Those famous black lines, the compilation for numbers that make no sense, the coding that is on almost every book out there… This is the allusive, little understood but weirdly all-important ISBN.
The ISBN or International Standard Book Number started some thirty years ago as a way to create a computerized system for cataloging books. The number is not actually a code but literally just a number that has evolved from a 10 digit number to a 13 digit number. Although you don’t have one to print a book, it is nearly impossible to successfully publish and market without one. The number is the universal identity of the book and allows for instant recognition in bookstores, libraries, online sales platforms and databases.
When assembling your book, it’s important to obtain one for yourself. The U.S. ISBN Agency issues the numbers and purchasing one from them makes you the “publisher of record” as well as gives you all the rights to the number and your book.
Many self-publishing companies also are willing to give you a free (or cheap) ISBN if you choose to work with them. However, this makes them the “publisher of record” and does not allow you to your print book on your own. Or much worse, be published by anyone else. The “publisher of record” automatically retains the rights to your title. Although this may not seem like a problem if you plan on sticking with the company, it can cause trouble if you decide to leave…and you don’t want to ever be stuck. Look, if your book blows up and Harper Collins/Random House/Penguin come calling, waving a checkbook, you want to be the ““publisher of record”.
Another thing to keep in mind is that ISBNs do not carry with the title across format boundaries. Print and e-book versions of the same title each need their own ISBNs.
When it comes to self-publishing and help with things such as ISBNs or topography, the self publishing guru, Joel Friedlander, “The Book Designer”, can be a great resource for information. His blog http://www.thebookdesigner.
Happy writing! See you at the bookstore. The Book Doctors