Self-Publishing Questions and Answers

self publishing question-1500086_960_720Every so often when I have free time (more likely, when I’m waiting for something to upload or download), I browse through author groups and discussion boards and answer any questions to which I know the answer. The great thing about indie authors and publishers is we like to help each other.

The not so great thing is, the answers given in author groups and discussion boards are often wrong, based on something someone read somewhere on another discussion board. A sampling from my latest foray into the world of author discussions:

1.  Do I need an ISBN for my paperback?

Answers to this one varied from, “What a waste of money,” to “You have to have an ISBN to protect your copyright.”

We’ll discuss the second answer first, because I’m eager to get it out of the way. ISBNs and copyrights have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Absolutely nothing.

There. I feel better now. More on that later.

If you want to sell your paperback in stores, you’ll have to have an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). An ISBN is a series of numbers (either ten or thirteen digits, depending on when it was acquired) that is unique to your book. It’s how your book is cataloged and identified by stores, libraries, etc. Laurie Boris wrote an excellent article  explaining what ISBNs are, and why you need them.

2.  Can’t I just get a free one from CreateSpace?

As Laurie covers in the article mentioned above, CreateSpace does offer a free ISBN. If you choose to use it, CreateSpace will be listed as your publisher, because they own the ISBN. This means you can’t use it anywhere else like Lulu or IngramSpark. It will also limit your chances of having your book stocked in brick-and-mortar stores.

If you buy your own, however, you can use any distributor you like, because you own the ISBN.

There’s no right or wrong answer. Each author has to weigh his/her goals and decide which option works best.

3.  I changed the cover on my paperback. Do I need a new ISBN?

No. As Bowker explains, small changes, such as fixing a typo or changing the cover, do not require a new ISBN. Substantial changes that might cause confusion among customers do require a new ISBN. I once emailed CreateSpace to ask what they considered a “substantial” change, and was told if 10% of the book was changed, I needed a new ISBN. Bowker doesn’t have a specific rule, but they do discuss various scenarios:

4.  Do I need to register my copyright in the U.S.?

As is discussed in Laurie’s article, ISBNs are for cataloging; they have nothing to do with protecting your work. A copyright is a legal protection for works you’ve created.

So, should you register your copyright?

I see this question a lot, usually accompanied by the answer that you own the copyright as soon as you create the product. Then follows the advice to mail yourself a copy of your manuscript – never to be opened – in order to prove the date of creation. It’s true that you own the copyright as soon as you create the product; unfortunately, pirates and scammers don’t really care about such trivialities. As is explained by the U.S. Copyright Office, mailing yourself a copy of your manuscript isn’t worth beans if you ever end up in court.

5.  I’ve made a few small changes or corrections to my book interior and/or my cover. How do I change it on Kindle Direct Publishing and/or CreateSpace?

If it’s the same book with small changes, upload it right over the original; it’s that simple. I’ve seen people advise to unpublish the old and start over with the new, but I’d advise against that for several reasons. First, if it’s the same book with small changes, there’s no need to unpublish. Second, if you do unpublish, you’ll lose your reviews and ranking. Third, if you unpublish and republish as a new book, customers who bought your previous book may think it’s a brand new book. Chances are when they purchase only to learn it’s a book they’ve already read, they won’t be too happy.

6. Can I quote poems/music/other books in my book?

Not without permission from whomever holds the copyright, unless it’s in the public domain. Indies Unlimited has several articles on this topic, one of which is Copyrights and Copywrongs.

This is just a small sample of some of the questions and answers I ran into the last time I browsed author groups and discussion boards. Indie world is a fantastic place full of helpful people, but do remember to double-check your sources. As we teach the kids, just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true.

Author: Melinda Clayton

Melinda Clayton is the author of the Cedar Hollow series, as well as a self-publishing guide. Clayton has published numerous articles and short stories in various print and online magazines. She has an Ed.D. in Special Education Administration and is a licensed psychotherapist in the states of Florida and Colorado. Lear more about Melinda at her Amazon author page

17 thoughts on “Self-Publishing Questions and Answers”

  1. Great article, Melinda. This kind of information needs to be out there all the time because new Indie authors crop up each day. Sadly, most don’t know how little they know until something sneaks up on them from behind.

  2. Of course, if you’re Canadian, you can order ISBNs in bundles of 10 at a time, for free! (And have health care, too.)

  3. Thank you for the interesting article, lucky Canadians, only $10 a book title, because in the US it is 200 a title, unless you buy in bulk, and I do mean really large quantities. Just check out Bowlers who sells them in the US.

    I live in the US, I take advantage of the free Create Space ISBN they are publishing the book after all, and I do not use one for the ebook version it is electronic not print, no need for one. Instead I use just the KDP ASIN number for it. ISBN Numbers have traditionally been for publishers, of printed copies. In the US. So unless you buy the ISBN number in bulk by the hundreds there really is no cost or distribution benefit to getting an ISBN Number for an ebook.

    If I ever decide to change publishers, I have no issue with the publisher assigning their own ISBN number.

    1. Good point regarding the ASIN, JB. I initially covered that in my post, but it was getting too long! Lately I’ve seen authors recommend ISBNs for ebooks. We certainly *can* assign our ebooks an ISBN, but it’s not necessary, and it’s incredibly expensive.

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