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ISBN Author Self Publishing

Your ISBN: Answers to New Authors’ FAQs

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ISBN Author Self PublishingOf all the mysteries surrounding the process of self publishing, the book ISBN ranks among the most intimidating to many new authors. We’re here to allay your concerns and give you answers.

This week Steve Spatz of Book Baby helps to answer one of the burning questions for new authors about the self-publishing process. Make sense of the Library of Congress’ numeric system for books nationwide. 

The ISBN. Seldom have thirteen little digits been so misunderstood. Our BookBaby publishing specialists field calls all day long about the International Standard Book Number – also known as the ISBN. Let me take this opportunity to field a few of the most common questions.

  • What is an ISBN? It is a numeric identifier that is used around the globe by book stores, publishers, and just about everyone in the publishing industry. ISBNs have either 10 or 13 digits (all ISBNs assigned after January 1, 2007 have 13 digits).
  • Am I required to have an ISBN to sell my book? If you plan to sell your book in bookstores, to libraries, or through most online retailers (with the notable exception of Amazon.com), you will need an International Standard Book Number.
  • Does Amazon use ISBNs? Yes, and no. Amazon ignores the ISBN you assign to your Kindle eBook and instead assigns its own identifier, called an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number). This ASIN is what you and the public use to identify your Kindle eBook on Amazon when linking to the book. However, if your book does have an ISBN, that number can be used as a search term on the Amazon website.
  • I’m doing a print book and an eBook. Do I need two ISBNs, or can I use the same one?  You will need one number for each format, one for your eBook and another one for your printed book.
  • Do I need a separate ISBN for my hardcover and softcover version of the same book?  Yes, you need a separate identifier for each edition, to identify each volume for anyone who might want to find it in directories, catalogs, and databases.
  • If I get an ISBN, does that mean my book is automatically copyrighted? No. Copyright is administered by the Library of Congress and is an extension of intellectual property law. Understand that common copyright law states that the moment your work is in tangible form – once you commit words to paper or save to a digital file – it is protected under intellectual property law without any formal registration. That applies even if you do not use the copyright symbol in your book. However, registering your work with the Copyright Office allows you greater power to litigate if needed in the future and is the most definitive way to protect your work from theft or plagiarism.
  • Who can purchase an ISBN?  A self-published author is considered as a publisher, so you purchase a number like anyone else.
  • How do I get an ISBN? When you publish your book through BookBaby, you can purchase an ISBN for eBook and printed versions of your book. If you prefer to purchase this directly from Bowker – the company responsible for ISBNs in the United States – you can go to myidentifiers.com.
  • What do ISBNs cost? BookBaby sells ISBNs for $29 each. If you go direct to Bowker, a single ISBN costs $125, while 10 ISBNs cost $250. I should note, there is no difference in the ISBN purchased from BookBaby vs. one bought from Bowker. BookBaby purchases blocks of ISBNs from Bowker to provide to our authors.
  • I live outside of the United States. Can I purchase an ISBN? If you do not reside in the USA, you may purchase yours through BookBaby. There are over 160 ISBN Agencies worldwide, and each ISBN Agency is appointed as the exclusive agent responsible for assigning ISBNs to publishers residing in their country or geographic territory. Bowker is the only source authorized to assign ISBNs to publishers supplying an address in the United States.
  • I have my own ISBN number. Can I use that? Yes – as long as your number has not previously been used for a print or digital book. ISBNs that have been assigned to books should be reported to Bowker as the database of record: book titles can be registered at www.bowkerlink.com.
  • If I make minor revisions to my book, do I need to give it a new ISBN? No. If you aren’t making substantial changes to the text, it is not considered a reprint or a new edition. Let me add that the degree of changes that require a new ISBN can be a very subjective issue. The ISBN guidelines state that the inclusion of substantially new material, a major revision, or the addition of completely new elements would be defined as substantial change. Conversely if elements are deleted from the original book, this would also require a new ISBN. In addition, publishing a book in a different language also requires a unique ISBN number. Anything that makes it a new and different book from the original volume is likely to create a new edition.
  • Does changing the cover constitute a significant change? Will I have to get a new number? No, you do not need a new ISBN if you are just changing a cover. You can continue to use the same ISBN, since the text has not changed.

Still have unanswered questions? You can search for more answers on the BookBaby FAQ page in the help section at www.bookbaby.com, go directly to Bowker on the ISBN website, or reach out to our publishing specialists at info@bookbaby.com or at 877-961-6878.

Image via ShutterStock.com.

About BookBaby

Based in the Philadelphia-area, BookBaby is a team of authors, poets, bloggers, and artists — so they know the thrills and challenges of bringing a book into this world.

Since 2011, BookBaby has helped thousands realize their publishing goals by offering the largest eBook distribution network, including Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and many other popular retailers in over 170 countries around the globe.

Learn more at www.BookBaby.com.


