Hardcover vs Paperback: Definitions and When to Publish With Either

Self-published authors now have the option to publish hardcover books alongside their paperback and ebooks. This option was first rolled out to limited authors in the US marketplace in 2021, but now it's available in several major markets around the world, including the UK, France, and Germany. 

But what does it take to publish a hardcover book through Amazon KDP? Is it worth it? What are the differences between the two? I'll answer these questions and more as we take a look at hardcover vs paperback publishing.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. Differences between hardcover and paperback for publishing.
  2. When you would offer both (and when you shouldn't bother).
  3. How to format your manuscript and cover for hardcover publishing.

Paperback vs Hardcover: Which is Better?

It used to be that traditional publishers would release the more expensive hardcover edition (sometimes called the hardback edition) months or years before releasing the trade paperback edition. Actually, this is still common practice among some major publishers and big-name authors.

But the rise in ebook popularity has changed the landscape somewhat. And now that self-publishers have easy access to hardback book creation, things are shifting even more. 

Which Do Readers Prefer?

If you ask readers which version they prefer, you'll get a mixed bag of responses. Using this poll on Goodreads, we see that 57% of respondents (12,148 votes at the time of this writing) said they preferred paperback books. The other 43% (9,150 votes) said they preferred hardcovers.   

Other polls find that the numbers even out a bit, splitting fairly evenly, with some respondents preferring ebooks. 

To be sure, there are differences in terms of feel, durability, and collectability. As an avid reader, you're surely aware of the differences. Paperbacks can take less damage, but they're also smaller (usually) and—most importantly—cheaper

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Hardcover books are bigger, tougher, and more expensive, on the whole. They also may have a dust jacket, although this is not the case with Amazon KDP's hardcover print-on-demand system. More on that later. 

But as a self-published author, wouldn't you want to offer potential readers any and all formats they might want? Well, yes and no. Let's dive into hardcover vs paperback books for indie authors. 

What Book Formats to Publish as an Indie Author

Let's get this out of the way right up front: the majority of your book sales as an indie author will come from ebooks. Probably by a wide margin. For this reason, getting the ebook right in all aspects should be your first order of business—especially as a new author. 

That said, you can often save money by paying your book cover designer up-front to create an ebook and paperback cover at the same time. I would highly recommend doing this from the start, even if you don't plan on releasing a paperback version anytime soon. 

Additionally, it's much easier to create a hardback cover from a paperback cover than it is to make a hardback cover from an ebook cover. So if you have that paperback PDF cover in your back pocket, you can always bring the hardcover dimensions to your designer and have them create a new cover.

So, if you shouldn't worry about creating a hardback cover from the get-go, when should you?

When to Publish Hardcover Books

If you're a new author, I suggest an order of importance that goes like this: ebook, paperback, hardcover, audiobook.

The fact is, you won't sell many paperback books as a new author. And you'll sell even fewer hardcover books because they are, by necessity, more expensive to produce. So there are other things to focus on, like getting your ebooks just right, setting up your email list, and learning how to market. 

But if you're a more established author with some money coming in and an audience of readers who buy your books when they come out, you may want to do a bit of extra work to offer a hardcover version. You may have some fans who want to purchase the hardbound book as a collector’s edition or simply because they prefer hardback books from their favorite authors. 

If you want to go the extra mile, you could add some bonus content to your hardback book. This could add to the reading experience and provide some incentive for your fans to spend the extra dough on the more expensive print book.  

But again, most of your book sales will come from the ebook version. When readers are taking a chance on a new author, they won't often shell out the $20+ for the hardcover copy. 

The Added Benefits of Offering Hardcover and Paperback

There are some benefits to offering hardcover and paperback books (in addition to ebooks, of course) that may not be so readily apparent. 

For one, the higher price of the hardcover version can make the paperback version look like a good deal—and the ebook version look like a steal. So while you may not see an uptick in hardcover sales, it could increase sales of the other two versions. 

Book Format and Pricing Amazon

There's also the benefit of looking like a professional. When traditionally published books are offering all three versions, adding the hardcover can help you stand up there with those books published by trad authors. 

What to Know About Self-Publishing Hardcover vs Paperback

Now that we've gone over the why, let's talk about the what. There are some distinct differences between publishing hardcover and paperback books. Since Amazon is still the biggest market for book sales, we'll focus on KDP. Just keep in mind that there are other options, like IngramSpark and Lulu, to choose from. 

If you're ready to start the process of publishing your hardcover edition, check out our article on how to publish a hardcover book on Amazon

Size Options

The biggest hurdle you'll have to overcome when turning your paperback format into a hardcover is size. Hardcover publishing options are much narrower than their paperback counterparts. 

