top of page

Indie Publishing: Navigating ISBNs

Good day, fellow DIY authors! Let’s take a shortcut through the labyrinth that is ISBNs, which are like an international passport for your book/graphic novel/novella. You won’t be able to sell your books in stores or online without one. Here’s what you need to know.

Self-Publishing: Navigating ISBNs


ISBN stands for “International Standard Book Number.” It's an ID number for each edition and variation of your books. In essence, it's the literary fingerprint that uniquely identifies your work in the vast sea of published works.

  • Bookstores: Retailers, both physical and online, use ISBNs to track, sell, market, and manage their inventory.

  • Libraries: Libraries rely on ISBNs to catalog and organize their collections.

  • International: ISBNs help readers, retailers, and distributors to locate your book.


Each format of a specific book or addition needs a different ISBN. Whether it's the hardcover edition, paperback, e-book, or audiobook, each requires its own ISBN. Even different e-book formats (e.g., EPUB, MOBI) must have distinct ISBNs.

Fear not! Your ISBN isn't bound by borders. Once assigned, your ISBN carries its unique identifier worldwide, facilitating international distribution and recognition.


Even though your ISBN is international, you still have to get your ISBN from your local country. In each country, there is usually only one distributor of ISBNs. You can find them here:

  • In the US (what I’m familiar with) obtain yours from Bowker My Identifiers.

  • For other countries, look up your provider at the International ISBN Agency.

  • You can use Amazon’s free ISBN, but it only works for Amazon, not other realtors.

I recommend buying 10 at a time. If you have three formats (Kindle, Paperback, Hardback), you’ll need three ISBNs. You can buy 10 Bowker ISBNs for less than the price of three individual ones.


Once you've secured your ISBN, it's time to give it a home. The copyright page of your book is its rightful home. Display the ISBN prominently, along with other pertinent information like copyright details, edition information, and publisher details. Each format needs a separate ISBN, and the one you enter on each format’s copyright page MUST MATCH the one you enter with your book details for publication of that format (in KDP, SparkIngram…).


Q1: Can You Change the ISBN for a Particular Format?

A: Once an ISBN is assigned to a specific format, changing it is not feasible. If you plan on releasing a new edition or format, a new ISBN is required.

Q2: Can You Reuse an ISBN?

A: No, ISBNs are unique to each edition and format. Once assigned to a specific book, an ISBN cannot be reused.

Q3: Can I Use Someone Else's ISBN?

A: Each ISBN is unique to a particular publisher and book. Using someone else's ISBN without authorization is a violation of copyright and publishing standards.

Q4: Do E-Books Need ISBNs?

A: Yes, each format of a book, including e-books, requires its own ISBN. Different e-book versions (e.g., EPUB, MOBI) also need distinct ISBNs.

Q5: What If I Change Publishers?

A: If you change publishers, a new ISBN is typically assigned, as it is tied to both the book and the publisher.

Q6: Can I Purchase ISBNs in Bulk?

A: Yes, many ISBN agencies offer bulk purchase options, which can be cost-effective if you plan to publish multiple titles.

Q7: How Long Does it Take to Get an ISBN?

A: The duration varies by country and agency. In the US, Bowker’s My Identifiers is instantaneous.

Q8: Can I Transfer an ISBN to Another Book?

A: No, ISBNs are specific to the book for which they are assigned and cannot be transferred to a different work.

Q9: Can I transfer an ISBN from one edition of my book to another?

A: No, ISBNs are tied to specific editions of a book and cannot be transferred.

Q10: Do I need a separate ISBN for a box set that includes multiple books?

A: Yes, each distinct book within a box set should have its own ISBN.

So, fellow keyboard abusers, go forth with ISBNs as your literary passports. Navigate the self-publishing waters with confidence, and may your books find their rightful place on shelves, in libraries, and in the hearts of readers worldwide. Until our next literary voyage, happy publishing!


As always, I appreciate your support of indie authors. In the name of putting myself out there, here are a few of my works.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page