Here is an explanation of the differences between the two main types of paperback books: mass-market paperbacks, and trade paperbacks. As a self-publisher, these are the two formats that you will be typically dealing with most often. Therefore, you need to be familiar with and understand the similarities and differences between them. So, here is quick discussion and explanation of mass-market paperbacks and trade paperbacks.
In the USA, the most common formats for fiction and non-fiction printed books fall into three main categories:
2. Trade paperback; and,
3. Mass-market paperback.
Each of those can then be broken down into several more categories. But here we are concerned with understanding the differences between the two types of paperbacks. As a self-publisher, these are the two formats that you will be typically dealing with most often. Therefore, you need to be familiar with and understand the similarities and differences between them.
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1. Mass-Market Paperback Books
For the masses on a budget. A mass-market paperback is a small, usually non-illustrated, and less-expensive bookbinding format. The customary size is 6.75” tall x 4.25” wide, and frequently uses a font, leading (pronounced: ledding), and line spacing, that is on the smaller size. When they are sold by the big publishing companies, they are frequently released after the hardcover edition.
And they are most known for being sold in non-traditional bookselling locations such as airports, newsstands, drug stores, and supermarkets, etc. Some people refer to them informally as “pocket books.”
Sales And Distribution
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”.
Strippable Vs. Non-Strippable
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 only the cover for full credit. They are supposed to destroy the rest of the book. Inversely, trade paperbacks are not strippable. Therefore, the book retailers must return the entire book, not just the cover.
When self-publishers publish their fiction books, they are typically only released in the mass-market format. These books will most commonly never receive a hardcover printing. This format helps keep the cover price down, making these books more attractive to a wider audience in a very competitive market.
2. Trade Paperback Books
Trade paperbacks are the less expensive version of the hardcover edition. They usually have a thicker cover than the mass-market books. They are typically the same size as the hardcover books, but slightly smaller because the binding is done differently, and without the added thickness, width, and height of the hardcover. One way that you will know if a book is a trade paperback is that the back cover, and sometimes the title page, will have a notice that they are not strippable.
Sizes And Cover Price
Of the self-publishers that write and publish non-fiction, will usually 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 frequently 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”, or gatefold. This feature is an extension of the front and back cover with a section that is folded over onto itself, just like the paper wraps, or dust jacket, that is typically found on hardcover books. It’s meant to make the trade paperback appear more like a hardcover edition – but with a lower cover price.
3. 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.
Understanding the differences between these two common book formats will help you start to feel and sound like a real book publisher. In addition, when you explore the bookstore shelves, searching for design ideas for your own book, you will better understand what you are looking at.
This will help you make a more informed decision about what your book should look like, and what you want it to look like. Hopefully, you are now one step closer to designing and creating a professional-looking book that you can be very proud of.
Questions For Us To Think About And Discuss
1. Have you taken the time to explore the different book formats while browsing in a big book store?
2. What struck you about the differences, and similarities?
Let me know in the comments section below.
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