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Don't worry, it's not as bad as it sounds...really!

Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds…really!

 This is the boring technical stuff that scares the living B-Jeebers out of many Family Historians! We tend to be delicate creative souls…not to be bothered by scholarly details and creepy stuff like “math.”

If you have diligently played along for the past few weeks, you’ve know this was coming! The “A” word–Acronyms. Yes, these are the confusing non-word words hurled at us just when we think we may have a handle on the whole “self publishing” gig.

We’re going to work on (work-over) just one today. That’s enough to sweat in a season when the pollen counts are tortuously high, and we all have assorted graduation parties to attend.

Today we’re talking ISBNs (via Bowker).

This is the ISBN that appears on the backcover of Deborah Sweeney's new book. You know her as The Genealogy Lady

This is the ISBN that appears on the backcover of Deborah Sweeney’s new book. You know her as The Genealogy Lady

ISBNs are the numbers under and above the bar-code on every book you purchase from a retailer. The “A-word” stands in for “International Standard Book Number.” I believe just knowing what that string of letters represents in big bad ISBN makes the whole thing less intimidating in general.

The CATCH? Yes, of course there is a “Catch.”

There is only one “company” in the “world” selling (yes, you may have to pay to have an ISBN). That company is Bowker. If you would like to learn more about Bowker, and what their in-depth trade is, click on the link. It’ll send you to the Wikipedia listing instead of their webpage. I chose to do this because the writer of the Wikipedia article did a nice job of boiling it all down to a tidy and understandable overview. Once you decide a definitive “yes” or “no” for using an ISBN, you can Google the RR Bowker company, load your cart and go to the check out line.

**Also see Bill’s Comment below, where he points out that other firms indeed are authorized to sell ISBNs, just not here in the US. Thanks Bill!

One common misconception here is that once you have an ISBN, no one else may use that title to obtain a number. The thought being that you have effectively just “called dibs” on your title.

NOT TRUE. There is no such thing as a copyright for a book title!

What? Why do I need to have an ISBN? Why wouldn’t I need an ISBN? I have to pay for one…but just “maybe?”

Here’s the deal

Remember back on the installment of this series How to Write a Book-2 , I encouraged you to consider your audience–Who are you writing this book for? That was a really important decision. Because:

You will need an ISBN for your book if:

  1. You offer it for sale on a website or in a bookstore (including Indie and Mass Market stores.
  2. You plan to donate (or sell) copies to a library or local historical society, or museum.
  3. You are writing this with hopes of selling it to a wider audience than just your family and would thus need for it to be searchable.

You will not need an ISBN if:

  1. You are only making the book available as an eBook (Note: this is highly contestable in my opinion. I suggest you err to the safe side and include an ISBN for eBooks as well)
  2. You are writing the book to share with relatives as a PDF file–one they can view on their screen or print out at home onto normal paper with a link you provide them.
  3. You plan to write this book, pay a printer for a run of copies and then either gift them to your relatives or hope that you “sell” them enough to cover the costs you have accrued while researching, writing, editing, and printing your work.
  4. You plan to only sell the book via your own webpage and/or during book fairs or personal appearances (this can work well for some niche topics).
  5. You are willing to have the books printed in this manner and risk being stuck with many boxes of your masterpiece collecting dust mites and mildew in a seldom visited corner of your home.

You may have an ISBN for no charge IF:

  1. You upload your finished book to CreateSpace (Amazon’s POD–print on demand–service) you may choose to receive an assigned ISBN at no charge. When you accept this option, you are allowing CreateSpace to be the publisher of record. This is a no-brainer if you plan to sell only to friends and family, or via the online Amazon store. They will do the same for the Kindle version (also an Amazon product-line) should you choose to add an eBook version. However, don’t expect to see your book on library shelves or in bookstores with CreateSpace/ Amazon as the publisher of record. The push will only be on for internet sales. Also, the ISBN is only “good” for selling via Amazon (and CreateSpace). You can’t, for example load it to Barnes and Noble for sale on their website/stores/ or Nook eBooks…or Google, or iTunes blah blah blah. The freebie is Amazon’s property and it’s provided at no charge to keep it on Amazon’s selling sites.
  2. You publish with a Traditional house with live Editors and full staff services and advances and such…they’ll absorb the comparatively dinky fee.

So, I want one, my very own, so I can do whatever I want, when and with whoever I want with my book– what’s it going to cost me? 

You may buy an ISBN from Bowker, just like the big boys. They come with substantial price breaks for buying in bulk. Don’t get excited. Unless you are highly prolific and planning on cornering the market on your own family stories, memoirs and poetry chap books–don’t go too crazy. And, you will own all the ones you don’t use forever. You cannot “gift” them, resell them on eBay or make a cottage industry out of buying in bulk and then undercutting Bowker’s price on a single to your aspiring author buddies. 

They are non-transferable

Current pricing is as follows:

  • $125 for one
  • $250 for ten
  • $575 for one hundred
  • $1000 buys one thousand individual ISBNs

Why on earth would you ever need more than one? I’ll redirect you here if you want the in-depth explanation. I’m not including here, because we’re trying to keep our path in an arrow-straight trajectory 🙂

Is your head spinning? Sorry. It’s just part of the ride…That’s why I thought

Maybe I should write that down..

Now I see! Yep, get me a 10 pack Mom

Now I see! Yep, get me a 10 pack Mom