The 5Ws and 1H about ISBN that Every Children’s Book Author Should Know Earlier
While illustrations are essential to children’s books, every author must understand that there is more for them to pay attention to. It is true that a children’s book illustrator needs to be professional and communicative to be able to produce amazing and engaging illustrations for readers that match what the author has envisioned. However, other important considerations include writing memorable stories with compelling characters and deciding on marketing strategies, a printing method, a publisher, and book size.
ISBN is the smallest of marketing strategies. Why? Because by registering your children’s book and obtaining an ISBN for it, you let other people from around the world it, both offline and online, in bookstores and libraries. For a complete explanation of what an ISBN is, how to obtain one, and must-know facts about an ISBN, you can read more below.
What is an ISBN?
Standing for “International Standard Book Number,” ISBN is a 13-digit number that identifies the details of each book published, including information such as publishers, author, book title, synopsis, book genre, and book format. Getting an ISBN will make your book discoverable worldwide by just entering the ISBN code.
This means you’ll need a different ISBN for each different version of your published children’s book. For instance, if you publish one version of your book in paperback and another version in hardcover, then you’ll need two different ISBNs—one for each book—that will provide different descriptions for each of them.
Who Needs an ISBN?
Every author wants their books to be sold in bookstores. If you publish your book through a traditional publisher, sometimes an agent from the company will provide you with an ISBN. On the other hand, if you’re a self-published author, then you’ll have to get an ISBN and register the details yourself.
Why Do I Need to Get an ISBN?
ISBNs for books are just like barcodes for every product sold in the grocery store. A barcode identifies the details of the product when it’s scanned. For instance, full cream milk has one barcode, while fat-free milk has a different barcode, even it’s from the same company. The same is true for books. Each version of a book needs its own ISBN to identify to the bookstore/bookseller which version of the author’s book is being sold.
Getting a book assigned an ISBN will help bookstores, libraries, and readers to find the book and give detailed descriptions about the book, including the book title, book genre, synopsis, the publisher, and the author’s name.
When Do You Need an ISBN?
All authors need an ISBN when they publish a book. The purpose of the ISBN is to identify the bibliography of each book that is published and assigned an ISBN. Thus, authors will need a different ISBN for each version of their published book. A new ISBN is needed any time you create a new edition by adding new chapters or changing the book’s title. However, you don’t need a new ISBN if you’re just fixing typos, adding a few words, updating cover art, or making other minor changes.
How Do You Get an ISBN?
In some places, obtaining an ISBN is free, with some terms and conditions applied, while in other places, you may need to purchase it. If you publish your children’s book through Amazon’s KDP, you will get a free ISBN. However, this ISBN is only available to use on the Amazon platform. You won’t be allowed to use it on any other online platform. If you use this method, your name or the name of your company will be listed as the independent publisher of the book.
In addition to Amazon, Ingram Spark also offers free ISBNs for every children’s book that’s published through them, but they also restrict the use of their ISBN outside Ingram Spark, and they list the publisher as “Indypub.”
This means that if you’re planning on selling your children’s book outside of these two platforms, you first need to purchase your own ISBN through an official agency that is available in your country.
Where Can You Purchase an ISBN for Your Book?
To obtain an ISBN for a book, the author must first register it with their national ISBN agency based on the location of the publisher. Some publishers will provide the service of obtaining an ISBN for their authors and set up everything in no time.
Official ISBN agencies are available in each country, including the following:
United States of America
Bowker is an official ISBN agency in the United States of America and its territories that provides authors and publishers with ISBNs for their books. Before purchasing an ISBN through Bowker, the author or publisher needs to register and log in to their account on Bowker's official website.
After logging into the website, ISBNs can be purchased in various amounts (the prices range depending on the number of ISBNs being purchased):
- 1 ISBN = USD 125
- 10 ISBNs = USD 295 or USD 29.50 each
- 100 ISBNs = USD 575
- 1000 ISBNs = USD 1,500
For further information, head up to www.isbn.org or www.myidentifiers.com.
As an affiliate of ProQuest, Thorpe Bowker is also associated with the USA Bowker, and it is an official ISBN agency for Australia. Purchasing an ISBN through Thorpe Bowker allows authors to make their books discoverable by bookstores and readers worldwide.
Thorpe Bowker’s headquarters are located in Melbourne, Victoria, and they can be found online at www.myidentifiers.com.au.
Just like with Bowker USA, every self-published author or publisher needs to log into their account on www.myidentifiers.com.au and purchase the number of ISBNs they need. The price range for ISBNs available through Thorpe Bowker is as follows:
- 1 ISBN = AUD 44
- 10 ISBNs = AUD 88
- 100 ISBNs = AUD 480
- 1000 ISBNs = AUD 3,035
For further information, head to www.myidentifiers.com.au.
United Kingdom & Ireland
Nielsen Book is the official ISBN agency for all authors and publishers located in United Kingdom, Ireland, or a British Overseas Territory. In addition to providing services for ISBN, Nielsen Book also provides services like generating ISBNs and turning them into barcodes, producing digital marketing tools for publishers, and enhancing book data.
