What’s an ISBN and how to get one…

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about the ISBN….

I first learned about the ISBN when I edited my first book, a cookbook, roughly 30 years ago.

The initialism stands for International Standard Book Number and it’s required for every  book, even self-published ones. 

If you’re an aspiring author who is unfamiliar with the term, be sure to read arecent post on the The Write Life blog. It provides a wealth of information on the number, including spelling out what it does NOT do.

Here’s part of what the blog post had to say:

“An ISBN does not represent your copyright to the material. It doesn’t provide any legal protection to your creative work at all. It is purely a number meant to help identify your book to distributors, libraries, and booksellers around the world.”

So why do you need one? The Write Life continues…

“Without [an ISBN] . . . distributors, libraries and retailers won’t consider it a real book, and you will never have the opportunity to market your words to a larger audience.”

Also keep in mind that different formats of your book will each require different ISBNs, even for the same book title. So if you are publishing a hard cover and an e-book version, you will need two distinct ISBNs. If you add an audiobook to that mix, you’ll need three. If you add a large print edition, make it four.

As well, if you make substantial changes to your book after publication,  the updated version will be considered a new edition, requiring a new ISBN, And if you change the title or subtitle, you will also need a new ISBN for that. And if your book is published in multiple languages, each language version will need its own ISBN.

I live in Canada where we are lucky enough to be able to get ISBNs for free through ISBN Canada. In the US (and perhaps other countries as well), it’s often necessary to buy the number. The blog post offers all the details about that process.

(The photo at the top of this post shows the ISBN for my recent book, Your Happy First Draft.)