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The Self-Publisher's FAQ

The Alphabet for Publishers

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What is an ISBN and why do I need one?

An ISBN is the International Standard Book Number necessary for each book marketed to the book trade (bookstores and libraries). Bookstores will not order a book without an ISBN... mostly because they can't. Without an ISBN, there's no number for them to look up.

How do I get an ISBN?

Go to the R.R. Bowker website or www.MyIdentifiers.com directly.

Wait a minute, these are expensive! Why you can't I buy just 1?

ISBN numbers for publishers are sold in blocks of 1, 10, 100 or 1000. You can purchase just one, but it will not identify you as the publisher (it comes from an "unassigned" block, meaning it won't point to you/your company). This is a problem if you plan to publish more than one book and plan to have it taken seriously in the book trade (bookstores, libraries and trade reviews). It also costs a little over a third what a block of 10 costs, so it isn't a sound economical decision either.

People or companies who tell you they'll sell you one of theirs are not doing you a favor. That number will tell the book-selling world that it's their book, not yours. Wholesalers and bookstores won't know from whom to order and you'll miss sales. Even if you are publishing through Amazon (CreateSpace), using their ISBN number isn't a good idea. Own your own work. Don't let anyone have any claim to it, especially large corporations.

In the old days, a book came out in hardback, went to paperback, then became an audio book. Today, most publishers go with a paperback book, or skip right to ebook–which will require 2 ISBNs for Kindle and ePub formats—so that's 2-3 right there.

You may also wish to change the original ISBN if you have major redesigns, price changes and updates of your book. (However, you do not need to change the ISBN number for reprints, minor cover changes or for superficial editorial changes).

If you don't wish to get involved with ordering ISBNs and the like, perhaps subsidy press is the route for you.

Once I have it, where does the ISBN go?

You put the ISBN on the Copyright Page (see explanation in assembling the manuscript into a book) of your book. It will appear above the bar code on your cover. Also, you should include it in every piece of advertising (see the discussion on marketing plans) you do. It will also be used in online sales.

When should I order my ISBN block?

The minute you decide to be a self-publisher and set up a company. Long before the book is finished.

What is an LCCN / PCN?

An LCCN (Library of Congress Catalog Number) and/or PCN (Preassigned Control Number) assigns a library cataloging number to your book. Remember the Dewey Decimal system? This is way more complicated, but the intent is the same. If you want your book to be ordered by libraries, you need this number or a CIP (see below). This is a free service. There's no reason not to do this step.

How do I get an LCCN?

Go to the Library of Congress website and click on "(PCN) LCCN information" on the right hand side.

Once I have it, where does the LCCN go?

The LCCN goes on the bottom half of your book's Copyright Page. Also, you should include it in every piece of advertising (see the discussion on marketing plans) you do.

When should I get an LCCN or CIP?

When you are typesetting the book (see explanation). Remember that after you have the printed book, you must send 2 copies to the Library of Congress.

What is a CIP?

CIP, or Cataloging In Publication, is a data block giving information required for proper library cataloging of the book. Publishers give the same amount of information they do for an LCCN, but they also upload the book (in ASCII format) to the Library of Congress' website with their data submission.

How do I get it?

If you are eligible for the program, Go to the Library of Congress website and click on "Cataloging in Publication (CIP)" on the right hand side.

Why can't I get a CIP?

The CIP program excludes self-publishers and subsidy press authors. They also exclude publishers who have produced less than 3 books by authors other than themselves. If you intend to publish books by authors other than yourself, you have 3-4 authors already lined up, and have the titles of those books, you can submit your application.

What is a Copyright?

A Copyright protects your work from others, establishing it as yours and yours alone. Copyrights exist automatically as a matter of law in any original work of authorship, and are enforceable if notice of copyright is given in the form of "Copyright © 20__ by John Doe." In other words, the minute you finish your book (blog posts, Facebook updates and tweets, too), you own the copyright to your work. Registration of a copyright is a formality required as a prerequisite of filing a lawsuit for copyright infringement. However, registrations, while important, neither establish nor validate the copyright. That said, I always recommend registering copyright for each book.

Where does the Copyright go?

You will place the mark © and the words "Copyright 20__ [your name]" on the copyright page of your book.

How do I register my Copyright?

After you receive the finished books from the printer, complete the application to register a literary work (this covers all non-fiction and fiction books (both e- and p-)) online and send in copies of the book with the application. The cost for an online application as of this writing is $35.; it is $75 if you do this by mail. You can get the application and instructions at this Library of Congress copyright office website. Remember that after you have the printed book, you must send 2 copies to the Library of Congress Copyright Office.

Can I use songs, poems and articles I've found?

If you are writing a parody, satire, or academic study of the work, it could be OK. The rights of the copyright holder are limited by the doctrine of "Fair Use" which generally permits limited, insubstantial reproduction of copyrighted work for academic purposes.

What is Fair Use, and why do I have to care?

"Fair Use" is the right to use another person's copyrighted works under the rules I've stated above. There is no Fair Use for commercial purposes. And if you think about it for a minute, you'll agree that you don't want other people stealing your work and not paying for it, so why should you be able to?

What are BISAC codes and where do I get them?

BISAC or Book Industry Subject and Category codes are numbers given to book subjects. To fill out the Books in Print form, you must choose three BISAC Codes that best describe your book subject. You can get BISAC codes for free at the BISG website. It's a free service, so there's no reason not to do this.

What is a SAN and do I need it?

Standard Address Numbers (SAN) are used by large publishers to differentiate their different warehouses across the country. Very few self-published folk have had occasion to use it.

   
   

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