Getting an ISBN is a necessary process in your quest to become a published author. While it doesn’t have to wait until you’ve built your characters, plot, and finished the book, it is needed before you self-publish. Fortunately, it’s an easy process, and there are agencies on hand to guide you through it.

Okay, first things first. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number, and you will need it if you plan to publish your book. In fact, the reason you’re probably reading this is that you’ve been told to get an ISBN number.

To clear up any confusion, let’s make it clear who needs it and why. The ISBN does not give you legal or copyright protection. It is a product identification number. You will need it if you wish to sell your book through any retail channel, such as bookstores, libraries, or online. Books printed for private use or a closed distribution don’t need an ISBN.

This 13-digit number is a unique numeric code assigned to the book so it is identifiable around the world. Booksellers and readers can use the number to check what book they’re buying; what it’s about, who the author is, and so on.

How to get an ISBN

So, how do you get one?

Well, first of all, you need to apply to your national ISBN agency, as ISBNs are assigned in the country where the person/body applying is based. These are listed on the International ISBN Agency website at

It’s relatively straightforward to buy an ISBN, and it’s most likely available for purchase online. The cost can vary depending on the amount of government or other funding the agency provides. But often it’s more economical to buy ISBNs in blocks rather than as a single unit.

As an ISBN is non-transferable, even to subsequent editions of the same book, and neither is an ISBN able to be  resold, it often makes more economic sense to buy them in blocks of 10 or more, depending on your needs. In any case, some agencies don’t sell single units.

When you apply for an ISBN, you need to comply with the guidelines provided and supply the metadata requested about the publication, such as the title, author, and format. The agency you apply to will advise what metadata is required and how you should submit it to them. The forms to fill in may be available online or sent to you on request. You will also need to provide full contact details.

Getting your ISBN is a little bit of legwork, but a necessary step in the process of becoming a published author. The only other thing you have to do now is make sure you include the ISBN number on the copyright page.

Originally posted 11/10/2015 and happily updated 10/27/2017. Thanks for reading!

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