Optimizing CreateSpace: Maximizing Royalties With Trim Size What's the best book size for indie authors?

CreateSpace, the print-on-demand self-publishing platform owned by Amazon, is an incredibly powerful tool for independent authors. While there are competitors, none can offer the versatility or simplicity of CreateSpace coupled with its direct connection to Amazon, the largest online marketplace in the world for books and pretty much everything else.

CreateSpace makes it easy for the first-time indie author, providing Word templates for interior layouts and book cover templates for most trim sizes. They even provide two endlessly useful “instant quote” tools for determining royalties and self-copy printing costs based on trim size and page count.

Maximizing CreateSpace Royalties with Trim Size

CreateSpace Trim Size: Words-Per-Page

The crucial data set that CreateSpace does not provide is the typical word count per page of any of its trim sizes. Without that information, an author can only guess at or attempt some experimentation to find the optimal trim size for his or her book to maximize royalties and self-copy profits.

To save you the time and hassle of such guesswork or experimentation, I put together the following chart that shows the words-per-page of several of Amazon’s available trim sizes. These numbers are averages over 10 pages of dense prose using the default margins and font face/size in the CreateSpace templates (Garamond, 11pt).

Trim SizeWords Per Page
5" x 8"310.9
5.06" x 7.81"316.4
5.25" x 8"360.2
5.5" x 8.5"411.4
6" x 9"496.7
6.14" x 9.21"542.8
6.69" x 9.61"621.5
7" x 10"698.6

CreateSpace Trim Size: Royalty Comparison

Now that we know how many words fit on a page for each of the trim sizes, it’s a matter of plug-and-chug with the CreateSpace royalty and self-copy calculators to find out which trim size you should use for your book to optimize your royalties and costs for your total word count.

Let’s take a look at the royalties and costs of various trim sizes for a relatively short book (100 pages).

CreateSpace Trim Size: Royalty Data - 100 Pages

Trim SizeTotal WordsRoyalty (@$12.99)Self-Copy Cost
5" x 8"31,090$5.64$2.15
5.06" x 7.81"31,640$5.64$2.15
5.25" x 8"36,020$5.64$2.15
5.5" x 8.5"41,140$5.64$2.15
6" x 9"49,670$5.64$2.15
6.14" x 9.21"54,280$5.64$2.15
6.69" x 9.61"62,150$5.64$2.15
7" x 10"69,860$5.64$2.15

The first thing to notice is that CreateSpace’s pricing model is extremely simple. The variable of trim size only affects word count. It has no impact on royalties or self-copy costs. This trend holds up regardless of page count:

CreateSpace Trim Size: Royalty Data - 200 Pages

Trim SizeTotal WordsRoyalty (@$12.99)Self-Copy Cost
5" x 8"62,180$4.54$3.25
5.06" x 7.81"63,280$4.54$3.25
5.25" x 8"72,040$4.54$3.25
5.5" x 8.5"82,280$4.54$3.25
6" x 9"99,340$4.54$3.25
6.14" x 9.21"108,560$4.54$3.25
6.69" x 9.61"124,300$4.54$3.25
7" x 10"139,720$4.54$3.25

CreateSpace Trim Size: Royalty Data - 300 Pages

Trim SizeTotal WordsRoyalty (@$12.99)Self-Copy Cost
5" x 8"93,270$3.34$4.45
5.06" x 7.81"94,920$3.34$4.45
5.25" x 8"108,060$3.34$4.45
5.5" x 8.5"123,420$3.34$4.45
6" x 9"149,010$3.34$4.45
6.14" x 9.21"162,840$3.34$4.45
6.69" x 9.61"186,450$3.34$4.45
7" x 10"209,580$3.34$4.45

CreateSpace Trim Size: Royalty Data - 400 Pages

Trim SizeTotal WordsRoyalty (@$12.99)Self-Copy Cost
5" x 8"124,360$2.14$5.65
5.06" x 7.81"126,560$2.14$5.65
5.25" x 8"144,080$2.14$5.65
5.5" x 8.5"164,560$2.14$5.65
6" x 9"198,680$2.14$5.65
6.14" x 9.21"217,120$2.14$5.65
6.69" x 9.61"248,600$2.14$5.65
7" x 10"279,440$2.14$5.65

CreateSpace Trim Size: Royalty Data - 500 Pages

Trim SizeTotal WordsRoyalty (@$12.99)Self-Copy Cost
5" x 8"155,450$0.94$6.85
5.06" x 7.81"158,200$0.94$6.85
5.25" x 8"180,100$0.94$6.85
5.5" x 8.5"205,700$0.94$6.85
6" x 9"248,350$0.94$6.85
6.14" x 9.21"271,400$0.94$6.85
6.69" x 9.61"310,750$0.94$6.85
7" x 10"349,300$0.94$6.85

A quick scan proves that everything scales in a linear manner. The more pages your book has, the more expensive it is to print, regardless of trim size, lowering your royalty and upping your self-copy costs. There’s nothing complicated here.

