As an aspiring author, you may find yourself wondering what an ISBN is, what it means and how you can obtain one for your book. An ISBN is an International Standard Book Number, which is a thirteen-digit number that works to identify your book specifically against all the other titles and authors available, and all those which are yet to come. This is in an effort to streamline marketing and book use by libraries, booksellers, schools, wholesalers and others. With an ISBN, your book is able to be tracked in terms of sales and inventory control. While e-book dealers don’t necessarily require an ISBN to sell your book online, a physical bookseller will absolutely require one. Without an ISBN, you can’t expect for your book to be sold in stores at all. An ISBN is essential to the world of publishing!

If you’re working with a publishing company that is offering you self-publication solutions, the company will likely register your book and obtain your ISBN on your behalf. If you are publishing your book entirely on your own, you will need to establish a publishing company and apply for an ISBN prefix. There are 160 ISBN agencies worldwide, but the U.S. ISBN Agency is the one that will handle the United States, as well as a handful of other countries. You can fill in your form and submit it online, or mail your application traditionally.

You can buy a block of these numbers, either in groups of 1, 10, 100 or 1000. Once you hold these numbers, you can then assign them to your publications. These numbers are non-transferable; once they’re on a publication that is where they’ll stay. It’s extremely important to ensure that you buy your ISBN or block of ISBN numbers from a legitimate dealer or you will not be identified as the publisher of your book and your piece will become virtually untraceable.

Submitting your work to Collections Canada is mandatory. This is to ensure the heritage of Canadian published works. If you’re publishing 101 copies or more of your book, 2 must go to Collections Canada. If you’re publishing 100 or fewer copies of your work, 1 must be sent to Collections Canada. If you are publishing less than 3 copies you will not be required to send your book to Collections Canada. For more questions on this and other ISBN issues, contact Collections Canada at legaldeposit@lac-bac.gc.ca, phone 819.997.9565.