ISBNs and All That Jazz

When you publish your eBook, you can assign an ISBN to it. You know that butt ugly barcode that’s sitting on the back of a book? That’s the one. In digital format, you don’t need to worry about having a 13 digit set of numbers spoiling the view. After all, it’s just ones and zeroes, right?

In hard-copy format, it’s important to get it right.

Once you’ve got an ISBN, you it gets registered in a magical bucket in cloud-land denoting the title of your book and author and publisher and date. There are rules around them, and they cost money to get from Bowker, and they have a certain format and all of that. As an indie, I don’t particularly care too much for the details. All I know is:

a) I have to have one if I want to formally publish my title and

b) I have to have one if my book is going to live in a library or get distributed

Which are both things that I would like very much to do.

I can just use my eBook one, right?

No. You cannot. If you’ve gone to the Bowker website and purchased your own, that’s fine, and you can use that IF it hasn’t been tied to another book, even the ‘digital’ format of your book.

In essence, if it’s hard-copy, it’s not the same book as your digital copy. It’s a different, and therefore requires a different ISBN.

Publishers buy ISBNs in bulk, and get significant volume discounts, so they don’t mind the cost too much. Me? I can’t afford the price of a single ISBN for each book, so I use the free option available. That’s right: Smashwords and Lulu offer ISBNs to their authors for free.

What’s the catch? Well, you are still the author. You still own the book. You maintain all rights to it. What gets set is that SW or Lulu get put as the publisher. If you have a publishing house, or you want to become one, then a free ISBN is not what you’re after.

Do I have to have one?

No. You don’t. Smashwords will happily publish your book, but you cannot distribute it via iTunes or Kobo… they want an ISBN. It makes life easier. Which is fair.

The same goes for Lulu. You can make your book, print it, and have people buy from Lulu directly, but it cannot be included in libraries or pushed to all distributors.

Long story short: If you’re serious about publishing your book, you want an ISBN.

OK, I want an ISBN.

For Lulu, it’s important to have your ISBN before you upload your manuscript. Why? Because you need to follow format rules in order to be accepted for global distribution, and three of those concern the ISBN:

  1. You must include the ISBN on the first page in from your title page
  2. You must include the ISBN as a barcode on the back cover.
  3. The ISBNs included MUST match those of the book (goes without saying, but, you know)

Lulu will offer, as part of the book setup portion, your choice of free or BYO. Personally, as an independent author, I’m up for anything that makes it easier to publish, so I hit the free option. Then, within a second, you’ve got it. This number will be tied to your book. Copy it, paste it into the first page of your book (straight after the title) and you’re set.

To repeat: Get your book ready to be uploaded to Lulu first, then start you Lulu project, get your ISBN, put that into your book, then export it and upload it.

That’s rule #1 out of the way. We’ll get to barcodes and requirements for printing and distribution in the next few posts.Mini Jeztyr Logo

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8 thoughts on “ISBNs and All That Jazz

  1. This is really good to know. I’m really glad I just stumbled upon your blog. I’m not really at this stage with any of my longer projects, but it’s good to get a sense of how these things work. Congrats on getting to this point yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks edefreitas. A lot of this is from the ol ‘suck it and see’ methodology: I held off putting my books to print simply because I didn’t know enough (anything) about it.
      Turns out there are more resources for print on demand and ISBNs than ever before.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Lulu – Tidy up, Double Check and Export | Jeremy Tyrrell

  3. Pingback: Lulu – Approval & GlobalREACH | Jeremy Tyrrell

  4. Pingback: Hardcopy with KDP | Jeremy Tyrrell

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