The Importance of a Spine


The spine of your book as you know is the greatest advert you can have. Printed hard copies remain in circulation forever, turning up in the most amazing places. It is a shame books cannot write their own memoirs as some of them must have incredible adventures. One of mine travelled from Ireland where it was published and eventually was found in a coffee shop in Vietnam.

E-book covers, while probably not having such a tale to tell have just as hard a job to do promoting you, as the author and the book inside.

You’ve already learned about the importance of what is on the cover in terms of the images, how you design the cover, the colours to use and how important the book title and your name is. There are other things that can go on the cover, some that are good to have, some you don’t need.

Another important part of working with a cover designer is to understand what is required in regard to spine width. You will need to have a cover brief ready for them and have to give them the measurements for your book, spine width and the layout of the text on it is a very important part of this.

But firstly something you do not need


There is a lot of confusion around ISBNs, self publishing authors without experience or knowledge can often be lead to believe these are a legal requirement on a book and can spend large amounts of money obtaining them. They are not a legal requirement and for anyone publishing independently and selling through online sites, are completely unnecessary. An ISBN is an  International Standard Book Number basically a numeric identifier which is used in a commercial setting. Each book published by ‘traditional’ publishers and  sold through bookshops will be purchased from a large warehouse where for speed of identification each book has a unique number. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency which relates to their country. The method of assigning an ISBN is varies between countries,  depending on how large the publishing industry is in that particular country.

Each edition or variation of a book has a different ISBN. So each e-book, hardback, large print and paperback version will have its own unique ISBN.  Prior to 2007 an ISBN was ten digits long, thirteen if it was issued after 1st January 2007.

The initial ISBN was devised in 1967 and was based on a similar 9-digit system created in 1966 named Standard Book Numbering (SBN)SBN.  This was created by Gordon Foster, Emeritus Professor of Statistics at Trinity College, Dublin for WHSmith the bookselling company and other publishers in 1965.  The revised ISBN identification format was conceived in 1967 in the United Kingdom by David Whitaker in the UK .  In the business he is regarded as the ‘father of the ISBN.

An older SBN can be converted to an ISBN by prefixing the digit “0”.  Since 1 January 2007, ISBNs have contained thirteen digits. The digits and corresponding barcode relate to the country, or territory the book is published in, the publisher who owns the ISBN.

 There are 5 distinct segments within the 13 digits. These relate to, firstly the prefix, this shows that the number is compatible with the European Article number system. Next comes the registration group which identifies the book’s country of origin.

Following this comes the publisher, or registrant.  Finally comes the edition and format of the specific book.

ISBNs are obtained through agencies which will either sell you a single, or block of ISBN numbers. So you do not need an ISBN, it is not, as you have seen, a legal requirement, but by all means if you want one – go ahead.

Things that you can put on a book cover, that do not cost you any money are short reviews and testimonials and your author biography.

REVIEWS You are probably aware of how important reviews – particularly good ones are to sell your books. You work hard to write a book, spending long hours slogging away at your computer when you could be doing other things. Those reviews, on book sales sites are a worthy reward for your hard work. It is always a great lift to any author when they read good reviews. I especially love reading mine. I find it so delightful when people have read my book and, as a complete stranger, have felt so strongly about the book they have taken the time to write a review. They are certainly chicken soup to any author’s soul. A good review does wonders for book sales, showing other customers that they book is worth them reading it. But more than giving the author a good boost, and promoting sales, reviews look fabulous on a book cover. They really give credibility to the author’s work.

As your book accumulates reviews, read them.

A gentle word of warning – just read the four and five star ones, do not go near the ones that are less than that, and any with screamy, unpleasant headlines, do not look at them, unless you have a hide made of Teflon. Honestly it is not worth it. I know just how delicate an author’s ego is. So much of your soul has gone into writing the book, and to see it trashed is horrendous.

If you have made glaring errors in the plot, or book layout, or if the manuscript contains horrendous spelling mistakes, that is fair enough. You can learn from that and ensure you use a professional to iron them out, but if your plot has been cruelly taken apart that really hurts. So read reviews sparingly. However, while you are reading, you may well come across a review which will contain a great line, something that really shows the reader’s appreciation of the book and which will act as a wonderful sales tag. ‘This book changed my life.’ ‘I stayed up till 3 am reading this book.’ That kind of thing. I could write examples for hours, but you will know ‘the one’ when you read it. 

Most reviewers are only too delighted to have their lines used on a book cover, but it is definitely the right thing to do to approach them and ask if you could use part of their review on your cover, either with, or without their name.

It is the job then of your designer to ensure the review line is prominent, without taking away from the rest of the design.


Testimonials in the form of awards or competitions the author has won can also be used to promote the book. If you have entered the book in a competition and it has won, or been highly commended that is a brilliant form of promotion. Alternatively you may have won other prizes with other work. Acknowledging this on the cover can do wonders to prove your credibility as an author and work to recommend you to readers who may otherwise pass your work by.

If your work has become a bestseller, that is definitely worth putting on the cover. If it has not, or you have not won any prizes with your work, do not pretend you have. Honestly it is not worth it and you will just end up discrediting your work when you get found out. 


