To a new author looking to self-publish their book, the publishing industry may seem like a mysterious and enigmatic place. There are a lot of rules and conventions, and one of these is the need for an ISBN before you can release your novel. But what is an ISBN, and where do you get one? Never fear! We at Author Secret are here to help you, with our Guide to ISBNs for Self-publishers.
What is an ISBN?
ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It is made up of 13 digits which act as a unique identifier for books. If you are selling a print book, its barcode will be based on the ISBN.
Registering an ISBN does not mean that you have copyrighted your book. You will need to review the copyright laws in your country to learn how to assert your copyright. Normally this involves sending a copy of your book to your country’s national library within a certain time of publishing it.
Why should I get an ISBN?
There are two main reasons that ISBNs exist. The first is to keep a record of who published the book, and the second is to distinguish between different editions of the same book. They are also used as Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) by bookshops, and so are essential if you want to sell your book in brick-and-mortar and/or online retailers.
There is a bit of a grey area when it comes to ISBNs and ebooks. Amazon, for example, does not explicitly require that you have an ISBN when you sell an ebook through its site. Instead, it assigns an AISN to your book, but this is a number that is useful to Amazon only and may change in the future. For this reason, it’s still essential to get your own ISBN to future-proof your ebook.
Another grey area when it comes to ebooks is the question of needing unique ISBNs for each format of your ebook. For example, if you sell your ebook on Amazon and the Apple iBookstore, you technically need two different ISBNs. However, this is up for some debate. In our experience, you need only get two ISBNs: one for your ebook version, and another for the printed softcover edition. If you release a hardcover version as well, then you would need to get a third ISBN.
How do I get an ISBN and how much does it cost?
You need to register your book in the country you live in. Check what the requirements and costs are with your national ISBN authority. You can find the contact details of these authorities here: https://www.isbn-international.org/agencies
The cost of obtaining an ISBN can vary. The United States is one of the few countries that charge to obtain ISBNs for self-publishers. In many countries, there is no charge.
There are some companies that will offer to register an ISBN on your behalf if you choose to produce and distribute your book through them. We advise you not to make use of this service and to always buy your own ISBN. If you get an ISBN assigned by a third party without buying it yourself, that third party (eg: Createspace) will show up as the publisher of that edition in public record.
Can you register an ISBN for me on my behalf?
No, we don’t offer this service. As mentioned above, some companies will offer to do this, but this means that you, as the author, will not be listed as the publisher – and we don’t feel that’s right. However, we hope this Guide to ISBNs for Self-Publishers has demystified it all for you. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you still have questions, and we will gladly assist you where we can.