Why You May Need Different ISBNs

Cover illustration by Wesley Lowe. Cover design by Good Oak Press, LLC

Some first-time authors find ISBN numbers confusing. It’s actually quite simple. An ISBN is an identification number for a book.

Why you need an ISBN number

If you plan on selling your book, (and who isn’t?) the book seller will need the ISBN number. It’s also included in the barcodes. Every item we buy has a barcode number. I’m even seeing little barcode stickers on fresh produce. The days of cashiers punching prices into a cash register by hand are long gone.  An ISBN number is also required if you plan on selling your books online.

How to get an ISBN number

I purchase my ISBN numbers in bulk from Bowker. They sell them individually, or in lots of ten to one thousand. I prefer to buy mine in lots of ten. It comes to just under thirty dollars per number. The bigger the lot, the less per number. If you were to buy one thousand, each would cost a dollar and fifty cents. However, as prolific of an author as I am, I don’t think I could write a thousand books in my lifetime. Therefore, I will stick with buying lots of ten.

Please note the ISBN number is registered to the publisher. I registered a trade name with the State of Arizona when I started writing books. (As I was living in Arizona at the time.) Again, I highly recommend this, as it will make you look more professional. However, if you don’t want to take this step, you may want to consider partnership publishing. The partnership publisher will assign you one of their ISBN numbers.

Bowker has included other services since I first started working with them. They now offer copyright registration, cover design, as well as many others. I highly recommend them.

Some book selling platforms also offer ISBN numbers. This includes Amazon and Draft2Digital. When I left Ingram, I needed new ISBN numbers for my print books. Even through I purchased then from Bowker, Ingram was the original distributor. For whatever reason, it created an issue with Draft2Digital, but they offered me free ISBN numbers for their print editions. The Amazon editions still use the original ISBN numbers I purchased from Bowker.

When you need more than one ISBN number

Most authors will publish an eBook and print edition of their book. Some may also offer an audiobook. However, each edition requires its own ISBN number. Print editions may also require additional numbers, as a hardcover book differs from a paperback. While each version may have the same publisher, each edition is a different product. Therefore it is unique. The same rule applies if you were to offer a second edition of an older title. Because the content is different from the original, it will need a differet ISNB number.

Buyer Beware

There are, unfortunately, a lot of bad actors out there taking advantage of newbie authors. One common scam is to offer free or highly discounted ISBN numbers. The numbers are either fake, or they may have been assigned to a book which is no longer in print. Only buy an ISBN number from a trusted source, such as Bowker. As mentioned before, some distributors, such as Amazon or Draft2Digital may offer free ISBN numbers. However, there may be limitations to the distribution channels.

Make sure your happy with your title before you assign an ISBN

Once you assign an ISBN number to a book title, the title cannot be changed. I typically assign my print edition ISBN number to my manuscript while I am writing. However, I have not yet done so with the current book I’m working on. When writing fiction, you’ll find that characters can have minds of their own. This means they will sometimes take a story in a different direction than originally planned, as is the case here.  So, for now, I’m considering the title, Rivalry, as a working title only. Once the manuscript is complete, I’ll ask my editor if she thinks the title fits the story. If so, great. If not, then I haven’t blown $29.50 on an ISBN number which I may never be able to use.

Gayle Martin


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