ISBN 101 For Self-Publishers

by | Nov 19, 2010

One of the parts of book publishing that seems to confound newcomers to the field is the purpose and use of the International Standard Book Number (ISBN). Usually the ISBN appears to be the same thing as the ubiquitous Bookland EAN scannable barcode that graces the back covers of almost all books printed today.

Not only that, but since the rise of companies that perform publishing services for authors, there has been even more confusion about whether you need to own your own ISBN, whether free ISBNs from these companies are “just as good” as getting your own ISBN, and if it’s a good idea to buy ISBNs from re-sellers who offer lower prices for a single number.

Let’s review the basics of this unique identifier and explain what is so important about it, how it benefits self-publishers, and when you can safely forget about it.

Created to Solve Real-World Problems

ISBN was created as a stock-keeping identifier. Originating in the United Kingdom, the concept of a unique identifier for each version of a published book became an international standard in the 1970s.

It was created to solve a real-world problem, and it worked well. The problem was that in the pre-internet age, it was often very difficult to identify a particular book, and more so when a searcher did not have the full title, author and edition information at hand. That’s usually the case when I go searching for a book.

How would you know whether the book you are looking for is the right one? Book titles are not exclusive or protected by copyright, and it’s not unusual for several different books to have the same title. And similar titles will quickly expand the number of possibilities. Add to this the necessity of knowing which edition you are looking for—hardcover, paperback, second edition—and it’s easy to see how identification mistakes are easy to make.

With the use of the unique identifier, one that is attached to each physical format of a book, this problem is basically solved. Every title, and every different edition or format has its own unique number for tracking and search purposes.

Coincidentally the ISBN came into use at the same time that computers were becoming common, and the two were meant for each other. It’s now possible to simply enter an ISBN into a Google search bar to get all the information you need on a particular title.

Who Doesn’t Need an ISBN?

Because the ISBN is used as a basic identifier throughout the book distribution system, any book that is intended to be sold through retail channels will need to have this identifier.

There’s no absolute need for books printed for private use, or for a closed distribution to have ISBN assigned. These might include:

  • Workbooks distributed at seminars
  • Company training manuals for internal use
  • Family histories, recipe collections or other “personal” publishing projects
  • Books that will be used only as premiums, incentives or giveaways

However even publishers of these types of books might make use of this identifier if they plan to someday convert their publication to a commercial use.

Self-Publishing Hits the Scene

You may not realize this, but for many years Bowker issued ISBNs to book publishers for a nominal administrative fee.

But once the self-publishing field began to expand in response to new digital printing technology, Bowker made the process of acquiring ISBNs easier, and a lot more expensive. Now ISBNs are sold like any other commodity by Bowker and a few authorized re-sellers. And to accommodate the needs of these self-publishers, they made individual numbers available for the first time.

However, the price Bowker set for individual identifiers (currently $125) has shocked many new publishers. (You can read an explanation of why the cost is so high in the interview I did with Andy Weissberg).

But keep in mind that it’s rarely a good idea to buy just one ISBN. If you intend to issue your book as both a printed book and an ebook, you will need two ISBNs right from the start, and the cost of buying two individual numbers is the same as purchasing ten numbers (currently $250).

In addition, Bowker is actually registering your publishing company when they issue you your numbers, not your individual books. This is a key step for many self-publishers and that’s a pretty good reason to get an ISBN as well.

The Problem of the “Free” ISBN

In order to mitigate the cost and the bother of registering your company yourself, author services companies started offering “free” identifiers to clients. How were they able to do this?

Bowker’s pricing for these numbers has huge volume discounts, that’s how. For $5,000 you can acquire 5,000 ISBNs. That’s only $1 each, a price at which it’s easy to give them away, saving individual authors quite a heap of money.

And many authors have made use of this savings. You are a good candidate for a free number if:

  • You intend to publish only one book
  • You have no interest in starting a “publishing company”
  • You’re on a very tight budget

But it’s not the right solution for everyone, because ISBN performs many functions for self-publishers.

Know Your Retailers

People who help authors get started in publishing often remind them that this is a business, and should be approached as such. You are manufacturing a product intended for retail sales. In this scenario it’s important for you to know the policies of the retailers who will be selling your book.

