Self-Publishing DIY Guideline – Trims, Bleeds, and Margins

I’ve published several children’s books on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), one of the largest self-publishing platforms available today, and one thing I struggled with initially when first going into self-publishing was understanding exactly how my trim options affected how I should prepare my files, as well as what to take into account for images that I wanted to “bleed” to the edge of the page. In this post I describe some of the things to watch out for. These guidelines are specifically for KDP but should generally apply to other self-publishing platforms as well.

First, some definitions:

  • Trim: The “Trim” is the size of the paper in the end product.
  • Bleed: The term “bleed” is used for colors or images that extend all the way to the edge of the page.
  • Margin: This is the the amount of space you should keep between your content and the edges of your pages.


Different self-publishing platforms offer various trim sizes you can select for your book (click here to check out Amazon KPD’s trim options). Trim sizes are expressed as width by height. There are some standard trim sizes, like 8.5″ x 11″ which is very similar to the well known A4 size (that’s what you typically use to print standard documents) but is actually a bit larger (A4 is 8.27″ x 11.69″). Another common trim size is 6″ x 9″, which is the most common size for traditional paperbacks in the US. However 6″ x 9″ may be too small for children’s books, which will typically be a bit larger.

My favorite trim sizes are 8.5″ x 8.5″, which is a large versatile square, and 8.5″ x 11″. Another cool option is 8.25″ x 6″ which, although it’s a bit small, can be suitable for books that requires a landscape aspect ratio.

What you choose is completely up to you, but it should be something you decide at the BEGINNING of your project. Think about how you want to organize the images and text on your pages so that you can obtain illustrations that fit your desired trim.


My first book which I made with Adobe InDesign was meant to be 8.5″ x 8.5″. I made sure to select that size for my pages and carefully placed all my work into the pages, going all the way to the edges given that my intent was to have bleed (i.e. images were meant to go all the way to the edges of the pages).

Once I was finished with my file, I opened up KDP, got to the content section, selected that I wanted “bleed” and uploaded my manuscript. I waited patiently (it can take a few minutes for a large file with lots of images) and then opened up the preview, which barraged me with warnings about the pages not being large enough to account for bleed.

You see, the way bleed works is they will print your content on a LARGER trim size than what you select, and then cut the paper to match your selected trim size. This way the printer can ensure that your content correctly goes all the way to the edge of the paper, just as you wanted. What it means for you is that you have to use make your content a bit larger than the final trim size in order to account for what gets cut off. This is the margin you need to account for on the outer edges even when your book’s images bleed to the edges. The amount you need to add for outer margin is 0.125″ on each side. You don’t have to take into account the inner edge (i.e. the edge that’s connected to the spine), so you’re adding 0.125″ to the width and 0.25″ to the height (for the top and bottom). This means that your 8.5″ x 8.5″ book will have pages that are 8.625″ in width and 8.75″ in height. When open, it would be 17.25″ in width (which is 8.5″ + 8.5″ + 0.125″ + 0.125″) by 8.75″ in height (8.5″ + 0.25″).

After you figure out the right page size for your files, make sure you actually extend images and colors all the way to the edges, but do remember that 0.125″ of content will be cut off the sides, so don’t put essential content (particularly text) in those areas.

Here’s an image of what that looks like. The yellow parts are the bleed

Self-publishing: Sizes required when using bleed for an 8.5" x 8.5" trim

And here’s an example from my book Dreams of Monsters ABC (the process for writing this book is also detailed in a separate post) which shows what it might look like with the content inserted (note the images go all the way to the edges, but important content such as the text or some of the visual elements like the moon and the face of the Bogeyman are still inside the boundaries):

Self-publishing: Margins are important when using bleed


The inside margin (also known as “gutter”) margin is applicable for all books regardless of whether you are using bleed or not. This is the amount of space that you need to leave between your pages and the inner edge (the one that connects to the spine) of the book. This margin depends on the number of pages in your book. Why? Open up a book that has a lot of pages and you’ll understand why – the larger the book the more the content should be separated from the spine in order to be visible when the reader opens your book. So if you submit your book to KDP and receive an error that says “Interior – Your manuscript content extends past the margins. Margins prevent your content from getting cut off when your book is printed” then make note of “Interior” as it is referring to your gutter margin’s being too small. Push content on the inner edges of your pages outwards and re-submit.