Authors and publishers located in the United Kingdom and Ireland who want to purchases an ISBN can easily log in to their account on the official Nielsen website and make their purchases there.
The price range that is available on Nielsen Book is as follows:
- 1 ISBN = GBP 89.00
- 10 ISBNs = GBP 164.00
- 100 ISBNs = GBP 369.00
- 1000 ISBNs = GBP 949.00
For further information, head to www.nielsenbook.co.uk/ or www.nielsenisbnstore.com.
There is more than one official agency responsible for creating ISBNs for self-published authors and publishers in Canada. Through their National Library and Archives, the Government of Canada offers free-of-charge ISBNs that can be obtained easily. To register an ISBN in Canada, you need to know what language your publisher commonly uses. For the Canada-English language, ISBNs can be obtained by creating an account on the official website, while for the Canada-French language, ISBNs can be obtained by creating an account on Banq. After filling out and submitting all of the forms, your ISBN can be collected within 10 working days.
If the country you live in isn’t mentioned above, you can go try to find it on the official ISBN international website.
The five parts of an ISBN number are identified and explained in the image below:
- Current 13-digit ISBN numbers begin with the prefix “978.”
- The next number is the group or country identifier, which identifies the national or geographic grouping of the publisher.
- The next number identifies a particular publisher within the group.
- The title identifier identifies a particular title or edition of a title.
Finally, the check digit is the single digit at the end of the ISBN, which validates the ISBN.
Must-know information about ISBNs
- ISBNs never expire.
- 1 ISBN exists for 1 book format/version.
- Books are easily searchable using their ISBN.
- ISBNs help readers and bookstores identify books.
- ISBNs are the global standard for book identification.
- In some countries/regions, books without an ISBN will be charged higher taxes.
Other Frequently Asked Questions about ISBN
Do I need multiple ISBNs if I sell my books together?
Are your books only available to purchase as a package, or are they available to purchase individually? If they’re only available as a package, then you’ll just need one ISBN for that package/box set. However, if they’re also available to purchase individually, then you need an ISBN for every single book that’s in the package.
I’m a self-published author. Do I have to go through a publisher to purchase an ISBN?
No, you don’t have to go through a publisher to purchase your own ISBN. In this case, you are the publisher, company, group, organization, or individual who is responsible for initiating the production of a publication.
What is the difference between an ISBN and a barcode?
For each ISBN purchased, the barcode can either be included or not. The ISBN is just a product number that is assigned to identify details of the book, whereas a barcode is how the actual ISBN digits are translated and readable by a scanner. A barcode can include other information besides the details of the book, such as the price of the book, which is useful for bookstores.
If I already have an ISBN registered for my book, then what?
After getting your ISBN registered, for some countries, it’ll take a few days or weeks for the ISBN to be finished and delivered to the author. Once you have received the ISBN, then you will need to send it to your children’s book illustrator or formatter to include the ISBN on the back cover of your children’s book.
Are there any disadvantages for books not having an ISBN?
It depends on your purpose in publishing a children’s book. If you’re just planning to sell a limited number to family or friends, or you only want to sell ebook versions through retailers that don’t have any ISBN requirement, then you won’t need one. According to an article published on editage.com:
- 43% of ebooks on Amazon.com are sold without an ISBN.
- Consumers in the United States spend around $550 million per year on ebooks that don’t have an ISBN.
However, if you intend to treat your writing a bit more professionally, you might want to be aware of the following disadvantages of not possessing an ISBN:
- Your book will be hard to find or access by those readers who still prefer printed books.
- Some online retailers might not stock your ebooks, and that will reduce your book sales.
- Unfortunately, your book will not appear in Books in Print (bookinprint.com), an extensive bibliographic database of book titles that helps readers find and discover books.
Okay. Are there any advantages if I register my books and obtain an ISBN?
Firstly, doing so gives you full control over what is mentioned in your book’s metadata, including book synopsis, category, genre, etc. This is a helpful way for libraries, bookstores, and readers around the world to discover your children’s book and perhaps decide to purchase it. Being easily discoverable around the world through a simple Internet search is meaningful to self-published authors because it can help increase their book sales opportunities.
If you planning on publishing more than one book, having an ISBN could be useful by listing your name as the publisher of your children’s book.
Does the name used for ISBN registration have to be my legal name, or is a pen name is acceptable?
Using a pen name to register an ISBN is accepted, but some countries will require your legal name as well.
ISBNs are not required to sell ebooks; none of the major online retailers need them. However, printed books cannot be sold without an ISBN. Remember that each version of your children’s book will need its own ISBN registered. If you’re planning to publish more than one book or a series, it is highly recommended that you buy a block of 10 ISBN at one time because it is much cheaper than buying them all separately. Once purchased, the ISBNs won’t expire, so you have plenty of time to use them whenever your books are published.
Also, if you’re a self-published author, be sure to obtain an ISBN from an official agency located in the country in which you live.