire height and width of the complete cover (as shown in the first visual for the book titled 11:11); it can appear on the front cover only (as shown in the second visual for the book titled A Letter to My Son); or it can be more complex (as shown in the third visual for the book titled A Letter to My Daughter).

All of these examples are correct. If going with the first example, make sure the artwork itself contains a minimum 1/4-inch bleed all around the edges. This will ensure the outside edges of the picture aren’t trimmed unnecessarily at the printer. If going with the third example, keep in mind that additional graphics require additional work for the designer. This will equate to additional upfront design costs.

Related reading: The Elements of a Physical Book Interior

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