Mistake # 4 Don’t Bother with an ISBN or LCCN!
First of all, what is an ISBN and an LCCN?
ISBN is short for “International Standard Book Number.” Without getting too technical, it’s a thirteen digit number assigned to your book; it’s how book buyers and booksellers identify your book as unique among the millions of books on the market.
LCCN is short for “Library of Congress Control Number.” Without sounding too antiquated, in the United States, we have a Federal Institution responsible for tracking and cataloging the books published in this country. The LCCN is the unique Library of Congress (and your local library’s – yes those still exist) catalog number for your book.
Remember that expensive professional business conference I mentioned in chapter one? Remember the self-publishing ‘expert’ who claimed that spelling and punctuation errors were ‘petty’ mistakes? He also told his audience not to worry about putting an ISBN on their books; my guess would be that he would find LCCN’s even less useful.
So Why Bother?
You can publish your book without an ISBN or LCCN. You can fish without a fishing license … but it does severely limit where you fish. If you’re planning to sell your printed (as opposed to e-book) book anywhere other than out of the trunk of your car, you’ll need an ISBN. No distributor or retailer (including Amazon) will offer your book for sale without an ISBN. Amazon will offer your e-book for sale if it doesn’t have an ISBN, but they’ll assign their own ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) to your e-book. Good luck trying to get Apple’s iTunes store or any other e-retailer to accept Amazon’s ID number for your e-book.
LCCN’s are used by libraries for cataloging and ordering. Without an LCCN, there’s little chance of libraries finding and buying it.
If you’re serious enough about your book to write it and publish it, be serious enough to register it properly. It allows the rest of the world to find (and buy) your book.
Another reason …
If you think your book’s title and your name as its author makes your book one in one-hundred million, think again. Books of the same title as yours have probably already been published; if not, they’re likely to (how many great book titles can there be?). Publishing a book that has the same title as an existing book (unless you’re specifically trying to target the existing book) isn’t illegal at all; it happens all the time. And if you think your name, as an author is unique in the universe, do a Google search for your name; you may be surprised.
Bottom line – if you’re serious about selling your book, get an ISBN and an LCCN.
What do you think about this self-publishing mistake? Any ideas? We’d love to hear from you, please comment.
I’m a self-published author. My first self-published book, Breaking the Treasure Code: The Hunt for Israel’s Oil sold about 20,000 copies … okay, I guess. Since then, between the self-publishing companies I started and bought, we’ve sold close to one million books.
Let me tell you, in the beginning, I didn’t know much about writing a book, and knew nothing about publishing, printing, marketing and selling books! If I had known anything, I might have walked away, overwhelmed with the whole process. Successfully self-publishing can, at times, seem hopeless. But I stuck to it, learned a lot about publishing, even more about marketing and selling, and, through lots of practice, sharpened my writing skills.
Even so, there are countless, land mines, booby-traps, dead-ends and just plain mistakes a self-published author can make. This is the fourth of ten weekly blog posts. They come from my e-book: The Ten Biggest Mistakes Self-Published Authors Make. This little book captures ten of the most common, most detrimental mistakes you can make as a self-published author and, hopefully, how to avoid them. I wanted to put these mistakes out on a blog format so you can comment, ask questions and we can discuss ways to make your book as successful as it can possibly be. Please, feel free to comment and ask questions.
I am publishing a book, volume 1 of family stories contibuted by at least 30 of our family members. Anything specific I should know when taking steps to get an ISBN or LCCN for such a book or is it even a good idea?
If this book is just for family you could probably forego the ISBN and LCCN. If you want it to reach a wider audience you can register for (10) ISBN number directly from Bowker or purchase a single ISBN from a broker (just Google ISBN broker). Amazon will assign an ASN to the book if you have no ISBN and you want to put your book on Amazon. You can contact LOC>gov regarding a Library of Congress Control Number. Alternately, any reputable publisher will assign your book an ISBN and register with the Library of Congress if you publish with them.
great article. I have LCCN and ISBN. I purchased my own block of 10.
I have copyrighted four books with the Library of Congress. I self-published one of those books through Mall Publishing. I have never received an ISBN with the confirmation that my books were copyrighted. I plan to print my other three books myself. How do I get an ISBN from the Library of Congress?
