How to Get an ISBN Number for a Self-Published Book

How to Get an ISBN Number for a Self-Published Book

Embarking on the journey of self-publishing is an exhilarating endeavor, and understanding the nuances of acquiring an ISBN for your book is a crucial step in establishing its identity in the vast literary landscape. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the intricacies of ISBNs, shedding light on their significance, the process of obtaining one, and addressing key questions that self-published authors often encounter.

Whether you’re a seasoned author or a first-time self-publisher, navigating the world of ISBNs is essential for maximizing the visibility and accessibility of your literary creation. From demystifying the creation and purpose of ISBNs to exploring the considerations around obtaining them for free, this guide aims to empower you with the knowledge needed to make informed decisions on this pivotal aspect of the self-publishing journey.

Join us as we unravel the ISBN intricacies, providing insights that will not only enhance your understanding but also contribute to the success of your self-published book in the competitive realm of literature.

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1. What is an ISBN number for a book?

An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a unique identifier assigned to books for the purpose of tracking and managing inventory in the book industry. This 13-digit code serves as a distinctive fingerprint for a particular edition of a book and is crucial for cataloging, ordering, and managing books in libraries and bookstores.

Understanding the significance of an ISBN is vital for authors and publishers, as it facilitates the efficient identification and distribution of their works across various platforms and geographical locations. Without an ISBN, a book might struggle to gain visibility and accessibility in the broader market.

For self-published authors, obtaining an ISBN is an essential step in establishing a professional presence in the book industry and ensuring their work is easily discoverable by readers, retailers, and libraries.

2. How and why were ISBNs created?

The creation of ISBNs stemmed from the need to streamline the complex process of book distribution. Before ISBNs, books were identified using various systems that lacked uniformity, leading to confusion and inefficiencies in the supply chain. The ISBN system was introduced to provide a standardized and internationally recognized method for identifying books, making it easier for publishers, distributors, and retailers to manage and track inventory.

The ISBN system was developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 1970, and it quickly became an integral part of the book industry, helping to automate and enhance the accuracy of bookkeeping and inventory management.

3. Can self-publishers get an ISBN?

Yes, self-publishers can and should obtain an ISBN for their books. While it’s not mandatory in all cases, having an ISBN provides several advantages, including broader visibility, accessibility in libraries and bookstores, and professional credibility. Self-published authors can purchase ISBNs directly or sometimes obtain them through self-publishing platforms.

Understanding the process of obtaining an ISBN is crucial for self-published authors looking to establish a robust presence in the book market and reach a wider audience.

4. How do I buy an ISBN in the US? If I live outside the USA?

Buying an ISBN in the US involves registering with the official ISBN agency, Bowker. Authors residing outside the USA can still purchase ISBNs directly from the agency or through their respective national ISBN agencies. The process typically requires providing information about the book, and once purchased, the ISBN is linked to the book’s metadata, aiding in its identification and distribution globally.

Authors need to be aware of the specific procedures and requirements based on their geographical location to ensure a smooth and accurate ISBN purchase.

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5. Do I need a different ISBN for every country the book is published in?

No, a single ISBN is usually sufficient for a particular edition of a book, regardless of the country of publication. ISBNs are designed to provide a unique identifier for a specific edition, allowing for global recognition. However, regional variations may exist, and authors should familiarize themselves with the guidelines of their national ISBN agency to ensure compliance with international standards.

Understanding the global applicability of an ISBN helps authors simplify the process of obtaining and managing their book’s identification.

6. How to get an ISBN number for a self-published book?

Getting an ISBN for a self-published book involves several steps, including registering with the official ISBN agency, providing essential book metadata, and purchasing the ISBN. Self-published authors can obtain ISBNs through agencies like Bowker in the US or their respective national ISBN agencies. Once acquired, the ISBN should be incorporated into the book’s metadata, aiding in its proper identification and distribution.

Navigating the process of obtaining an ISBN is crucial for self-published authors looking to enhance the visibility and accessibility of their work in the book market.

7. How many numbers should an ISBN have?

An ISBN comprises 13 digits, divided into five distinct elements, each serving a specific purpose. The first three digits represent the prefix, indicating the language or geographic area of the publisher. The following group of digits signifies the publisher, while the third set denotes the specific title or edition. A check digit is included at the end to ensure the ISBN’s accuracy.

Understanding the structure of the ISBN is crucial for authors and publishers, as it aids in correctly assigning and interpreting these unique identifiers for their books.

