Book Formats and Binding Types

Paperback (Perfect Bound)

Hardcover (Case Bound and Digital Cloth)


Unavailable Binding Types


Throughout the process of crafting your manuscript, it’s wise to keep the finished form of your book constantly in the back of your mind. Many indie authors stick to one binding type (e.g. paperback only or e-book only) for simplicity and efficiency. Others emulate the traditional pattern used by major publishing houses—simultaneous hardcover and digital release, followed by paperback release 6 to 12 months later.

If you’re unsure of which binding type would be the best fit for your book, consider above all else the preferences of the people who will read your book. One of the many perks of publishing independently is the freedom to mix and match binding types to suit the particular tastes of your audience. Since it can be difficult to know at the outset what formats your readers prefer, it’s advisable to choose as many formats as you can afford. Most traditional publishers simultaneously publish their titles in multiple formats—hardcover, paperback, and e-book—all at the same time.

With this approach, you know that you’re covering your bases; lucky for you, Lightning Source supports all formats.


Paperback (Perfect Bound)

By a long shot, the perfect-bound trade paperback is the most commonly printed book in the indie publishing arena. Its compact, lightweight shape makes it inexpensive to ship, which combined with its modest production cost has made the paperback the print format of choice for any publisher on a budget. Furthermore, many people who habitually read on the go prefer paperbacks, since they are more easily portable and are easier to hold on to than heavier books. Perfect binding involves binding the page block to a printed and laminated coverstock with hot glue.



A paperback cover designed using the Lightning Source Cover Template Generator

Out of all the binding formats, a 6x9 paperback offers the most page area per dollar spent and the least waste of paper in production. That said, the most important consideration when deciding on your final binding specs is what looks and feels right for your book. Since books with smaller page dimensions can hold less text on each page than books with larger page dimensions, the smaller version of a given book will have more total pages than the larger version of that same book. The total number of pages determines a book’s spine width, so the page size can be adjusted to give books a thinner or thicker shelf presence.

Lightning Source prints perfect-bound paperbacks in a range of sizes. Feel free to experiment with several potential dimensions when deciding on the right size and width for your book. Typically, books with fewer pages tend to be published in smaller formats to make them feel more substantial, while books with more pages tend to be published in larger formats to keep the spine from being too thick. In the end, it all comes down to some combination of taste and cost.


Hardcover (Case Bound or Digital Cloth)

Unlike many print-on-demand services, Lightning Source supports hardcover bookbinding in a variety of sizes, with or without a dust jacket. For traditional publishers, the hardcover represents the flagship edition of a given book; hardcore book collectors pursue first-edition hardcovers above all else. For debut books in most mainstream genres, the hardcover is typically released several months to a year before the 


The same title as show on page 21, but now designed in a cased-in hardbound template. Note the space needed on a hardbound in order to wrap around the board material.

paperback, in order to maximize sales to the portion of the market most dedicated to buying that particular title—this practice has become increasingly popular with ambitious indie publishers, thanks in large part to the advent of affordable print-on-demand hardcover binding.

Hardcovers produced by Lightning Source are made in two very similar processes: case binding and digital cloth binding. In both cases, pages of printed text are combined into a block that is glued to a rigid cover. The difference is that case-bound covers are made of cardboard wrapped in paper that has the cover image printed directly on it with either gloss or matte laminate coating, while digital cloth-bound covers are made of cardboard covered in either blue or grey paper and coated with textured lamination that gives the book a linen type "feel".


A dust jacket designed using the Lightning Source “cloth binding” Cover Template generator.

While the production cost involved may deter some authors, hardcovers should be considered in every way the deluxe version of a book; committed readers are often willing to pay more in exchange for their durability and aforementioned collector’s value.

The most obvious example of case-bound books is large-format hardcover textbooks, along with cookbooks and art anthologies. Sturdy and resistant to shelf wear, this binding style is also perfect for those who approach reading as a form of weight lifting. Case binding can also be used to great effect in small formats such as gift books, novellas, and journals.

