Why I disagree with Amazon’s recommended book cover dimensions

 In book design tips

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An author I work with recently asked me to modify her book cover to comply with Amazon’s size and ratio recommendations. I was happy to do so, and I’ve faced this issue in the past, but I’d like to share why I don’t just make all my book covers at Amazon’s recommended book cover dimensions.

Consider the two book covers above.

The one on the left is Amazon’s recommended height and width dimensions; it’s a ratio of 1.6 with 2500pixels on the long side.

1.6 is the same ratio as a 5″x8″ book, so if you designed a cover for 5″x8″, you’d be done – just use the same front cover. But most of my authors are choosing 6″x9″ books, which is a 1.5 ratio (the one on the right).

Personally, I think Amazon’s preferred ratio is too tall and thin, and a ratio of 1.5 looks more like a traditional book to me. My guess is Amazon wants books to look good on smartphones, especially iPhones, and the deviously tricky iPhone5, which has a very tall, narrow screen.

Maybe Amazon is expecting all digital devices to copy the iPhone 5, but that’s probably not going to happen. Maybe they are pushing to get people reading on their smartphones instead of Kindles devices, because millions and millions of people use only their smartphone and will not buy a digital book reader.

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But for the people who do have Kindles and other e-reading devices, Amazon’s preferred 1.6 ratio is an ill-fit, leaving too much space on the sides. And even on cell phones, where the display size is already pretty small, the 1.6 ratio has drawbacks: to fit in the extra height, the book cover displays even smaller, making the text more difficult to read.

This is probably why most traditional publishers and major bestsellers ignore Amazon’s recommended ratio.

1.5, or even wider, almost square-shaped covers, are far more common.

Interestingly it seems self-published and indie books are more likely to use Amazon’s 1.6 standards, because they are concerned with doing everything just right, and have less confidence to ignore recommendations.

This paradoxically means self-publishing authors are making their books appear self-published by following rather than flouting Amazon’s advice.

And it really doesn’t matter!

Amazon’s recommended book cover ratio doesn’t really matter at all, because Amazon is not the only player in the ebook publishing wars. This means that all devices need to be able to handle all different kinds of books. So what you actually see on ebook readers is that they automatically adjust to display covers of a variety of sizes and ratios.

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In this picture, the 2nd book “Trust the Process” which is one of the thinnest book on my Kindle, is still not quite as thin as a 1.6 ratio. “The Business of Belief” is probably 1.5, and most of the others look even more box-shaped, and may be 1.4 or so.

On the bottom row, “Amazon Secrets Exposed” and “Fortune Cookie Principle” are 1.6.

And actually, they all look fine. I don’t think you can argue that one dimension ratio looks better and will sell more books.

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Does the book cover matter?

I’d like to say, “absolutely!” but my actions disagree. I bought Michael Thomas’ book (above) even though the cover is unattractive, because it has a bold, compelling title and subtitle. The next two books (Websites that Sell and the Fortune Cookie Principle), I bought for the content, not the covers. (Even though the covers are nice, I didn’t buy them for the covers, but for what I hoped to learn).

On the other hand, I rarely buy a fiction book that has an ugly cover.

I think the reason is: a non-fiction book can provide useful material even if the writing isn’t great or there are typos. But a fiction book is all about the writing. There is nothing else. And a book with a great cover is probably more likely to have been carefully written and professionally edited (although I would still read the reviews before buying).

What’s all this mean for you?

If you’re a fiction writer, get a great cover and excellent reviews. A  nice cover alone can drastically improve sales.

If you’re a non-fiction writer, focus on the title and subtitle by promising benefits. Do the best you can with the cover, but recognize that the title and subtitle are probably more powerful than a beautiful cover design.

In both cases, focus on designing a great cover for the book size you plan to print at (8×5.25, 6×9, 5×5 or whatever) and just use the same ratio for your Kindle book. Don’t worry about the ratio and specifications, because it totally doesn’t matter: what matters is a strong, clean cover design (and of course a great book, excellent reviews, and high-conversion book description.)

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