How To Self-Publish #1 - ISBNs & Copyright

Writing books is hard. Self-publishing is easy. Selling books is hard. Spending the money you've made on self-publishing is easy. Ignore all the hard parts... for now. As it often seems a complicated and confusing mess to get all the right pieces into place to make your book available online, I will try to explain how everything works in as simple of terms as possible (besides that long-winded sentence I just wrote).


You've finish writing your book and it is amazing (finishing a book at all is amazing), so it's time to think about legally protecting all of your hard work. After many years of free legal advice from my father who does copyright/patent law, I've done just about everything necessary to copyright my writing.

  • Registered it with the federal government (copyright, patent, trademark office)
  • Mailed myself a sealed and dated copy to be used as evidence should I need proof I created something on a specific date
  • Mailed a copy to a lawyer for safe-keeping
  • Added "Copyright Zack Keller 2012. All Rights Reserved." on everything that I create.

While all of these methods are still valid, most of them aren't necessary anymore. What I would do is always add this to the back of your book or include it somewhere in your work: "Copyright  YOUR NAME / CURRENT YEAR. All Rights Reserved." With all the emails and time-stamped files we produce these days it's much easier to show your ownership of an idea so save your money on making an official copyright and instead spend it on ISBNs.


Head over to where you can purchase ISBNs from a company called Bowker. An International Standard Book Number is, as it states, a universal way for a book to be tracked. You can buy 1 ISBN for $125 or 10 ISBNs for $250 (or more if you'd like). The choice is pretty clear on which you should buy for two reasons: 1) each version of a book you sell (Paperback, Kindle, Nook, iBook) requires its own ISBN, so if you wanted to do all of those stores you would need 4 ISBNs 2) most self-published authors say it's difficult to generate sales until you have 4 books out in the marketplace so save some ISBNs for those new books! Get the 10, it will pay for itself in no time.

Once you have your account set up on My Identifiers, you must "assign" a book title, author, contributors, description, format (.mobi, .ePub, paperback), size, book cover, pricing and all kinds of other information regarding your work to a specific ISBN. Doing this registers your book with Bowker (which oversees every single ISBN created) and makes a digital record of your work which is another layer of copyright protection. After registering this ISBN, your book is ready for sale online, at bookstores, and even libraries and schools. Remember, for each version of your book (Kindle, Nook, Paperback, etc) you need a separate ISBN so repeat these steps to make sure they are all registered.

Now that the groundwork set up, it's time to get your work out there. Updates on how to do this through Print On Demand services like Createspace and digital outlets like Kindle Direct Publishing coming soon.