Should you buy an ISBN?

ISBN BarcodeISBN is for International Standard Book Number, issued by a select agency in the nation where the publisher resides. You’re probably familiar with 10 or 13 digit ISBNs appearing on the copyright page or above the barcode on the back of a print version book. The barcode just identifies the ISBN and may or may not include a price.

Even though ISBN is a number corresponding to a book, it has more to do with the publisher and edition than the title and author. For example, the same ebook could have several ISBNs for different retailers selling it, and it would need another ISBN for a paperback version and yet another for a hardcover or audio book. A separate version is needed for the ePub file compared to the mobi file. Or if you change the trim size of a paperback, like from 5 x 8 inches to 6 x 9 inches, it will need a new ISBN.

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The main exceptions are for reprintings or minor updates, which do not need new ISBNs. In most cases you don’t need a new ISBN for title, metadata, cover or price changes. Since it’s an international designation there are varying aspects from nation to nation, so your situation may differ from an author in another country. In a nutshell, if your book is to be sold through a retailer, it needs an ISBN to identify the publisher and edition.

However, many retailers don’t require you to provide an ISBN. Amazon, for instance, assigns its own version called an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number). Amazon currently doesn’t list an ISBN on the product page even if you provide one, though you can find specific titles there by searching for the ISBN number. If you provide an ISBN to Barnes & Noble, you’ll be required to make it specifically for NOOK. Barnes & Noble support said this when asked about ISBNs: NOOK Press does not check the Bowker status or title assignment of an ISBN that is submitted to a NOOK Press Project. If you choose to enter an ISBN for a Project in your NOOK Press account, that ISBN will be displayed in your sales report, and is not used for any other purpose. Kobo says: You will still be able to publish your book on Kobo without an ISBN and sell in over 190 countries worldwide as we will issue our own identifier number when it goes on our site.

Since most retailers don’t require you to provide an ISBN for ebooks, they’ll assign a unique one at no charge. The main catch is, depending on the retailer, you may not be listed as the publisher. In the cases of Smashwords and CreateSpace, accepting their free ISBNs will list them as the publisher, not you. You’ll still be listed as the author of course, but if you wanted your name or publishing imprint to be listed as publisher, you’ll usually need to purchase and provide your own. A few retailers, like Kobo, have certain distribution partners that may not receive your book without a provided ISBN.

This decision divides authors based on specifics, goals and finances. Some authors insist on providing ISBNs while others have never paid for one. Another author might purchase an ISBN for one title (or retailer) but not for another. It’s up to you as there are several ways to manage this. Fortunately your book can be successful regardless of how you handle ISBNs.

If you decide to buy one or a pack of ISBNs, check with your nation for the agency that distributes them. You can get more info at the International ISBN Agency: https://www.isbn-international.org/. In the United States and Australia, R.R. Bowker is the exclusive ISBN agency. Prices start at $125 for a single ISBN, $295 for a 10-pack, $575 for a 100-pack and $1,000 for 1,000. As you can imagine, an author with several titles existing in a few formats uploaded to multiple retailers might need more than 10 ISBNs, so going this route can get expensive. Even if you only have one book but plan to sell at multiple retailers and make print or audio versions, then you may want several ISBNs.

Whether or not to purchase ISBNs has been debated since free was an option. The main benefit to purchasing an ISBN is to have your name or publishing imprint listed as the publisher instead of Smashwords or CreateSpace or whichever company supplies your book with a free ISBN. Your book will also have some additional distribution and search-ability factors, though these things are changing rapidly.

In my opinion ISBNs will be most useful to authors who plan to aggressively market print versions (paperback or hardcover) to large bookstores. Ebooks really don’t need an ISBN assigned by you because the retailers each have their own way of handling it and will additionally assign their own numbers. If you decide to purchase ISBNs for ebooks, you may need or decide to use a unique one for Amazon and Barnes & Noble while clustering Apple, Google and many other retailers under one ISBN.

Smashwords, the world’s largest ebook distributor, sends your book to multiple channels. Smashwords allows you to use your own ISBN or to use one of theirs for free. Vendors like Smashwords and CreateSpace purchase enormous amounts of ISBNs from Bowker at $1 apiece. That’s why these companies can offer you an ISBN for free.

Should you buy ISBNs?

If you plan to aggressively market print versions (paperback or hardcover) to large bookstores, then yes. Consider buying ISBNs.

If you are seriously promoting your brand, name, or publishing company or publishing imprint, then yes. Consider buying ISBNs. (A single publishing company may have multiple imprints, with the different imprints used by the publisher to market works to various demographic consumer segments.)

If you believe the initial costs of ISBNs will be offset by additional sales resulting from select distribution partners and search-ability via ISBN, then consider buying ISBNs.

For most other authors, especially those on a tight budget, the freely assigned ISBNs are a great choice. (I have never paid for an ISBN, but that’s just one author’s choice.)

What about Print Books?

If you get to the point of making print versions, either paperbacks or hardcovers, then ISBNs will be more important to consider. For those on a budget there are still free ISBN solutions from companies like CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand publisher. CreateSpace gives you 4 options of ISBNs, from free to $10 to $99, or you can provide your own. Each option has slightly different features, but with any of them your paperback can be available for purchase in many parts of the world.

