Monday Mailbag: ISBNs, Barcodes, Copyright, Book Design and more

POSTED ON Mar 28, 2016

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

Home > Blog > Self-Publishing, Legal Issues > Monday Mailbag: ISBNs, Barcodes, Copyright, Book Design and more

Questions never stop their inexorable creep, like the ivy in my yard. The more you answer, the more you get asked. Does that really make sense?

Here’s the latest installment of some select “Q&A” happening around here. Reaching into the mailbags that line the hallways at Marin Bookworks Global Headquarters, I’ve sampled and collected some choice repartee, just for you.

There are tried and true categories (Yes! Even more ISBN questions!) and questions about very specific scenarios. All intensely practical.

Find something here that will answer a question that’s been nagging you. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Book Design and Fonts

Q: I have my non-fiction book outlined and have conducted enough research to get started, but one question I have is whether it is best to number pages after I have written my book, or as I proceed. Is there a disadvantage to waiting until it’s more complete?

A: The only reason to number the pages of your manuscript before the book is typeset is for your own reference. When the book is typeset, formatted, and completely laid out ready for printing, and after all the corrections have been made is when the page numbering becomes finalized. Before then any correction, addition, or deletion could result in “page reflow,” so it’s important to make sure the book is finished before considering the pagination final.

Q: I’m working on a book on botany, which is still in its infancy, and I have no experience with publishing. My goal is to make a beautiful/high quality book, both in content and design. I need to have this question answered before investing in online tutorials and a publishing platform. In the Danish language we have three letters not found in English (æ, ø and å). Are these represented in standard U.S. publishing tools?

A: These characters are not specific to the software tools that we use to publish books, they depend on the specific fonts used, and most high quality fonts do have them in their selection of letterforms (“glyphs”) available. For instance, if they pick a “Pro” font from Adobe, they will almost certainly be included.

Check on MyFonts where you will find the complete glyph selection for each font. For instance, for Adobe Garamond Pro, a high quality typeface for books, they show 934 glyphs, and you can see them all here: Adobe Garamond Pro.

Q: I’ve been unable to work out whether Ingram Spark’s case laminate books (to be used for a children’s picture book) have ‘separate ends’ or ‘self ends.’ If separate, is there an option for what color of paper is used?

A: Good question. First, for other readers, the endleaves of a casebound book (a hardcover) are the sheets at the front and back of the book, that attach the interior book block to the case, or cover. “Self ends” is shorthand for endleaves that are made of the same paper on which the book is printed, while “separate ends” are those that use a different paper stock, on that you might be able to specify.

But the answer is “neither.” Ingram uses a standard stock for endleaves, not the text stock (“self ends”), but they don’t give you a choice of stock as far as I know.


Q: I am a book cover designer, and recently one of my clients asked for a “commercial license” which I do not really know anything about. While searching for how to give commercial license for a book cover design, I came across your site. Is there anyway you can help me with a commercial license to edit and give to my clients anytime I have a request for it?

A: Personally, at the completion of my design projects (i.e. when the client has paid the final bill) I grant to the client full and permanent ownership of the design used for their book and any files created by me in the process. Since they thereby become the owner of the design, no commercial license is required. I retain the right to use the designs in my own portfolio and promotional material.

Q: It’s my understanding that if you publish a book you are opening your own business. I wrote a book however I do not want to open my own business therefore it’s my understanding that I need to find a publisher and a publisher requires an agent and that seems like it might take years and years and years. I don’t really have years to wait until this message reaches the world.

A: In a sense you are “opening a business,” but there are also many authors who publish as a hobby. Talk to your accountant or tax preparer before you get started so you know how to deal with the money you will spend and earn, then just go ahead and publish your books, you don’t need an agent or a publisher.

Q: I am pricing the same book in CreateSpace and Ingram Spark. CreateSpace is lower in cost and I can make my book $26.99. At Ingram Spark, because of the mandatory discount, I lose money and need to price my book at $28.99. How can I have my book two different prices? Do I raise CreateSpace price? Or go with the two different prices?

A: The book is the same no matter where it’s printed, so the price should be identical. To the consumer, there’s no difference between the books (and they should also have the same ISBN).

ISBNs and Barcodes

Q: My grandfather’s book is out of print and we’re now putting it on Amazon as an ebook and as a print-on-demand paperback through CreateSpace. Do we need new ISBNs for either of these, or can we reuse the original printing’s ISBN for the CreateSpace reprint?

A: The ISBNs belong to the publisher who first issued the books. You’ll need to get your own, since you are now the publisher.

Q: I have a book I am publishing in 24 episodes, each of which is 60 pages. Eventually I will offer them together as a complete book. I already have an ISBN, do I need a separate ISBN for each 60-page episode?

A: If you intend to retail the individual episodes as standalone books, each will need its own ISBN. The book that compiles them will also need a separate ISBN. If you don’t intend to sell them separately through retailers (online or offline) you don’t need an ISBN at all.

Q: We are three British co-authors who all live in Spain, and we each maintain bank accounts in both countries. We have just produced our latest book in Kindle and are preparing to do a CreateSpace paperback version. Can we buy an ISBN in the UK, or will it have to be Spain?

A: It will depend on where you decide your publishing company’s “headquarters” will be. If in the UK, get your ISBNs there, and the same for Spain. By the way, buying a bunch of ISBNs can be a subtle incentive to keep publishing!

Q: If i buy my own ISBN, would I have to setup a publishing company like a sole proprietorship? I saw Bowker on their MyIdentifiers site asks for the company name, and I want to be clear on what I should do. I would like to be my own publisher, so if i’m using CreateSpace to print my book, does that come into play?

