ISBNs 101

Before you publish your book you’ll need to buy an ISBN, or two, or three.

Where do you buy them?

One of the first things I did when I decided to self-publish my novel, CACHE a PREDATOR, was buy ten ISBN numbers from Bowker. I had a choice: I could buy TEN for $250.00 or ONE for $100.00. So I bought TEN.

Why so many? It was a better deal and I figured I’d need them throughout my novelist career.

Also, each book may take several ISBNs. My Kindle version of CACHE a PREDATOR will take one ISBN and my paperback Create Space version will take another ISBN. If I decide to publish the same book with SMASHWORDS it will take an additional ISBN. Also, if I ever decide to change the book’s size I’ll need another ISBN. So, I figured if each book might take three or more ISBNs then I should buy TEN numbers. Certainly I’d go through them quickly, right?

Maybe not.

But before I get ahead of myself, let me define what an ISBN is and why you need one. Bowker defines it well. Here’s a screen shot from their page:

What is an ISBN?

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After reading this POST from Publisher’s Weekly blog site for authors, it reinforced my decision to buy TEN ISBNs. Here’s an excerpt:

And finally, it is always a good idea for you to purchase your own ISBN (International Standard Book Number) from, even if the subsidy publisher you are working with suggests it can buy one for you as a part of your publishing package.
Why insist on buying the ISBN yourself? Because when you do, you will be listed as the publisher, not your subsidy publisher. You will be in charge. Only official holders of an ISBN can register data about their titles, and often subsidy publishers do not register your ISBNs with your title and the other title data, or metadata, about your book. And as you probably know, you will need a separate ISBN for each edition of your book: hardcover, paperback, EPub, Mobi, and PDF. Without available metadata, you might just end up with a book that no one can find, and since you would not be listed as the publisher, you would have no rights to do anything about it.

The problem?

But then I discovered that if I load my book to CREATE SPACE they give me a FREE ISBN. Should I use their number or mine? It turns out I decided to use THEIR number. Here’s why:  When you go to launch your book at CREATE SPACE if you want them to include your book in the EXPANDED DISTRIBUTION channels, AND the libraries, you must use THEIR ISBN. Here’s their description from this WEBSITE.

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I’m a fan of Melissa Foster as an Indie Author and also as the founder of WORLD LITERARY CAFE and FOSTERING SUCCESS. Here’s what she said, “Unless you are going to market to individual bookstores – and remember shelf life is very short and placement is everything. I run mine through CS. I have my own ISBNs on some books but really prefer to use CS ISBNs for the expanded distribution/libraries. So yes, CS is just fine.”

Notice also, with your own ISBN you CAN get expanded distribution but NOT into libraries.

What should YOU do?

It depends on YOU and what you want for your books. The key is to do the research before you decide so you can make an informed decision.

What have YOU done and what’s worked for you?

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  1. So much to learn. Thanks for the interesting article. I will tweet it so some of my followers who are self publishing can read this. Lots of good info.

    • Hi Judy. Thanks for the tweets and the shout. I hope this info will help someone. It’s all new to me.

  2. Hi, Michelle. Good post! Here’s a link to the discussion I told you about, regarding the pros and cons of using a free ISBN from a publishing service like CreateSpace.

    The most interesting info is in the comments, so you have to dig a bit.

    • Hi LInda —
      Thanks. This is valuable information. I’m going to post it at RWR FB page too.

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