When self-publishing, it’s important to understand trims, bleeds, and margins and planning your content ahead of time will save you headaches when you go to publishing your book. The time you spend planning will ensure that you get a higher quality output in the end. – A detailed review for obtaining illustrations for you book

One of the first online freelancer communities I tried was, which is one of the largest of its kind in the world boasting over 21 million freelancers on the site. If you’re interested in trying it out, I’d appreciate if you would use my referral link, which gives both you and me $20 in credits once you’ve released at least $50 in milestones.

FEE STRUCTURE’s fee structure can be found here. Project fees are 3% for fixed projects (or $3, whichever is higher) and in the case of hourly projects 3% for each payment made to the freelancer. There are also some processing fees which seem to range from about 2.4% to 3.9%, and it seems that in order to get the lower processing fees it’s best to load up your account with some funds and then pay out from those funds rather than make a payment for each transaction. I put a snapshot of some of my transaction history below, where you can see a $0.74 processing fee was levied for an IP agreement I paid for with PayPal (3.89% charge) while the $500 deposit I made was charged $11.80 of processing fees (2.36%).


There are two ways to find freelancers on – posting a project (which you can then choose to pay for with a fixed price consisting of milestones) or posting a contest.

Normally I use fixed projects because my experience with contests (which I will post about at a later date) hasn’t given me great results and gives less flexibility in my opinion (ties you into a specific cost rather than allowing freelancers to bid, and there are also many freelancers who choose to never participate in contests as it’s too uncertain for them).

A project post consists of the following elements:

  • Project name: Choose something descriptive that’ll immediate tell freelancers what it is you’re looking for
  • Project details: In here I quickly let freelancers know what I’m writing and why (usually referencing my daughters’ inspiration), let them know some high level details of what the illustrations will be (I leave the full details for later once I’ve selected a designer), as well as provide guidelines of the number and format (sizes and file types) of the images. I also put in a line letting the freelancer know that I’ll be paying for the IP agreement upgrade which gives me commercial right to the work produced.
  • File uploads: Generally I like to put references to public works that resemble the sort of style I am looking for. It’s very important to ensure that you properly reference the work so as to not infringe on anybody else’s intellectual property.
  • Skills required: This is filled out automatically by the site, and although you can update the skills in this section I usually leave the default ones and have gotten good results.


  • Project type: This is where you select a regular project or a contest (detailed in separate post).
  • Payment type: Select a fixed price or hourly price. Personally I prefer the fixed price as the deliverable for the chosen price is defined, meaning there is less likelihood of surprises coming up along the way that end up costing you more.
  • Budget: Select the approximate budget (as a range) that you’re willing to pay. Note that bids can come outside of this range but this will give a guideline to freelancers about what you are willing to spend.
  • Standard vs. Recruiter project: I haven’t tried the “Recruiter” project which provides assistance for selecting a project. Doesn’t sound very appealing to me as I’m not sure how this “helping hand” would know exactly what I want, and I’m willing to take the time and do the research to find the right freelancer for me rather than outsource that to an assistant.

  • Advanced options: This lets you pay for upgrades, including:
    • Recruiter: same as above
    • Featured: higher visibility to freelancers, which I don’t think is necessary given I’ve gotten plenty of bids for every project I’ve posted
    • Urgent: let freelancers know time is of the essence, which presumably gets you more freelancers
    • Private: hides the project from search engines and logged out users; if there’s anything sensitive, private, or confidential in your project this is a good upgrade

There are other upgrades you can make later, such as the IP Agreement which is in my opinion a necessary upgrade for all projects.

Once you’ve made all your selection, it’s time to post your project.


Now that your project is live, you’ll almost instantly start receiving bids from freelancers. Here’s a sample of 3 out of the 60 bids that I received when I posted the project for my project Dreams of Monsters ABC which is now live on Amazon. Note that I’ve covered the images and names of the freelancers for their privacy.

