How to Get an ISBN For Your Self-Published Book (And Why You Need One)

What are those numbers on the back of every book, and why are they so important?

Sp 020 getting an isbn for a self published book

An ISBN number (International Standard Book Number) provides your book with an universal ID number. Every ISBN is 13 digits long, and when it’s printed it’s always preceded by the letters ISBN.

This number gives readers, publishers, and bookstores an easy way to find and identify your book.

Before ISBNs were created in 1967, there was no real method for cataloging and ordering a specific book.

Now that your beloved self-published book is in print, you’ll need an ISBN number to get your book into the global market and into the hands of more adoring fans.

Here’s how to get an ISBN for your book so you can start selling copies to bookstores, libraries and online retailers.

How to Get an ISBN

In the US, you must get your ISBN through the website, which operated by Bowker. Bowker is the only company authorized to manage the ISBN program in the US.

You can purchase ISBNs individually or in bulk units of 10, 100, or 1000 at a time. A single ISBN costs $125.00, but 10 ISBNs only cost $295.00, which offers a pretty substantial savings.

A 100 pack of ISBN costs $595.00. Although this initial price tag may seem a bit pricy, the payoff of selling 100 copies of your book and gaining a loyal readership could be worth the cost.

Free ISBNs

You can get a free ISBN for your self-published book from CreateSpace.

While a free ISBN might sound great at first blush, it can hold your book back from the global market.

A free ISBN only allows you to sell your book through Amazon and CreateSpace’s estore. You’ll need to purchase an ISBN to sell your book at bookstores and to libraries.

Buying your ISBN is similar to buying a piece of property. You’ll own the rights to your book, and you’ll be identified as the initial publisher.

What About a Barcode?

The ISBN and barcode for your book are separate beings. A barcode is used solely for scanning the book, and includes pricing information for your book.

But just like an ISBN, you’ll need to purchase a barcode for your book so it can be sold in bookstores or online.

To buy a barcode, your book will first need an ISBN number. You can buy both through Bowker.

Once you’ve put the last period on the last page of your book, you’ve got a lot of decisions to make to support the success of your book’s sales.

And buying your self-published book an ISBN and barcode buys it a ticket into the global market place so you can sell more copies of your book.

Another crucial aspect to selling your book is making sure you’ve got a professional, user-friendly website to attract and impress new and die-hard fans alike. Discover the 5 things your author site needs to sell more books >

Adam user

President & CEO,
Steuben Press

Adam Ellis has worked in the book industry since 2002, when he was first exposed to the wonderful world of Self Publishing. Over the years he has worked with thousands of authors and helped to produce, print and publish countless books.


When I was looking for a printer for my first book I put the project on a nationwide search site. The very first applicant was Steuben Press. Their estimate remained competitive as more than thirty others flooded in. Since then, through two more books and multiple printings, Steuben Press has proved themselves efficient, timely, responsive, and when I call, it's like in "Cheers," a place they know your name. I recommend them without reservation.

– John McReynolds, California

Press Box Productions, [email protected]