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ISBN Information for Authors

Do authors need ISBNs?

If you plan on selling your book, the answer is yes.  If you are creating something that is not for sale (a family history, for instance), most likely the answer is no. How many ISBNs should you have—just the one for your book, or do you need others?  
What about e-books and other book formats, such as audio?  And what is an ISBN?  The following should answer these questions:

What is an ISBN?

ISBN stands for “International Standard Book Number.”  It is the standardized ID that the retail book world requires.  It is mandatory if your book is to be available in bookstores, as well as with distributors and wholesalers, for it is the number that keeps track of inventory and sales.  

The International ISBN Agency, exclusively represented in the U.S. by Bowker, recommends that publishers assign ISBNs to each of the various book formats. (For formats, see the section “How many ISBNs should you purchase?”)   

Should your e-book have an ISBN?

Definitely.  The only question is how you acquire your ISBN.  Some online formats will assign an ISBN to your work; others require you to provide it.  And these requirements, like almost everything else about online publishing, are changing constantly.  The best thing to do is check the policies of the online publishers you intend to use.

Can you use the same ISBN for print and e-book formats?

No.  Each is a unique edition and requires its own ID.

Should you get an ISBN for your printed book?

The answer to this question depends upon how you intend to have your book printed and who is going to print it.  Very often, book printers/publishers have a stock of ISBNs, one of which they can assign to your book.  In other instances, they require you to supply the ISBN; so again, the best thing to do is check with them first.

How many ISBNs should you purchase?

Bowker sells ISBNs in quantities of one, ten, and upwards. Since the ISBN identifies your book title in all its various forms: print (both hardback and paperback), e-book, audio version, and re-printed edition/s (if you later revise and re-issue), this can entail quite a few ISBNs.  

As a self-publisher (assuming your book is not picked up by a publishing house), you will probably need to buy more than one ISBN.  Unfortunately, they are not inexpensive, so it certainly pays to shop your printing houses and online sources carefully.  Some offer full service, including print-on-demand (POD), which has become an increasingly popular way to go.

Another thing for self-publishers to keep in mind is that if you purchase your own ISBNs, you will need to identify your “publishing house” with Bowker.  When you do this, be sure to give it a nice, authoritative business name—one other than your personal name because this will show up on the copyright page, along with your own by-line name.

What about cover design—where does an ISBN go?

You will need to place your print-format ISBN on the back cover.  The best thing to do is to take a look at other books to see how this is done so that you can incorporate it in the cover design properly.  It’s usually placed in either the bottom right or left corner of the back cover and is accompanied by a bar code for scanning at checkout.  Your printer or POD provider will be familiar with this.  




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