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Board Book Vs. Hardback Vs. Paperback: The Right Format For Your Children's Book

If you’re self-publishing your first children’s book, there are SO MANY things to consider when it comes to how you want your physical book to look and feel. 


Board Book vs. Hardback vs. Paperback:  Choosing The Right Format For Your Self-Published Children's Book

Most new authors have a clear vision of what they want their printed book to look like, but they may not know the correct terminology to use to describe that vision to a book designer or printer.  


Board Books vs. hardback books vs. paperback books...Oh my!


In this post, we’ll describe the three most common print formats for children's books and analyze the pros and cons of each so you can make the best choice for your book. 



Paperback Books 


gif showing a paperback book
Sample of a paperback book.

Paperback books (sometimes called soft cover) are thinner and less durable than hardback or board books, and are therefore cheaper to print. Their covers are made from thick, but flexible, card-stock like material, which is typically laminated so that it resists moisture and has a bit of shine.


Depending on the number of pages and your printing budget, they can be printed with or without a spine. They can be printed on demand. Paperback books are good for older readers who are less likely to tear pages. 


"I've done a ton of market events with both hardcover and softcover versions of all my books and hands down, the softcover versions sell 8:1 better than the hardcover."

- Cheryl More Johnson, award-winning photographer and children's book author


Hardback Books

gif showing a hardback book
Sample of a hardback book.

Hardback books (sometimes called hard cover) are thicker and more durable than paperback books, so they cost more to print. The cover is made of thick, non-flexible cardboard wrapped in paper.  Hardback books sometimes come with dust jackets to protect the cover from damage. They always have a spine, and can be printed on demand.


Hardback books are popular with libraries because they resist wear and tear better than paperbacks.  In addition, books that are meant to be keepsakes or gifts are often printed as hardbacks.   


"For CHILDREN, however, hardbacks are the way to go, and not just for the aesthetics. They hold up to grubby little fingers better, and are less likely to be damaged by the elements, albeit only slightly. I like the feeling of PERMANENCE one gets from the hardback."

-Mike Crowder, children's book author and illustrator


Board Books

gif showing a board book
Sample of a board book.

Board books are the most durable of the three formats. Not only is the cover made of stiff cardboard, but so are all the pages! Because of this they can’t be printed on demand, and they are more expensive to produce.


Ironically, most customers expect them to be lower in price than a hardback book because they are usually smaller in overall trim size. (In other words, profit margins are LOW.)  They have thick spines, so they take up more space on bookshelves. They are great for younger kids who aren’t used to handling books yet, and may damage or tear paper pages. 


It’s a baby book, so for me it was an obvious choice to make it a board book. I also have it as POD as a paperback but I don’t love it as much. I love my board book. 😍

-Lori VandenBroek-Séguin, children's book author



Board Book vs. Hardback vs. Paperback:

Which format is right for your self-published children’s book? 


Well, it depends!  


Here are some things to consider when making the decision:


✅ What age is your target audience?  


As we mentioned above, children ages 0-3 are still learning fine motor skills and may struggle to turn paper pages, so a board book will be best for this age group.  The smaller trim size also makes it easier for little hands to hold the book comfortably and the durability of a board book will stand up to all those toddler messes!  


Kids ages 4 and up should be able to handle the paper pages that come with paperback or hardback books.  These older readers are also well-aware that board books are for “babies,” so they often avoid books in that format.


Take a look at your manuscript and ask yourself…which age range is most likely to be your ideal reader?


✅ How long is your book? How complex is the story/illustrations?


This question goes hand in hand with number one. Younger audiences need shorter, simpler texts.  So, board books are usually under 250 words…many are even under 100!  Page count is also lower in board books, so if your book is longer than 250 words, hardback or paperback might be a better option.  


⭐NOTE:⭐ If you aren't sure whether your book is the right length for a certain age range, check out this blog post about word count and age range in children's books.


In addition to length, consider the complexity of the illustrations.  Board books are smaller in trim size, so they have less space for illustrations and text.  Are your illustrations going to be detailed? Are there pages that require large blocks of text? Make sure you choose a format that fits your story. 


✅ What setting is your book most likely to be read in?


Obviously, we all want our books to be read in lots of different settings, but think about where it might be MOST popular. For example, a book celebrating the birth of a baby might be a great gift for baby showers, so a hardback version might sell best, as it will make the book feel special and more gift-worthy. Whereas a humorous, lighthearted book about washing your hands might be read in germy classrooms, so you might want to print it in a cheaper, paperback format so that classroom teachers can afford it.


You may find that you'd like to have your book produced in two different formats.  For example, maybe you want a cheap, paperback version for classroom teachers AND a hardback version for libraries.   



✅ Do you plan to print-on-demand or offset print?


Any of the three formats we discussed can be printed in a large offset print run that will reduce the cost per book and widen your profit margin.  But to make that happen, you need to pay for that large order upfront.  


If you don’t have the funds, you may want to do print-on-demand - where you upload your book file to a company like Amazon KDP or IngramSpark, and they print and ship each book individually, as it’s ordered. 


Print-on-demand is great because it requires no upfront investment and you don’t have to fill your garage or basement with a large order of books.  But… there's a big caveat:


Board books can’t be printed-on-demand, so if you go this route, you’ll be limited to paperback or hardback.


Deciding between print-on-demand and offset printing early in the publishing process can impact your cover options, so plan ahead!


 

Every book is different and every author has to make their own decision about print options. Board book vs. hardback vs. paperback - unfortunately, there's no "best" answer for everyone. Use the information above and the chart below to help you make the best decision for you and your book.


feature comparison chart for board book vs. hardback vs. paperback books


Want a pro to help you navigate decisions like these? Join our Profitable Picture Books Program and get access to courses, coaching, and a community of fellow authors to support you on your journey!


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