Self-Publishing Help: What’s The Lowdown On ISBNs?


Authors can self-publish a book in many ways, from print publishing to digital publishing. No matter the format you choose, providing an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is an important component to publishing your book.  An ISBN provides important data about your book to booksellers and labels you as the publisher. You need an ISBN if you want to sell your book and purchasing your own ISBN ensures that you have full control over it.

The ISBN is the familiar number in the barcode on the back cover of every book, assigned to books on an individual basis. This number registers and identifies a book worldwide and associates the publisher, and other essential information, to one book alone, because every single ISBN is unique.

Free vs. Paid

An ISBN is an expense many self-publishing authors are confused about. Why would you pay for an ISBN when you can get one free?

What many authors don’t realize is that if you do not purchase the ISBN yourself, your publisher imprint will not be associated with your book. If you use a free ISBN through a service, it will hold the service’s imprint, not your own. Not purchasing your ISBN yourself may also limit where you can print and distribute your own title. 

In short, buying your own ISBNs will eliminate any questions on what you can and cannot do with your book.

I believe it’s in your best interest to be recognized as the owner of your work and a publisher in your own right, which is why I would encourage publishers to purchase their own ISBNs. Traditional publishers also recognize the importance of owning the ISBN associated with a work. If they pick up your self-published book after you’ve published it, they will assign it a new ISBN and sell it under their imprint.

Conversely, if the rights of your traditionally published book revert to you, you’ll want to assign that book a new ISBN identifying yourself as the owner/publisher.

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