On the back of the cover it is a good idea to have a short piece with the author’s biography. this can take the form of around 100 words. Take the biography you have on your website or an the book sales page online and rework this so that it is succinct and suitable for the cover. You just need to be short and to the point here. Just enough so that readers looking at the back cover will know enough about you to be curious and interested in reading more of your work. You could also use this as an opportunity to promote your website and guide readers there. Any opportunity you get to send potential readers to your website where you can link them to your mailing list must be taken.  


On your back cover you can also put a publisher’s logo. It gives a sense of credibility when you are self publisher if you publish your books as a company that way you can say to people I’m published by X company if if you are uncomfortable about saying you’re self publish readers will often not know the difference between a major publishing company and a tiny one that you own yourself. However having a proper name and logo just give credibility for that small company and obviously it needs to be on the book cover. It is worth getting a company or a designer to make up a good logo for you this will make your publishing company feel like it is real.


If you are just publishing an ebook then a book spine is not relevant however if you are publishing a hardback or paperback version up the book then the spine is a vital piece of the cover. When the book is being printed the printing company will need to know the size of the spine because the whole up the rest of the cover hangs on the spine width being correct. not only does the spine forma points for the book pages to open and close it is also the anchor for this for the cover which would be seen on bookcases and allow readers to identify the book and also quite importantly attracted other readers. 

It is important when your book is typeset that the spine is going to be wide enough for text to be placed on the spine. The width of a book spine is depends on how many pages the book contains and also the type of paper used as various paper will have different thickness. The wider the spine the more information can be put on the spine and it will look better against other books on the shelf.  As part of the brief you give to your cover designer will be the spine, width and text. You need to consider where you want the text to be placed. Do you want the author name to be at the top of the book when it is displayed on a shelf, or would you prefer the title. Do you want the publisher logo to be placed at the bottom of the spine when the book is on a shelf, or at the top. No matter how good your designer is, you will still need to give them a design brief so they have something to follow as instructions from you. The easiest way to discover what you like, or dislike, which can be a start point, is to look at the books on your own shelf or in a bookshop, or library. See which spines attract you and assess why they stand out. Is it the colour, the layout of the text? This will give you an idea of what works, and what does not.

There are some books who are unable to have printing on the spine for example one or two saddle stitched or why a bound as obviously there is nowhere to print. It is important to work with a good designer or graphic artist or professional cover designer as they will understand how to work out the spine width and know how to make the text stand out to the best effect. Keep the same text on the spine as you have on the front cover. It is very important that this type on the spine and any graphics that are used including the publishers logo or a little smaller than the books thickness so that when it is printed the spine does not encroach on the front or back covers. 

Book spines will have the title and the authors name on this.

Any spine smaller than .136″ of an inch will not have any type on the spine, because the type will be too small to read. If you have written a book without many words your typesetter can design the book so that more pages are taken up and so the spine will be wider. This can be done by the layout, making text bigger, increasing the space between the words, increasing the margins, both top and bottom and at each side of the page and adding space between chapters and chapter headings. These are subtle ways that a professional will understand and know how to help you. It is important to explain to them that you want to ensure there is going to be a spine and to space out the pages, otherwise they will naturally typeset accordingly as generally clients are looking for the cheapest possible option, which may not include typesetting.

When on a bookshelf they think which will distinguish one book from another is the spine. It is also important to remember when writing a series that the spine becomes part of the complete design.  

The necessary elements of the book spine are the author name, the book title and the publishers logo. If the book has a long subtitle and space on the spine is at premium leave it out.

The text orientation on book spines appears to follow regional standards. In the United Kingdom, USA the titles are usually written top-to-bottom. In some European countries (like Germany and France), titles are written bottom-to-top, just a publishers quirk!

Something else to consider is the colour of the spine. You need to use a colour which will stand out on shelves, but which will also coordinate with the overall layout of the book. Personally I prefer to chose a colour which has picked out one in the cover image, but this is your choice, although do be prepared to be guided by your designer.

Some designers like the spine to be part of the overall design, so when the book is opened out flat the spine image is still part of the whole image. However others prefer to use a contrasting colour so the spine stands out. By using a solid colour it is easier to place text on which will stand out when the design is completed.

It is important that you make your spine count as much as possible. Think of the immense job something perhaps 6 inches by one inch has to do. Attract someone’s attention and make them interested enough that they will buy the book. Use a bright, attractive colour this will attract reader’s attention and make the book stand out against the others on the shelf.  

Colours are important, so consider your choices, different colours will tell potential readers about the genre and the feel of your book. For instance, very obvious but you would not use a pastel pink spine for a horror novel. Something else to consider is the contrast between the colours, for instance if you want to use a dark font, or a lighter one, consider how contrasting colours work together, by studying them. You could use a light font on a dark spine, or a light spine with a dark font.

The font used is important. Blocky fonts such as san serif ones stand out better than their thinner, serif ones, although this does not always hold true, but make sure the font is easy to read. Bold, simple text will draw a reader’s eye better than a script font.

You can, as you will see, if you study other books, make the spine interesting with the use of graphics, but be cautious not to make the spine overcrowded and overwhelming to buyers.

If you do have a book which has a big spine, you can use images, or other artwork to make the book look truly irresistible.  Again, work with a good designer, but also have your own ideas, research is the key.