Monday Mailbag: ISBN, Copyright and More

by | Oct 31, 2016

Time for another installment of our long-running, intermittently-published question-and-answer roundups. Yes, it’s another Monday Mailbag in which we gather questions from my email inbox, from the comments on the blog, and from strange calls in the middle of the night from distraught authors wondering just where they went wrong.

Once again I’ve reached deep into the recesses of the mailbags that line the hallways at Marin Bookworks’ Global Headquarters in sunny San Rafael, California. I’ve dipped, tasted, organized, and collected some choice repartee, just for you.

Here they are, loosely organized by category, for your Monday edification. My hope is that you might find something here that will answer a question that’s been nagging you. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Copyright Concerns

Q: Your website is a wonderful resource! I have a situation that is not unprecedented, but is a little weird. My book was published five years ago and went out of print. Rights have reverted to me. I’m in the process of self-publishing, and wondering whether I need to retain any of the info on the original copyright page (Library of Congress info, etc.)?

A: LCCN applies to the book, so that’s fine. If you’re referring to a CIP data block, it will contain the old ISBN, which will need to be replaced with your new one. Everything on the copyright page is up to you; you can include/exclude whatever you like or think appropriate, but you don’t want to leave anything that would associate the book with the previous publisher (like the ISBN).

Q: Joel, I apologize for the silly question. I’m just so confused. You mention we should publish the book first and then copyright it. Shouldn’t we have the copyright page in the book so that people will see that it is indeed a legitimate book that doesn’t look so amateurish? I understand it’s copyrighted the moment you pen your books. But I just don’t understand how we are supposed to get that copyright sheet of paper in the book if you publish it before getting actually filing for one. Would you please help me to understand?

A: No problem!

  1. You write the book, your copyright is inherent in the work as you create it
  2. You publish the book with a copyright notice (“© 2016 by Joel Friedlander. All rights reserved.” or see my article on this subject: Self-Publishing Basics: The Copyright Page
  3. You register your copyright with the Copyright Office within 90 days of publication.

That’s it!

Q: Hi I am so new at this I wrote a fiction book it is almost finished which is so exciting! Anyway I have a friend in the beginning she did help me with some ideas but at the same time I have edited everything and rewrote scenes can I just register under my name and just place her as co author? One person said yes, I can do whatever I want.

A: If you wrote the book, you own the copyright. After the book is published register it with the Copyright office under your own name. If you want to thank your friend, when the book comes out give her a gift as a token of your appreciation, along with a copy of the book. Some authors will also acknowledge help like this in the Acknowledgments section of the book itself.

Q: I’ve done a homework assignment for a masters level class which turned into an
in-service for a hospital system. How can I copyright this so my name stays with the presented material now and after I leave the hospital system?

A: You can publish your work and register it with the copyright office. However, I would advise you to first clarify your relationship with the hospital system that was your employer, especially read carefully through any employment contracts or employee manuals to make sure you are actually the owner of the copyright.

Book Marketing

Q: What happens if your readers fall into both categories—expert and novice.

A: Try to segment your audience and provide content for each segment in addition to more general content. Over time you’ll see which one you should concentrate on, because your “market” will tell you.

Vendor Issues

Q: I came across your opinion that these services are not necessarily the best way to go and that I should be uploading the files myself, what I didn’t see your reasoning behind that and I wanted to ask what it is.

A: No, I think you’ve misunderstood my advice. I think ebook distributors who also convert files to ebook formats for you, (for instance, BookBaby, Smashwords, and Draft2Digital among others) are a really good choice for most indie authors. You might want to keep the Kindle dashboard to yourself if you plan to run pricing or other experiments on that platform, but using a distributor for most of the ebook market is a smart move for most authors who should be spending their time writing books and marketing the ones they’ve already published.

Q: My manuscript is at the stage of being formatted and the cover design is almost done, but now they’ve asked me to determine the trim size for the hard cover version. I selected 6×9 for the paperback. It appears to be 354 pages in the pdf and 94,000 words. Will choosing the 6 x 9 for the hard cover work?

A: Make the hardcover the same size as the paperback, there’s no reason to have to spend anything on reformatting the book. It will just be bound differently. However, the real problem is that the book has paginated to 354 pages, way too long for a POD book of 94,000 words. That alone will end up costing you $$ for every copy printed. From these 2 items, I have serious concerns about the vendor you’re using.

ISBN Questions

Q: I am totally confused. I have just uploaded a second book to CreateSpace and chosen all the distribution channels available to me. However, since I purchased both ISBNs directly from Bowker, and not from CreateSpace, my books are not eligible for “library” distribution. How do I (or can I) register my books with Ingram?


