How to Get an ISBN
Self-publishing a book is a great way to get your writing out to a lot of people for a very low cost. But self-publishing a book successfully still takes many steps, one of which is getting an ISBN.
But what’s the ISBN? How does it work, why is it important, and how can you get one? Let’s take a closer look at what you need to do to get an ISBN for your book!
What is an ISBN?
“ISBN” stands for “International Standard Book Number.” This is a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies all published books. Each different edition of a book – like the ebook version, or the print version – gets its own ISBN to uniquely identify it. They’re issued to both publishers and authors by agencies that specialize in managing ISBNs. Each country has its own agency. These numbers are critical for publishers, book stores, and other vendors to be able to identify your book.
ISBN numbers may look random, but they’re mathematically calculated using a special formula.
Most published books, including ebooks, require an ISBN. To understand why, you need to understand why the ISBN is important in the first place.
Why is an ISBN important?
The ISBN is used to help identify your book. When publishers, retailers, and libraries order and sell books, they rely on the ISBNs to keep track of sales and their own stock of books.
If you’ve ever tried to buy a specific version of your favorite book, you’ll understand why ISBNs are so important. Without the ISBN, it would be impossible for you to know if you’re getting one edition of the book over another. Similarly, it would be impossible for retailers to sell books and keep track of their records without the ISBNs to keep everything straight.
Depending on how you’re selling your book, you may not have to get an ISBN. However, getting one ensures that you’ll be able to sell more books in more places all around the world!
Who can get an ISBN?
Anyone who publishes a book can get an ISBN. Traditional publishers will buy them on behalf of their authors. If you self-publish your book (including ebooks), it’s possible for you to get an ISBN in the same way that traditional publishers do.
In short, there’s no limit on who can get an ISBN for their publications. If you’re only publishing ebooks, then it’s up to you whether or not to get an ISBN. Just know that having an ISBN means that more retailers and libraries will be able to buy your book and customers will have an easier time finding it.
Can you get an ISBN for a self-published book?
Yes, you can get an ISBN for a self-published book by purchasing it yourself. Alternatively, you may be able to get a free ISBN from your self-publishing platform.
American writers can use Bowker to buy an ISBN for your book. Writers in different countries must use different vendors to purchase ISBNs. You can use find the right agency for your country via the International ISBN Agency website.
Keep in mind that different book formats require different ISBNs, so you’ll need at least two numbers if you intend to sell both print and digital versions of your book.
If you’re only self-publishing as a book, the digital platform you self-publish with may provide an ISBN to you for free. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing is a popular self-publishing choice and offers this service to authors. Be sure to see if your own self-publishing platform offers a free ISBN before you purchase one separately!
What happens if I don’t get an ISBN for my book?
If you don’t get an ISBN for your book, it’ll limit where you’re able to sell your book. For example, you may only be able to sell it through your website or through a specific online publishing platform.
The primary purpose of an ISBN for printed books is that it helps multiple retailers sell that book. It doesn’t matter whether it’s being sold through Books-a-Million, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or anywhere else, because the ISBN serves as a universal identifier for your book.
If you’re only selling your book through your personal website, you don’t have to worry about retailers and can skip the ISBN. If you’re self-publishing online through someone else’s platform, you’ll need to see what they require. As an example, neither Amazon’s KDP or Barnes and Noble’s PubIt! require an ISBN, but Apple’s iBookstore does require one.
How to get an ISBN for a self-published book
Getting your own ISBN number will help you sell more books in more places. It also makes it easier for your fans to find your book and buy it.
Fortunately, getting your own ISBN is very easy! We’ll walk you through the steps you need to take and other info you need to know.
We’re going to cover the process of getting an ISBN in America. In other countries, the general process is about the same, but the details may differ as ISBN vendors in different countries will have different websites and processes.
1. Visit Bowker
Bowker is the official site for purchasing ISBNs in the United States. Visit their main site to start the process of purchasing an ISBN for your book.
During the process you’ll be presented with a number of different purchasing options. It’s important to review these options carefully before making your decision.
Understand your ISBN options
Before getting an ISBN through Bowker, you need to figure two things out: how many ISBNs you need, and whether you want to buy bar codes or QRPlus codes along with the ISBN.
Why would you want to buy multiple ISBNs? As we touched on before, each format of your book requires its own ISBN. If you want to sell both a printed version and a digital version, you’ll need at least two ISBNs. If you also want to add an audiobook, you’ll need at least three ISBNs.
Additionally, getting multiple ISBNs gives you more options. You may not have decided whether you’ll ever sell your ebook in print or as an audiobook, but having multiple ISBNs means you’ll have an easier time doing so.
Another option Bowker offers is getting bundles that include bar codes and/or QRPlus codes. The bar codes are the same kind of code someone would use to scan your book into inventory or check it out at a store. Basically, bar codes make it easier for someone to sell printed copies of your book at retail.
As for the QRPlus code, it’s something you can add to printed books for users to scan with their phones. You can determine what that will do (for example, directing people to your author webpage), and it makes your book feel more interactive for readers.
2. Make your purchase
Once you know how many ISBNs you need and whether you need bar codes or a QRPlus code, you can add everything to your cart. From there, you simply pay to checkout as you would with any online vendor.
Getting multiple ISBNs right now might seem like overkill. But keep in mind that you’re just giving yourself options for either new books in the future or different formats for books you’ve already written.
How do I get an ISBN in different countries?
To get an ISBN in countries outside of America, you need to contact that country’s ISBN agency. The best way to do this is to visit the International ISBN Agency website to find out what company sells ISBNs in your country. That website will let you find the name, address, website, phone number, and email address for the organization that manages ISBNs in your country..
By definition, the ISBN is already international. No matter which country you get an ISBN in, vendors and customers will be able to use the number to more easily buy and sell your book.
How much does an ISBN cost?
The cost of the ISBN depends on how many numbers you order and whether you’re adding features like bar codes or QRPlus codes. Depending on how many ISBNs you want and how many features you add, costs for getting an ISBN in America can range from $100 to over $1,500.
Costs to get an ISBN in other countries may vary. We recommend you contact your country’s ISBN agency to verify current costs.
Buying multiple ISBNs can be useful, especially if you’re publishing multiple versions of your book or have more books planned. But make sure you don’t spend more than you have to, especially if you’re on a tight budget.
How long does it take to get an ISBN?
After you apply for an ISBN through Bowker , you should receive your ISBN within five business days. You can get the ISBN within two business days by choosing priority processing, and within one day by choosing express processing.
The priority processing and express processing options will cost additional money. Considering how expensive an ISBN can be, we recommend saving money and simply waiting five business days if you can.
Where will the ISBN appear on my book?
For a book, the ISBN should appear on the copyright page.
Your ISBN will also appear on sales pages for various online bookstores. For example, if you’re selling a book on Amazon, the listing will show the ISBN number, as long as you have requested one through Amazon or bought one through an ISBN broker.
How can people look up the ISBN for my book?
The easiest way for people to look up ISBN numbers is the ISBN Search website. There they can look up books by ISBN, title, or author.
Ideally, your reader will already have the ISBN handy. But if they forgot the number or are having trouble putting it in, they should still be able to look up your book on that site using your book’s title or your name.
Getting an ISBN for your book is quick and easy
Getting an ISBN helps make it easier for you to sell your book through different vendors and across different markets. Even if your book isn’t ready for publication yet, nothing keeps you from going ahead and getting an ISBN—or more than one.
Use the tips in this guide to help secure the ISBNs you need today. The process is quick and easy, and it brings you one step closer to selling your book to the largest possible audience!