ISBN is book publishing-speak for International Standard Book Number. It’s a 13-digit number that’s used to identify and track (for sales inventory purposes) every book that is published for retail sale. Many self-publishing authors don’t pay attention to it, but that can be a mistake. This post explains what you need to know about ISBNs and how they affect you as an author.
ISBN is book publishing-speak for International Standard Book Number. (Tweet)
Purchase Your Own ISBN
I know it’s tempting to use the free ISBN from Amazon if you’re publishing via Create Space, particularly if you’re on a budget, but you really want to purchase your own ISBN direct from Bowker. I won’t bore you with all of the details about book publishing metadata and how maybe one day you’ll want to have you own publishing imprint (if you’re publishing more than one book over a lifetime, it might make sense!) and how an ISBN triggers a listing in Books in Print. Instead boil it down to one simple reason: You want to be listed as the publisher of record for your book. Not Create Space. Not some other company that provided publishing services. YOU.
You want to be listed as the publisher of record for your book. (Tweet)
Have I convinced you? I sure hope so. If you’re ready to take out your wallet, keep reading.
ISBN Purchasing How-To
Obtaining an ISBN is a simple and straightforward process. Simply go to the Bowker website and click the button that says “Buy Your ISBN Today!” There are add-ons like bar codes and copyright registration, but your concern is the ISBN. As of this writing, one ISBN costs $125 and 10 ISBNs costs $295. Why should you consider the multiple ISBN option? Here are a couple reasons:
Each book format needs its own ISBN (Tweet). For example, a paperback has a different ISBN than a hardcover of the same book title.
The numbers don’t expire. If you are publishing a paperback now but think you might want to release a hardcover copy for, say, the holidays or before a big speaking engagement where you’re allowed to sell back-of-the-room copies, it’s much cheaper to purchase in bulk and hang onto the numbers until you need them.
NOTE: If you revise your book to add new text, new sections, and the like, you need a new ISBN. If you’re changing the cover or correcting typographical errors, you do not need a new ISBN.
What the Heck Is Bowker?
You might be wondering, like I was when I first started working in publishing: What the heck is Bowker and why do they have a monopoly on ISBNs in the United States? Wish I had an answer for you, but this is one of those questions whose answer was, from everyone I ever asked, “This is just how it’s done, Jodi.” Strange, but I’ve learned to go with it.
There are people and publishing services, for the record, that buy ISBNs and resell them. This is allowed, but this is definitely NOT a good source of ISBN numbers for authors.
But What Does an ISBN DO?
ISBNs identify your book. Book titles aren’t exclusive and aren’t necessarily unique to you as the author (meaning, someone else could write a book with the same title as yours), but ISBNs are. So anyone in the book distribution world (bookstore owners, book buyers, etc.) can find a book and know exactly whose book and which format it is. No confusion.
An ISBN also gains you inclusion in Books in Print, which is essentially, the world’s biggest catalog of books (Tweet). In other words, this matters if you want your book to be available to book stores, libraries, and other outlets.
Where Does the ISBN Go?
The ISBN appears in two places: on the copyright page and on the back cover of your book, above the bar code and with the price (traditionally in the lower right corner of the back cover) (Tweet).
What’s the Deal with the Bar Code?
A bar code is only needed if you intend for your book to be sold in retail stores, where it will be scanned. The bar code is essentially a scannable form of the ISBN, which is included in the bar code file along with the price.
When You DON’T Need an ISBN
If you’ll be selling your book privately from your own site and have no interest in offering your book via retail at any point, you don’t need an ISBN.
Do you have any other questions about ISBNs? Let me know in the comments if you do, and I’ll be happy to answer them.