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  • Writer's pictureMichael Gray

Why Do I Need an ISBN?

An ISBN—or International Standard Book Number—has been used on books for years and years. Most of my clients ask me three questions: (1) Why do I need one? (2) What does it do? and, (3) Where do I get one? There’s a lot of information I could give you about ISBNs—their history and changes—but really, it’s irrelevant to you. So let’s just answer your questions and move on.

(1) Why do I need an ISBN? Because every publishing company demands one. If you want to publish your book, you’re going to need one. If you want your book on bookshelves, you’re going to need one. And if you want to receive all the royalties you’re entitled to, you’re going to need one.

(2) What does an ISBN do? The 13-digit number on the back of every book—the black and white bar code—tracks each edition for sales, marketing, bestseller lists, shipping, and so on. It’s like a social security number for your book.

(3) Where do I get an ISBN? You have several options for getting your own ISBN. If your book is being published by a large New York publisher, they will assign one of their own to your book. If you’re going with an independent book publisher or self-publishing, there are two ways you can go. First, most publishers will sell you an ISBN for a low cost, some as low as $10. If not, you can buy them from over-the-counter companies that sell ISBNs. They will charge more than $10 and some will make you purchase multiple ISBNs even though you don’t need them. So, shop around.

More stuff you need to know. Bookstores will not sell your book without an ISBN. eBooks don’t require an ISBN if you are selling it through your own website. But trust me, you want an ISBN for your eBook. Why? If you sell it through Kindle Direct Publishing, they don’t require it. But they can sell it through other channels and those channels require an ISBN. Without an ISBN, you can’t sell through these resellers. Since Kindle/Amazon gives them to you for free, there is no reason not to have one. You want to eliminate all barriers to your book being sold. Having an ISBN for both your eBook and paperback is the smart thing to do. Next, you cannot reuse your paperback’s ISBN for your eBook’s ISBN. Forget it!

Finally, if you have a hardback and a paperback, you will need two ISBNs—three, if you have an eBook. So, buck up and get all the ISBNs you need and start selling your books everywhere. (And don’t worry about the technical stuff for ISBNs. You don’t need to know any more than this!)

Happy publishing!

Michael Gray is the Texas Ghostwriter and is based in Dallas, Texas. He published his first book twenty years ago and has since published more than 100 books, with almost all receiving favorable reviews from critics and readers alike. Contact Michael today and "tell the world your story" tomorrow.

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