Assigning ISBNs to your eBook and Paperback

Once you’ve set up your publishing company, you’ve written your manuscript, and you’re nearly done laying out your book with Jutoh or Vellum, it’s time to assign ISBNs to the eBook and Paperback editions of your upcoming book.

You will assign one ISBN to your eBook, and another one to your paperback edition. You will use these ISBNs in your Jutoh or Vellum file, to uniquely identify each edition of your book.

Assigning an ISBN is more than simply allocating a number to an edition of your book; you will fill out all the information needed for your country’s ISBN agency to list your book in Books in Print. Books in Print is a compilation of data about available and out-of-print books, used by the publishing industry; it’s the reference that says your book is available, who published it, what it costs, etc.

If you haven’t already bought a block of ISBNs from the ISBN agency for your country, it’s time to do that. As I described in Setting up your e-Publishing company, Bowker is the ISBN agency for the USA, and you can buy a block of ISBNs from Bowker’s

For this example, let’s assume your publishing company is called “Fabulous Press LLC”, you’ve chosen to title your book “Rustling Curtains: Window Coverings in the Old West”, and you plan to publish both an eBook edition and a Paperback edition.

Collect the Information for Your Book’s Listing

To create an ISBN for the eBook or paperback edition of your book, first collect or create the following information. Most of this information is needed for the Books in Print listing for your book.

  1. The name of your publishing company. The company you created earlier. For our example, this is “Fabulous Press LLC”.
  2. The Title and (optional) Subtitle of your book. For this example, your book’s Title is “Rustling Curtains” and the Subtitle is “Window Coverings in the Old West”.
  3. The book Description. This is usually a several-paragraph, short description of the book. For this example, you might have written a few paragraphs describing what your book is about and why reader’s might find it interesting.
  4. The book Cover Image that you created earlier.
  5. A Publication Date. This is the date (in the future) that you will make the book available for sale. NOTE: Once you list this deadline, you must meet it; so choose a conservative estimate of when your book will be complete and uploaded to at least one distributor.
  6. The list of Contributors. In the simplest case, in which you did each job needed to create the book, there will be only one Contributor: You, the Author. Bowker has fields so that you can acknowledge a wide range of other contributors, such as the Artist, Illustrator, Editor (in the sense of editor of a collection – not the Copy Editor), etc.
  7. For each Contributor, the Contributor Biography. For the Author (you) Contributor, this is your About the Author: a short write up promoting who you are, why you know your subject, and how to contact you (e.g., your web site link).
  8. This book edition’s Medium, Format, and (optional) Format Details.
    1. For your eBook, the Medium is E-Book, the Format is Electronic Book Text, and there are no Format Details.
    2. For your paperback, the Medium is Print, the Format is Paperback, and the Format Details is the size of the paperback. Many authors choose the size of “Trade Paperback (US)” or “Trade Paperback (UK)”.
  9. Primary and Secondary Current Subjects. Here, you’ll select two categories from Bowker’s standard list of categories. For our example book about drapery in the old west, let’s choose a Primary Subject of “United States_History” and a Secondary Subject of “Interior_Decoration”.
  10. What primary Country you’ll be selling this book in. This choice doesn’t limit where you can sell the book; it’s more just information about at least one place the book will be sold. Your choices will depend on your country’s ISBN agency. For our example book, let’s choose UNITED STATES.
  11. Retail price of your book. Of course, this will be different for the eBook and the paperback. For our example, let’s set a retail eBook retail price of $3.99 and a paperback retail price of $13.99. You will likely update both these prices once you’ve actually uploaded your book to various distributors.

Now that you’ve made all the decisions about your book’s listings, next you’ll actually fill out the ISBN entries at your ISBN Agency.

Assign and Fill Out the eBook ISBN Listing

Note: details of this process will likely change, or be dependent on your country’s ISBN agency. This instructions are for Bowker’s site at the time of this writing.

