Self-Publishing: Who Owns Your ISBN?

Posted: August 14, 2012 in Real Self-Publishing
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I recently decided to self-publish my second book which is an urban fiction novel. That decision has led me to tons of information that was both overwhelming and eye-opening. I always thought self-publishing meant I paid a company to not only print my books but also apply for my copyright registration, ISBN and library of congress number. With so many publishers posing as self-publishing companies they have “would be” writers believing they are really self-published authors with all of these add ons like being available to major retailers like and Barnes & Noble as well as ebook availability. Then I discovered a few things that blew my mind

Who Owns Your ISBN

ISBN is short for International Standard Book Number. This number is important to authors because it identifies your books and allows it to be sold to retailers or even in libraries. In simpliest terms its like a social security number for your books. It also sets you apart from a writer who is not published vs. those that are. The person applying for the ISBN number is the actual publisher of the work. Hence going to any “self-publishing company” that offers an ISBN included in their publishing package leaves you as a published author but not a self-published author. Print on demand and vanity presses are companies that apply for your ISBN number and allow you to use or borrow it. What that means to you? They control the number. He who controls the number has all the power.

Real Self-Publishing

To become a true self-published author you need to apply for your own ISBN number. Writers interested in publishing multiple books will need to apply for a block of ISBN’s. This makes you the publisher. As a passionate writer I thought that was extremely incredible information. I would be a publisher simply from applying for my own ISBN. That makes me in control of my work and it can’t be taken from me by any unauthorized parties. Going the real self-publishing route can be a bit more work but in the end it is worth it. It’s no secret that self-publishing is much more lucrative than going the traditional route. Primarily because you set the price of your book, you also don’t have to share your profits with a publishing company.

How to Apply for your ISBN

Applying for your ISBN is actually not that difficult. Each country has a designated agency that is allowed to issue ISBN #’s. In the United States that is Bowker. If your reader you should be familiar with the name. When applying online it does require the use of a credit or debit card. One ISBN number cost $125.00 while getting a block of ten is a bit more cost-effective at $250.00. I prefer buying a block simply because I can publish more titles later and don’t have to go through the hassle when they are ready for print. You can reference this link for Bowker They also sell bar codes that can match your ISBN as well.

  1. Hey just wanted to point out something in your page’s subtitle. ‘Where urban fiction gets its news’ is correct…. no apostrophe on possessive of its.

  2. tannerakane says:

    Good blog. I bought a batch of ISBNs two weeks ago. I now use them for all projects. No more free ISBN from Amazon for POD copies.

  3. Supplying the ISBN should make you, as a business or individual, the listed publisher, but it doesn’t always seem to work out that way. I’ve been publishing print books since 1999 as Inkling Books and was fortunate enough to pick up a 1,000 ISBNs when they were still cheap ($600). That means that I supply my ISBNs to all the distribution channels: LSI/CreateSpace (print), iBookstore, Kindle and Smashwords (for all the others).

    Unfortunately, all though all the others list my Inkling Books as the publisher, the distributors I supply though Smashwords list it as the publisher. Smashwords is great in many ways, but for those it describes as publishers and particularly those who supply their own ISBNs, it should feed through the actual publisher’s name to their databases.

    That matters because those looking for other ebook titles from Inkling will find them on Amazon and the iBookstore, but not on B&N, Sony, or Kobo. And that also matters because a book’s publisher is a good measure of the quality of the book.

    –Michael W. Perry, Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments: A Teen Girl’s Guide to Hospitals.

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