Over five and a half years ago I self-published my first book. While the entire process was exciting and educational, it was also confusing. There was so much information on the internet about what I may or may not need to do next. But my biggest question at the time was, “how do I make this an official book?”
Now this is a distinction many of us indie authors and author-publishers search for. Sure, I could have gone down to a local print shop and had my novel bound and called it a “book.” But I wanted to know how I could get it into retailers and library catalogs. Thus my search began for the answers I am about to detail for you.
There are four common elements that I see self-published authors use correctly (and incorrectly) as they get their books ready for publication. Here is what you need to know, which elements you should pay for, which one are free, and what this means for you and your book.
Here are the four elements that we will review in this article:
- International Standard Book Number (ISBN)
- Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN)
*NOTE, I am a U.S. based author so these details are from my perspective. For international authors, the links and official agencies may vary, but the strategies remain the same.*
International Standard Book Number (ISBN)
- What is it? – Think of the ISBN as the social security number for your book. It is a 13 digit code that uniquely identifies the title and format of the book. (NOTE: these used to be 10 digit code.) Since this number is specific to the format, a book that has a hardcover, paperback, eBook, and audiobook version will have 4 formats, therefore it will have 4 associated ISBNs.
- Do I need it or is it a nice to have? – This is the main number that makes your book and “official” book. It is a need to have in terms of identifying the book. Any retailer or library will need this number in order to stock and sell the book. This is a need to have.
- How much will it cost? – In the U.S. the only agency that can issue ISBNs to authors or publishers is Bowker. They share $125 for a single ISBN, $295 for a pack of 10 ISBNs, and $575 for 100 ISBNs. The cost per ISBN improves as you buy them in larger quantities. For the first-time author who thinks they maybe have 1 or 2 books in them, the 10-pack is the best value. Especially if you plan to release the book in multiple formats.
- Where do I get it? – Bowker! While some self-publishing platforms offer a “Free” ISBN to authors, I always advocate that authors should own their ISBN. Typically, when an ISBN is issued by a platform, then it can only be used on that platform. If you decide to publish your book elsewhere, you can’t take that code with you. This can become a headache down the road. Also, Bowker has in their terms that ISBNs are non-transferable. So if someone online is offering to sell you their ISBN, buyer beware! You may be spending money to get a code that is already in use (therefore you cannot use it).
- How far in advance do I need to register? – Once you have the ISBNs in your Bowker account you can start to assign them right away. I suggest completing them when you are 6 weeks out from uploading and hitting “publish.” This will come into play with the LCCN registration that we will discuss next and it will get the information into the system well before you are looking to upload. When you upload to self-publishing platforms and bring your own ISBN, they will cross check to make sure it matches up and this takes about 24-48 hours to filter through the system.
Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN)
- What is it? – This is the number that the U.S. Library of Congress assigns to books. The number is specific to the creative work. In the example above, the book released in 4 different formats with 4 distinct ISBNs would have 1 LCCN.
- Do I need it or is it a nice to have? – If you want your book to be available to public libraries in the United States, then it is a need to have. If not, then you don’t have to take the time to register for one.
- How much will it cost? – Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Not one penny! This is a FREE program. If anyone online is advertising that they will sell you a Library of Congress number, run the other way.
- Where do I get it? – The Library of Congress website. You’ll need to create a login and once you are set up you can submit a work to receive a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN). The form will ask for the associated ISBNs so you will need to do this AFTER you assign the ISBNs for the title. (NOTE: while filling out the ISBN details, you may be asked for the LCCN, you can go back and add this once it has been assigned.)
- How far in advance do I need to register? The Library of Congress website asks authors to give at least 6 weeks lead time. Meaning, you shouldn’t put this off until the day you plan to upload your book to a self-publishing platform. In my experience, this has taken 1-2 weeks at most, but plan ahead just in case.
- What is it? – This is how you own your creative work. In the United States, the moment you write something, you have the copyright to that work. Many authors talk about the copyright to their book, referring to their ownership as well as the registration they have for their copyright with the US Copyright Office. While they are linked, one is granted automatically at the moment of creation, the other is granted after completing a form and paying a fee.
- Do I need it or is it a nice to have? – Yes and no. Since you have a copyright to your work the moment you create it, you may think, “well, why would I ever pay to register that copyright?” When you take the time to register your copyright you are stamping in time the work as it exists today. This gives you additional protections if you ever have to prove your ownership. Hopefully, you never have to prove ownership, but you can’t know that ahead of time. Because there is a fee associated with this, I usually suggest authors earn back what they invested in their book and then register for copyright if they are tight on money. If the budget is unlimited, then register it when you hit publish!
- How much will it cost? – $65 per title. However, just like the LCCN this copyright is for the entire creative work. So in the example of a book published with 4 formats that needs 4 ISBNs, you only need 1 copyright registration for that work.
- Where do I get it? – The US Copyright Office is the only entity in the US where you should pay to register your copyright. Not the Patent and Trademarks office. Not some made up company that has the word copyright in it and sounds official. US Copyright Office. It is a .gov website. When you receive the copyright registration number it will be alpha-numberic (two letters followed by a string of numbers) and they will send you a certificate as well.
- How far in advance do I need to register? – You can register as soon as the work is ready to upload and publish. I recommend waiting until the work is done (and not a rough draft) because you will submit a copy of the book and you want it to be a clean version. I usually go in on launch day to submit this. It can take weeks or months to get the registration certificate back.
NOTE: The Library of Congress Control Number and the Copyright Registration are two completely different items issued by different offices. They are not the same.
- What is it? – A scanned image on the back of any physical product that aids in point-of-sale (POS) transactions. The price, quantity in inventory, and other details are stored on the barcode.
- Do I need it or is it a nice to have? – Yes, your print books will have a barcode on the back. Whether you need to purchase them or assign them will depend on your self-publishing strategy. If you plan to only have your print books available via KDP Print and have no intent to ever get them into brick and mortar bookstores, then you do not need to purchase a barcode. KDP Print will add their no-price barcode to that back of your paperback. If you plan to publish with IngramSpark, but again do not have any ambition to get your books into physical bookstores, then you can use their free barcode that does not have the price on it. If you have any intent or desire to get your book into bookstores, then you should get a barcode with the price on it to use on the back of your paperback and hardcover books.
- How much will it cost? – If you elect to have the price on your barcode you can purchase one for $25 from Bowker. There are various services out in the world that can provide a barcode for free that has the price on it as well.
- Where do I get it? – A lot of different places! There is no one place that you HAVE to get this from in order for it to be valid.
- How far in advance do I need to register? – I would have this file created prior to signing off of your print covers with your cover designer. They will need to add that to the back cover of the design. These images can be generated within 5-10 minutes, but if you are adding a price then you may need to do some homework about how much you want to charge for your book before you get the barcode created.
So how does this help you as an author? Well, you need to be super specific about what you are registering for. There is no one stop shop that does this all for you as a self-publishing author. Traditional publishing houses take care of all these items for their authors, but when you self-publish you are responsible for this information and these transactions.
If you ever ever have a question about if you are on the correct site or if some offer to buy a package with all of this done for you sounds too good to be true, please ask before you buy. It will probably take at most a day to get confirmation that you are in the right place and not about to throw money at something that won’t help you.
Best of luck as you finish up your book and prepare to launch it into the world!