There are sixteen different paperback trim size options on KDP, ranging from 5″ x 8″ at the smallest to 8.27″ x 11.69″ at the largest. 

Hardcover trim sizes are a different matter. There are only five hardcover options in KDP:

  • 5.5″ x 8.5″
  • 6″ x 9″ 
  • 6.14″ x 9.21″
  • 7″ x 10″
  • 8.25″ x 11″

So if you have your paperback manuscript formatted in a different size from the five above, you'll have to re-size it for printing in hardcover.

If you do the re-sizing manually, this can take a lot of time. Luckily, with our formatting and writing tool Atticus, all it takes is a simple click of the mouse to re-size your manuscript. Check it out here

Atticus Trim Sizes

Different Page Count Requirements

There are also different page count requirements for paperbacks and their hardcover counterparts. Luckily, most books will fall easily between the counts for both versions. Some books, such as children's picture books, won't be long enough for hardback printing. 

Paperback Book Page Count Requirements:

  • Minimum of 24 pages, maximum of 828.

Hardcover Page Count Requirements:

  • Minimum of 75 pages, max of 550. 

If you have an especially long book, like an epic fantasy, remember that increasing the trim size will reduce the page number. So if you're just over the 550 number at a small trim size, you may be able to choose a larger trim size to get your book under that number. 

Cover Differences

If your paperback is the same size as one of the hardback trim sizes above, you may think you've dodged a bullet when it comes to your cover. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. The overall size may be the same, but the margins are bigger on hardcover books. Chances are, you'll need to adjust your existing cover before printing. 

Luckily, Amazon offers a template you can download to give to your designer for the proper adjustments to your print-ready PDF cover. 

This isn't just a matter of resizing the PDF. You will probably have to adjust the title and author name so they won't interfere with the margins. Only after you have the cover dimensions right can you finish the publishing process.

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Printing Costs

I've already mentioned the fact that hardcover books are more expensive to print than paperback books, but we'll get into specifics here. Amazon KDP uses the same calculation to determine the cost of printing a hardcover book as it does a paperback book. Both are dependent on the size and number of pages of the book, and both offer a standard 60% royalty rate. But the fixed cost is different. 

Here are a couple of examples our KDP royalty calculator:

Paperback Book – Black & white interior with white paper – 355 pages – $14.99 list price.

  • 60% of $14.99 = $8.99
  • Estimated printing cost = $5.26
  • Total royalty per sale (8.99 – 5.26) = $3.73 

Hardcover Book – Black & white interior with white paper – 355 pages – $21.99 list price.

  • 60% of $21.99 = $13.19
  • Estimate printing cost = $9.91
  • Total royalty per sale ($13.19 – $9.91) = $3.28
KDP Royalty Calculator for Hardcover

As you can see, the printing cost of a hardcover book with the same number of pages is significantly higher than a paperback. We couldn't sell the hardcover for $14.99 even if we wanted to because it wouldn't cover the printing cost. So to make a comparable royalty rate on the hardcover, we'd have to go up to $21.99. 

Keep in mind that the examples above are just estimates. You'll be able to see your own printing costs when you go to publish your hardback and paperback books. 

No Dust Jacket

Paperback printed books offered by Amazon KDP are identical to other mass-market paperback books (except you don't have the option for raised lettering). But when it comes to their hardcover books, there's one major difference: no dust jacket. 

KDP's hardcover books are what's called case laminate books, meaning the cover image is printed directly on the cover—which is made of some kind of thick cardboard. They offer matte or glossy finish, just like they do for their paperback book printing options. 

While this surely keeps the printing cost down (because they don’t have to make dust jackets), it still sets them aside from books printed by traditional publishers. This is something to keep in mind on your publishing journey. Otherwise, the paper quality is good and you still have the choice of a black-and-white interior on white paper or cream (or a color interior on white paper). 

Hardcover vs Paperback: Conclusion

Putting out a hardcover edition of your book is secondary to providing a great reading experience and nailing other things like your genre-targeted cover, your marketing efforts, and foundational assets like a growing email list. Since putting out ebook and paperback editions are essential for new authors, publishing hardback editions can wait until you're comfortable with those other formats. 

As you get your author career off the ground, there will be things pulling at you from all directions. And while there is a time and place to consider them, they don't all need to be done at once. As long as you have an ebook and paperback book version published on Amazon, you can rest easy knowing that you have the majority of your potential sales covered. 

But when the time comes for formatting your hardcover book manuscript, don't forget to check out Atticus. Formatting is just one of the many tools Atticus offers to save busy authors time and money. 

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