For instance, here’s what Smashwords, the big distributor of ebooks, says about ISBN usage:

Smashwords retailers such as Apple and Sony will not accept your Smashwords book unless you have a unique e-ISBN. It is the primary digital identification number that many major online retailers use to track and catalog your books, and to report your sales back to Smashwords.

(Editor’s note: Everything at Smashwords is an e-book, but there really isn’t such a thing as an “e-ISBN”. They are all just plain old ISBNs.)

The Many Roles of a 13-Digit Number

Smashwords also points out one of the other uses of this handy number. In fact there are three main ways these numbers can be of use:

  1. Stock keeping, for inventory purposes
  2. item identification to differentiate similar editions
  3. Metadata

It’s this last benefit of ISBN you should think about when deciding whether to use them, and whether you want to go to the expense of buying your own numbers, or to accept the “free” version.

SEO Title Card - Metadata for self publishers

2 Reasons to Own Your Own ISBNs

Most of the self-publishers I’ve worked with are setting up their own publishing companies and funding their project in the expectation of becoming profitable. In every case I’ve advised them to buy their own ISBNs. Here’s why:

  1. The ISBN contains within it a “publisher identifier.” This enables anyone to locate the pubisher of any particular book or edition. If you use a “free” ISBN from an author services company or a subsidy publisher, that company will be identified in bibliographic databases as the publisher.
  2. Owning your own ISBNs gives you the ability to control the bibligraphic record for your book. This is an important part of your book’s metadata, and is a key component in your book being discoverable by online searchers. This has a powerful influence on your efforts to attract search engine traffic to your title.

Now there’s no reason you can’t publish your books with a “free” ISBN from a reputable company, like CreateSpace. Having their identifier on your book doesn’t have anything to do with the ownership or copyright on your work, you still have complete control over your own content.

And you can be very successful this way, too. April Hamilton originally published Indie Author and several other books that way, and enjoyed great success. But like others who have committed to making publishing their business, she has said she would now buy her own ISBNs.

Part of the reason, as Hamilton explains, is the changing marketplace:

Distribution options offered by print and digital publishing service providers increasingly require that the author/imprint be the registered owner of the ISBN.

Echoing this is this explanation from the Smashwords ISBN guide:

An ISBN helps make your book more discoverable to readers and other book buyers. The ISBN gains you free inclusion in Books in Print, the world’s largest catalog of books, which is licensed to all major search engines and thousands of bookstores and libraries. Your ISBN record will also receive a free online listing at the online Books in Print bibliographic database that’s available on the open Web at

Takeaway: If you plan to sell retail you’ll need to use ISBN. For strictly private publications, you may not need it at all. And if you plan to continue in publishing, buy your own ISBN block from the start.

If you have questions about ISBNs or how to use them, please leave a note in the comments.


To buy your own ISBNs, go to
Bowker U.S. ISBN Agency site
Wikipedia entry on the International Standard Book Number
ISBNs Don’t Matter as Much as You Thought by Indie Author April Hamilton
About ISBNs from Smashwords
Twitter #ISBNhour discussion group link (moderated by @LJNDawson)
UK ISBN Information

TheBookDesigner Articles on ISBN
ISBNs for Self-Publishers: Answers to 20 of Your Questions
How to Create, Register and List Your New Publishing Company
Self-Publishing Basics: How to Read an ISBN

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Alli

    Great article! I learned so much. Any advice on how to get one?

  2. China

    I am a new self published children’s author. I want to sell my book through ingram and I am looking into ISBNs. I am on a tight budget, but I plan on making more books. Are there other places to buy ISBNS that might be more affordable besides Bowker, what are the advantages of using bowker as opposed to other Sites that sell isbns?
    I hope that was clear, thanks.

    • StephenMcDonald

      Broker is the number one source of ISBN 10-ISBN for about $200 but completely worth it,
      Amazon will give you free ISBN numbers if or when you publish with them

  3. Wendy Ice

    Great article Joel. Thanks. Quick question. We are offering a first edition of a book that will come in different forms (some signed and numbered). The book itself is identical, but numbers 1-25 come with an original drawing, numbers 26-100 come with three giclée prints, and numbers 101-500 come with one giclée print. Then the remainder of the edition stands alone. Should we describe each version on the copyright page with an isbn for each? All of the numbered books are already pre-sold so we don’t need bar codes, but I’m guessing we’ll need a bar code for the rest of the edition which will be available on Amazon. I’m guessing maybe we need several ISBN’s but just the one bar code. Is that correct?

