how to get an isbn

How to Get an ISBN for Self-Publishing

Every published book must have an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). Learning how to get an ISBN is an important step for self-publishing. If you’re not familiar with ISBNs, it may sound intimidating. But getting an ISBN is actually quick and easy.

An ISBN is an identifier distinguishing each format of an individual book. An ISBN is required to offer a book for sale and to register a book with the Library of Congress.

At Blue Pen, we walk authors through the entire self-publishing process, including helping them secure their ISBNs and answering their questions about how to find an ISBN number, how to purchase ISBN numbers, and how to get an ISBN number for free.

How to Get an ISBN Number Online

Independent authors have two options for securing ISBNs for their work:​

1. ​Purchase an ISBN directly from Bowker.

Securing an ISBN from Bowker is simple and instant. Visit Bowker’s website and add the number of ISBNs you need to your cart. You will create an account and check out like you would for any other online purchase.

As of February 2022, Bowker charges $125 for a single ISBN and $295 for 10 ISBNs. The latter can be a great value for authors publishing multiple books in various formats. There is no expiration on ISBNs.

2. Use a free ISBN from KDP or IngramSpark.

The second option is to use a free ISBN from KDP or IngramSpark. Self-publishing platforms purchase these identifiers in bulk and offer them to users.

​To secure an ISBN this way, you simply begin the publishing process and enter your book’s details. At the top of the content section in KDP, select “get a free ISBN.” Your book will automatically be assigned an ISBN, and you can continue with the publishing process.

​Note that free ISBNs are not available for ebooks.

Free vs. Paid ISBNs

There are several benefits to purchasing your own ISBNs directly from Bowker, rather than using free ISBNs.

With a paid ISBN, you choose the publisher name. You may use your name or create a different name. As an independent author, you are the publisher, so the name you use comes down to your preference and marketing plan. However, if you use a free ISBN, the publisher is listed as “independently published.” This can appear less professional and may make getting your book into bookstores more challenging.

A free ISBN can only be used on the platform through which it was secured. A free ISBN from KDP cannot be used to publish your book through IngramSpark and vice versa. So if you plan to publish through multiple platforms, you should purchase your own ISBNs.

For assistance deciding whether to publish through KDP, IngramSpark, or both, check out this article comparing KDP and IngramSpark.If you plan to publish through multiple platforms or want to get into brick-and-mortar bookstores, purchase your own ISBNs

​How many ISBNs do I need?

You need one ISBN per format. For example, you would use the same ISBN for the paperback version of your book on KDP and IngramSpark. Your hardcover version would have a different ISBN.

You can assign an ISBN to your ebook. Some online ebook retailers require ISBNs, but otherwise, it is not strictly necessary. You can publish an ebook without an ISBN, but you cannot publish a print book without one.

When you self-publish, KDP and IngramSpark automatically generate barcodes. (Your cover designer will leave space for the barcode.) Your designer may also generate one for you. You do not need to purchase barcodes from Bowker in addition to your ISBNs.

When and how do I get an ISBN number for my book?

You will need to provide your interior designer with your ISBNs so they can include them on the copyright page. That means you will need to secure your ISBNs before your book design is complete.

If you are using a free ISBN, you will need to begin the publishing setup process to access the ISBN. Enter your book’s title, author name, description, and keywords. Then save and continue. Make sure the title and author name are exactly as they will appear on the book’s cover.

After you secure your free ISBN, you can click “save as draft” and exit. You will continue the publishing process after your book’s interior and cover are complete.

How to Assign an ISBN to Your Book

If you purchase your own ISBNs from Bowker, you will need to assign them in their system. The process isn’t complicated, but it is important. To assign an ISBN, sign in to your Bowker account and locate your purchased ISBNs. Choose an ISBN and select “assign.”

Provide the required information about your book, making sure to enter details exactly as they will appear on KDP and/or IngramSpark. Use the same capitalization for your title, the same subtitle, etc. You may need to estimate the publication date.

After assigning the ISBNs, provide them to your designer for inclusion in the interior.

How long does it take to get an ISBN number?

Not long at all! You will receive your ISBN immediately after completing your purchase on Bowler or your request on KDP or IngramSpark.

How to Get an ISBN Number for Free

IngramSpark and KDP (Amazon) both offer free ISBNs. All you need to do is select “assign me a free ISBN” during your publishing process. The cons of using a free ISBN include the fact that your publisher will be listed as “independently published,” rather than listing your own publisher name.

How to Purchase ISBN Numbers

If you are in the United States, you can purchase ISBNs directly from Bowker, which is where traditional publishers secure ISBNs as well.

How to Get an ISBN for Your Book

Learning how to get an ISBN is a simple but important process. If you are publishing a book primarily for yourself and loved ones and aren’t interested in publishing through multiple platforms or getting into bookstores, a free ISBN will do just fine. Otherwise, purchase your own ISBNs from Bowker, one for each format you publish.

Be sure to secure your ISBNs before your book’s interior is complete so your designer can include them on the copyright page. Assign ISBNs in Bowker before publication, being careful to enter your book’s details exactly as they will appear when published.

If you’re still feeling uncertain about the prospect of securing your own ISBN and making self-publishing decisions, review some of our self-publishing articles or book a one-on-one consultation to have your questions answered.

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