Self-Publishing 101: ISBNs and Other Numbers | The Mindful Writer

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This is Part Four in my continuing series of posts on the very basics of self-publishing books. This part discusses ISBNs: how to buy them and their importance. And here’s Part Three!


Let’s back up a moment and talk about ISBNs. If you decide to self-publish on your own, you’ll have to buy your own ISBNs. Every book has one and a different one is assigned for books in each format.

This means print (hardcover and paperback), audio and ebooks each get a separate ISBN. In the U.S., ISBNs are assigned by R.R. Bowker. You can get them in the U.S. at Unless you think you’re going to be as prolific as Isaac Asimov or plan to write a 10-book series really soon, I’d start off buying a set of 10 ISBNs, to keep the costs down. However, you can buy them in sets of 100, if you’re ambitious and think you can use them. They’re cheaper in bulk.

ISBNs are currently not required on Amazon ebooks for Kindle. However, be advised that some distributors do require them on ebooks, which is another reason why you’ll want to purchase them in bulk if you plan to write more than one book. In any case, buying one ISBN simply isn’t cost-effective, so buy them in sets of 10 or 100.

Keep in mind also that an ISBN is only required if you plan to distribute your book (regardless of format) through ordinary retail channels. Anything outside the traditional publishing ecosystem does not need one. That means you can create books in different formats and distribute/sell them through your own website. But they won’t make any bestseller lists that way, you say? Well, that’s true. But you may be accomplishing something else. We can get into those details later, too.

The Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) (optional)

I don’t know about you, but I like the idea of giving my books the most professional look I can manage on a tight budget.

Obtaining an LCCN is easy and it’s free. All publishers (including self-published authors) can sign up for an LCCN here.

It takes only a matter of weeks usually to get your assigned number, which should be printed as specified when assigned in the copyright section of your book.

Here’s an example:

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If you want to learn more about creative writing and working at home (in general), feel free to check out my YouTube channel, where I discuss books and more!

Originally published at on April 14, 2020.

New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including the Sam McRae Mystery series. Screenwriter, podcaster, and blogger. My website:

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