A lot of my readers ask me what an ISBN is and why they need one. It’s actually a very important part of your preparation to publish. An ISBN puts your book on to lists and into data bases. It makes sure your book doesn’t get lost in the millions and millions of books in the world. It is used by booksellers and libraries to find, identify and order books.

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) identifies your book as a unique publication worldwide. Each book, as well as each edition of a book, has its own ISBN. The ebook and audio book should also have their own ISBN. There might be other books in the world with the same title or another author with the same name as you, but the ISBN is as unique as a fingerprint. The thirteen-digit number allows booksellers to order books accurately and efficiently. Since computers are so commonly used in business, the ISBN has become essential. Most booksellers use some kind of database program and books are entered by their ISBNrather than their title.

 In Canada the ISBN is free. You order it from the National Library of Canada website at www.collectionscanada.gc.ca. You can only order one number at a time unless you are a major publisher. At one time we could order blocks of 10 or 100, but the National Library no longer allows it. The form is online and easy to fill out. Make sure you receive your ISBN before you have books printed or upload your ebooks.

In America you have to purchase your ISBN from R.R. Bowker at www.isbn.org and it can cost up to $100. You book will be listed in Bowker Books in Print™, which is used by all major search engines and most bookstores and libraries. If you use a company such as AuthorSolutions, Smashword or CreateSpace, they will give you an ISBN as part of the publishing package.

The ISBN goes on the Legal Page or Copyright Page. That is the verso of your Title Page. Anyone who formats book interiors should know how to design the Copyright Page. The ISBN goes under the copyright blurb so it is near the top of the page and readily visible.

The ISBN should also be on the back of the book imbedded in the barcode. The type of barcode you want to use is the Bookland EAN barcode. Cover designers and printers will normally put this on the back of the book. It is normally in the bottom right corner of the back cover.

Order your ISBN at 4-6 weeks before you plan to publish your book. It takes time to arrive in your Inbox and you don’t want to have to put your publishing project on hold because you did not plan ahead. Remember, an ISBN makes your book look professional and gives you an edge when competing with the big guys. It’s a very useful tool, so be sure to use it.

10 Responses to “Why do I need an ISBN? What is it anyway???”

  1. Rita Saddler says:

    I hereby request an ISBN for a book I am writing about a cruise from Richmond to the Broughton Archipelago.

  2. Hi,

    I have a booklet. It has 37 pages. I intend to sell it locally. Do I need an ISBN? Would it be better to have one for this booklet as opposed to not having one?

  3. Hi Curt – A booklet does not need an ISBN, particularly if you are going to sell it locally. If you ever expand the booklet into a book of at least 100 pages, then order your ISBN.

  4. Hi Rita – We do not supply ISBN. In Canada you order one from http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca. In the USA you order it from R.R. Bowker.

  5. do I need 2 ISBN if I am publishing a cookbook in print AND e-book format? thanks,

  6. Hi Louise,
    Normally the print copy and the ebook have separate ISBN. This is because they are two different types of books.

  7. thanks I am printing as a spiral bound locally and also as a POD with regular binding, I guess that means I should have a separate ISBN for each? I am finding your book very helpful!

  8. Hi Louise,
    When you apply for an ISBN, you are asked what kind of binding the book has. If one will be spiral bound and another will be perfect bound then you need two ISBN. I am always grateful that they are free in Canada.

    I am glad you are getting a lot out of Self Publishing in Canada.


  9. Anne Jacobson says:

    Hello, I took your advice and tried to request an ISBN,but was rejected because I haven’t decided which publisher to use. My question: does a person require a contract b4 an ISBN can be issued?

  10. If you submit your book to a trade publisher, they will issue the book an ISBN. You only need one if you are self-publishing. And you do have to have a name for your publishing business before the National Library will issue an ISBN.

Leave a Reply