23 Oct 2018

To ISBN or not to ISBN?

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Make a Living as a Professional Self-Published AuthorAs you get into conversations with other self-published authors (whether or not they have already been published), you’ll almost certainly get into a discussion about ISBN numbers. These numbers are assigned to a specific version and edition of a book to enable it to be uniquely identified.

When you publish your book on Amazon in paperback, you have the choice of using the default ISBN number, purchasing one from them, or buying your own. Paperbacks require one of these numbers. You can also specify a number for Kindle eBooks, but it is not required.

Why should you get an ISBN number for your Book?

  1. Selling to libraries – To get your book into libraries, you will need to purchase an ISBN number – at least if you want them to purchase your books. Some libraries will accept free donations of self-published books by local authors, but giving away free copies gets to be old real fast. After all, most of us write books because we want to sell them and make a few dollars. You must have your own ISBN number and publishing imprint to get an LOCC number, which many libraries require. You get these through the Library of Congress website. Libraries also purchase eBooks, and they allow these to be borrowed. You will get a small fee each time someone borrows the book. You’ll need to get your own number for this purpose.
  2. Sell in bookstores – Bookstores will not generally stock self-published books, and one of the clues is using the ISBN numbers provided by Amazon and other platforms. If you want to have a chance to be on bookshelves, you need to get your own ISBN number with your imprint (also called a publishing company). It’s still difficult to get self-published books on bookstore shelves, but you don’t have a chance unless without assigning your own number.
  3. Makes you the publisher – By including your own publishing imprint, which is the name of your “publishing company”, Choose this imprint wisely, including a keyword for example, and you’ll slightly boost your search rankings on Amazon.
  4. More professional – This is a small point and won’t matter to most self-published authors. However, using your own numbers and publishing imprint makes you look more professional.
  5. Gets listed in “books in print” – Purchasing a number and filling in all the fields in the book database (Bowker in the US) automatically lists your book in the “Books In Print” database. This is used by bookstores and libraries, as well as search engines.
  6. Send copy to the US Library of Congress – If you want your book to be included in the Library of Congress, you must assign your own number and get an LOCC number.

What are the reasons against getting an ISBN number for your book?

Avoid the expense – In the United States, ISBN numbers are costly. A single number costs $125, although you can purchase a block of 100 for $500 (as of this writing). You can avoid this expense for most self-published books, unless you want them to be stocked in bookstores and libraries.

Online booksellers such as Amazon do not require you purchase an ISBN – If you are only going to sell on Amazon and similar sites, you don’t need an ISBN number of your own unless you want one.


Purchasing and assigning ISBN numbers to your self-published books may make sense depending on your requirements. If you want to sell through book stores, attract libraries or simply like the idea of being a “publisher”, then go ahead and spend the money. If you are just publishing and selling on Amazon and similar platforms, than you may want to avoid the expense.

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