Getting An ISBN – Do I Really Need One?

You’ve spent untold hours (years?) writing your book and have poured your heart and soul into rewrites and editing. You’ve finally gotten to that magic moment when you can start thinking about getting it into print. There are so many details for a self-publishing author to think about, but one of the most important decisions any author needs to make is whether or not to go about getting an ISBN number. Do you really need one? The short answer is: yes! You need an ISBN number for your book if you intend to sell it in a retail setting.

The ISBN (the acronym stands for International Standard Book Number) is the 10-13 digit number that identifies your book as unique from everyone else’s. You have to have one if you want to sell your book through a retail outlet. Think of it like the UPC number or barcode you see on items in the grocery store or on tags for just about every item you can purchase. It’s the number that allows the retailer to scan your book through the cash register at checkout. The number is in barcode form on the back of books (or on the back of the dust cover on hard-bound books) and also printed on the Imprint page in the front section of the book. It makes you a publisher in the eyes of the book industry.

Now that you know what the number is, how do you go about getting an ISBN?

  • First of all, stay far, far away from self-publishing vendors who offer to purchase the ISBN for you. If a subsidy press gets the ISBN for you, they own your book!
  • The only place to go for getting an ISBN is R.R.Bowker – they are the exclusive USA source for ISBN numbers (
  • You’re going to be buying a block of ISBN numbers from Bowker. This block of numbers is assigned to the particular publisher who purchases it: if you buy a single number from an online vendor, that number will be assigned back to them and they’ll be the publisher of record, not you.
  • Have your contact information, publishing company name, and the name of your book at the ready.
  • Fill out the online application or print out the application and send it in by snail-mail.
  • Getting an ISBN is much like anything else – have your credit card ready if you are applying online!
  • Allow 15 business days for processing your ISBN application.
  • After you get your ISBN, register it with Bowker’s Books-In-Print by signing up for BowkerLink, a free online tool for uploading book information (price, page count, etc). This is the main directory used by libraries and bookstores when they want to order a book for a customer.
  • Register your book’s copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Getting an ISBN is not really that difficult and it’s something that every self-publishing author needs to do. You’ve taken the time to write your book, now take the time to safe-guard your hard work by publishing it correctly. Having an ISBN number doesn’t automatically mean your book will sell, but you’re going to be glad to have that number assigned to it when your book takes off!

For more information about getting an ISBN number, contact the book printing experts at, call them at 1-800-698-2071, or email them today.



Filed under Self Publishing Tips

2 responses to “Getting An ISBN – Do I Really Need One?

  1. lawrenceez

    Hi, many thanks for sharing.

    I’m still a bit puzzled about ISBN. I’m based in the UK but would imagine the situation is the same elsewhere. My querie is, does each book require a distinct ISBN, (each number costing a certain amount), and if so, does the writer order one batch of numbers at the start of publication to cover any future prints of the book or does the writer have to keep on paying for new ISBN numbers? I would really value your answer on this, as I’m seriously considering self-publishing.

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