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How to Get an ISBN Number for My Book

If you’ve written a book and want to self-publish it, then you might be thinking about obtaining an ISBN. Here’s what you’ll want to know about how to get an ISBN for your book.

What Is an ISBN?

ISBN stands for “International Standard Book Number.” It’s a 13-digit number which identifies a book or other published writing to international markets.

Why do I need an ISBN?

The purpose of this number to identify your book from a specific publisher to the book market. By accessing this 13-digit number, wholesalers, distributors, and bookstores will know this is your book. Most retailers require the assignment of an ISBN so that book inventories can be effectively tracked. Without this number, a retailer may not accept your book for sale.

What does the ISBN mean?

The ISBN is broken into four parts. The first is the group identifier, which identifies the country of origin for the publisher. The next set of numbers identifies the specific publisher. The title or edition of the book is then identified in the number. The final component is called the “check digit.” This validates the number on the book.

Who assigns the ISBN to my book?

There are 160+ agencies which are authorized to assign an ISBN. You must apply to the authorized agency in your region or country for an ISBN in order to have it be associated with your book. For self-published authors using a service on their own, there may be a need to apply for a new publisher code in addition to the book code in order to receive the ISBN.

In the United States, the only place to receive an official ISBN is through Bowker. You can access their website at isbn.org.

Am I eligible to receive an ISBN?

Yes. ISBNs are assigned based on the direct request of publishers and producers. Even if you’ve never self-published before, you can apply for and receive an ISBN.

How long does it take to receive an ISBN?

Non-priority orders for a new ISBN typically take about 5 business days to receive. Express orders may receive an ISBN in 24 business hours.

How much does it cost to purchase an ISBN?

These numbers are sold in blocks from Bowker, though you can also purchase a single ISBN if you prefer. The cost of 1 ISBN is currently $125. You can also purchase 10 ISBNs for $295, with sales sometimes running that drop this cost even further.

Why are ISBNs sold in blocks?

Every different format of book that you publish requires its own ISBN. If you publish a hardcover book, a trade paperback, and offer your book in English and Spanish, then you will need to purchase 4 ISBNs if you intend to sell your book through bookstores.

Where is the ISBN printed?

Books should have the ISBN printed on the copyright page. There should also be a code on the back cover of the book in the lower right. Many publishers will incorporate the standard bar code system with the ISBN so that the product can be quickly scanned and processed for distribution and sale. If no bar code is necessary, then the right hand lower corner should contain a printed version of this number.

For authors who are self-publishing, Bowker provides a service where the ISBN can be translated into a bar code image. This image can then be incorporated into the cover artwork of the novel. You’ll need to visit isbn.org or bowkerbarcode.com and directly make the request for a bar code if it is desired.

What if I am publishing a digital book?

Digital books will still require an ISBN that is separate from any other publication. It is an optional feature that can be added to some e-books, especially if there are print versions available. If you are publishing through KDP or another self-service digital publisher, an ISBN may not be necessary to make your book available to customers. This depends on the preferences of that self-publisher.

Some authors may not need an ISBN for their books. Others will want it just so they can access the retail marketplace in a meaningful way. The choice is up to you. Think about where you want to sell your books, how you want to sell them, and what markets you will want to target. The answers to those questions will let you know whether or not pursing an ISBN is the right course of action for you.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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