  4. Chris James

    My small press is getting ready to release its second book. The previous book (and ISBN) was issued about 15 years ago by the previous author/owner. He gave us the publishing company – tiny as it was – to us when he retired. His book was small and paperback. Our upcoming release ( is hardbound and 288 pages. Could I (should I?) use his publishing company name and the publisher prefix of the ISBN for this, the second book? How do I go about explaining that to Bowker when I order? Or should we just start over with a new name and a totally unique ISBN? These are 10-digit ISBNs from 1997.


  5. Juga Samuel

    Hello Mr. Joel,
    I hope you are okay. I enjoyed reading your article, but I still do not know what I should do to have one IBSN for my book. I cannot buy any ISBN in Mozambique but I can register my book in Mozambique. Can you please help me?

    Juga Samuel

  6. Judy Griffin

    Great article but I am still confused about buying my own ISBN # or getting the custom one from Create Space where I can have my own imprint.

    Also, if I get the ISBN # from Create Space do I need additional numbers for Kindle & PDF version?

    Thank you, Judy

  7. Ran

    Excellent ISBN primer, Joel. I am trying to get a translated version of my book printed in my native country. From my research, each country has a different agency that gives out ISBNs. Do I need to get a local ISBN or can I use a US ISBN for printing in-country?

  8. Leslie

    Joel, I have an usual situation. I had contacted a woman who had a subsidy press. She provided the cover and book layout for a set fee, as well as the contact with Lightning Source printing. She provided the ISBN. Mid-publication she died and my book did come out. The new owners now want a huge 50% royalty on all sales, even though I paid market value for all those services plus I paid other contractors for editing and promotional materials. They have not paid anything. I have not signed a contract and asked them for my final PDF so I could have a Kindle format done by someone I have used before. Instead, they gave me a PDF for my kindle designer with a new assigned ISBN (different from my paperback of course). My dilemma is that I do not want to enter into a contract with them, and I want to receive all the royalties from the kindle version.

    My questions are 1. If I go forward and use the PDF they gave me, convert it to a kindle format and upload it to Amazon and Smashwords, do they get a cut of the royalties from these sites because its their ISBN?

    and 2. If #1 means the publisher gets a cut, can I remove their already assigned ISBN and insert a new one. Thanks. I feel in a real bind here.

  9. Meredith

    Hi Joel,
    Great article! I am helping a Canadian author friend become self-published. He has registered for an ISBN and he has a consulting company that relates to the content of his book. Can his consulting company be the publisher or does he need to establish a separate LLC to serve as the publisher? I saw where you stated earlier that “leaving you as a self-published author without a publishing company, (is) a bit of an oddity.” I’ve heard that self-published authors do just publish under their own names, but I am having difficulty verifying this. What would the pros and cons be?

    Many thanks!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Meredith, it’s preferable if you plan to continue publishing to have an imprint or publishing company name, and there’s no reason not to use his existing business structure to do that.

    • Edward Tilley

      Thanks so much for your note and link Dana. I had no idea that free ISBN numbers were available for us.

  10. Dear Joel

    Great, clear article, Joel!

    So tell me if I got you right. If someone wants to write and self-publish an anonymous book and sell it anonymously on the Internet, then she should not get herself an ISBN, because that would identify her as the publisher and also the country where she lives. Right?

  11. Joel Friedlander

    Each separate book within the series will need its own ISBN. The only exception would be if you will only ever sell the entire set together, as one item, but even then I don’t think it’s a good idea because the books will get separated from the set eventually.

  12. Pretty

    I am still in the process of working through my book and finalizing the printing press to print my book. I will be marketing my book by myself , So I will be using my name as Publisher when purchasing ISBN?

  13. Dean

    I’m doing POD through LS, and have my own ISBNs. My book was written in American English, because that’s where I live. But I am also doing a version for UK/Australian/NZ markets, with “correct” spelling and punctuation. Do you think I need different ISBNs?

  14. Alex

    Hello, thanks for the article, i’ve asked specific question in another thread, but here i want to clarify: for me as the author, it doesn’t matter if my book is printed by a “publisher” company or “self-publisher” company, because it’s still will be shown as a company that published my book with my name and title on it? And the only difference is in the listings that the book was published by a company?

