ISBN stands for Industry Standard Book Number—a unique number that must be assigned to each version of a book. For example, a paperback, hardcover, ebook, and audiobook edition of your book each need separate ISBNs assigned.
In the United States, ISBNs must be purchased from Bowker’s My Identifiers program. The official ISBN database cross-references books with the publishing company on record. If you plan to self-publish, you should choose a publishing company name to set up with Bowker when you purchase ISBNs.
By the way, your publishing company name shouldn’t be something like “Annie Author’s Publishing.” This is a dead giveaway that you’ve self-published your book. Ideally, your publishing company name should be something that sounds like a legitimate publishing house.
Before you settle on a publishing company name, spend some time searching Google and Amazon to be sure the name you choose is unique. It’s also essential to search the United States Trademark registration database to make sure the name isn’t legally registered to someone else.
Should I use a free ISBN?
Some of the print-on-demand services offer free ISBNs, which sounds easy and appealing if you’re trying to keep costs down. However, when you register your book under a free ISBN, it then puts your book on record as being published by the entity that provided the ISBN. This is a common rookie mistake.
If your book is a personal project, purely for fun or for family only, then the publisher may not matter to you. But if you want your book to be taken seriously by bookstores, media, and even book buyers, you should register your own ISBNs and assign a publishing company name.
Should I use my hybrid publisher’s ISBN?
A caveat to all of this is if you’re working with a reputable hybrid publisher. I’m not talking about KDP, by the way. If you brand your book with KDP as the publisher, or any other low-cost POD service, it can absolutely hurt your book’s credibility in the marketplace because KDP is known as an inexpensive publishing solution with absolutely no quality control over the work it produces.
I’m talking about hybrid publishers that you pay to handle book production for you and distribute your book, and that provide high-quality services. One of the benefits of hiring a hybrid publisher is that the book production details are largely handled for you, which can be a great value to busy professionals who don’t have the time or inclination to go the DIY route.
In this case, if the hybrid publisher is reputable, you would likely want to use their ISBNs and let them show on record as your publisher. While many hybrids will gladly work with you and your own ISBN, one of the advantages of working with them may be that they have a solid reputation for quality books and you’ll know your book is in good company.
Side Note: Make Your Publishing Business Official
Incidentally, if you want to make your business official, you should register for a business license and DBA (Doing Business As, which is how you register a business name) in the county where you live. This allows you to then open a business checking account and keep your personal and business finances separate, which the IRS requires if you plan to write off business expenses.
Publishing a book means you’re now a business owner. Congratulations! It comes with many tax advantages as well, so you’ll want to start keeping track of your accounting details, expenses, etc., You may be able to write off the products and services you invested in to produce your book, as well was educational resources, conferences you attend, and other business-related activities. Be sure to speak with a certified tax professional as soon as possible.
If you like this blog post, you’ll love this book: The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan by Nonfiction Authors Association CEO Stephanie Chandler!