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Self-Publishing 101: Obtaining ISBN# and Bar Codes

When self-publishing a book that you will sell through book stores or online, you'll need to make sure you have two things on the back of your cover: a 13-digit ISBN number and a bar code. In this article I'll explain what these are and how to get them.

An ISBN is the International Standard Book Number that electronically differentiates your book from other products selling at retail stores and online. The 13-digit number identifies the book internationally which allows your book to be sold in the global market. Look on the back of any book, and you'll see this number. It's also embedded in the bar code. The bar code, which you order separate from the ISBN, is also necessary. The ISBN is also printed inside the book on the page that lists the publisher's info and copyright.

How do you obtain and ISBN and bar code?

Each country has an agency that sells the ISBN and bar code. Authors and publishers in the U.S. can order them through R.R. Bowker. Here's the price list. http://isbn.org/standards/home/isbn/us/isbn-fees.asp

ISBN numbers are sold in blocks of 10 or more. When I originally self-published my novel SHADOWS IN THE MIST, I bought one block of 10 ISBN's for $275. That's enough to publish 10 book titles, but I only needed one, since my publishing company was only putting out one title that year. Bar codes run about $25 each. Any one who has a book can order them. In fact, once you have a block of ISBN's, you can officially call yourself a publisher.

Here is R.R. Bowker's home page: http://www.bowker.com/index.php/home

For more questions about ISBN#'s, here is the F.A.Q. link:

http://www.bowker.com/index.php/supportfaq-isbn

An author friend of mine asked: If I sell my self-published book to a publisher (like you did) does a new publisher just pick up that ISBN?

My answer: Chances are a publisher will treat their version of the book as an entirely different version with new cover and ISBN. The only real benefit of them using your existing ISBN is if they paid you for it and you got your money back. Otherwise, that book and ISBN discontinues and they launch a new version. They might even change the size of the book. Or it might change from soft cover to hard cover. Once you sell your self-pub book it typically gets a complete makeover.

Comments
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Self-Publishing 101: Obtaining ISBN# and Bar Codes

Why would any one want to self-publish in the first place? A good manuscript will find a way to a traditional publisher that pays you an advance.

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That's a good point

Why would someone be a self-published author, if you can just make an effort to find a good publisher who can publish your work? Not all books that are found in bookstores have ISBN numbers. 

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Self-publishing or self-printing?

Most self "publishing" is nothing more than printing. ISBN number notwithstanding, there is a lot more to getting the book recognized, distributed, reviewed, and enjoyed by many. It's called marketing, and unless a writer is willing to do it full-time for at least 1-2 years (and has a ton of $$s to spend,) the book is doomed to only being printed. Unfortunately, too many authors are lulled into the self-publishing myth and are stuck with either the expense of having 5 copies sold to their families via some "publishing" operation or with tons of book boxes stored under the dining-room table.

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Self-publishing or self-printing?

Agreed. There some "publishers" who don't ask the authors for any money, but set up extremely high prices for the books and make money this way.

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Agreed

I totally agree with you.