  15. Wendy Anderson

    Thank you for the info; I am real new like, just; I have a manuscript with First Editing currently to be made “Perfect” and am trying to sort out my steps from here! Appreciate any comments thanks. 1. There’s BoobkBaby for an e book and maybe print book option? Then Maybe Smiths publicity deal for Book/fair/Trade 29th May New York; a book as physical presence and a listing in the catalogue. I am doing it cheap so I guess I accept an Isbn from BookBaby? What I don’t know is can you then sell your book elsewhere if they are your publisher’s and I am finding it difficult to get info and are now wondering if to consider Create Space for print book/ self publishing and or Smashwords for e book, as these guys are on the good list of publisher’s I found? Help would be appreciated please; it’s a mine field out there for the uninitiated. My true story fits in the inspirational/religious niche, full of drama and funnies and miracles and I am intending to write another true story too. I am not a writer/ maybe one day! Wendy Anderson

  16. Bill

    I just went to Bowkers, last time I looked it was $250 for ten, which I think was not very long ago, today it is $295 for ten. Nice business model. Now $29.50 per book.
    Is there any disadvantage of starting out with a free IBSN on Creative Space and when you are ready to launch your second book, buying your ISBNs and assigning them to your original book as well as your new book?
    My intention is to continue to pursue a traditional publisher. My first book A Signal Waves is on Kindle/Amazon and I have finally gotten the cover work done for the paper copy, LOL, so now I am sitting her thinking whether I should hold off on the IBSNs until both books are on Kindle and my second one ready for print. Five months out on the second one. I want to write a little article on a couple of writers blogs that I participate on as well as my own author’s web site about this experience, so I have read through these comments and everything here seems to point to just holding your nose and paying the increasing tariff, $29.50 per book…
    Can you summarize any down side to that?
    Thanks, great discussion, Bill

  17. Danielle Bernock

    I am working on the final things for my book to be published. Have you heard of ?
    They have ISBN’s for less ($18.99 and $99.99) but that makes me suspicious. Can you advise on this company?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Yes, the cheap ISBNs will show their company as the publisher of your book. The $99 version is a regular ISBN, but the company will do all the data entry at Bowker on your behalf. To take control of your own ISBNs and the metadata being entered about your publishing company and your books, (and if you plan to keep publishing) I advise you go to and open an account for your publishing company and buy the 10-pack of ISBNs for $250, dropping the price for individual, owned-by-you ISBNs to $25 each.

  18. AVS

    I am ready to self-publish a book and think it’s wise to buy my on ISBN. Does this require that I officially register and create my own publishing company? I’m ready to promote and market this book for the long haul but I’m not sure I will self-publish again( I will try the traditional route for subsequent works) and do not plan on publishing for other authors.

    • John

      Good articles are hard to find. At least until now. Yours is a uiqnue article with a lot of original thought and well-researched information. Thank you for your vast insight.

  19. Ronald Walker

    I have several novels ready to publish in Word format but need help with cover .. Do you have recommendations for new authors?

  20. Jake Fratkin

    Joel – thank you for your information. I registered for an ISBN 12 years ago, and received a bunch of numbers to I could publish subsequent books under my main ISBN group-number. How can I find out what those other numbers are? Thanks.


  21. Jeremy

    Hi Joel. I have a question about registering my ISBNs. I’ve established an LLC in home state as well as registered an assumed name under which my publishing company will operate. But at, to register the ISBNs I will purchase for my book, I have to create an account, and to create an account, you have to search for and click your publishing company name. But my company name not surprisingly doesn’t appear! How do I get Bowkerlink to index my company name so I can create an account to register my ISBNs?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Jeremy, when you set up your account originally you enter your publisher name at that point. Then, when you go to register the ISBNs the company name you registered with Bowker (not with your local agency) should be on their list.

      • Jeremy

        Thanks, Joel! I figured that was how it worked, but it’s comforting to get confirmation before going through the payment process and shelling out the $250. Much appreciated! Now onward with my publishing adventure…

    • Azlan

      I enjoyed renidag your very informative article content. It seems we think a lot alike. I am very impressed with your well-written content. You must truly enjoy being a writer.

  22. Johnnie

    As I understand it, living in the Netherlands, I would need to request an ISBN from a Dutch authority. CreateSpace would then have no problem verifying the existence and validity of this ISBN? And would I still be able to retain royalties in US as non-foreign rights sales? So, although my publishing company is Dutch, the book is printed and sold in US for domestic margins?

