Invented in the 1960s by the massive UK book retailer W. H. Smith (How I fondly remember many hours spent in their store in the town where I was born!) the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is now used virtually everywhere that books are sold. If you want your books to be taken seriously, your book needs one. If you want your books to be sold in stores, you have to have one.
ISBNs are volume specific; if you sell an ebook and a print version of your book each should have its own number. How you obtain them depends on where you are. In the U.S. and U.K they are controlled by private companies who charge for blocks of them to be issued. Here in Canada they are controlled by Libraries And Archives Canada (LAC), a federal government branch that provides ISBNs for free (after registering with them) – a very civilized approach to my way of thinking.
I signed up for an account with LAC a few weeks ago and after a brief waiting time was approved and provided with the ability to create my own ISBNs. I had to try it out immediately and created one for my upcoming short story collection “Dead Reckoning And Other Stories“.
Though I am usually highly skeptical of all things bureaucratic, this was one of the rare exceptions. The process was quick and simple and required only small amounts of head-scratching, unlike my now redundant EIN.
That’s it! My shiny new ISBN!
If you’re setting up a print edition of your book you will probably want a bar code for the back cover. A search on the internet reveals several sources but here is a nice simple (and free) generator that allows you to download the result in a number of formats – and here’s the result