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How To Buy An ISBN for Your Book

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

An ISBN is a special number for your book that separates it from others in bookstores. All books don’t have to have a paid ISBN, but it makes your book stand out as being more professional and legitimate to use your own. Some sites do offer free ISBNs but using those means you can only sell your book on that site and through your own site (after purchasing them from that site you got the free number from.) Confusing? Keep reading and we’ll clear that up!

In this blog you’ll find out:

👉🏾The only trusted place I suggest you purchase ISBNs

👉🏾Which book formats need an ISBN

👉🏾How to buy an ISBN

👉🏾How much ISBNs cost and which option you should choose based on your needs

Why should you buy your ISBN?

  • Make your book easily identifiable.

  • Have consistent tracking (like SKU numbers at stores)

  • Help stores track sales more easily

  • Sell your book in bookstores.

  • ISBNs are required for libraries.

Every book doesn't require a paid ISBN. However, at Shep Publishing House, I highly encourage my clients and future authors to purchase them. It's something that distinguishes your book from others and gives you the flexibility to sell your book in more places. For example, if you are publishing on Amazon and you choose to use their free ISBN number, you're trapped to only sell your book in a few ways: directly on Amazon or on your website (after you bought author copies on Amazon) If you choose to buy an ISBN number instead, you would then be able to make your book available to stores across the world at a percentage that makes more sense for you and the store. And because we are trying to make sure that our book gets to as many people as possible, we don't want to limit ourselves with a free ISBN number option.

So…how many ISBNs do I need?

You’ll need one ISBN per format of your book (paperback, hardcover, etc.) If you're doing a hardback and a paperback book, then you'll need two ISBN numbers. That way it's easier to identify which version of the book it is.

You can think of it like folks who buy the same pair of shoes but in multiple colors. *I am folks* I think to myself, “Okay, I love it in black. But oh, I really like it in green or purple.” So each format of your book is going to have a different ISBN number with the exception of an audio book. That's the only version that you would not need to purchase a number for. If you're doing an audio book on CD, then you would want to get a ISBN. So to do that, we are only going to purchase those from Bowker. (If you're not US based, you can find your country's official ISBN vendor here).

There are other places that sell ISBNs, however, we do not trust those places. We want to be legit and official. In the United States, we are only going to purchase it from Bowkers, and their website is If you’re in the UK, you would purchase from Nielsen instead.

Decide Your Publishing Company Name

Before purchasing, think about what you want the name of your publishing company to be. It's not something you want to decide at the last minute, because it's the imprint for your book. When your book is scanned in stores, and searched out on your listing on Amazon, people are going to see the name of your publishing company. At the same time, don't let this be something that stresses you out. It doesn't have to be where you publish all of your books under, however, when you're creating your account, it is what's automatically placed with your ISBN number. So think it through and consult a lawyer or an accountant about your business plans, financial goals for the future, and the lifetime of your book or other books you might encounter.

Set Up Your Account

In order to purchase your ISBN number, create an account at Bowker. Be careful and think clearly about what you want to have as your company or publishing name, because this is going to stick with you and your book. You don't have to include a website. One additional note: select self-publisher from this organization type dropdown because you are the self-publisher.

When your account is created, notice that there’s an option to ask you to purchase barcodes. If you are publishing on IngramSpark or Amazon, you do not need a barcode. These are offered, but both sites will give you a barcode for free. Don’t fall for the “okie doke”.

Purchase ISBN

Click Get your ISBN.

Deciding on how many ISBNs you want to purchase is totally up to you and up to the amount of formats you want to have for your book. They come in a few different options.

  • Buy one at a time

  • Buy a pack of 10

  • Buy a pack of 100

  • Buy a pack of 1000

Basically the more that you buy, the cheaper they are per book. For example, if you purchase one, it's $125 each. If you purchase 10, then really it's only $29.50 per ISBN. They don't ever expire. If you're thinking that you’ll be already spending a ton of money on the publishing process, then I would encourage you to consider doing a presale, to bring in more money for your books because each format of your book would require a different ISBN number if you're using them. Click add to cart, and check out like you would at any other shopping experience on this page.

PLEASE NOTE: Do not assign the title until after you have already used the number inside Ingram and or Amazon to upload the book. After it was uploaded successfully, then come back in and do the assigned title information. That helps the process run more smoothly and it causes less issues.

How to Assign Your ISBN

In assigning your book’s ISBN, click on the name of your publishing company at the top. Toggle on to the menu bar where it says My Identifiers. When you're doing this process, you want to double check a few things.

  1. Book title. This is what you want to have when people are searching for your book.

  2. Subtitle. I prefer to add the subtitle in the Book Title, instead of having it separately. That's totally up to you. Make sure this matches exactly as you did over on Amazon or IngramSpark.

  3. Description. Copy and paste from your book’s listing just to make it easy.

  4. Medium. This is the type of print - if it's print or audio and the hardcover paperback.

  5. Subjects and Genres. Select what suits yours.

  6. Authors. You would put yourself primarily as the author first. It gives you the option to put a biography. So have that in mind as well, if you would like to include that.

  7. Function. This section means how you want to be titled. As for me, I just merely chose as Author. There is an option too if you want to add in your illustrator and if you have a two part author, you would click this to add another person.

  8. Sales and Pricing. Your publishing company name is already going to be there for you. Place the date of when your book is published and the target audience who your book is for. The last part is very important: we do not want to set a dollar amount. We want to avoid putting the price in the barcode in case you’d like to change it in the future or if the distributor wants to sell it for a different one. If you were ever going to change the price, you would have a difficult time doing that because it's going to be printed on the back of the book.

Share this post with a friend in need who’s trying to figure out their ISBN situation. Did you buy your ISBN? Why or why not?

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