ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and obtaining them is one of the most important things you’ll need to both understand, and do right the first time.
Basically, the ISBN is the identifier for your book, in whatever form it may take, be it digital, paperback, hardcover, or audio. That little number, and its corresponding barcode, provides a roadmap for anyone trying to find your book, whether they are a reader, retailer, or distributor. Having one will simplify the distribution of your books throughout the global supply chain. Without an ISBN, your book will be much harder to find in bookstores, whether online, at Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, or even your local independent store.
If you plan on being a true self publisher, one that’s moving your books to all outlets, recognize that what you are doing is a business. You want to buy your ISBN’s from Bowker in the name of your publishing company.
Bowker is the ONLY official source of ISBN’s in the United States. Other publishing sources, such as Creatspace and Smashwords, will offer you the option of an ISBN in the publishing deal you sign with them. Guess where they got the numbers? That’s right; Bowker. I feel it is a mistake to buy your numbers from them. Doing so gives them ownership of the ISBN that identifies your book. You want to own your ISBN, for several reasons, but one in particular.
The easiest way to describe metadata is that it’s simply data about data. In the world of digital information, metadata is king. When someone types something in the Search box, the search engine starts looking for keywords, each of these words has a value. This is known to the tech crowd as Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The engine gathers, filters, and sorts through the pile of keywords and produces the information that most closely matches the request. Those keywords are marketing gold to an author, and giving control of them away takes the self out of self-publishing. They may offer you the option of selecting your own tags for your novel, but since they own the ISBN they can change, reject, or refuse your choices at any time. Nobody knows where this publishing business is going to be in five years. What if someone made the decision to label your book “self-published”? Or worse yet, “vanity published”? In light of that, I think it makes sense to have control over every aspect of your book, forever.
Metadata is not something to be afraid of. If you know your book and the audience that you wrote it for, you can produce metadata that gets results. There is some strategy involved, but it’s simple. Start by creating a list of words and key phrases that someone reading your type of book might type into a search engine. I suggest starting with your name and book title, and then keep at it until you have about 30 items. Then go back and start eliminating the most common and/or generic ones. Try to keep repeats to a minimum, say no more than 3. Your final list should number in the 15 to 20 range and contain around 800-900 characters to be most effective.
(This is for book metadata, not website or blog metadata. Google no longer uses keywords in this manner. To get optimal traction out of a Google search for your website or blog you need a good title and description tags instead.)
Once you have this, you’re ready to buy some ISBN’s.
Simply go to Bowkers website, and click on the Products and Services tab. On the left side of the page, in the sidebar, you’ll see Identifier Services, click that and you’ll have a drop-down that lists ISBN’s as an option. Click further and look for the “Click here to visit the product website” link at the bottom in blue.
The first thing that will catch your attention is the price list.
Single ISBN $125.00
10 ISBN’s $250.00
100 ISBN’s $575.00
1,000 ISBN’s $1000.00
Obviously volume is king. Creatspace and Smashwords buy their ISBN’s by the truckload. That’s why they can offer them for free or close to it, it’s only costing them a dollar, and in return they get to control your metadata, forever. Keep that in mind when you’re making your decision. This purchase is a business expense also, and can be deducted as such on your taxes. It can be a big expense for most self-publishers, but it’s one that can bite you in the long run if you go the cheap route.
Once you get past the price list look down in the left-hand corner. This is the most important thing on the page:
“How Many ISBN’s do I need? The purpose of the ISBN is to identify one specific version of a book. If you wish to have a hard bound copy, a soft bound copy, an ePUB, a PDF, a MOBI, or even register a new version, you will need a unique ISBN for each version. This allows retailers to help the customer understand exactly which version of a title they are purchasing. To make it easier, we have bundled groups of 10 ISBNs for the price of 2.”
You can add in there audio, other language versions, large type, braille, etc. So buying in bulk suddenly sounds like the better deal doesn’t it? I chose to assign 10 ISBN’s per book and ended up buying 500 to start my company with. So there’s $575 on the company credit card. More than I’ve spent to date total, but something that had to be done. Buying them was easy as making any other on-line purchase. You’ll need to set up an account and have an email address for them to send you the numbers, but it’s very straight forward.
Seems like a lot for a list of numbers, but here’s the kicker; Bowker lets you manage the metadata for each book. Simply log into your account and select the ISBN number you wish to attach metadata to. In addition to general information you’ll need the following;
-thumbnail photo of your book cover
-number of pages
-date of publication
Bowker takes all this information and sends it out to distributors, retailers, libraries, and wholesalers, both online and brick-and-mortar. It is then made available to readers via the internet on the device of their choosing. Most of which have a BUY button!
A few things to know about Bowker; they offer other services such as barcodes and QR codes. That’s nice of them, but the prices they charge are rather expensive. Keep in mind that printers, such as Lightning Source, will generate a barcode and print the price on your book for no charge. QR codes can be made by acquiring your own generator for much less than Bowker charges. A simple internet search will provide a variety of choices.
So keep metadata in mind when crafting that book description, or that blurb, or even that bio. Refer to your keyword list often and try to incorporate them as much as possible. Come up with your “10 easy words” that describe your book, that one sentence that says it all and keys the search engines. When you’re dressing your book, dress it loud. You can also change this information at any time. Maybe you initially picked the wrong genre for your book, or thought of some new keywords. Simply update the information and Bowker does the rest.
Domain Name registration $20
Monthly fee x 3 months $12
Website back-up plan $13
36 months of hosting $187
Registration with the State $119
P.O. Box $52
County Tax Certificate $10