Most debut fiction titles first appear on bookstore shelves as a cloth-bound hardcover with a dust jacket— likewise for debut titles in the history, biography, science, and social studies genres. Lightning Source offers digital cloth-bound hardcover books in either blue or grey with a textured laminate coating that gives the cover a linen "feel", with the option of including spine text that is printed in a gold color font on the spine of the book. The dust jacket wraps around the cover, with inside flaps on the left and right typically used for the book’s synopsis and author bio. See further below for more information about adding spine text.

One thing to keep in mind when designing cover images for these formats is the extra bleed space required by hardcover templates, due to the paper cover wrapping around the cardboard coverstock. In the case of cloth-bound cover spreads, the extra space afforded by the flaps of the dust jacket gives much more room for extra artwork or positive reviews recommending the book to readers.


Lightning Source allows authors to upload the digital edition of their books to a variety of mainline e-book platforms all at once. Once your e-book enters Ingram’s distribution channels, it becomes discoverable to readers shopping on Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, or Kobo readers.

Many book buyers today use e-readers and tablets as an alternative or supplement to traditional print books. Certain genres, in particular, have been adopted by digital readers, including science fiction, paranormal fiction, and romance. Many of the greatest rags-to-riches stories in the independent publishing world originated in these niche interest groups and developed a dedicated fan base before spilling into the general market of readers.

Before an e-book can be uploaded and sold, it must be converted from the editable version of a manuscript into a free-flowing file format, typically the open-source ePUB format. This process strips away most of the formatting that dictates how text appears on a page, in order to accommodate the many text customization options featured by e-readers, such as changing the e-book’s font size and line spacing to suit reading preferences. Because of this, it’s generally wise to have your e-book file conversion done after your manuscript has been heavily edited, as future corrections would have to be applied to both the print version of the book and the digital version individually.

One important decision you need to make as an author publishing digitally is whether to have your print book manually converted into an e-book by a human being or to have the file conversion handled by an automated system. Computer-savvy folks can use applications like Calibre, Adobe’s InDesign, and Microsoft Word to convert their own text files from the comfort of home; this can be a time-consuming, though reliable method. There are also freelance technicians who will perform this function for a fee, and Lightning Source itself offers this conversion service. Automated conversion systems are cheaper due to the lack of human labor involved, though experience has shown that these systems can be prone to formatting errors (especially the free ones). Do your readers a huge favor—make sure that your e-book is glitch-free and readable before uploading it to the digital market.

The integral role digital publishing has played in the rise of independent publishing has led to heated debate regarding whether such indie books are more likely to attract print readers or digital readers. Naturally, some authors and readers are dedicated to a particular style of reading and rarely deviate from that preference. However, studies have shown that the majority of consistent e-book readers also regularly purchase print books as well. These hybrid readers seem to make buying choices situationally; for instance, an avid reader might enjoy a physical paperback for reading at a park or while relaxing at home, then switch to an e-reader while traveling with limited luggage space or in a dark area (where front-lit screens come in handy).

Consider how your book fits into the situational preferences of your particular audience. Many authors publish their books in a single format only, and while this approach might also work for your book, the prevailing philosophy supports publishing your book in as many different formats as possible, with the goal of making your book accessible to as many different readers as possible.


Unavailable Binding Types and Formats

With Lightning Source POD print and manufacturing technology, there are some formats and bindings that are not available, due to the manufacturing time needed for books sold through the global distribution network.

Saddle Stitch Paperback
Board Books
Spiral Bound – Plastic Comb Bound and Metal Curly-O Wire
CDs / Audiobooks
Lightning Source does not currently offer audiobooks in any format. We also do not offer CD production for inclusion in the physical books we manufacture. Publishers who wish to offer this feature would need to have Lightning Source print the book and once the publisher receives the printed books, they will need to include the disc themselves and sell the books on their own. Books with a CD included cannot be sold through Lightning Source’s POD global distribution network.


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