A: CreateSpace doesn’t allow you to list them as publisher, since they consider that all their authors are the publishers, and they simply provide a printing and distribution service. You can put your own name in on the Bowker form, and that’s perfectly acceptable, even if it’s not optimal. A better plan would be to create a publisher name (see your local authorities on how to create a “fictitious business name”) and use that instead. There are several articles on this subject on the blog.

Q: Do I need a separate bar code for each ISBN? I am publishing a book that will be in 3 formats, so I know I need three ISBNs, but do I need a separate barcode on each? And you mentioned free bar codes, can you explain where and how? Or do they have to be set up at the same time/place as the ISBN?

A: A barcode is simply a machine-scannable version of the ISBN so yes, you need a separate barcode for each ISBN. There are a variety of free barcode generators online, POD vendors often supply them for free to their customers, and many cover designers do the same thing.

Q: I’m new to publishing. I’m setting up an independent publishing house and will have a number of authors publish with me. If I buy a block of ISBNs from Bowker’s MyIdentifiers, can the ISBNs be used for different authors?

A: The ISBNs can be used for all the books you publish, regardless of the authors. The ISBNs are assigned to you as the publisher. It’s up to you to assign them to specific books, each of which will show you as the publisher of the book.

Q: I’ve got an ISBN for my book as a self publisher, but before the launch, a new publishing company expressed their interest in publishing it. Can I accept the offer and publish my book through them, and still use the ISBN that I have?

A: No, ISBNs are assigned to the publisher, so if you sign a contract with the new publishing company, they will use their own ISBN on your book.

Book Printing and Printers

Q: When a printer creates electronic files of a type-written manuscript, who owns the rights to the electronic file? Can the author request the electronic files and does he have to pay a fee?

A: According to printing industry conventions (and these are often printed in small type on the back of estimates, etc.) the printer is only selling you the final product, and anything they create in order to get to that product remains their property. Some will give it to you, some may sell it to you, and many won’t make it available at all. The only way I’ve seen people get around this is to make an arrangement with the printer before you start the job.

Q: When photographers give permission to use their picture for a book, sometimes there is a choice of “Small,” “Medium,” “Large,” etc. If a book will be 8-1/2″ x 11,” and a picture will take up a full page, what will be the best photo quality necessary in order for a full-page glossy photo image to look as good as the image on the computer screen?

If you wondering what kind of photo image we’re talking about, it is of animals.

A: This is best measured in pixel size (also known as dots per inch or dpi).

For print production, you want a file that’s 300 dpi at the reproduction size.

So for an image that will print full page on 8.5 x 11, you would need an image that’s actually 8.625″ x 11.25″ to account for bleed (running off the edge of the page), so your image file should be (8.625″ x 300 =) 2587 pixels x (11.25″ x 300 =) 3375 pixels.

Q: If an image falls outside and significantly below the 2587 x 3375 pixels you just suggested, what is the lowest pixel count that will not compromise a clear, crisp image? In other words, if there is a picture of an animal that is available only as 670 x 450 pixels, what would it look like in an 8-1/2″ x 11″ book? Would it make a difference if the book was 8″ x 8″?

A: An image of 670 x 450 pixels will be “sharp” (i.e. will conform to the 300 dpi standard for print books) at a reproduction size of 2.23″ x 1.5″, no matter what the size of the book within which it’s being printed.


Q: I will have a professional service format my novel as an Amazon eBook and print book as soon as copyright arrives from the U.S. Copyright Office–probably within four months (I’ve already waited that long). How long should it take, since I need to fill out the “Publication Date” in several places?

A: You don’t have to wait for your copyright in order to publish your book. In fact, you’re doing it backwards. Usually we publish the book, with a copyright page in it, then register the copyright with the Library of Congress.

Q: Do I need a separate copyright for the electronic version and for the physical version of my book?

A: If the content is the same, you don’t need another registration, one will cover all formats of the book.

Q: I have an author that really likes a specific painting by [a famous American painter]. From what I know, U.S. copyright law says anything published before 1923 is now in the public domain, so does that mean my client can freely use the image for his book cover design?

A: Good question. The painting is in the public domain, but he has to be careful about what he uses for reproduction. In other words, he’s not going to take the painting to the printer, so what will he use? The rights to most reproduction-quality photographs of artwork are owned by the photographer or museum where the art is held, so even though the image is in the public domain, the reproductions of it available for use on book covers likely are not in the public domain. They will be available through paying a fee for in exchange for a rights license that’s very specific about what use is allowed.


Q: What’s your sense of whether it’s wiser to put DRM on ebooks or not? Pros and cons each way?

A: I recommend not using DRM on ebooks unless you are publishing proprietary information at a high price, where you really need to guard against piracy. For most authors, it’s not worth irritating your readers, and in fact the problem of obscurity is much greater.

Book Marketing

Q: Over the last few days, I’ve been promoting the launch of my new book through mass mailings on Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Goodreads and so on. But I’ve been hit with a backlash because several dozen unhappy people, who didn’t appreciate my book marketing material, told me so. I apologized, but how can I re-establish myself in my social communities?

A: Keep mailing, but instead of book promotions, send free, useful information that’s of value to the people on your list. Just keep moving forward, and keep sending that information that informative, useful, or entertaining. It will make the promotional email more welcome. Although I’m not sure what you mean by “mass mailings” on social media sites. I do recommend building your own email list and using that instead.

What about you, do you have unanswered questions? Leave them in the comments and we’ll try to help out.

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Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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