Bowker ISBNs for Self-Publication

Signed up with Bowker to get International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) for the novel Devil Music, by Carly Orosz.

Bowker is the ISBN manager/distributor/monopoly for the United States of America. I got 10 ISBNs from them for $250 $USD for Devil Music to start with so we could use them for a trade paperback, a few different ebook formats, a hardback/hardcover edition, and a few limited editions for an eventual crowd funding campaign. This was before I found out that this was probably unnecessary [1].

You need to fill in the information for your book(s) (manually, yourself) after purchasing the ISBNs (this is another reason to let your on-demand publisher do this for you). Start by managing your ISBNs [ Home > My Account > Manage ISBNs ] and then fill in the required and requested information over 4 forms/pages {“Title & Cover”, “Contributors”, “Format & Size”, “Sales & Pricing”}.

The information on the Title & Cover page is straightforward enough. Be warned that the “Main Description” is limited to 350 words. You will also need such a short description later, so go ahead and write a good one now. We did choose to upload the JPG cover and PDF book interior files to be included in the record. There is an option for a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) (as in “optional”), however you will have to come back here later to enter this after you have requested and received one from the United States Library of Congress (if you want one).

The Contributors page is also fairly clear. You are expected to add each contributor to the book here. Using Devil Music as an example, we credited the author with “Author, Characters created by, Created by”, credited LogSine with “Prepared for Publication by”, and credited the editor and cover artist as “Editor” and “Artist”, respectively. Yes, the Contributor Function form control is as terrible, obnoxious, and poorly designed as you think it is. We chose to only include information in the Contributor Biography section for the author.

The Format & Size page was a bit harder. Selecting the Medium and Format was straightforward, but selecting Format Details was felt tricky for the paperback edition. We settled on designating it “Trade Paperback (US)” although it is 5.5″ x 8.5″ instead of 6″ x 9″ because none of the other paper size or book format options looked any more accurate. We listed the Primary Subject as “FICTION_FANTASY_GENERAL” and did bother to fill in the Size Details section, using a postal scale to find the weight of the paperback book.

For the Sales & Pricing page, we chose the United States for the country where the title is sold, even though it is available worldwide. The “help” mouseover (the question mark circles which popup information when you move the mouse cursor over them) says to “Click Add Country” for a new record, but there is no such text or button on the page. I could not find an explanation online as to whether self-publishing through on-demand printers indicates that the Title Status should be “On Demand” or “Active Record”, so we chose the latter in order to make sure it was clear in Bowker’s database that the title is active (in print, available for purchase of new copies). We chose to to go through the hassle of getting an “imprint” as the value of an imprint is entirely unclear (and possibly imaginary).


[1]: “How Bowker uses its U.S. ISBN monopoly to rip off new authors” by Ian Lamont (@ilamont) on The Independent Publishing Magazine, 2013/03/13

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