Thursday, January 10, 2019

Do I need an ISBN?

Periodically I get questions from people on social media. I try to answer them immediately. Recently I realized these are good questions and as I get repeatedly asked the same question, I'm guessing they are relevant. So, if you're interested in this crazy world of writing, stay tuned.

Musti asked via Instagram;
“Quick question: I am about to finish my manuscript and wanted to self publish it through Amazon. Do I register somewhere the title? Do I need an ISBN? And how do I get one? Merci.”

Let’s start with the first sentence. Congratulations on your manuscript being almost completed. You’re wise to ask these questions now. I will answer your questions in a brutally honest way because I want a large audience of readers to benefit from it. If I’m reading this correctly, you haven’t actually finished the manuscript (though it’s possible you mean you’re just putting the finishing touches on it). If that’s the case, then you’re a long ways from done. In this new world of indie publishing, the bar is set much higher for the author. We no longer have a publisher to hold our hands, edit and polish our work, or to tell us it won’t sell… no marketability. The manuscript has to be excellent only because that’s what you want. You can publish garbage. That worked ten years ago, but now the readers have caught on. They pay attention to reviews. Now we have to take a good long look at our books first. (I plan to answer the question of ‘How do I get my book ready on my own’ at a later date.)

Do I register somewhere the title?

Art of any sort is protected and doesn’t need to be registered. That includes fiction. However, that being said, I would register your manuscript if it’s a manual, guide, or advice/self help work. The only reason I say that is the titles need to be unique with that type of work. Lots of people can come up with the same guidebook or manual.
Fiction is not the same. Plus you have your computer date imprint on the file. If somebody says, “Hey, that’s the book I wrote!” you have proof on your computer. I periodically email myself the file to establish the date, ownership, and to preserve it in the cloud. Of course I also keep my work on an external hard drive in my safe. All of these have dates that point to you being the owner.

Do I need an ISBN?

Yep! Each and every book out there must have an ISBN, otherwise the powers-that-be wouldn’t be able to track them and their sales, etc.. Actually according to Smashwords, each format should have its own ISBN—e-book, paperback, and audiobook. However, Amazon doesn’t agree. They don’t mind if you use your ISBN from Smashwords… I know because I accidentally did it. I wrote to them in a panic, and they wrote back saying it didn’t matter to them.

And how do I get one?

There are places to purchase an ISBN, but why would you do that? Amazon and Smashwords provide you with a free one. Those two are pretty much the entire market. Amazon sells to all Kindle readers and Amazon customers. Smashwords sells to every reading-device everywhere, including Kindle and distributes to all the large e-book sites like Apple. As you go through the steps to upload your book to KDP Amazon, or to Smashwords, the instructions will ask you if you want their free ISBN. Don’t worry, you won’t miss it. The site won’t move forward until one is provided.

Good luck and keep the questions coming via FB, Instagram, this blog, or Goodreads. I'll post the answers here, but I'll try to answer them specific to your situation privately.

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