  1. Browse to your country’s ISBN Agency’s page. For the USA, that page is Bowker’s
  2. Login, using the ISBN agency account you created for your publishing company when you bought your block of ISBNs.
  3. Select My Account / My Identifiers / Manage ISBNs.
  4. You will see a list of your existing books (if any) followed by a list of buttons, each labeled “Assign ISBN”.
  5. NOTE: I believe that clicking this button will permanently use up one of the ISBNs you bought. So make sure you have all the information for your book’s listing before you click the button.
    1. Click the first button labeled “Assign Title”
  6. Bowker will immediately assign one of your available ISBN’s (from the block you bought earlier) to your eBook, and will go to the page where you’ll fill out the Title and Cover section of your ISBN submission.
  7. Upload your eBook Cover Image: On this Title and Cover tab, in the Upload Cover Image section, click Choose File, select your Cover Image .jpg file from your computer, then click the button labeled Upload Cover Image.
  8. Fill in the title information, from the information for your book’s listing that you collected above:
    1. Title, for example “Rustling Curtains”
    2. Subtitle, for example, “Window Coverings in the Old West”
    3. Main Description, that is, the book Description you’ve written.
    4. Original Publication Date, that is, the Year part of your publication date.
    5. Current Language. Select the language the book is written in.
    6. Copyright Year, usually the Year part of your publication date.
  9. Click the button labeled “Go to: Contributors“. Doing that will show you the Contributors tab for this ISBN.
  10. Do Not Click “Add Contributor”. The interface is a little quirky. Instead just fill out the fields for the first contributor: you, the Author.
    1. Contributor Entity: select “Person“.
    2. First and Last: your First and Last name.
    3. Don’t enter your Birth Date. As far as I know, Bowker doesn’t need that private information.
    4. For Contributor Function, select “Author“.
    5. For Contributor Biography, enter your About the Author short description.
    6. If there are other contributors, click the button labeled “Add Contributor“, then fill out the fields for that contributor. Repeat for each Contributor.
  11. Click the button labeled “Go to: Format and Size“. Doing that will take you to the Format and Size tab for this ISBN.
  12. Fill out the Format and Subjects:
    1. Medium is E-Book
    2. Format is Electronic Book Text. Note: for the Format, don’t select ePub, because that is a specific eBook format; instead, “Electronic Book Text” covers all the various eBook electronic file formats (.mobi and .epub).
    3. Primary Subject is the primary subject you chose above (“United States_History”)
    4. Secondary Subject is the secondary subject you chose above (“Interior_Decoration”).
  13. Click the button labeled “Go to: Sales & Pricing“. Doing that will take you to the Sales & Pricing tab for this ISBN.
  14. Fill out the pricing info you chose above:
    1. Where is the Title Sold? for example “UNITED STATES”
    2. Publisher should be automatically filled in with the name of your publishing company, because you used that name when you created an account with your country’s ISBN agency.
    3. Title Status: Select “Forthcoming“. NOTE: once your eBook is released, come back to this site and change this field to “Active Record“.
    4. Publication Date: Fill in the publication date you chose above.
    5. Target Audience: Select the most appropriate of the choices. Many people choose “Trade“.
    6. Currency: The currency in the primary country in which you’re selling your book. For example, US Dollars.
    7. Price. The retail eBook price you chose above. For example $3.99
    8. Price Type: Retail Price.
    9. Price Availability: choose Awaiting Stock. NOTE: once your eBook is released, come back to this site and change this field to “In Stock“.
    10. Title Ship Date: Fill in the publication date you chose above.
    11. On Sale: Fill in the publication date you chose above.
    12. Is Title Returnable? Select “No“.

At this point, you can double-check the data for each tab before submitting, by clicking the tabs to the left (e.g., Title & Cover, Contributors, etc.)

If you don’t have some of the information yet, or aren’t ready to create the entry for some other reason, click the button labeled “Save“. Otherwise, click the button labeled “Submit“.

Congratulations! You’ve submitted the information for your eBook’s Books In Print listing.

…but you’re not quite done yet. It will take 1 or 2 days for Bowker (or your country’s ISBN agency) to approve the ISBN number.

Check to See Whether your ISBN is Approved Yet

Each day after you submitted your ISBN information – or, if you’re not in a hurry, after a few days – check to see if the ISBN is approved:

  1. Browse to your country’s ISBN Agency’s page. Again, for the USA, that page is Bowker’s
  2. Login as you did before.
  3. Select My Account / My Identifiers / Manage ISBNs, as you did before.
  4. You will see a table, with one entry that shows your eBook’s title. For example “Rustling Curtains”. Notice that the listing shows only the title; not the subtitle.
  5. The left column for the entry for your eBook shows an icon. An X icon means some information is missing, that you need to add/correct; a triangle icon means the Agency is still processing your submission; a green check-mark means that your ISBN for that edition of your book is ready to use – congratulations!

Once your ISBN is ready to use, you can take the next step, of preparing to upload your eBook (I’ll write that section soon).

Assign and Fill Out the paperback ISBN Listing

This process is nearly the same as that of assigning the ISBN for your eBook. Only a few fields are different:

  • In the Format and Size tab, Medium = PrintFormat = Paperback and Format Details is the size of the book, for example “Trade Paperback (US)
  • In the Sales & Pricing tab, Price = the retail price of your paperback, for example $13.99.

Once your paperback ISBN is ready to use, you can take the next step, of preparing to upload your paperback (I’ll write that section soon).

Technical Writing and Self-Pubilshing