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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

ISBN

Second Thoughts on Pre-Publication


Here's the second step in the diagram I published last week.  Once again, I see some problems. Let's start with "Design Book Cover." By all means, start to think about your cover early.  Readers are confronted with millions of choices when they look for a book, and your cover needs to be able to catch their attention quickly. 

Try walking into a bookstore with no real purpose in mind.  Just stroll around and notice which books catch your eye.  Which ones fairly jump off the display table to say, "Hey!" and which ones make you curious once you have taken a closer look?  Many factors go into book cover design, and unless  you already have artistic ability or design experience, you may not immediately understand why some covers are better than others.  Look at how many different elements appear in your favorite covers. Is there just one image or many?  Are the colors a hint about the content? Does the cover image wrap around the book from front to back?  Do you like cutouts? embossing? glitter?

When you've found a few designs you like, try walking away from them and looking back at a distance.  While seeing your book prominently displayed on a bookstore table is the ideal, how will prospective readers actually encounter it?  Will it stand out from others of the same type? Will nothing but the spine show on a shelf? Will buyers go online and see only a thumbnail version?  And if so, are the elements on the cover big enough to be visible in a thumbnail?  All of these are issues you should understand before the actual design process begins.

But design it at this stage?  Not so fast!   Are you experienced enough to do your own design?  I know I wasn't.  I had an idea of what I wanted to show on the cover, but it took a professional to do the actual positioning, the trim sizing, and the font selection. Depending on what company you choose to handle the production of your books, you may need to pay for their design services or hire a designer to prepare to cover copy for  you. Don't scrimp here.  A poorly designed cover can lose a prospective sale in just a few seconds.  At least wait until you have production details set before you make a final decision on the cover.

Now, a brief word on copyright.  Authors NEVER need to pay for (or even register) their copyrights.  They come automatically when you write anything.  So don't let anyone charge you for that copyright.  Just make sure your manuscript has that all-important symbol: Copyright ©Your Name and Year of Publication. It goes on the second page, the reverse of your title.  That's it.  That's all you ever have to do. You may, however, want to look into obtaining a Library of Congress cataloging number, but your production company should take care of that for you.

That leaves two other optional tasks in this category, but I don't understand why you should even consider NOT buying your own ISBN numbers and forming  your own business.  Here's why you need to do both.

1. A production company will offer you a free ISBN number, but its numbers will clearly identify that company as the publisher and may even limit  your rights to do other things with the book at a later date.  You can purchase your own ISBN from Bowker for a fee of $125.00 or so.  Or you can buy a set of 10 numbers for twice that.  The numbers never expire, so if  you plan to write more than one book, or publish in more than one format, get your own set of 10 in the beginning.

2. Forming  your own publishing company will make you feel important and make you rich!  (Well, maybe not the rich part, but it is an ego boost.) More important, if you don't have your own company imprint, like mine, Katzenhaus Books, your books will carry the name of the production company you choose.  Not a good idea, especially when most readers do not understand the difference between a print on demand company and a vanity press. Starting your own business is as easy as just doing it.  You don't even have to file papers on it formally until it is making a profit of several thousand dollars.  And in the meantime, while  you are waiting for your book sales to make you rich, you can at least take your expenses off of your income tax if you are the sole proprietor of a small business.  What's not to love?

So there you have it.  For pre-publication, start looking at book covers with a critical eye, name your company, and buy some ISBNs.  You're in business.

ISBN


If you want to sell your book in any retail outlet, whether it be a book chain, an independent shop, or an online source such as Amazon, or if you want your book in any library, it must have an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). Every country has a single agency responsible for issuing ISBNs. In the United States, the company is Bowker Identifier Services.

Publishers—including self-publishers—may register their company and contact information with Bowker and order anywhere from one to one thousand ISBNs. Then when a specific number is assigned to a particular book, the publisher just goes to the Bowker website and registers the number and title. That guarantees that purchasers will be able to find your book, and that the book will be listed in Books In Print, among other bibliographic resources. Don’t skip this step. The lack of an ISBN number marks the book and its author as rank amateurs.

Every book should have a number, and each number can be used only once. A new edition, or a different format will require a new number. Originally ISBNs had ten digits. In 1998, the numbers were expanded to a thirteen-digit format, with the first three digits being 978. That will remain the case for the foreseeable future, but it provides for the possibility of change if all available numbers are exhausted. The numbers are broken into five parts of variable length. The first three are always 978. The second section represents the country; the third, the publisher; the fourth, the title, and the fifth, a code number that can be used to verify the other sections.
Most printing/publishing companies will offer to provide your book with its own ISBN, but that means that the book will be listed with the imprint of the production company: for example, Smashwords, or CreateSpace, or Lightning Source. If you want your own publishing company listed, you must purchase your ISBN directly from Bowker.

I had already decided that I want to publish under my own imprint, “Katzenhaus Books,” not the book production company, and that meant I had to procure my own ISBN number. Next decision: they sell one for $125.00 or ten for $250.00. It’s a bargain, right? But at the end of months of writing, I had reached the “never again stage” and wasn’t at all sure I would ever need more than one. After agonizing a bit, I opted to order ten, all the time feeling ridiculously extravagant.

Then I started checking on other matters. While I love print books and definitely want my book to be an object people can pick up and examine, I also love my Kindle. And I’m hopelessly infatuated with the new iPad. I wanted my book available in all available formats.
 
So what difference did that make? Well, you don’t have to have an ISBN for the Kindle edition, but you can provide one, and it’s useful if you plan to issue in several formats. And if you plan to publish an  Apple version? You have to go through Smashwords, a company that formats your manuscript for all other e-book platforms (Sony, B&N, Palm, etc.). Smashwords requires an ISBN that is different from both the print version and the Kindle version. So I already needed three ISBNs for my single book. I actually saved myself $125.00 by ordering the set of ten.

Many bookstores also require books to have a printed barcode—also issued by Bowker. The barcode is a graphical representation of the book’s ISBN and its retail price. That decision is up to you, and it may be that your local bookstore will accept the book without a barcode. However they are relatively inexpensive, and they give the book that final published look.
 




Portions of the above blog have been  taken from my book, "The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese: How to Avoid the Traps of Self-Publishing," available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, and Smashwords.com.