8. What is an ISBN number used for?

The primary purpose of an ISBN is to provide a unique and internationally recognized identifier for books, aiding in their cataloging, ordering, and inventory management. ISBNs are essential for bookstores, libraries, and distributors to track and differentiate various editions of a book, ensuring efficient supply chain operations. Moreover, ISBNs enhance the discoverability of books, making them searchable in databases and online platforms.

Authors benefit from ISBNs by gaining credibility, wider distribution opportunities, and increased visibility in the competitive book market.

9. How do I find the ISBN number of a book?

Locating the ISBN of a book is a straightforward process. The ISBN is typically displayed on the book’s copyright page, along with other bibliographic information. Additionally, the ISBN is often printed on the book’s back cover, near the barcode. In digital formats, the ISBN can be found in the book’s metadata or product details. Utilizing the ISBN is crucial for accurate book identification in databases, libraries, and retail platforms.

Authors and readers alike should familiarize themselves with the ISBN’s location to facilitate efficient book tracking and referencing.

11. How can I find my book’s ISBN number?

For authors, finding the ISBN of their own book involves checking the copyright page or back cover of the physical copy. In digital formats, authors can access the ISBN through their publishing platform or by inspecting the book’s metadata. It’s a crucial step for authors to verify and communicate the correct ISBN to ensure accurate cataloging and listing on various platforms.

Authors should regularly cross-verify their ISBNs to prevent any discrepancies that might affect the book’s distribution and recognition.

12. Should a self-published author get an ISBN?

Self-published authors are strongly encouraged to obtain an ISBN for their books. While it may not be mandatory in all cases, having an ISBN offers numerous benefits, including increased visibility, accessibility in libraries and bookstores, and professional credibility. Authors can purchase ISBNs directly or, in some cases, obtain them through self-publishing platforms.

Understanding the advantages of obtaining an ISBN is crucial for self-published authors looking to establish a solid presence in the book market and reach a broader audience.

13. What reasons would a self-published author not need an ISBN?

In some instances, a self-published author might opt not to obtain an ISBN. This could be the case if the author intends to distribute the book only through specific channels that don’t require ISBNs or if they’re not concerned with broader market visibility. However, such decisions should be made after careful consideration of the potential impact on the book’s discoverability and accessibility.

Authors should weigh the pros and cons before deciding whether to forego an ISBN for their self-published work.

14. If I get an ISBN, does that mean my book is copyrighted?

No, obtaining an ISBN does not confer copyright protection on a book. Copyright is a separate legal concept that automatically applies to an original work once it is created. While an ISBN is essential for book identification and distribution, authors need to separately register their works with the relevant copyright authorities to secure legal protection.

Authors should be aware of the distinction between ISBNs and copyright to ensure comprehensive protection for their intellectual property.

15. Does a book have to be published to have an ISBN?

An ISBN is typically assigned to a book before or during the publishing process. It is part of the book’s metadata and aids in its identification and tracking throughout the distribution chain. While an ISBN is associated with the published version of a work, it is assigned in anticipation of its release to streamline cataloging and distribution processes.

Understanding the timing of ISBN assignment is crucial for authors and publishers to ensure the seamless integration of the identifier into the book’s metadata.

16. Can I register my ISBN once it has been approved?

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Yes, after obtaining an ISBN, it is crucial to register it with the relevant databases and platforms. Registration ensures that the book’s information is accurately cataloged, making it discoverable to retailers, libraries, and readers. Authors can use platforms like Bowker in the US to register their ISBNs, providing essential details about the book, such as title, author, and publication date.

Authors should prioritize the registration of their ISBNs to maximize the visibility and accessibility of their self-published books.

17. Are ISBN numbers transferable across different book formats?

ISBNs are generally format-specific, meaning each distinct format of a book requires a unique ISBN. For example, the paperback, hardcover, and ebook versions of a book will each have a different ISBN. This format specificity ensures accurate tracking and management of different editions. Authors should be mindful of assigning separate ISBNs to various formats to avoid confusion in the distribution process.

Understanding the format requirements for ISBNs is essential for authors, especially those offering their work in multiple formats.

18. Why would you have to assign a new ISBN number to a book?

Assigning a new ISBN is necessary in various scenarios, such as when publishing a new edition, changing the book’s content significantly, or transitioning to a different format. Each distinct version or edition of a book should have its own ISBN to facilitate accurate tracking and identification. Authors and publishers must be diligent in assigning new ISBNs to reflect any substantial changes in the book.

