Before You Publish: Part 3

ISBNs suck. They suck because you need them, they’re confusing, and they are expensive. I hope I can shed some light on this crummy subject. After this, we can get to the fun stuff, if you consider any of this fun.

ISBN stands for, umm . . . I don’t even know. *Stealthily sneaks to Google to look* International Standard Book Number. It’s the long number above the barcode on books. But it’s more than that. A lot more.
Here’s the one bought and paid for by yours truly:

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This is the part where I tell you that what I know is about CreateSpace and Kindle. (This is info for US writers. If you’re interested in what other countries go through regarding ISBN numbers, look here. Don’t hate Canadians because they’re beautiful, or because they get free ISBN numbers.) If you go with Lulu, IngramSpark, Kobo, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, iUniverse or anywhere else, I don’t know from experience what they do for you regarding ISBNs. You’ll have to do your own research and make choices that are right for you in regards to the venue you’re looking to go through. There are a lot of choices out there, and if I can give you one piece of advice before you start this whole thing is to take your time. Have patience. There is a lot I would do differently if I had been more patient (and you get to hear all about it later!).

If you are deciding to do Kindle only still read this post. I’ll go into some ISBN info that you should keep in mind, but I will start with CreateSpace since it seems the scariest to the most people. After a couple glasses of wine, it’s not scary at all.

CreateSpace gives you three options, and this is the screen you’ll encounter when you get that far into their website.

The first option goes back to the imprint thing. You can’t use your own imprint. CreateSpace will be listed as your publisher.

The second is self-explanatory and cheaper than if you buy one single from Bowker, the website that sells ISBNs in the United States. Here is what you’ll see when you go to their website and look at their options:


Don’t be fooled by the ON SALE NOW thing. As far as I know, they are always that price. And don’t worry about buying a barcode. CreateSpace will give you one and for an e-reader, you don’t need one.

The third option is supplying your own, and that’s what Bowker’s website is for. I called the rep for clarification (1-877-310-7333) on a couple of details and this is what she said:

Can you share ISBN numbers with your friends?

This was met with a firm “No.” This is because when you buy them, your name is attached to them.

I was disappointed because it’s difficult to afford ISBNs and it would have been nice to share the cost. I didn’t ask her what the repercussions would be if you did share or sell them because 1) I’m not a rule breaker, and if she said you can’t then you can’t and 2) she was a little crabby, and I just wanted to get off the phone.

What happens if you self-publish but a traditional publishing company wants to publish your book?

The biggest draw with using your own ISBN is when this happens, your book won’t change numbers. Your book will use the same number no matter who publishes it because you bought the number–it belongs to you and your book. The free CreateSpace number is not yours, and you will lose that number if you decide to query and your book gets picked up elsewhere. How big of a deal is that? I guess it’s not so bad, I mean, if your book goes mainstream, it will be easy to find, even with the new number. But I like the idea of my book only being associated with one number forever.

When you use an ISBN you bought for a digital copy of your book, can you use the same number for every site, from Amazon to Smashwords?

That answer is a yes, but you’re not supposed to. The thing with e-readers is they take different files. Kindle takes a .mobi file or the new .azw3 format. iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and other retailers/third party publishers you can pay to distribute your e-reader use ePub format. So if you decide you want to make your book available to more than just Kindle, and you want to do Smashwords or iBooks, the Alliance of Independent Authors advises you to have an ISBN for each kind of file. So if you are doing CreateSpace, that would take one for your paperback, Kindle, that would take one, and the other retailers, that would take one. There is an in-depth explanation here.

“Wait a minute!” you’re saying. “I need different ISBN numbers for my paperback and e-reader?” Yes. If you were to publish a hardcover that would also require a different number, and anytime you change more than 20% of the content inside your book you need to give it a new ISBN number. You can change your cover, though, as long as the content stays the same. I double checked that, and this is what Bowker says in their FAQs:

If changing the cover of a book, does a new ISBN have to be assigned?
US practice is if the book is just out or the idea is to give a marketing boost to the product, then no, a new ISBN should not be assigned. However, if the change in cover substantially changes the product (ie., would lead to customer complaints), then a new ISBN should be used.”

So after all this, let’s get to the good stuff. Do you need to buy from Bowker? No. Take the free CS number. Take the free number they’ll give you on the Kindle Direct Publishing site (which is called the ASIN or Amazon Standard Identification Number). That is the absolute cheapest way to go, and I get that. Smashwords and Draft2Digital will also give you numbers, so selling your book through other retailers is also free for you. But again, you are only “borrowing” the numbers they give you.

You have to think about what you can afford, what you want to pay for, what you don’t. I’ll leave you with some articles that hold some useful info. Go on Bowker’s website, look at their FAQs yourself.

Someone asked me not long ago if I was happy I paid for my own ISBNs. I bought the 10 pack of numbers when I was ready to publish 1700. I used one for my CS copy and one for my Kindle copy. (For now, I don’t plan on selling my book anywhere else.) Those formats are mine and the numbers are mine. I also have a lot of work coming down the pipe in the next couple years, and I know I’ll eventually use them. I don’t regret buying them.

Above all, research for yourself. The other articles I liked are here and

If you have any questions tweet me, or comment and I’ll try to answer them. If I can’t, I’ll look them up.

See you later! Next blog posting is about trim size (the size you want your book to be) and the template for your manuscript for the CreateSpace interior file.

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