ISBN Numbers - What Authors & Self Publishers Need to Know

ISBN Numbers—every printed book needs one. What is an ISBN? It is a number assigned by Bowker to every book published in the world. The acronym stands for International Standard Book Number and is used to uniquely identify every book published and each of its revisions. Distributors, wholesalers and book stores use this number to order your book. Consumers do too. Your readers can find your book by doing an ISBN search on Amazon.

Using this number can eliminate confusion. For instance, when I realized too late that my first book, "Keepers of the Children" was a bit too similar to a book called "Keeper of the Children, I asked my readers to order the book by typing the ISBN into the search box at Amazon.

ISBN Numbers are sold in blocks of ten. Yes, even if you only plan to publish one book, you are forced to buy a block of ten. Previously a ten digit number, in 2005, Bowker expanded the identifier to a 13 digit number.

How do you get your block of ten? Go to Bowker and fill out an application. You can do the whole thing electronically, including submitting your payment.

Once you receive your block of ten via email, put it in a safe place. As you publish your books and use each number, be sure to check them off and write the name of the title that is associated with the number next to it. Never, never use the same number twice.

isbn numbers

Although you may think that you'll never use up your block of ten, think again. Each new revision of the book must have a unique number. Also each format of a title, must have a separate number. For instance, if you publish your book as a traditional hard or paperback book, each must have a separate number. If you offer your book in ebook format, it must have its own ISBN numbers. If you later decide to convert your content to audio and sell it on DVDs, the new format must have its own number.

While Bowker recommends that each electronic version of a work have a unique identifier, many e-publishers disagree with this. Why? Because it can cause you to quickly go through your block of ten. If you publish your work as an ebook, you can make it available in a variety of formats, such as Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word and other formats. Following Bowker's recommendation means you will use up three or more of your numbers if you make the e-version of your book available in a variety of formats. Let's say you also convert your content into a traditional book, an audio version and a DVD. You've now used up six or more numbers in your block of ten. Read more about assigning an ISBN number to an ebook.

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