Authors should carefully evaluate when it is appropriate to assign a new ISBN to maintain clarity and accuracy in the book distribution process.

19. If I revise the inside content of a book, do I need to replace the current ISBN?

The decision to assign a new ISBN when revising the inside content depends on the extent of the changes. If the revisions are substantial and affect the book’s content significantly, a new ISBN is typically advisable. However, minor updates or corrections may not warrant a new ISBN. Authors should assess the nature and impact of the revisions to determine whether a new ISBN is necessary for accurate tracking and cataloging.

Understanding the threshold for revisions that trigger a new ISBN is crucial for authors to make informed decisions about their book updates.

20. If I just change the cover or the title of the book, do I need a new ISBN?

Similar to revising inside content, changing the cover or title may or may not require a new ISBN, depending on the significance of the alterations. If the changes are substantial and impact the book’s identity, a new ISBN is recommended. However, minor modifications that do not fundamentally alter the book may not necessitate a new ISBN. Authors should carefully evaluate the nature of changes to make informed decisions about ISBN assignment.

Being aware of the factors that warrant a new ISBN ensures authors maintain accurate records of their books in the distribution chain.

21. Is it acceptable to have several ISBNs for the same book?

Having multiple ISBNs for the same book is generally discouraged, as it can lead to confusion in the book industry. Each unique edition or format of a book should have its own ISBN to ensure accurate tracking and management. However, authors may encounter situations where they receive multiple ISBNs due to changes in publishing platforms or distribution methods. In such cases, authors should rectify the duplication to maintain consistency in their book records.

Authors should strive to have a single, unique ISBN for each distinct version of their book to avoid complications in the distribution process.

22. How much does an ISBN cost?

The cost of an ISBN varies depending on the country and the entity issuing the ISBN. In the United States, Bowker is the official ISBN agency, and prices may range from a single ISBN to bulk purchases. Authors should budget for ISBN costs as part of their self-publishing expenses. While some countries offer free ISBNs, authors should weigh the benefits of broader distribution and visibility against the initial investment in purchasing ISBNs.

Understanding the financial aspect of obtaining ISBNs is crucial for authors planning their self-publishing budget.

23. How many ISBNs should I buy?

The number of ISBNs an author should purchase depends on the number of unique titles and formats they intend to publish. Since each distinct version requires its own ISBN, authors with multiple books or various formats (e.g., paperback, ebook) should buy an ISBN for each. Purchasing ISBNs in bulk is often more cost-effective for authors planning an extensive publishing catalog.

Authors should carefully assess their publishing goals and create a strategic plan for acquiring the appropriate number of ISBNs to meet their needs.

24. How to get an ISBN for free?

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In some countries, authors can obtain ISBNs for free through their national ISBN agencies. However, the availability of free ISBNs may come with certain limitations, such as restrictions on distribution channels. Authors should research the policies of their national ISBN agency to determine if they qualify for free ISBNs and weigh the benefits against potential limitations.

Exploring the option of obtaining free ISBNs is an attractive proposition for budget-conscious authors seeking to minimize their self-publishing expenses.

25. What are the pros and cons of getting a free ISBN?

Choosing a free ISBN comes with both advantages and disadvantages that authors should carefully consider. The primary advantage is cost savings, as obtaining a free ISBN can reduce initial self-publishing expenses. However, the downside may include restrictions on distribution channels and potential limitations in terms of format or edition changes. Authors should weigh these factors against their publishing goals and budget constraints to make an informed decision on whether a free ISBN aligns with their needs.

Understanding the pros and cons of free ISBNs is crucial for authors seeking an economical approach to self-publishing.

26. Do I need an ISBN number to get my book into libraries?

Yes, having an ISBN significantly increases the chances of getting your book into libraries. Libraries rely on standardized cataloging systems, and an ISBN is a key component of this process. Without an ISBN, it may be challenging for libraries to identify, acquire, and catalog your book. Authors aiming to reach a broader audience, including library patrons, should prioritize obtaining an ISBN to enhance the accessibility of their works in these institutions.

Authors should recognize the role of an ISBN in library cataloging and acquisition processes to maximize their book’s presence in these valuable institutions.