  1. Adjust the cover spine width for Spark’s paper difference.
  2. Make sure “Expanded Distribution” in CreateSpace is not selected
  3. Upload the book with the same ISBN to Ingram Spark

Q: What I’m hoping you can answer is whether or not you can start of with a FREE ISBN (I’m thinking CreateSpace) and then buy another ISBN later should the book do well enough that you’ll be selling it through other channels.

A: You could, but I don’t recommend it. Following this plan you would end up with 2 identical books from the same publisher but with different ISBNs, and that’s not a good idea. Invest in your future, buy your own ISBNs. They never wear out or expire, you know.

Q: If I do POD of the same book with both Create Space and Ingram Spark, can I use the same ISBN for them or is it necessary to use two different ISBNs?

A: Bob, you most definitely should use the exact same ISBN, because the book is the same regardless of who manufactures it.

Q: I am getting ready to start publishing and know there are going to be several books, tapes and videos that are going to be published in the future. Right now however, although buying 10 ISBNs is not a problem, but I am curious, when I use up the initial 10 ISBNs, what happens to the publisher identifier? Do I get a completely different publisher identifier and another block of 10 ISBN’s (thus starting at 0 again), or do I get a new publisher identifier for ALL the previous books, etc. so the book count goes to 00?

A: When you use up the first block of ISBNs, just purchase another one and keep going. This is very common, and both publisher identifiers will point back to your publishing company. If you would rather have a continuous series of ISBNs, buy the 1,000 pack, but be aware it has no impact on what, or how, you publish in the future, they are just inventory numbers.

Q: If I plan to initially sell a POD version of my book via Amazon/Createspace, it is my understanding that I can use my own ISBN and still get the 70% rather than 35% if I follow their guidelines for that. Am I right so far that using my ISBN or not getting one from them as they don’t require it does not affect the royalty percentage? Second, assuming I’ve now bought my own ISBN from Bowker, if I’m printing the same book in the same format, but from non-Amazon entities, do I use that same ISBN, since it’s the same book exactly and same trade paperback format, just made by and sold by different entities? Thanks so much in advance for your answer.

A: There is no 70% royalty available on CreateSpace books. That’s the royalty available on Kindle ebooks if they are priced within Amazon’s guidelines (currently $2.99 to $9.99).

You earn profits on your book (not a “royalty,” no matter what they insist on calling it) depending on how much you charge, the discount you give to retailers, and the cost to manufacture each book. You can (and should, in my opinion) acquire your own ISBNs from Bowker. And yes, you can print your book anywhere using the same ISBN, they have nothing to do with Amazon or CreateSpace.


tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Ria Stone

    Always useful information.

    I have revised an existing publication and am about ready to publish it. I kept the same title but added “2nd Edition” to indicate there had been some changes.

    Is 2nd Edition the correct identification?

    • Sharon

      Ria, yes, you did it correctly. Don’t forget you need a new ISBN (not the same as the first edition).

  2. chandi

    Joel, I have a question about the copyright page of my self-published book. I am not sure where to ask this question. I tried to search on it to see if you’ve answered it somewhere… Here’s the question: On the copyright page, how exactly do I format the credit that I give to the cover designer? Do I just state who the cover is by, or do I give her the copyright, as in using the symbol, such as: cover design © 2016 Judy Smith

    I thought that is how to do it but I was just told that I should not give the copyright to her and that I have hired her, then I own the copyright to the cover design.

    Thanks so much for your kind reply!

    • Sharon Goldinger

      Chandi, you should have a written contract with your cover designer, which should clearly state the terms of your work with her, including who owns the copyright to the cover design. My contracts with the designers I use all contain a provision that says once the cover is fully paid for the copyright is owned by the publisher/author/person signing the contract. Many (but not all) contracts include a provision to credit the cover designer on the copyright page. I use this format: Cover designer: Jane Doe, Doe Graphic Design.

      • chandi

        Thanks Sharon for your kind reply. I had gone ahead and decided to handle the credit on the copyright page in the same way you’ve stated here. I asked the designer about a contract and she said, “I never write any contracts, but once the invoice is paid, you own the right of the cover and you can do whatever you want with it. So no worries!”

  3. chandi

    Hi Joel, thanks for all the great info. I am self publishing in a few months and I’m ready to buy my ISBN pack on Bowker. On the Bowker site I see a deal “1 copyright + 10 ISBNs for $309” but I don’t believe I need to buy copyright because US copyright law considers anything you publish with your name and a date on it to be automatically copyrighted by you, and I’ll have the copyright page in my book. Am I correct about getting only the 10 ISBNs and not the copyright as well?

    • Sharon Goldinger

      Chandi, you are correct–you only need to buy the 10 ISBNs.

      • chandi

        Thanks Sharon!



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