ISBN 101 for Authors

More often than not, the authors I work with have questions about the purpose, use and how to purchase an International Book Standard Number (ISBN). I’ve found that many authors confuse the ISBN with the Bookland EAN barcode that goes on the back cover of printed books, thinking they are the same thing. They are also confused about whether they need to buy their own ISBN or if they should just use the free ISBN that some print-on-demand companies offer. If you fall into any of the these categories of confusion, I’m here to help.

About the ISBN

The ISBN became an international standard in the 1970s to solve the issue of it being difficult to locate a particular book since titles and author names can overlap. It allows each version of a published book to have its own unique identifier making it easier to track. The information associated with your ISBN includes your title, author name / publisher name, price and more.

Who needs an ISBN?

If you plan to publish and sell your book through any retail channels, you will need an ISBN.

You don’t need an ISBN if you are planning to create the book for private use only. This could include:

  • Personal publications: ex) recipes, family history, photo book
  • Workbooks for seminars or presentations
  • Training manuals, handbooks or other material for internal use within a company
  • Books or materials that are only intended as incentives or for giveaways

However, if you plan to eventually publish it for commercial use, you’ll need an ISBN at that time.

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