An ISBN is an International Standard Book Number, a unique identifier for your book. ISBN’s are issued and cataloged through Bowker (https://www.myidentifiers.com/identify-protect-your-book/isbn/buy-isbn) the official agency in the US responsible for ISBN’s. Although the Library of Congress will need your book’s ISBN when you register your book for an LCCN (Library of Congress Catalog Number), they do not supply ISBN’s. You can purchase a single ISBN from Bowker for $125. Bundles of 10 ISBN’s cost $295 (or $29.50 each). A less expensive alternative may be a private ISBN service that buys ISBN’s in bulk and resells singles at a discounted rate (https://www.isbnservices.com/). Remember, you’ll need a different ISBN for each book you publish AND for each format of a book (paperback, hardcover, ebook, audiobook).
Cataloging materials for the public library that are self-published and without an ISBN (or LOC information) is usually a nightmare. Most catalogers will refuse to catalog materials that do not have an ISBN for fear of misrepresentation or facts. Especially if it is non-fiction. If you want your book in a library Copyright and ISBN are very helpful!
AMEN! Thank you, Terre. That’s why not having an ISBN is the biggest mistake #4 self-published authors make.
This is a very helpful article. Thank you Steve. I published my third book June, 2017. Now I have a 2nd edition. I am trying to put it on Amazon. I originally received an LCCN but not an ISBN. I did not want to pay for a bunch and the cost for one seemed too high. What is the best option now considering I do not want any limitations on my book selling on Amazon and possibly B&N and others. Do I bust for the ISBN package or just buy one? Thank you for your time!
Amazon (CreateSpace) will assign you an ISBN (one of theirs) for free, but it’s theirs, which means CreateSpace is the publisher of record and your book will be available exclusively via Amazon channels. If you buy an ISBN from Createspace, you can name yourself as the publisher/imprint, but I believe you’re still restricted to sell through Amazon channels. You can buy your own ISBN through Bowker, but I’d recommend buying 10 rather than one. One is $125 and 10 are $295. Expensive! But you’ll need a different ISBN for each format (hardcover, Softcover, ebook) and it sounds like you have more than one title.
If you want no limitations bite the bullet and buy your own.
Or – find a (real) publisher you trust. They will have their own ISBN’s and assign them to your book accordingly. If they’re worth a flip, they will be instrumental in helping sell your book once it’s published; that’s what publishers are supposed to do.
Thanks for your comment.
I have a question – do short stories count as “books” and do they need an ISBN and LCCN? I’m thinking they still need to be copyrighted. I’m just starting my research into all of this and am totally overwhelmed.
Good question! A short story does not count as a book unless it’s published or presented as an independent work. Most often a collection of short stories is combined to make a book. ISBN’s and LCCN’s are reserved for books.
According to US copyright law,”Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form.” This means that the minute your story is produced in any fixed form, that story (and you) is protected by copyright law. Just make sure you can prove when you created the story, in the eventuality you’ll need to proved the date of copyright protection.
Carolyn is right. I stand corrected … and scolded by our editor. Books that are already published are considered “ineligible” to register for a LCCN.
However, there is a way around the problem that isn’t guaranteed and will cost the author a copyright registration fee. Here’s the quote from the LOC website:
How can I get cataloging for a book which is already published?
All works submitted to the Copyright Office to meet copyright obligations are also reviewed by Library of Congress selection librarians. Works selected for addition to the Library’s collections are assigned a cataloging priority and cataloged according to that priority. The Library does not provide current status reports for individual works processed in this manner. The Library of Congress database, however, is available via the Internet (http://catalog.loc.gov) and can be searched for works that the Library has cataloged. Publishers should also consider working with a professional librarian at a local library to obtain cataloging. (https://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn/faqs/#published)
Thank you Carolyn. My apologies Martine.
Is it possible to obtain a LCCN after you have already self-published your book?
Yes, you can apply for a LCCN after you’ve published your book. Just go to http://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn/. You can open an account and apply for a LCCN.
Thanks for reading.
I just read your article and oh boy! How I wished I had read it six months ago.
How complicate is it to obtain an LCCN once the book is published? I see a lot of articles on obtaining the PCN but nothing about obtaining the LCCN after the book is published. And, like a lot of newbies, I confused copyright with LCCN.
Thanks for your help!
http://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn/about/scope.html says “The following are ineligible:
Books that are already published.”