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first-step-banner book bookbaby how to write a book

The First Word from BookBaby

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completing a book

The First Word

Guest post by Steven Spatz
President, BookBaby

Every journey starts with the first step. Every story starts with the first word. Then it’s just a matter of completing a book.

When I wrote my first book, The End – Now What? – 6 Steps To Take Your Manuscript To The Market Place In Six Weeks, I didn’t have any kind of plan or blueprint to guide my journey to completing a book. I pretty much just relied on my home grown “ation” strategy.

What’s my “ation” strategy? I’m glad you asked.

  • It has to start with inspiration. Creating the content that interests me – and hopefully potential reader.
  • The job of writing takes perspiration. It’s work – damn hard work at times.
  • I recognize that I’ll have periods of exasperation when I’m just sick and tired of that whole damn thing and I take (brief) breaks from the process.
  • Ultimately it requires determination. Keep your eyes on the prize.

The result was a 50,000 word nonfiction book cranked out in fits and starts over an eight month period. I learned a lot about the book writing process during that experience. I’ve learned even more from talking to BookBaby authors about how they covered their own journeys. This time around I’ll be better equipped to do the job.

Here are some of the writing tips and ideas I’ve collected over the last year:

Location, location, location.
Find your writing place. Sure it’s possible to be creative anywhere – sitting on the subway or standing in a line – but for the long haul and more consistent creativity, your best work will come out in a space where you regularly write. That primes you to get into the right frame of mind as soon as you sit down. Or maybe it’s more than one place. I have three: a secluded corner in a local library and two different coffee houses. Set aside a particular place that you do nothing but write or create and you can jump start your creativity.

What time is good for you?
Even more important than “where” is “when.” For me it’s probably going to involve getting up 45 minutes earlier and writing a few paragraphs before work. Forcing yourself to write at 5 am isn’t the solution for everyone. It works for me because I have nothing else to divert my attention in those early dawn hours. There are all types of writers – after-hours writers, lunch break writers, mini-block writers, etc. Track your time and energy for a week or two to find what’s best for you – and then block out that time on your calendar as an appointment with yourself.

Add interval training to your writing
Some writers I know incorporate these short sprints into their writing routine. Here’s how: Use a simple kitchen timer to force yourself to just flat out write. Set it for five minutes to write as much as you can. You’ll likely censor yourself less if you can just write whatever comes naturally and edit later. It’s not about quality during this brief burst of keystrokes. Give yourself permission to write a few lousy paragraphs or pages. You’ll have plenty of time to go back and edit later.

Read if you’re not writing
Like many writers, I feel inspired when I’m playing the part of reader. Instead of turning on the TV when you’re on a break from writing, spend your time reading the work of others. The more “I wish I had written that” pieces you come across, the better your work will be and the more motivated you may be to produce something worthwhile. Some authors find other arts to be inspiring – paintings, movies, photography, and so on. Soak up all the creativity you can when you’re not actively writing.

Don’t break the chain
His television show was “about nothing,” yet legendary comic Jerry Seinfeld’s method for success is very much something – and visual. Each January, he hangs a large year-at-a-glance calendar on his wall and, for every day he wrote new material, he earned the right to draw a big red “X” over that day. Drawing those Xs got to be pretty fun and rewarding, so he kept doing it. Eventually, he began to create a chain of red Xs. The idea was to never break that chain. This simple pleasure can turn into a surprisingly powerful motivator.

Never miss twice
If you don’t have the luxury of Seinfeld’s free time, you can give yourself a very small cushion and still be successful. Let’s say you have your new routines and habits in place, your alarm set to signal your writing time… But one day you wake up and simply don’t feel like writing.

So don’t. We all slip up now and again. Don’t beat yourself up, but also don’t slip twice in a row. It’s inevitable you’re going to miss a writing session, but use the “never miss twice” mindset to get back on track.

Be flexible
Your writing schedule might change – often. Life events will throw wrenches in your plans, but you can plan a new schedule. And then stick to that.

Write or die
If all else fails, you can always resort to using the app WriteOrDie, With a tagline of “Putting the prod into productivity,” this program is absolutely diabolical!

Here’s how it works: First, you configure your writing period, word goal, and your preferred punishment should your fingers stop typing. Once the setup is complete, you’ll need to type continuously; otherwise there will be consequences, in varying levels.

  • The gentle mode is quite forgiving. When you pause your writing for a set period of time, a box will pop up, gently reminding you to continue writing.
  • In normal mode, if you pause, you will be played a very unpleasant sound. The sound will stop if and only if you continue to write.
  • For the true author-masochist, there’s Kamikaze Mode: You must keep writing or your work will un-write itself. Simply disappear from the beginning of the passage! Talk about writing with a gun to your head!

As for my own system, I have one more of my “ation” strategies to think about: The exhilaration of finally finishing that book!


Steven Spatz, President of BookBaby

Steven Spatz is an author, marketer, and the President of BookBaby.


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