Which CreateSpace trim size is best?

If you were hoping for a big reveal at this point, some hidden sweet spot where word count and page count balance out perfectly resulting in a spike in author royalties, I don’t have anything like that to share, unfortunately.  The numbers are entirely predictable, and they seem to tell the clear story that bigger is better when it comes to trim size. Here’s an example:

A maxed-out 5″ x 8″ book in the above tables (500 pages/155,450 words) has a royalty of $0.94 when sold for $12.99.

Using the words-per-page number from the first table, a 7″ x 10″ book with the same word count would have a page count of roughly 223.

Plugging that into the CreateSpace royalty calculator with the same selling price of $12.99 gets a total royalty of $4.26, 4.5 times more royalty for exactly the same book content at exactly the same retail price.

Because CreateSpace doesn’t charge more for larger trim sizes, the math bears out that a larger trim size is always more profitable, but is a larger trim size always better in other respects?

What’s the largest CreateSpace trim size that makes sense?

Anecdote Time: The first two issues of Nonlocal Science Fiction, a short fiction magazine that I published quarterly throughout 2015, use the 8.5″ x 11″ trim size. My initial plan for the magazine had been to print it in large quantities with a saddle binding (stapled along the spine) with an overall look more akin to a newsstand magazine.

However, CreateSpace wound up being competitive on a per-copy basis and also had the advantage of being print-on-demand rather than requiring a bulk order. For whatever reason, it never occurred to me that a paperback book on plain white paper the size of a standard magazine might look and feel awkward, so I never changed the trim size.

I didn’t even retain the advantage of increased words-per-page because I wound up using a relatively large font with wide margins and wider-than-normal line spacing because such a large page becomes overwhelming very quickly with a normal text density, unless it is laid out like a magazine with columns and lots of images, which Nonlocal didn’t have. (Did I mention that this was my first solo attempt at independent publishing?) Because of the unimaginative layout, which necessitated a larger font and wider line spacing for readability, my words-per-page barely changed when I switched to a 9″ x 6″ trim size for Issues #3 and #4.

The take home lesson here is that, yes, there is such a thing as a book that is too large, though I am not confident yet where that line is. I am confident, though, that it isn’t very far north of 9″ x 6″. CreateSpace offers 7 trim sizes larger than 7″ x 10″. I didn’t include any of them in the above tables because I do not recommend them unless your particular genre lends itself to a larger format (a technical manual with lots of tables and illustrations, for example).

CreateSpace trim size optimization

I’ve already said there isn’t some secret sweet spot where trim size and word count balance perfectly, royalties spike, and authors everywhere are happy and rich. I stand by that statement, but I think there is definitely a way to optimize your book so that, once your word count is set, you can maximize your profits.

Here’s an example based on fine-tuning a book that is currently set for a 9″ x 6″ trim size:

Moving up one notch in trim size to 6.14″ x 9.21″, you can fit 9.25% more words per page in exchange for only a 4.7% increase in page area.

Using the 155,450 word count from above for consistency, the page count drops from 313 to 287 (an 8.3% decrease), and the royalty per sale increases from $3.18 to $3.49 (a 9.7% increase) with a $12.99 price point.

Moving up a second notch in trim size to 6.69″ x 9.61″, there is a massive 25.1% increase in words-per-page compared to only a 19% increase in page area, again relative to the 9″ x 6″ trim size.

With 155,450 words, page count drops from 313 to 251 (a 19.8% decrease) and royalties jump from $3.18 to $3.92 (a 23.3% increase) with a $12.99 price point.

Are the trade-offs worth it? Are either of the two larger trim sizes large enough to be uncomfortable for readers, negating the benefit of the increased margin? I’m not sure yet as I haven’t held samples of either of the larger trim sizes in my hand. I hope to soon, though, and I will update you when I do. Until then, keep in mind how small tweaks can make a large difference, especially when sales and margins are thin enough already for an indie author.

CreateSpace Trim Size: Wrap-Up & Other Considerations

Hopefully this all serves to prove that selecting a trim size for your CreateSpace book is more nuanced than it might appear at first. Once you have a final word count for your book, use the charts in this article to figure out your optimal trim size for royalties while keeping in mind that aesthetics and reader comfort must also factor into your decision.

While I prefer the look of a 6″ x 9″ trim size, I think there are definite instances when going smaller is a good idea. If your book is under 100,000 words, a larger trim size is going to make it look a lot less impressive on a shelf with a narrow binding that won’t display your title in an eye-catching manner.

A 75,000-word book that is only 150 pages with a 6″ x 9″ trim size will be between 250 and 300 pages when using a 5″ x 8″ trim size. Your royalty will be smaller per copy ($5.14 vs. $3.34-$3.95 @ $12.99), but the trade-off might well be worth it for visual appeal. There’s definitely something to be said for a book looking “professional,” and for better or worse, a “professional” book is a “thick” book for a lot of readers. Despite the aphorism, most of us do tend to judge a book by its cover, and that goes double for independently published books from CreateSpace.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *