Ebook Specific Cover Design: #3 – Proportions

This post is a part of Ebook specific cover design series.

Cover of "A Self-publisher's Companion" by Joel Friedlander
A cover of Joel Friedlander's ebook is a great example of maximizing the use of space in a product image field

In a third post about ebook cover design I’d like to focus on proportions.

A digital book is immaterial. It’s a file, not an object. If you open it on your device, it would most probably fit to the proportions of the screen.

So, what proportions should the ebook cover have? The simple answer to inspire your imagination is: “every possible proportions”.

Ebook cover is a screen area which represents a book. It’s a visualization of what the book is about. It’s not wrapping a physical object, so it doesn’t need to have proportions of that object.

But going creative is just one of few possible directions to follow. Actually the more I think about the topic, the more challenging it is. It’s not about picking up one of popular print book formats, not any more. It’s about making well thought decisions.

You should think of where you are going to publish a book, on which devices it will be read and how you plan to promote it.

Let’s discuss four factors which can influence proportions of the ebook cover.

1. Product image field

Just as print book is placed on a shelf in a bookstore (the fact it’s tall should be good for shelf space, right?), the ebook’s cover image is placed on a page of the online shop. That’s why it’s reasonable to maximize the pixel area your cover can use.

Most of online shops use square proportions for product images. This is self-explanatory – both tall and wide products are given similar chances. So, you’ll get maximum exposure for your book if you design a square cover – as Joel Friedlander did for his great guide for writers, A Self-Publisher’s Companion.

Check below how this book is highlighted in a list view at Kindle Store. In a previous post from a series I discussed size. People see thumbnail covers when they make decisions about which book to click. Having that in mind, the square is also a good move. In a list view your cover takes 100% of given space – that is 115 px by 115 px.

Use square proportions to maximize the impact of the cover when displayed in thumbnail size

The factor to keep in mind is that proportions may be affected by elements added to cover image by the ebookstore itself. For instance in Kindle Store there are the Kindle Edition bar at the bottom and, recently added, Click to Look Inside! arrow on top of the cover.

2. Screen of the device

Another direction is to consider destination devices of your ebook. As you see in a table below, in different devices there are different height/width ratios. The most common one is 4:3, but choosing 4:3 just because of that is not enough.

I’d suggest to pick-up a proportion of the device, if you’re publishing a book on a specific platform. Obviously I’m thinking about iOS. If your book is going to be sold via iBookstore or as an app via AppStore, use iPhone or iPad proportions. In an app you can have both. The 4:3 cover could load on the iPad, 3:2 on iPhone or iPod Touch. In other words: it’s really bad if you design a book application specifically for the iPad and the moment one opens it the cover does not perfectly fit the screen.

So, which one, iPhone or iPad? Think of what device you’ll use to visualize your book. For instance, I’m devoted to reach mobile phone users with my geek fiction stories, so I use iPhone visualizations since I self-published my first book in October 2008.

Cover visualization on a device screen is something you should pay a lot of attention. What people miss in an electronic book is materiality. This materiality, the width, height, depth, is conveyed by the device – and that’s why so many people still confuse ebooks with ereaders.

It’s always worth making visualizations on color screens of tablets and smartphones. They make the book looking highly attractive, but most importantly, potential readers won’t see only a cover. They’ll see a book on a screen of their own device.

Screen sizes and proportions

Device Screen height (px) Screen width (px) Height/width ratio
iPad 1 1024 768 4:3
iPad 2 1024 768 4:3
iPhone 3GS 480 320 3:2
iPhone 4 / iPod Touch 960 640 3:2
Nook Color 1024 600 5.12:3
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 1280 800 16:10
Motorola Xoom 1280 800 16:10
Kindle 4 800 600 4:3
Nook Simple Touch 800 600 4:3
Kobo eReader Touch 800 600 4:3
iRiver Story 800 600 4:3

3. Popular web formats

When thinking of the cover of your ebook, you can also keep in mind how would it fit into one of popular web formats – like banners, widgets or application icons.

You may think it’s too far, but if you’ll be promoting your book by exchanging links with other bloggers, you may want to give them a cover in a format and size which fits into one of slots they already use.

Google AdSense offers many sizes, including 200×200 px or 250×250 px – which may be another reason to choose square proportions.

4. Creative approach

The dimensions of a screen are a completely different world than the ones of a print book. For the latter one, if the book is 6″ by 9″ that means the cover is 6″ by 9″ and you can’t change it. If your device is 800px by 600px it doesn’t mean your cover can’t be any bigger. On the screen two very important factors join the game: scroll and zoom. They open a lot of opportunities to create unusual, provocative and creative covers.

Imagine you can design the cover the same way as Internet infographics – like this one. It’s extremely long, but it doesn’t matter as you can scroll along it. It’s just an idea, but I’d like to stress that such a cover, which is extremely long or extremely wide, is still viewable. You can use it as a teaser of your book, or make it a form of a prologue.

How to use creative covers? You can always place them on your blog. Versions with typical proportions can be used everywhere else. But don’t do it just for the sake of being first. You’ll need to have a reason for that. Let’s say your book is about the history of written word. Your book cover could show the detailed timeline and it could be as long as it needs.

If technology allows for viewing images with extreme proportion ratios, why not benefit from it?

• • •

Major issue with unusual proportions you may have is whether readers will decode images as books covers. For instance a square cover is more resembling a CD than a book.

Non-book proportions are not an issue for me. If you’re on a book’s page you know it’s the book as there are title and description next to the cover. The places where ebook covers are defenseless are image search engines, but you can always fix the issue by properly naming your files (example: yourbooktitle_novel_cover.jpg).

Most importantly, however, is how the cover is designed. If you do it properly, the cover itself will be saying: “you are looking at the book”.

Next post in a series is about shape. Stay tuned, get free updates.



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