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Getting an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a process that varies slightly depending on the country you’re in, but the general steps are as follows:

  1. Determine if you need an ISBN: Not all publications require an ISBN. Generally, if you plan to sell your book in bookstores, online, or through libraries, you’ll need an ISBN.
  2. Find your National ISBN Agency: Each country has a National ISBN Agency that is responsible for assigning ISBNs to publishers and self-publishers. You can find a list of all National ISBN Agencies on the International ISBN Agency’s website.
  3. Apply for an ISBN: Once you’ve found your National ISBN Agency, you’ll need to apply for an ISBN. This usually involves filling out an application form and paying a fee. The application process, fees, and processing times vary by country.
  4. Receive your ISBN: After your application has been processed, you’ll receive your ISBN. This number will be unique to your book and should be printed on the copyright page and the back cover of your book.
  5. Register your ISBN: After you’ve received your ISBN, you’ll need to assign your ISBN with your book. This usually involves providing information about your book, such as the title, author, publisher, and publication date.

Remember, if you’re publishing multiple formats of your book (e.g., paperback, hardcover, ebook), each format will need its ISBN.

Who is Eligible for an ISBN?

You might be wondering, “What’s the process for acquiring an ISBN?” Essentially, you need to identify yourself as a publisher to obtain an ISBN. So, how does one become a publisher? In the context of ISBN acquisition, it’s as simple as informing the ISBN agency of your intention to become one! To secure ISBNs, you need to register as a publisher with your local ISBN agency. This registration enables you to receive ISBNs.

Generally, there’s no formal procedure to be recognized as a publisher by your ISBN agency – you just cover the necessary fee. It’s crucial to identify your local ISBN agency and understand their specific process for registering as a publisher and obtaining your ISBN. Here, I provide some information about the ISBN agencies in the USA and the United Kingdom.

Acquiring ISBNs and Venturing into Self-Publishing

How To Get An ISBN Number

If you’re looking to publish your book without the backing of major publishers like Penguin or Orion, you might be contemplating securing an ISBN and taking the self-publishing route. Self-publishing implies overseeing the entire process independently, rather than delegating it to a company that caters to self-publishing authors. One of the numerous responsibilities you’ll need to handle as a self-publisher is procuring an ISBN.

While it’s not a complex task, it’s an additional concern that might seem less urgent compared to more pressing tasks like designing the book cover. However, reconsider this approach, as delaying your ISBN acquisition could prove costly. The reasons for this will be explained further down the page.

United States

In the U.S., R R Bowker, based in New Providence, NJ, is the sole organization authorized to distribute ISBNs, acting as the representative of the International ISBN Agency for the U.S., including Puerto Rico.

ISBNs can be bought in sets of 1, 10, 100, or 1,000. Bowker has recently simplified their ISBN provision process. Previously, they had a complex tiered pricing system, but now it’s straightforward. A single ISBN is priced at $125, a set of 10 at $295, 100 at $575, and 1,000 at $1,500. It’s evident that buying in bulk offers significant savings. For instance, buying 10 individual ISBNs would cost $1,250, but purchasing them as a set reduces the cost to $295.

Don’t assume that one book requires only one ISBN. Each distinct edition of your book needs a unique ISBN. This includes hardcover and paperback print editions, as well as digital versions in EPUB, MOBI, and PDF formats. Therefore, buying a set of 10 ISBNs is a wise choice.

Bowker also provides an optional barcode creation service for your acquired ISBNs, which is necessary if you plan to sell your book in stores.

United Kingdom

In the UK and Ireland, Nielsen Book Services in Surrey is the regional agency responsible for issuing ISBNs to publishers.

The following information is for new publishers. Nielsen typically processes standard orders within 10 working days, but they offer a fast-track service that takes 3 days. They issue ISBNs in blocks of 10, 100, and 1,000. Nielsen can email your ISBNs or, for an additional fee (£30 inc. VAT at 20%) for 100 or 1,000 ISBNs (free for 10 ISBNs), they can post them.

The cost varies from £164 inc. VAT at 20% for a block of 10, to £949 inc. VAT at 20% for a block of 1,000 ISBNs. A single ISBN is priced at £89 inc. VAT at 20%.

Australia

In Australia, you can apply for an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) through the Australian ISBN Agency at Thorpe-Bowker, located in Victoria. ISBNs are unique identifiers for books, serials, and music scores. They are not mandatory and do not provide copyright protection, but they are used internationally across publication trades and the library sector.

For more detailed information, you can visit the official Thorpe-Bowker. The Australian prices for ISBNs are AUD$44 for 1, AUD$88 for 10, AUD$480 for 100, or AUD$3,035 for 1000.

Please note that these prices may have changed, so it’s best to check the official website for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Final Thought

Being an excellent writer doesn’t automatically imply that you’re inclined to handle the entire self-publishing process on your own. Numerous companies can assist you in publishing your work, even though they may not share the financial risk. However, proceed with caution. Choose a company that you feel you can trust. It’s crucial to thoroughly research this significant step of seeking assistance.

Solicit recommendations from other authors whom you’ve known for a while and trust. Their guidance could be the difference between a costly error filled with disappointment and a successful publishing journey with your book available in stores nationwide. Perhaps you believe your talents are better utilized in writing your next piece. If that’s the case, you might be better off seeking help to publish your book rather than immersing yourself in the intricacies of obtaining an ISBN and doing everything yourself.

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