Bleed area as applied to eBooks

For those of you who don’t know, your bleed and trim area refer to a paper printing process. When a book page is printed, it goes through a cutting and fitting process during the book assembly process. So those who are in the know are familiar with where to put things on that page. If you put things too far to the edge, you stand the very high risk of having that thing chopped off.  Imaging how disconcerting it is to read a book with the sentences always cut off in the middle because they keep running off the page.

That is why there is a margin area in  your books, you see. It protects them from the monsters. And this also applies to your book covers. Imagine if Conan the Barbarian had always gotten his face cut off on the front covers of his comics. What a world it would be.

As a book cover artist, I prefer to have my margins intact on a finished piece. It makes it look more professional to me – and I figure I must be doing something right somewhere or I wouldn’t hear of the good results that I do. It isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s my rule and this article is to explain why I feel the way I do.

So here are two samples of the same book cover. One has the trim and bleed in place. One has not.  All I can say is take a good long look at the two. Take a good long look at the books on your bookshelf, if you have any. Take another good long look at book covers produced by some of the publishing houses like Penguin. And ask yourself “does my cover look professional? Or am I just trying to fill space?”

There's Nothing Romantic About Washing the Dishes with trim and bleed

There’s Nothing Romantic About Washing the Dishes with trim and bleed

Nothing Romantic with everything filled, bloated and cramped. Nothing but clutter happening here!

Nothing Romantic with everything filled, bloated and cramped. Nothing but clutter happening here!

Perhaps it’s because we’re so used to seeing it, but the format also makes our work look more professional, more organized, more like we might know what we’re doing. It also helps compliment design. In most illustrations, we want the focus to be near the center of the page. Cutting things off at the edge only hurts the design. It tempts the human eye to run amok to all the borders. Chaos reigns. Cats and dogs live together and have chicks for babies.

This is one reason why minding your bleed area also applies to ebook cover creation. As shown by the example above, shoving words in the corner just to have them there ruins your composition and clutters up your selling space. It’s not pretty at all.

When you do that, you mean well but you’re forgetting some important things about selling your book. Readability is only part of your concern. You want eye-candy, to make the reader look long enough to see what your book is about. You want professionalism, so as not to scare readers away. You want – a really attractive piece that works. Not an end is near sign being held up in Times Square.

A print book cover needs to catch the eye from the shelf at several paces away. And they managed to do it without running large words all the way to the edge. They do it through innovative design and minding that one bit of order. Considering the book business has been around for generations, I’d say they’re doing their job quite well. Just because ebook covers are generally read on the computer screen doesn’t mean the same rules don’t apply. In fact they more than apply: your readers in that forum are looking at things small as if at a distance and are just as likely to “walk away”. Best get it right then

A Stephen King book from before he was as famous as he is now. Note the book title is larger than his name.

A Stephen King book from before he was as famous as he is now. Note the book title is larger than his name.

The title needs to be readable from that distance. I’m sorry, budding author, but unless you’re bigger than Stephen King your name ain’t all that and won’t capture a new reader’s heart. Your title is catchy for a reason, yes? Now let it do it’s job. Don’t try to overshadow your work on your cover. Let your work shine. I mean obviously if you ever got big enough that your name was the attention grabber over the book title the rules would reverse and your  name would be the readable element at a distance. But that is then and this is now.

Another reason why you should be mindful of your trim and bleed area is a more practical: a lot of self-published authors tend to get their books printed on paper. Some of them go to the POD method. Some just want a few to sell at that convention. Whatever the reason, the ones who ignored the bleed area rule sometimes find themselves paying to have that cover made all over again.

It didn’t have to be that way but that’s how it is. Somewhere an angel is weeping.

Now again: the bleed and trim area isn’t a hard and fast rule, as shown here by the cover to Carrie. There are some tiny, not so readable parts to the very edge and this seems to be working out just fine. However, I note that the title and author name are not trying to chew the paper up with their presence. They have their margin, they look pertly placed and all is well in the book cover world. Because that’s the first place the designer wanted your eye to focus, it’s great. And it makes sense.

splitinfinity[1]Here’s one of my favorite covers of all time – I like unicorns you see. The book wasn’t half bad either But what’s important here is where things are. The tiny elements are once again to the very edge, and it looks like the little cockatrice’s tail might even be getting cut off a bit The title fills the negative space of the painting quite well – and bearing in mind this is an 80’s cover we’ll ignore that 1980’s blue letter flair. It has nothing to do with my own covers being inspired by the 80’s format at all. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

You’ll also know that Piers Anthony, who had made a name for himself by then, has his name on top of the title…  but it isn’t bigger than the title. The title instead directs your eye up to his name and you’re like, “Hi, Piers!” Meanwhile the main elements have their margin and all is well in the magical universe of the Blue… uh… magician or wizard or whatever he was called.

Did I mention that I like unicorns?

Here’s another beautiful cover to admire.  It took the margins and used them to their best capacity: the book’s point is quite clear. Quite lovely. And because of this your attention is caught:


So on a final note let’s take a look at this cover:


And I will leave you to your thoughts.