how to get isbn number

So you want to self-publish a book? Congratulations! Deciding to get started is a big first step towards accomplishing your authorship goals and getting a sense of pride in your work.

Self-publishing a book is certainly not for the faint of heart. For one thing, the creative process of building, planning, and typing out a book can take several years. For another, getting your book online and set up for sale may require all sorts of little intricacies, including ISBNs.

One of the most important parts of getting your book up for sale is gaining possession of an ISBN number. While many people believe that licensing their own number as a self-publisher is too difficult a task to handle, the good news is that getting an ISBN for a self-published book could be just a few mouse clicks away.

Why are ISBN numbers important, and how does a self-published author get one? Today, we are going to cover:

  • What ISBN numbers are
  • How to get an ISBN number
  • How to purchase an ISBN number
  • How to apply for an ISBN number
  • How to receive your ISBN number
  • What ISBN numbers mean
  • How to read an ISBN number
  • How much ISBN numbers are
  • If the same book can have multiple ISBN numbers

What are ISBN Numbers?

Established at the end of the 1960s by a European librarian, standard numbers were created to act as a cataloging system for books, magazines, musical scores, and much more. ISSNs and ISMNs apply strictly to formats such as periodicals and musical scores, while ISBNs are used to categorize both ebooks and published works kept in physical formats and online repositories such as Amazon.

In most countries, ISBN numbers are not required to sell or market a book to an audience. However, most major book stores will only sell books that have a corresponding number or some form of ISBN identification.

What Do ISBN Numbers Mean?

The acronym ‘ISBN’ stands for the phrase ‘International Standard Book Number.’ ISBNs are used in libraries, book stores, and online repositories all over the world.

ISBNs were traditionally a set of 10 numbers, now upgraded to 13 total as of 2007. Each group of numbers detail a different type of information about said book, including its language, publisher, and more. These sets are indicated by spaces or hyphens, which help readers identify the information sets. These information sets are detailed in five unique groups and are readable by humans as well as machines.

They include the:

  • Prefix element
  • Registration group
  • Registrant
  • Publication
  • Check digit

Prefix elements are assigned by the GS1 and appear in strings of 978 or 979.

Registration groups are used to indicate the country, area, or language from which a book was issued. Most English volumes are categorized with the number 1 or a similar 5-number text string.

French-speaking countries are categorized by a 2, Germany is 3, 4 for Japan, Russian countries have a 5, and 7 for the People’s Republic of China. The rarer the language of the book is, the longer this text group will be.

A registrant number group refers to the publisher or ISBN agency the book has been registered from. Publication elements identify both the format and the edition of the book in question.

Second edition novels and first edition novels will have differing ISBN number patterns, while comic or paperback adaptations may also have different elements according to publication information.

Check digits seem complicated at first look, but their true purpose is simply to ‘check’ the ISBN number for conflicting information. This number string mathematically validates the remaining number and is usually a single digit numeral.

This might all sound a little complicated, but here’s the good news: no one is expecting you to know exactly what all these numbers mean

Even better, you don’t have to worry about writing one out yourself! 

If you want to self-publish your novel with an ISBN number, all you have to do is follow the process detailed later in this article.

Can The Same Book Have ISBN Numbers?

This is a common question that self-published authors ask about their book. In a nutshell: no, not really. For the long answer: kind of.

Every individual ISBN number will apply to a slightly different book. This means that every version, edition, or publication of a novel will need to have a different number that correctly corresponds to these changes.

Need some examples?

Paperback novels need to have different ISBNs than hardback novels.

Special edition publications need different ISBNs than the standard print run.

The only case in which a new ISBN number will not be required for a new book printing is if the same publishing company decides to reprint an owned book in the same original format.

As a self-publisher, this is not something that you’ll have to worry about very much.

Of course, there have been errors in ISBN number formatting that have lead to some weird circumstances over the years. Some books have been licensed under the same ISBN number multiple times, which creates interesting results.

One number in particular, ISBN 0-590-76484-5, is shared by two circulating books: popular children’s novel Ninja gaiden®: a novel based on the best-selling game by Tecmo, and the 1997 publication Wacky Laws.

Thankfully, situations like these don’t happen very often, but when they do, they create all sorts of strange licensing situations for the publishers at hand.

Why Are ISBN Numbers Important?

If you don’t need an ISBN number to write or publish a book of your choice, why exactly would you want to put up with all the muss and fuss of getting one in the first place?

There are a couple of answers:

  1. Professionalism: If you want to wow your customers with a self-published book in any format, you will likely want to focus on getting a good polish. Having a good cover photo, high-quality paper, and a great summary or set of reviews is extremely important. However, the acquisition of an ISBN number is equally or almost as important as your book’s visual elements.
  2. Salability: While you don’t have to have an ISBN number in order to sell a self-published book online, most bookstores or physical retailers will require one in order to host your book on their premises. This mainly has to do with tracking and profitability estimation. Nothing personal!
  3. Reach: Your self-published novel can reach whole new heights with an ISBN number. Even new countries!

How To Get An ISBN Number

Getting an ISBN number of your very own is quick, simple, and easy (when armed with the right expectations, that is). Here’s what you need to know.

Purchasing / Buying ISBN Numbers

Some online agencies such as Bowker sell ISBN numbers to self-publishers through a virtual medium. If that doesn’t really fit your style, you could always reach out to a local ISBN agency in your area.

Your providers will look different according to your state, country, or licensing laws, so be sure to read up about what your requirements are. Some countries are far more strict about ISBN acquisition as a self-publisher, so ensure that you are following all local laws to the letter.

Thankfully, some ISBN numbers can be generated for free. If you are planning to register your novel or book-length work on Amazon’s online host site (think Kindle), you may be given a number that is attributed to the ‘CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.’ Bear in mind that this applies only to Amazon.

Applying For Your ISBN Number

Contact a local provider of choice and submit an application of eligibility to receive your new ISBN number. If you are publishing through Amazon, simply submit your work for review.

Receiving Your ISBN Numbers

If you are purchasing an ISBN number from a provider, expect one to two business weeks for it to be processed. If you are relying on Amazon publishing, your number issuing should take place within a few short days.

How Much Are ISBN Numbers?

Here’s some good news and some bad news about ISBN numbers. Good news: it isn’t as bad as you think. The bad news? It still costs money.

The price of an ISBN number varies according to the number needed, the type of book, and the processing time you need for service turnaround. Make sure you know exactly what your needs are before contacting the ISBN licensing number agency in your area. Be sure to do your research!

Ready To Get Your ISBN Number?

Think you have what it takes to get an ISBN number for your self-published book? Of course, you do! Just make sure to do lots of research, take your time in contacting the right companies, and keep a good head on your shoulders.

Don’t forget to breathe! You’re going to make your book the best it could be, all without breaking a sweat.

Write on!