    My other question is about book information. ISBN would need to be registered with correct binding type and page number etc, isn’t this a back and forth until I have the final proof worked out?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Johnnie, I can’t advise you about the needs of authors outside the U.S. I suggest you try Joanna Penn’s website for that info.

      ISBNs are issued to you as the publisher, then you assign the specific ISBN to a particular book. They are not “registered” individually, although at publication you can go into the title record for the book on and input the final information to keep the record up to date.

  23. Sunny

    Thanks Joel.
    I read all of the questions and answers here, because like everyone else, I’m starting out.
    I have no questions because you patiently answered them all.
    It is pretty clear to me that this was a convoluted subject that needed one such as you to step up and make it clear.
    You are appreciated.

  24. Ian

    It depends on your residency Col. If you are resident abroad then your work is deemed to have been published there, hence needing numbers from your new home.

    If your only temp. abroad then maybe you have access to a UK address? If so, you can apply for the numbers as normal.

    At least, that’s how I understood it when I got mine here in Norway (thankfully free, although I do have to lodge 7 copies with them in return)


  25. col

    Thanks for the article – very well put together.

    Was wondering if you know of, or have a link to, the process re ISBNs for UK and Irish nationals living (and working/paying tax etc.) in foreign countries (Asia region) and wanting to self-publish online. I’ve searched a lot and can’t get any concrete information.

    Thanks for your time and good luck.

  26. Kirkland Bailey

    Thanks for the article Joel. It is very informative. I am a first-time author who will be self-publishing and purchasing a block of ISBNs for reasons you’ve stated, and because I have a number of books to write and I will need them all.

    But my question to you is, about whether or not I need to purchase barcodes, or is safe to use the so-called offered by places like the following site: ?

    I appreciate your time and help.

    • Joel Friedlander


      I don’t know that specific solution, but there have been bar code generators, both paid and free, around for quite a while. At one time they were not always reliable, i.e. there were problems when they were scanned, so I used to buy mine at This one at looks quite good, but I haven’t used any of the bar codes they generate. Some POD vendors also supply barcodes in various ways, like Lightning Source with their free cover template generator.

  27. Ollibor

    Very informative and followed your guidelines and worked very well. I have my ISBN in Bowker database and shows in thier online database. But when I search the ISBN through other resources it does not show up? Do I need to register anywhere?


    • Joel Friedlander

      Ollibor, you should be set. If your book isn’t listed by any retailers yet, it won’t show up in a search. But once it’s online, it will take a week or two for the information to flow through the information channels and you should then be able to search for it and see where it’s for sale.

      • Ollibor

        Thanks, Joel. I forgot to mention that I am self publisher and so I could not access Bowker Books in print. However, it shows online in the Is it enough to flow into the other ISBN search so that I can put it in Amazon and other sales channel?

  28. Karen

    This is such a great thread. It seems no one will ever run out of questions about ISBN’s – least of all me!
    When you fill in your short & long descriptions on your ISBN numbers, can you go back and tweak that or is it a one shot deal?
    I ask because the metadata info I’ve been reading about is a little hard to understand and I’m worried that I may actually come to understand it more than I do – but I won’t be allowed to go back and update it.
    Many thanks for all the help!

  29. Stephen

    Joel – I’d really like to echo some previous comments by saying that this is a fantastically helpful piece. Thank you!

    Quick query, if that’s okay:

    I’m in the UK, and plan to buy a block of UK ISBNs and make up my own publishing brand name. There are a few UK-based POD options over here, although I’ve yet to select a specific one. One or two of them have sister companies in the USA which can POD for customers on the other side of the Atlantic who make an order (rather than sending copies from here). If I used this, I’m assuming that they won’t be identical books because they’re coming from two different printers (one in the UK, and one in the USA), although they would be coming from the same PDF, etc. I also understand the fact that ISBNs are related to publisher location, although I haven’t quite sussed out if that would be the UK or not if a sister company was being used to POD in the USA. Same ISBN for all the books in this instance, or not . . . ?

