Mass-Market Paperback Books Vs. Trade Paperback Books: A Guide For Self-Publishers

Editors Note: This post has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness. Click here to read the new post.

In the USA we have three basic formats for printed books: 1. Hardcover; 2. Trade paperback; and, 3. Mass-market paperback. This article is concerned with explaining the differences between the two types of paperbacks. As a self-publisher you need to be familiar with and understand the similarities and differences.

IMG_5315Mass-Market Paperback Books
A mass-market paperback is a small, usually non-illustrated, and less-expensive bookbinding format. They are frequently released after the hardcover edition, and often sold in non-traditional book-selling locations such as airports, newsstands, drug stores, and supermarkets, etc., as well as in traditional bookstores. Many titles, most commonly fiction, are issued as first editions in mass-market paperback format and never receive a hardcover printing. This is particularly true for books by new authors. The books that are in the non-traditional locations are generally within the periodical-distribution industry. These books are distributed by the same companies that are placing magazines in these locations.

Conversely, the trade paperbacks are distributed by book wholesalers and distributors – or trade channels – hence the name “trade paperback”. Mass-market paperbacks are also distinguished from hardcover and trade by the different business practices that publishers and booksellers apply to them. Mass-markets are “strippable”. This means that bookstores can rip off the front cover and return just that for full credit. They are supposed to destroy the rest of the book. Some publishers require that booksellers return the cover and the first several pages.

The minority of self-publishers, which are those that write and publish fiction, will publish mass-market paperbacks. These will typically be 4” x 7”. The retail cover price is typically lower than the trade paperback. There are also “large-trim” mass-market paperbacks that are the same size as the standard trade paperback.

Linkedin - Mass-Market Paperback Vs. Trade Paperback

Linkedin – Mass-Market Paperback Vs. Trade Paperback

Trade Paperback Books
Trade paperbacks have thicker paper covers, and paper similar to hardcovers. Many times they are about the same size as the hardcover books, but slightly smaller because the binding is done differently, and without the added thickness of the covers. There are also some trade paperbacks that look exactly like mass-market paperbacks, but with better quality paper and covers. One way that you will know if they are trade paperbacks is that the copyright page and the back cover will have a notice that they are not strippable.

The majority of self-publishers, which are those that write and publish non-fiction, will publish trade paperbacks. These will typically be 5.5” x 8.5” or 6” x 9”, and the less common 8.5” x 11”. Children’s picture books are typically 8” x 10”. The retail cover price is generally higher than the mass-market books, and lower than the hardcover editions.

An interesting recent feature of trade paperbacks is the “French-flap”. It is actually an extension of the front and back cover with a section that is folded over onto itself, just like the paper wraps that are typically found on hardcover books. It is meant to make the trade paperback appear more like a hardcover edition – but at a lower cover price. Using foil and embossing is also found on some trade paperback covers – just like the paper wraps on the hardcovers. These options are not typically available from the print-on-demand printers. And these features are generally not found on mass-market paperback books.

A Quick Note About Paperback Book Formats in the UK
“A Format” is typically 110mm x 178mm (4.33″ x 7.01″), similar to the US’s standard mass-market paperback;
“B Format” is typically 130mm x 198mm (5.12″ x 7.80″), similar to the US’s large mass-market paperback, or small trade paperback;
“C Format” is typically 135mm x 216mm (5.32″ x 8.51″), similar to the US’s standard trade paperback.

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About Joseph C. Kunz, Jr.

Author, educator, business owner, husband, and father of twins. Kunz’s mission is to help smaller businesses and solo-entrepreneurs profit from their skills, knowledge, and experience, achieve success with writing and self-publishing, and grow an audience of people who know, like, and trust them. Kunz is the founder of Dickson Keanaghan, LLC, a medical training and publishing company near New York City.
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14 Responses to Mass-Market Paperback Books Vs. Trade Paperback Books: A Guide For Self-Publishers

  1. Jasmin says:

    Thanks! That was a very clear way of describing the differences.

  2. Allie says:

    How does a self-publisher go about printing a mass-market paperback? It seems like all the go-to printers only do hardcover and trade paperback.

    Thanks in advance.

  3. Max says:

    Thanks. It gave me more than I was expecting, all useful.

  4. Hazel says:

    Just wanted to pop in and say that I found this very helpful in explaining some of my “bigger” and “different-looking” books to other people. Thanks!

  5. Thank you Joseph. This is just what I was looking for.

    Best regards,


  6. Kip Scott says:

    Thanks for the information, very clearly done, you are in my bookmarks with the likes of “”.


  7. ray says:

    I really apperciate you explination , it helps , when i purchase books for 1 of my grand daughter she wants hard back , i think the trade paper will work fine and give her more books . Thank YOu again .

  8. Thanks for explaining the difference between mass and trade paperbacks, Joseph. As a new author self-publishing in paperback with a print-on-demand service, this is yet another step in the learning curve.

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