10 tips to make a gorgeous trade book

Blurb’s trade books are a beautiful, versatile format for your self-published book. They’re designed to look and feel like the books you’d find on the shelf in any store. You’ll notice they come in sizes commonly found on bookshelves, and they come in a standard paper type that creates the best balance between print cost and print quality.

1. Pay attention to convention

Your trade book trim size will give people a subtle, unconscious heads-up as to what’s inside. Traditionally, smaller books are used for fiction and storytelling—the 5×8 in. size. The larger 6×9 is closer to the industry standard for non-fiction, essays, and memoirs. It’s a hand-held size that has room for the occasional photo or chart.

2. Design for the shape of the pages

Trade books are in portrait format—taller than they are wide. This means your ideal layouts will also feature portrait-oriented images. When selecting your content and creating your layouts, you’ll want to make the most of that vertical space, which can be tricky to do if you usually create your images in landscape mode. As you gather your visual content, keep an eye out for images with a strong vertical, and if you’re creating your content for a trade book, keep that portrait orientation in mind.

3. Give your content room to breathe

With smaller pages, it’s tempting to put as much as you can in the space, but the most beautiful books take a counter-intuitive approach: leave lots and lots of white space. Be careful not to clutter your pages. These smaller, narrower pages need a narrower focus with generous margins and white space between headlines and body text, between images, and on navigation pages.

4. Optimize for readability

A few tricks of the trade: Use serif typefaces for large blocks of text, increase the space between lines, and write in black. When it comes to text that’s meant to be read thoroughly, there are tried-and-true guides for the eye that help the text get out of the way so the ideas can shine through.

Serifs are the flags that hang off letters, and they were originally added to guide the eye as it runs along line after line on the page. Even though serif typefaces might not feel as modern, there’s a reason they live on the printed page.

Another thing that entices the reader to actually read is plenty of space between lines, called leading. Your leading should be 2-4 points larger than your type size. Your best bet is to add more pages before you shrink your type size or leading. And while you can, in your software, change the color of your text blocks, absolutely nothing beats the clarity and contrast of true-black text.

5. Mind your margins

Variation in your margins or content that breaks your margin lines is the dead giveaway when you’re going for that pro look yourself. Double-check that your margins are consistent page to page and that no content spills into them. One good way to check is to go page by page backward through your book, inspecting the edges. Even one error with your margins will stick out and annoy you after all your hard work. It’s best to double and triple-check these before printing.

6. Pages: more is better

This format is designed for bigger content. With a lower page price, don’t shy away from taking all the room you need. You’ll also need more pages to get sufficient space for text on the spine of your book. If you have too few pages, your spine will be too narrow for a title. Trade books look and feel best at 80-300 pages.

7. Don’t forget navigation pages

Since you have those extra pages, don’t forget your standalone pages for section, book, and chapter navigation. You’ll also need a title page, a table of contents, a copyright page, and an introduction. You may also need end matter with an author bio or info about your next project.

Grab a book like the one you’re making from the shelf and make sure you have all the official navigation in place. It goes without saying, but most of this navigation can’t be done without page numbers, so don’t forget to add those in a uniform place throughout the book.

8. Find the right ink for your content

Trade books offer four kinds of printing, both standard and economy print in both color and black and white.

Economy black and white is for books that are nearly straight text—novels, essays, guides, etc. If you have black and white photography, say in a memoir, you’ll want to go with standard black and white.

If you have color photography, you’ll be astonished at the gorgeous print quality of standard color in a trade book, but economy color is best reserved for color graphics, charts, and small color elements. If economy color is stretched to print photographs and big, saturated spaces, some streaking may occur that wouldn’t otherwise be visible in standard color.

9. Create an eye-catching cover

All books are judged by their covers, and where covers are concerned, less is more. When designing your cover, keep the design bold and simple. Big shapes, simple images, and very, very clear text. All text on your cover should be set apart and not be overlapping anything distracting. It should be centered and clearly visible.

Don’t forget, with trade books, you get a free ISBN, so you’ll want to be sure you’ve designed around where the ISBN will go on the back. Depending on the scale of your project, this is one place where you might want to consider getting the help of a design pro.

10. Print a proof copy

Go through your book backward and forward, several times over several days. Send the file to a friend and get a friend to look at it, checking for spelling, grammar, typos, and margins. Then print one copy, go through it backward and forward, and share it with a friend.

You will never see your pages on a screen like you can see them printed in your hand, so that proof copy will make all the difference. Don’t order several copies until you’ve combed over and perfected a printed copy—this heads off any frustration from overlooking something when the rest of it looks great.


Trade books are remarkable for their price and print quality. They can work for almost any project and have beautiful, professional-looking results. Plus, you can easily distribute your finished product to your audience via Amazon, the Blurb Bookstore, and thousands of others. Make a trade book today!


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