You can see that this project, for which I put a budget of $250-750, received bids ranging from $250 to $3,888. The majority of bids were within the range I preselected, and the highest quality bids were in the $600-700 range. On the right side of the bids screen you’re able to filter down based on price, reviews the freelancer has gotten, their star rating, and the days they state they’ll complete the project in. Personally I’m not really on a timeline, so I don’t pay any attention to the “days to complete”. This is also because, from my experience, it can frequently take longer due to the back & forth conversation you’ll have with your freelancer to iron out all sorts of details. I don’t put pressure on my freelancers to finish quickly but rather opt for getting a good job done. Of course if they work quickly (because they want to get paid) then I reward that as well.

A handy way to keep track of your favorite bids for a project is to use the heart (which shortlists them) and to also use the trash to remove bids that don’t meet your requirements (sadly there will be lots of those, as some freelancers don’t quite read the project descriptions when submitting their bids).

In my experience it’s worth waiting 3-4 days before starting to evaluate bids, but better not to wait until the last minute, as you’ll want to start some discussions with your shortlisted bids. You can ask them for samples, or specific illustrations in their existing portfolio that match the quality of the output they expect to deliver based on their bid. I find this technique to be very effective in setting the right expectation with the designer.


Before awarding a project, make sure you discuss a few details with the designer, including:

  • Clear expectations on the quality of the output (particularly when you’re requesting many illustrations) as well as the style (best to have them point out something in their portfolio that’s close to what they’ll deliver for you)
  • Confirm the specs of your project (# of illustrations, file output required, file size required, etc.)
  • Reiterate that you’ll require them to sign the IP Agreement if you choose that upgrade
  • Clarify expected timelines (if any)
  • Decide how to set the milestones

Milestones were something I found a bit confusing at first, particularly because different freelancers think of them quite differently, which is why it’s good to clarify their expectations ahead of time and make sure you’re ok with how to structure the progress of the work (which is what the milestones are designed to do). Milestones basically break up the task in various steps so you can keep track of the progress of your project as well as pay your freelancer for the work they’ve completed along the way.

Suppose you have a $300 project consisting of 9 full page color illustrations. You may structure milestones in a few different ways (and freelancers will each have their own preferences as well). Here are examples of two ways that I’ve successfully structured similar project in the past:

  • Three milestones ($100 each) for (1) sketches of every image, (2) final designs, (3) final color renderings and source files (PSDs)
  • Three milestones ($100 each) consisting of the final output (full color renders and source files) for 3 images in your project

In theory you could do one milestone for the entire project, but I wouldn’t recommend it as you should strive to make measurable progress as you go along your project, and I also doubt any freelancers would accept this as they’ll prefer to be paid along the way (even though you’re an honest, trustworthy person, they don’t know that!).


While your project is live, here are a few recommendations to make sure things go smoothly:

  • Communicate frequently: it’s important to maintain a good communication rhythm with your freelancer. Don’t let them go dark for several days, and give them clear and honest expectations that’ll encourage them to do the work.
  • Set clear guidelines: make sure your initial guidelines are clear and as comprehensive as needed (I sometimes like to leave creative space to designs, in which case I tell them that deliberately, but for cases where I know exactly what I want I let them know as well). If something changes (you may always change your mind) be sure to be very clear about it (in some cases freelancers may ask for extra milestones in the case of a scope change, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, so the more planned you are the better for your budget).
  • Give clear (and respectful) feedback: when you start receiving designs, give clear and transparent feedback to your designer. I would recommend being thoughtful and respectful about your feedback as well – remember you’re dealing with humans who have feelings, and who are more likely to do a good job if they like you, so telling them something sucks probably won’t help you.


I’ve had great experiences with freelancers from, and although I’m sure it’s not always perfectly smooth I think by following the guidelines above and being well planned about your work, you can successfully complete a project for a very reasonable price with the help of excellent talent from this community.

If you’re interested in giving it a shot, feel free to sign up with my referral link which gives both you and me $20 once you’ve released at least $50 in milestones. Here’s that link:

Good luck!