One of the most exciting steps in self-publishing is applying for an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). This number places your book into the International system of books and assigns your book a unique barcode and number. It makes it easy to enter your book into databases around the world (such as bookshops, libraries, online stores, etc.). With this number you signify that you own the book and the information contained within the number has unique data about your book title, book industry, book description, and more. You don't technically have to get an ISBN but the downside of this is that you won't be able to distribute your books in places where an ISBN is required. In many cases you will be restricted to a local publisher, whatever you can print and ship yourself, or even hand distribution. If this is your goal and you want your writing and business to stay local then you can stop reading this blog post now!
What if I have a publisher?
If you have a publisher (lucky you!) then you don't need to worry about this process. Your publisher will do all the steps for you. However, if you're self-publishing then you might want to read through this post carefully because it contains valuable information about getting an ISBN. It's important to note that you must take the following steps yourself. When you sign up for your ISBN you will be required to provide payment details and to fill out confidential information about yourself on a third-party website. Usually, the authors that I work with will apply for the ISBN themselves and simply provide it to me during the editing process so that when the book is completely designed and laid out, it will also have the number and the barcode embedded and ready to upload to the platform of your choice.
Since most of the authors I work with are from the United States and Australia, I provide the relevant links below of where you can get your ISBN:
United States - http://www.isbn.org/
Australia - https://www.nla.gov.au/the-australian-isbn-agency
Please read all the information on the pages provided and the pages linked. Learn about the process and expand your knowledge of the history and purpose of the ISBN and come to know how your book will fit into the historical records of the earth!
In many cases, it makes sense to get more than one ISBN. There are situations where you will need more than one. For instance, if you plan to write more than one book, you will need an ISBN for each one, even if they are in the same series. If you are releasing your book in multiple formats (print-ready, ebook) then you may or may not wish to use more than one ISBN for each version of your book. It's up to you. If you use an ISBN for each then it makes it easier for readers to find your book, though in most cases you can get away with just using one ISBN for multiple formats.
The downside of doing this is that platforms like Amazon might change their system in the future where each format will need an ISBN number and then you'll have to go back and get numbers for books in order to keep them online. This means then that your ISBN will be out of sequence.
Unique ISBNs and Amazon-assigned ISBNs
If you don't get your own ISBN and you upload your book to a service like Amazon, they will automatically assign an ISBN to your book. There's ups and downs to this, as always. The ISBN Amazon assigns to you is actually re-assigned to you from a list of numbers that Amazon prepurchased from the ISBN agency. If the legal implications of this bother you then get your own ISBN number. If you don't care, then it doesn't matter, but I would advise authors to always make sure they are fully in control of their assets so there is no doubt in the future when it comes to ownership. It's not that you stop owning the content of your book if Amazon ever changes something about their reassignment process, but you may not be able to distribute it any more with that number if something changes and you would have to get your own ISBN number for that book at that point. In that case why not just get it now?
Is ISBN the same as copyright?
No. When you write your book, you own the contents. It is automatically copyrighted by you, by law, when you write it. You notify people of this by putting a Copyright notice on one of the first pages of your book, after the title page and before the table of contents, like this:
Copyright © 2020, Richard Burian
You may of course register the copyright to your book at your national agency to do this but you don't need to. The copyright is yours anyway.
What authors often do once they have published their book is to submit their work to the National Library of the country they reside in. In some places this happens automatically, but please check on your National Library website to see how this is done, to make sure that your work is preserved in your nation's library for posterity.
What About QR Codes?
You may wish to use QR codes in your book. You can use this technology to allow readers to scan the book and it will take them to a webpage or provide more information about your book. There are also other pieces of information you can embed into QR codes and it might be worth looking into this technology if you're interested in creating more than just a book-reading experience, but an interactive, online one as well. For instance, you could put QR codes into your text that when scanned, will play an audio file of you speaking some additional content related to that chapter of the book. The possibilities are endless!
I hope that this blog post has been useful for you to understand the ISBN as well as additonal related technologies and processes. Remember that I can help you with any of the steps above and I look forward to working with you regardless of which stage of self-publishing you need help with!