The Paperwork of Publishing (part one)

ISBN scanIf you want to maintain full control of your work, there are four criteria that are absolute.

  1. You purchase and use your own ISBN numbers.
  2. You register your work with the U.S. Copyright office.
  3. You maintain total control of the digital files that create books for your readers.
  4. You direct all the proceeds from sales to your own financial coffers.

Let’s start with a quick lesson on ISBNs, International Standard Book Numbers.

These are the 13-digit numbers you find printed at the top of the bar code on a book’s back cover. In this country, the ONLY place to buy legal ISBNs (the ones recognized by the entire industry) is the R.R. Bowker Company, our friends who are responsible for Books-in-Print. Here’s the correct website: ISBN.

Why is this so important? A book’s ISBN (and this is true for ebooks, audiobooks, and books-on-paper) functions like its Social Security number. No matter where you work in the U.S., the money you earn for Social Security goes into your account. If your book has a legitimate ISBN, no matter where it’s sold, the proceeds of the sale are yours.

There are some circumstances when using another company’s ISBN is OK. At the moment, those circumstances include: publishing with,, Create and because so far, these companies have not tried to control books bearing their ISBNs. If you’re just starting out in the publishing business and you don’t want to spend a lot of money, using an ISBN from these companies just to gain the experience of publishing is OK.

But once you get serious, purchase and use your own ISBNs. They cost $125 for one but buy ten because it’s $250. There’s no expiration date. They are unique to you or your publishing company if you decide to give yourself a name. No one else but you can use them. Don’t bother purchasing bar codes because the major digital book printers will supply them.

When it’s your ISBN, it’s very, very clear who controls the money earned by your book.

On the dark side of this coin, run as fast as you can away from any company that will not agree to let you use your own ISBN (unless you’re dealing with a reputable traditional publisher). In the self-publishing world, owning a book’s ISBN is analogous to owning the rights to a book, and it’s a sure sign of a company with less than stellar ethics.

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