Everything about ISBNs before you self publish your book| What are ISBNs and do I need them?

-What is an ISBN?
An ISBN is an International Standard Book Number. It is like the social security number for your book. It is specific to the title and format. This is the unique identifier for your book.

-Do I need to buy one? Where do I get one? How much will it cost?
Needing to purchase an ISBN takes us down some potential paths so for starters, each country has 1 agency that issues ISBNs. For some, it comes from the government, like in Canada or China. For others, it is a third-party agency like Bowker in the US or Neilsen in the UK. For some countries there is NO cost to getting an ISBN, others there is a cost. There can be a simple form and credit card payment form or perhaps a long bureaucratic system. It all depends.

Seeing that self-publishing authors need ISBNs and want to keep it simple, self-publishing platforms started to offer “free” ISBNs. Free is in air quotes. Because in most cases, you can’t take the ISBN to another platform. You are kind of locking your book to that platform.

So I always advocate getting your own.

-How many do I need?
For your ISBN, you will need 1 for each format of your book.
As an example, my book The Infinite-Infinite is available in 4 formats:

I have 4 ISBNs for this one title.
Exactly 4 ISBNs.
When I upload my eBook to KDP and then to Smashwords, I’m using the same eBook ISBN.
When I upload my print book to KDP and then to IngramSpark, I’m using the same paperback ISBN.
The ISBN is specific to the title and format, NOT the self-publishing platform.

-How do I assign my metadata?
The agency that provided the ISBN will have a means for you to assign metadata to your ISBN.

-When do I need to get one?
And that leads to the next question. When do you need to have one by? If you are doing all your own interior formatting then you have a much shorter deadline. Ideally, I think you need to get the ISBN assigned before you have the book formatted. Why? Because the ISBN needs to be on the copyright page on the inside of the book.

This means you need to have the title, subtitle, and other elements decided before you purchase and assigned the ISBN.

-What if I have a new edition? What if I add a new format? What if I do a translation?
Any time you are making a totally new version of the book you need a new ISBN. So let’s say you have an eBook and paperback of your book. You want to add a hardcover version, that’s a new ISBN. Or maybe you want to translate the book into a new language. Then each format you make the translation available in gets a new ISBN. So same example of an eBook and paperback now translate to a new language is 2 new ISBNs.
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-What if I publish my books on different platforms? Does that mean I need more ISBNs?
This is the question I’m seeing the most right now. I mentioned this earlier but I am giving it a separate call out now. The ISBN is specific to your book, not the platform. Let’s say you are keeping things easy and just have a paperback version of your book. The ISBN for that paperback is the same wherever you upload it. So if you plan to upload to IngramSpark and KDP, it’s the same ISBN for both uploads.

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