    • KathyF

      Hi Stephen, Like you I’m also in the UK but I’m planning to move to the US in the next few months. I had a similar question so I called the folks at Neilson, the equivalent of Bowker in the UK. They answered the phone right away and I was able to talk to a real person. She answered all my questions, and then some. From what she said, I think you’d be better off using the Neilson (and cheaper) ISBN, and then you can sell your books abroad with the same ISBN. Perhaps you’ve already figured this out, though, since your question was a few months ago.

  30. S. J. Pajonas

    I realize this post is old, but I have a question as well. If you’re a self-publisher and want to buy your block of ISBNs, do you put your own name as the publisher? Or can you put a publishing name that you want to use indefinitely? Does that publishing name need to be a legal entity, like an LLC or corporation? Thanks for your site! It’s so helpful and informative.

    • Joel Friedlander


      The post may be old, but the conversation goes on. If you plan to continue publishing books, not just doing one, I recommend you establish a publishing company name or an imprint, and register your ISBNs in that name. Your name does not have to be a legal entity in itself, but if you plan to open accounts and cashier checks, you’ll at least need to file a fictitious business name statement or whatever is used for the same purpose in your local area.

  31. Thurman Phillips

    I,m interested in how an isbn works. My reason is, I,m trying to do my first book writing and publish, to make a profit of course. I read where I can get a free isbn, as broke and poor as I am, that will serve me perfect. Can I actually do that. Please respond let me know.

    Thank you very much

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thurman, if you print your book at you can get a free ISBN from them.

  32. Tami

    Hi Jim! Thank you so much, I know I’m repeating what others have said. But this has been wonderful for me!

    I have a question for you: I have been looking at Bowker for my barcode and ISBN. However, I understand that there is a site that offers these things cheaper. Is there any difference between this site and what Bowker is offering? I would like the cheaper options, but I feel safer with Bowker for some reason.

    Thanks again!

  33. Nicolette

    Hello – I live outside of the US and plan to use Create Space to print these books under my own publishing imprint. Logically, I should be using ISBNs that are issued in my country of residence, even though it’s specifically stated that ISBNs issued by my local agency should only be used for books produced locally.

    I won’t use the free CS-assigned ISBN because in that case, my imprint won’t exist. My partner in the US can buy ISBNs and register our imprint, but I’m the one who owns the account on CS (the $ is managed by me) and my address is outside of the US. Would this be a problem?

  34. John

    Hi Joel, thank you for the very insightful article.

    If you plan to publish a paper version of a book in different countries (with different currencies), do you require to use one ISBN by “currency”, even if the content book is exactly the same in all other regards? Typically, I would use different printers for the US/Canada, the UK and Australia.


    • Joel Friedlander

      No, the ISBN is determined by the where the publisher’s business is located, and the books can be sold anywhere.

  35. Kathy B

    Hi Jim,

    Like you, I’m in the trenches trying to figure out all the details and minutae in order to get my book out in the next couple of weeks. I’ve found this site Joel’s site enormously helpful. Thanks Joel!! And Joel led me to Aaron Shepard’s website. He gives very detailed information about stuff like filling out the Lightning Source form for example.. I’ve just gotten his book, POD for profit in which he discusse Lightning Source in depth. I believe he includes much of that information on his website as well.

    • Jim H.

      Thanks, Kathy. I still am not able to find the answers to my questions anywhere, including on Aaron’s blog. My questions were about the complications, overlap, and possible conflict of pursuing both CS and LS at the same time, as suggested by some experienced folks. Not so much about the process for each path individually.

  36. Jim H.

    Very helpful info and discussion, Joe. Thanks so much. I still have a few questions, if I may:

    1. When I register with Bowker to buy my ISBN directly from them, I will be listed as the publisher to contact about my book. Will retailers contact me then if they want to order my book? If I do my book with Create Space but use my own ISBN, how do I direct retailers to order directly from CS and not from me?

    2. you suggested using CS for Amazon and Lightning Source for extended distribution, using the same ISBN for both. Does that mean I have to set up the complete POD process with both? Let’s say I do my book with CS first and distribute it through Amazon. Do I now sign up with Lightning Source and start from scratch with them to create an identical new book? Or how do I carry my book (production files?) from CS over to LS? Can I save any steps here with LS?

    3. Another wrinkle here, too. If I paid CS for services such as book cover design and book formatting, do I own these things (the final book cover and the final formatted interior) and can I take these to LS, or can CS prevent/prohibit me from doing that?

    Thanks for any clarification here, Joel, or anybody else. It’s the nitty gritty detail that I can’t find answers to, and I feel so stuck!!

