Write for the Love of it!

Getting the ISBN for your Book

Glenna Mageau, Award Winning Author, Speaker, Writing Coach

If you are writing a book and if you are planning on self publishing it, then getting an ISBN is a must.


So what is an ISBN and where do you get it?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. Sounds simple enough. It is the identifying marker for your book while it is out in the big world so that anyone anywhere can find it. And it’s also a way that retailers can track it. It is also a way to find the publisher.

All ISBN’s are now 13 numbers long. They used to be 10 but they are no longer used. I’m assuming just because there got to be too many books being published.


If you are in Canada, we are very fortunate as the ISBN’s are free. You heard it right, free. So you want to go to: ISBN Canada

You will find all of the information that you need, there.

First you’ll need to open an account. You will have to have a name for your publishing press, meaning the name that you’d like to say your books are published by. Just like the traditional publishers like Penguin House, Kensingnton, etc. You get to create the name of your own publishing company. You can name it whatever you want but I’d suggest make it something meaningful for you. Also it is usually standard to put Press behind your title but you don’t have to.

When I first did it, I did not understand the process or what I was doing, so my publishing company is Quadessence Solutions.

Know that once you create it you can’t change it but you can add a different name to also publishes under… In case you’d like to change the name.

The Process In Canada

  1. Set up account
  2. Set up publishing company name to use
  3. Set number of ISBN’s you’d like under that publishing name – it goes in  multiples of 10 – 1, 10, 100…
  4. It can take two weeks to confirm your account, be patient. You will be given an 11 number identifier number that is linked to your publishing company.
  5. Once you have your book ready, go into your account and put in the title, type of book and the information and then you will get your ISBN within minutes. The last two number are what link to your book and type of book.
  6. Each type of book must have it’s own ISBN – audio, paperback, hardcover, ebook. Even though it is the same book title, you cannot use the same ISBN for different formats.
Getting the ISBN for your book

The ISBN is 13 digits

Getting Your ISBN in the United States


I can honestly say this is something I know very little about. I do know that you have to buy your ISBN’s through Bowker.

“Your ISBN is 13 numbers long and is your publishing and book identifier.”

Do I have to get my own or can I use one offered through the Print On Demand or Distributor I’m using?


You can  use the ISBN that is offered through some of the companies (i.e. Create Space, Pronoun, Smashwords, Ingram Spark…)


I don’t recommend it. Why? Because then they show up as the publisher. That may not bother you, you might be okay with that. But… yes another but, if you decide you no longer want to use that company, you don’t like the changes they’ve made or they go out of business, then, yup, you’ve lost that ISBN.

So what does that mean?

You can easily replace an ISBN. In Canada it is free, in the US you have to buy your ISBN. So that isn’t too difficult but what happens is that everything that is associated with your book will disappear. All of the reviews will not be associated with your book, so if you’ve worked hard to get reviews, they are gone. All links to the book will be gone. It essentially can mean you are starting over. So if that is your intent, then you’re set… if not, well you will have a headache.

if you don't writing will be that thing buzzing around your head

Where do I put it?


The ISBN goes on the inside cover of your book usually with what is called the front matter—your copyright information, publication date, publishing company name, all rights reserved information, etc.

You will also need to use it and include it on any online bookstore—Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Amazon (although they do assign their own ASIN), etc.

You will need it if you are using an aggregate—Smashwords, Draft2Digital, etc.

You will need to put the correct ISBN on any hard copies of your book—paperback, hardcover, CD.

If you upload your book to other sites for sale or for reviews, ensure that you include the ISBN for it.

Your ISBN is often how people can search for and find your book. So it’s important to make sure you have it posted wherever your book is available.


Getting the ISBN for your book is just one more step in the publishing process. Be sure to get your ISBN well before you plan on publishing, it’ll just save you that extra headache.


There are a few steps but it is worth the journey.


Getting the ISBN for your book

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