On ISBNs and other dilemmas

March 12, 2014 Publishing/marketing 1

So as I take baby steps towards possible self-publishing of ‘The Plains of Kallanash’, I’ve found myself thinking about ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers – those long strings of identifying digits that most books seem to have). You’d think it would be a simple enough procedure – I need an ISBN (or ten, since that’s the minimum you can order), I contact the agency, here’s my money, ching ching, ISBNs are in the post. Well, not quite. There’s a 4-page application form, for a start, and a 10-page booklet of instructions, not to mention awkward questions like how many pages is your book and what price will you charge and who’s publishing it. Hmm. This needs thought.

I should point out that no individual actually needs to get an ISBN at all. If you only intend to sell as an ebook, you don’t need one. Amazon, for instance, will issue its own ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) – an internal product code, basically – which uniquely identifies a book (or kettle or lawnmower or DVD or anything else it sells). Even if you want a print book, which has to have an ISBN, self-publishers will be given one free from CreateSpace or their print-on-demand company, and authors with a traditional publishing contract don’t need to worry about it, since some company minion will organise these details.

So why bother? For me, it seems tidier to get my own ISBNs and have full control of the process. There’s also the issue of professional presentation, which is a big issue for self-publishers. If my book only has an ASIN that’s a clear sign of a self-published book. If it has an ISBN issued by (say) CreateSpace, then the book is technically published by CreateSpace. The information shown on the book’s page on Amazon will say quite clearly ‘Published by CreateSpace’.

Well, call me a control freak, but if I’m self-publishing, I don’t want some other company as my official publisher. So I’m happy to stump up the money. There’s no point in paying for professional cover art and editing and all the other gubbins, and quibbling over £132 for ISBNs.

But the first question on the form is a stumper. ‘Publishing name’ it says quite clearly. Is that my own name or a company name? Here in the UK, there’s nothing to stop me doing everything in my own name. The books will then say ‘Published by Pauline M Ross’, but Amazon will pay my royalties (if any! ha!) direct to me, and I can use my own personal bank account for the publishing income and expenses.

However, I can also create my own publishing company. The downside is that I may have to set up a business bank account, but that will help me keep the finances straight anyway, although it will cost something after the first year or so. My tax return will be much the same either way – income and expenses for a small business have to be declared as such in the UK – but it makes it easier to claim legitimate business expenses if there’s a business bank account.

So that’s what I’ve decided to do. ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ will now be published by Sutors Publishing, a small but innovative startup specialising in a very select brand of epic fantasy. Probably.

[Legal disclaimer: yes, you know what I’m going to say, don’t you? I’m not a lawyer, and this is just stuff I’ve looked up on the internet, and anyway it only applies in the UK. So be sure to do your own research before committing yourself to anything major.]

One Response to “On ISBNs and other dilemmas”

  1. PaulineMRoss

    I was just surprised they wanted to know so much about the book – even down to the proposed price. But there will be a record of it in the British Library, which is quite cool. I’m going to operate as a sole trader – no licence needed, and the minimum of fuss. In the unlikely event that I become the next J K Rowling (ha!) I can always set up a limited company then. I rather fancy being a Publishing Czar. 🙂

    I’m following Michael J Sullivan’s advice for self-pubbers – that one should be at least as professional as the trad. pubbers. Too many self-pubbers take the approach that they’ll just bang the book up on Amazon and see what happens, but if that sloppiness affects the finished product, they might as well not bother. I shall be paying for cover art, beta readers, proofreading and formatting, at least this time round. At least it will be tax deductable. 🙂

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