    Thanks so much again, Joel, for all the help you’ve provided to us novice self-publishers.

    • Joel Friedlander


      1. No retailers will contact you if they don’t know about your book, so it’s your responsibility as publisher to market both to the retail channels as well as buyers.
      2. Yes, you do it twice, once for each vendor. Your LS file interior file will run fine at CreateSpace. Covers need to be adjusted for spine width variations.
      3. I believe the files created for you by CreateSpace belong to you, but you’ll need to check with them to be certain you can take them with you.

      • Jim H.

        Thank you, Joel. That was very helpful.

        I just need a little clarification on No. 1.
        I understand I’ll have to do all the marketing/hard sale myself, but I was just wondering about the ordering process. Say if a supportive friend of mine tries to order my book through a retailer, the retailer will have to look up ordering info from my ISBN. When I register my ISBN/book with Bowker BooksinPrint, is there a space where I can specify how to order my book (e.g. through CreateSpace with whom I did my book) so that the retailer knows to contact CS instead of contacting me (as publisher of record) directly to place the order?
        I’m just very green in all this, and my head is spinnging round chasing one detail after another :-)

        Thanks so much, Joel.

        • Kathy B

          People will be able to order your books on Amazon if you use CreateSpace. And if you use Lightning Source, your books will be available on Amazon, B&N, as well as with other distributors. Though I haven’t done it yet, I think you choose the distribution package you want. Of course, Amazon is the biggy.

  37. Joanna Celeste

    What if you have a family business that’s already set up, and two of the family members get published under the umbrella company? Would that still qualify as “owning your own” or would it basically be the same as having CreateSpace own it?

    I figure if it’s in the name of the family business, then it belongs partially to us but doesn’t require two people to set up their own company, and it uses existing resources.

    • Joel Friedlander

      I agree, Joanna. It’s your business, so go ahead and use it.



  1. At Frankfurt Book Fair: Is The ISBN Still Worth Its Barcode? | The Global Point - […] years ago, in November 2010, the  highly regarded blogger and book designer J.F. Bookman’s ISBN 101 For Self-Publishers laid…
  2. At Frankfurt Book Fair: Is The ISBN Still Worth Its Barcode? | Thought Catalog - […] years ago, in November 2010, the  highly regarded blogger and book designer J.F. Bookman’s ISBN 101 For Self-Publishers laid…
  3. Midnight Publishing LLC – Self-Publishing Tips: Critique Partners vs. Editors - […] Here’s a great article by writer and publisher Joel Friedlander on the meaning of ISBNs, who needs them, and…
  4. Leaving Proof 226 | Notes from the 2014 Vancouver Comic Arts Festival, Part 1 « The ComixverseThe Comixverse - […] To learn more about ISBNs and why any self-publisher looking to books at retails needs ISBNs, click here. […]
  5. ISBN 101 For Self-Publishers — The Book Designer | CKBooks Publishing - […] ISBN 101 For Self-Publishers — The Book Designer. […]
  6. All about ISBNs for your book - David Sluka | Hit the Mark – In Communication, Leadership, and Publishing - […] a fantastic overview about what ISBNs are all about for self-publishers, see ISBN 101 for Self-Publishers by Joel Friedlander. A…
  7. Formatting the ebooks | Capitol Crime Writers - […] around the headings. Don’t forget to use the correct ISBN for each format. (See the Book Designer for more…
  8. Nattering nabobs of negativism | Capitol Crime Writers - […] to get it done in one work day. The ISBN took minutes, thanks to the indispensable articles of Joel…
  9. Should You Purchase Your Own ISBN? - Million Pens Million Pens - […] One of the best reasons for owning your own ISBN, though, is that it maximizes your control over your…
  10. Self-Publishing in Five Critical Steps (Real Talk) | Amber Lisa's Literary Boutique and Spa! - […] I personally opted to accept a free ISBN, from Createspace, when I published my book, The Way Through, Lessons…
  11. How to Create Your Own E-book | ickasochsai - […] ISBN# for the .mobi file (Don’t know about ISBN#’s? Read this article and buy your own ISBN#s at […]
  12. The murky side of self-publishing | J. Sumner Books - [...] of ISBN (which warrants a new blog entry) and DRM (Digital Rights Management). In the meantime, visit this site…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.