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Does Your Book Have Spine Problems?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.


I love my author community! On a recent video I did about KDP print-on-demand quality and quality control, one of my favorite author people, Shanon, whose pen name is S.D. Huston, commented about how she learned to cope with limitations on book design for print-on-demand. So this is a followup on that discussion, focusing on some specific design issues as they relate to print on demand.

How Your Book’s Spine Can Impact Your Book’s Title

Most self-published authors will never get their books into physical bookstores or libraries, and it's even less likely they’ll get their books on a front cover or face out display. In spite of that, they are legitimately concerned about how the spine looks when their books are sitting on shelves, whether in retail or on reader bookshelves. Unfortunately, though, the spine is a small and tricky design element.

If you use the KDP Cover Creator, the design templates will properly fit your title into the available spine design space. Even if you don’t use the templates and tools in KDP Cover Creator, you or your designer will have limited space with which to fit the book title. Realize that long titles will need to be shrunk and squeezed to fit and will appear very, very tiny. If you have a very long title, you will need to make some adjustments to what you choose to show on the spine.

This spine design issue is actually one that will impact your book writing. Do you really need a long title? It might be better to put some of the more explanatory bits of your title in a subtitle which is often omitted from the spine. Try to keep your title to a few words at most so that it can be in a larger, more visible font that maximizes the minimal space available.

Why Aligning Lines on Spines Doesn't Work

The printing-on-demand problem that Shanon shared with me dealt with lines in the art for the book’s spine. When she received her printed books, the lines didn’t exactly line up with the edges of the actual spine. Why does that happen?

In print-on-demand and in high-volume, low-cost commercial printing operations, tolerances for how things line up are wider than for more expensive printing options. Getting dead-on alignment can be challenging from a production standpoint on high-speed print-on-demand equipment. They’ll do their best. But if you’re expecting a couple millimeter line to fit on the edge of your book’s spine, you’re dreaming.

The reason it can be more expensive to get that alignment is that it takes extra labor for monitoring and quality control. As well, any finished printing that doesn’t meet those tight requirements needs to be scrapped, increasing the cost of waste. This demand cannot be achieved with print-on-demand.

Additionally, your book is likely to be gang-run with a bunch of other print-on-demand books. If you have a one-off order for your book, they’re not watching just your book. They’re watching a whole bunch of books. Watch a video that shows how the Amazon print-on-demand operation works, and I think you’ll understand.

How do you help avoid spine design problems in print-on-demand scenarios?

  • Do not place vertical lines at the edges of the spine design. They will rarely, if ever, line up exactly with the physical edges of the printed books.
  • Go with a wraparound design that does not break at the spine edges of the book cover.

Getting Design Help for Your Self-Published Book

I’m just amazed at the crying and moaning about challenging book printing projects that shows up in the author forums. Some of these problem projects are way beyond what I would do, even with a substantial background in the printing arena.

Since many authors are not print and book design experts, they often hire someone to help them. I think that’s wise. But that also brings up the question of how do you recruit and hire book design help?

There are very few people I would feel comfortable recommending for book cover or page layout. And they won’t be cheap. Cost is one reason why many self-published authors recruit design help on Fiverr or Upwork-type sites. Nothing wrong with that. However, you need to understand what you’re buying. From my observation, authors often don’t.

I always recommend getting referrals from fellow authors. This is why I think it’s a good idea to become active in a few social media groups for authors where you can ask for recommendations. But don’t just join the group and post your ask right away. Get to know the group so you know who the reliable and knowledgeable people are. Also, building your author platform of fans to include fellow authors can also provide a network to turn to when you need referrals. Check out my book Networking for Authors for more ways to connect with your community of fans and friends.

If you want something basic for your cover, do consider the built-in Kindle Cover Creator on KDP. The covers are nothing fancy but serviceable and free, and the templates help you avoid placement mistakes. With the exception of my very first cover for the first edition of my first book, as well as a cover I did for free with the free Canva program, I have used Kindle Cover Creator for all of my books and eBooks. Part of it is that I can’t justify investing in a professional cover from a cost and ROI standpoint. The other part is that I’m of the opinion that since we’re not selling in a physical retail store, the packaging is less of a factor.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2022 Heidi Thorne