27. Where does the ISBN number need to be printed on a self-published book?

The ISBN number should be prominently displayed on the copyright page of the book, typically located in the front matter. Additionally, it is advisable to include the ISBN on the back cover, near the barcode. Ensuring the ISBN is easily accessible and visible helps streamline the book’s identification and cataloging by retailers, distributors, and libraries. Authors should adhere to these placement guidelines to enhance the efficiency of the book’s distribution and tracking.

Understanding the appropriate locations for printing the ISBN is essential for authors to facilitate accurate cataloging and identification of their self-published books.

28. Is an ISBN the same as a barcode? If not, what are the differences?

An ISBN and a barcode serve distinct purposes in the book industry. An ISBN is a unique identifier for a book, facilitating cataloging and tracking, while a barcode is a graphical representation of the ISBN that can be scanned for point-of-sale transactions. While the ISBN is essential for book identification, the barcode streamlines the purchasing process. Authors should recognize the complementary roles of ISBNs and barcodes in ensuring a seamless book distribution experience.

Understanding the differences between ISBNs and barcodes is crucial for authors to effectively navigate the complexities of book retail and distribution.

29. What is the difference between the ASIN and ISBN numbers?

The ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) and ISBN serve similar purposes but are distinct identifiers. While an ISBN is an international standard used for identifying books globally, the ASIN is specific to Amazon and is primarily used for cataloging products within the Amazon marketplace. Authors selling their books on Amazon will have both an ISBN and an ASIN, each playing a unique role in the online retail ecosystem.

Authors should be aware of these distinctions to leverage the advantages of both ISBNs and ASINs in the online book retail environment.

30. What is the Bookland EAN Barcode?

The Bookland EAN (European Article Number) Barcode is a specific type of barcode used in the book industry. It is derived from the ISBN and is designed for point-of-sale transactions. The Bookland EAN Barcode streamlines the retail process by encoding the ISBN into a scannable format, facilitating efficient and accurate sales transactions. Authors should be familiar with this barcode system, especially if they plan to sell their books in physical retail stores.

Understanding the Bookland EAN Barcode is crucial for authors aiming to make their books available in brick-and-mortar bookstores.

31. Should I use a “free” barcode-generating tool to save money?

While free barcode-generating tools may seem appealing for cost-saving purposes, authors should exercise caution. Some free tools might not adhere to industry standards, leading to issues with readability and compliance. Investing in a reputable barcode-generating service ensures that the barcode meets the necessary specifications for accurate scanning and point-of-sale transactions. Authors should prioritize the reliability and functionality of the barcode to avoid potential distribution challenges.

Authors should weigh the potential risks associated with free barcode-generating tools against the importance of a reliable and compliant barcode for their books.

32. Are book ISBN numbers and barcodes sold separately?

ISBN numbers and barcodes are often sold separately, and authors may need to acquire both to ensure comprehensive book identification and distribution. While the ISBN is essential for cataloging and tracking, the barcode facilitates point-of-sale transactions. Authors can purchase ISBNs directly from the official agency, such as Bowker, and obtain barcodes from reputable barcode-generating services. Understanding the separate but interconnected nature of ISBNs and barcodes is crucial for authors navigating the book distribution process.

Authors should plan for both ISBNs and barcodes in their self-publishing budget to ensure seamless book identification and sales transactions.

33. What are the best resources for finding out more about ISBNs and barcodes?

Authors seeking in-depth information about ISBNs and barcodes can explore various resources to enhance their understanding. Official ISBN agencies, such as Bowker, provide comprehensive guides and FAQs. Additionally, industry publications, self-publishing forums, and reputable blogs often cover topics related to ISBNs and barcodes. Authors should leverage these resources to stay informed about industry standards, best practices, and the latest developments in book identification and distribution.


As we reach the culmination of this exploration into the world of ISBNs for self-published books, it’s evident that these unique identifiers play a pivotal role in shaping the destiny of your literary creation. Acquiring an ISBN is more than a procedural step; it’s a strategic move that amplifies your book’s presence, making it discoverable by readers, libraries, and retailers on a global scale.

Whether you choose to purchase an ISBN or opt for a free one, the decision should align with your publishing goals and budget considerations. Understanding the intricacies of ISBNs, their connection with barcodes, and the implications of revisions or format changes equips you with the tools to navigate the self-publishing landscape with confidence.

Remember, the ISBN is not just a number; it’s a key that unlocks doors to broader readership and recognition. So, as you embark on your self-publishing journey, may this guide serve as a beacon, illuminating the path toward successfully obtaining and utilizing ISBNs for the literary masterpiece you’ve poured your heart and soul into.

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