Looking for an ISBN?

Follow these 4 simple steps to buy your ISBN and apply it to your book.

How to Get an ISBN for Your Book image

What is an ISBN?

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique string of numbers that helps identify books in various publishing industry databases. Every publisher must purchase and assign ISBNs to any book they wish to publish in print (whether paperback, hardcover, booklet or other print format).

ISBNs are required for publishers seeking to sell books in book stores or libraries, and for publishers who want to use Print-on-Demand (POD) publishing services like CreateSpace or Ingram Lightning Source.

Step 1. Go to myidentifiers.com

If you’re buying an ISBN in the US, you there is only one place to go: Bowker. This company is the the official ISBN Agency for the United States and Australia, meaning they essentially have a monopoly and are the only legitimate place to buy ISBNs from.

Do NOT buy ISBNs from resellers as these repackaged ISBNs will cause many headaches and problems for you later down the road. Unauthorized ISBN resellers prey on self-publishers and unexperienced publishers. You can read more about how to get an ISBN number without resellers here.

Note: If you are looking to buy an ISBN in order to publish a book outside of the US, you can find the ISBN retailer for your country at www.isbn-international.org/agency

Note: In some countries like Canada, you can get an ISBN for free.

Step 2. Select How Many ISBNs You Need

Below is a screenshot of the current pricing of ISBNs in the US from Bowker.

How Much ISBNs Cost

This table shows the current pricing of ISBN’s from Bowker along with the cost per ISBN depending on how many you buy at a time.

Number of ISBN'sPriceCost Per ISBN

As you can see, the cost per ISBN goes down from $125 for a single ISBN to $1.2 per ISBN if you buy 1,000 – that’s a whopping 99% decrease in the cost per ISBN!

If you are planning on publishing multiple books, you should definitely buy more than 1 ISBN at a time to take advantage of the savings from bulk purchases.

Realize that you will need an ISBN for each and every edition of a print book that you publish. If you publish a hardcover and a paperback book, you will need 1 ISBN for each of those versions. If you publish a second edition of a paperback book, you will need an ISBN for both the first and second edition.

Thus, a single book may need up to 10 ISBNs or more over its life, depending on how many different versions and editions you plan to publish.

You do not have to have an ISBN for eBooks and audiobooks, but many publishers choose to apply ISBN’s to these versions of their books for the purpose of tracking sales and royalties owed to clients.

Note: If you want to publish using CreateSpace or Ingram Lightning Source or any other Print-on-Demand (POD) Publishing service, you will need to buy an ISBN. Although CreateSpace offers an ISBN for free, you should always buy your own so that you or your company is the publisher on record, not CreateSpace.

Beware the Bowker Upsells

When you purchase ISBNs, Bowker will try to upsell you on barcodes, self-publishing solutions, copyright registrations, press releases, software to analyze your writing style, QR codes and more. In my experience, none of this stuff is worth your money or time, so I recommend just grabbing as many ISBNs as you need and moving on to the next step.

There are tons of things you can invest money in as an author and self-publisher that will bring a better Return on Investment (ROI) than the extra services and products you can find here.

ISBN Upsells from Bowker

If all you need are ISBNs, just buy ISBNs and don’t bother with all the upsells and other services offered at myidentifiers.com

Step 3. Create Your Account

When you purchase ISBNs from myidentifiers.com, you’ll be prompted to create your account.

You can then login to your account and start using your ISBNs right away.

Step 4. Managing Your ISBNs

Once you login to your account, scroll up to “My Account” and click “Manage ISBNs” as seen in the screenshot below.

Managing ISBNs image

Step 5. Assign an ISBN to Your Book Title

Next, you’ll come to your ISBN management page that looks like this:ISBN Management Page from myidentifiers.com

Simply click “Assign Title” in order to assign an ISBN to your book.

When you click Assign Title, you will have to fill out the metadata and pricing information for your book. Make sure you fill out the information on your book as thoroughly and completely as you can because this information will be sent to publishing industry databases all over the world.

If you’re looking to sell your book in libraries or book stores, you will definitely want this information to be accurate and up-to-date.

Here’s the basic information you should fill out for each book:

Page 1. Title & Cover

  • Title
  • Subtitle
  • Book Description
  • Upload the Cover Image
  • Upload a PDF Copy of Your Book (Bowker doesn’t show the PDF to anyone – they simply use it to create a list of relevant keywords based on the content of your book to help book buyers find your book more easily in industry databases)
  • Current Language of the Book
  • Copyright Year
  • Library of Congress Control Number

Page 2. Contributors

You must add the following information for each contributor to the book (authors, illustrators, etc.):

  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Contributor Bio
  • Contributor Role

Page 3. Format & Size

  • Medium (this is the format of the book you are publishing such as print, ebook, audiobook, etc.)
  • Primary Subject
  • Secondary Subject

Page 4. Sales & Pricing

  • Where is the title sold? (The country)
  • Publishing Imprint (email Bowker support at [email protected] to set up an imprint if you don’t have one already in their database)
  • Title Status (Forthcoming or Active usually)
  • Publication Date
  • Target Audience (This will be “Trade” for most fiction and non-fiction books)

You will also need to fill out the price data for each country:

  • Currency Type
  • Price
  • Price Type (usually Retail)

After you’ve filled out all four pages, click “Submit” to assign the ISBN to your book. If there are any issues or errors, you will see a red asterisk at the top of the page with notes on information that is missing.

If you do not fully complete your ISBN information, the ISBN will not be assigned to your title and you may have to start over from the beginning, so make sure you have 10-15 minutes to fill it out properly and fix any mistakes you may make.

What to Do After You Get Your ISBN

After you get your ISBN and assign it to your book, make sure to add that ISBN in the following places:

  • On the Title Page for the book
  • In the metadata section of each retailer’s website (such as Amazon’s KDP Dashboard for Kindle books or CreateSpace’s title information section for paperback print-on-demand books).

After that, it’s time to get back to promoting and marketing your books!

You can check out some of the best marketing resources and tools for authors here.

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