There’s a myth that says you need to buy an ISBN and list yourself or publishing imprint as the publisher to be successful. Not true. Many incredibly successful indie authors have published with free ISBNs including Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking and J.A. Konrath.

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Over 20,000 Books Sold and 500 Amazon Reviews!

allison-maruska-profileWe featured Allison Maruska on Blogging for Authors and Newbies back in 2015. Now her book has sold over 20,000 copies and has 500 Amazon reviews!

That’s beyond exciting. That’s a dream come true for most writers. And you can do it too!

Here’s what she had to say back then, and below is a link to what she’s learned since.

Allison, it’s always nice when your full name exists as a custom URL. Did that make your decision easy?

I figured using my name would be the quickest way for my book readers to find me.

How long have you had it and how often do you post?

I’ve had this blog for a little over a year, but I had a Blogger site for a couple years before that. I try to post at least weekly, usually 2 times per week.

What do you like the most about your blog? The least?

Most: I like talking to my readers in my “real” voice. I started the blog as a humor blog, so I weave humor into everything I write, even if the post isn’t specifically a humor post.

Least: Some of my posts are hard to find, but I’ve been working on categorizing them in the menu bar, so that should improve.

What have you learned that you can share with a newbie?

Allison Maruska book coverErr on the side of shorter, if you can. I’ve heard the target word count for a “regular” blog post is 250 – 300 words. Obviously, that can be higher if you’re specializing in something. But see your blog as an opportunity to practice concise writing. Also, set a static landing page.

I like those tips! What’s a good link for readers to find your books?

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00T100YB0

(Since this post in 2015, Allison has sold over 20,000 copies of The Fourth Descendant and received 500 reviews. Wow! https://allisonmaruska.com/2016/11/14/five-things-i-learned-from-500-reviews/)

Anything else you’d like to add?

I reply to all comments, so stop by and chat! Commenting on others’ blogs is a great way to get noticed, too.😉

Thank you, Allison. Looks like you’re headed it a great direction. Wishing you all the best.

Please share any thoughts or tips in the comments section.

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On Your Mark, Get Set, NaNoWriMo!

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It’s that time of year again; November is National Novel Writing Month.

Writers, you have 3 options:

  1. Wimp out while eating leftover candy and turkey.
  2. Participate and write 50,000 words on your next novel.
  3. Be a rebel, writing as if possessed for 30 days on anything you want.

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Need more reasons to do it? How about 8? As in at least 8 bestsellers that began during NaNo:

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Wool by Hugh Howey
The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough
Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress by Marissa Meyer

I’m going with rebel option 3, hoping to finish the novel I started during NaNoWriMo in 2011 (yikes, five years later!).

A few reminders from the folks in charge:

Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. This approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down…

What are you waiting for? Write, write, write! For more information and to sign up for the extra goodies, visit nanowrimo.org.

Please share any thoughts or tips in the comments section.

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Can a Blog Boost My Business?

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Can a blog help my business, even if I’m not a writer?

Absolutely, though they’re not for everyone. Blogging makes the most sense for people who have material to post at least somewhat regularly. It doesn’t have to be everyday or even close to that, but the more frequent you can post something of interest to someone out there, the better your blog will be received.

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When I meet new people, I often think about how a blog could complement their business. They’re not always the kind of businesses you’d assume would be a good fit for a blog, like a photographer or author. But almost any business can benefit from one. Let me explain with some examples.

One winter, my nephew and I rented snowmobiles. For two thrilling hours we explored forest trails and bounded through meadows of soft powder. It was an absolute blast! Afterwards we talked with the business owner about how much fun we had. “Everyone says that,” he replied, “but it’s hard to get people to find us and give it a try.”

Missed Opportunity

Driving home, all I could think about was how easy it would have been for the owner to have taken a picture or brief video of us returning on the snowmobiles with our rosy cheeks, ear-to-ear grins and details of our adventure. Pop that info along with a brief paragraph into a blog post, and it would have been awesome marketing for the company. And after the post was online, my nephew and I would have enjoyed sharing it with our family and friends. We would have enthusiastically marketed the post (and the business) for the snowmobile rental owner!

The same thing is true for a restaurant or any business that involves regular clientele coming in for products or services. If the customers are willing to have a photo or brief video taken of them documenting their enjoyment, that makes for a great blog post.

Imagine a physical therapy outfit documenting the progress of a special patient. Or think of a general contractor showcasing some of his latest projects and customers. In time, these blogs posts and people featured in them will be shared with friends, family and online acquaintances. As posts accumulate, a business can have great SEO power for any search subject, like best Italian food in Los Angeles.

Or perhaps you’re having a big sale or event. Blogging about it to a base of subscribers is a fantastic way to get the word out without spending much time or money.

Anyone Can Do This

It’s true that blogs sound intimidating to newbies, but you might be surprised by how easy it is to start and maintain a blog. Plus, it’s fun, and can be done for free or at minimal cost. What could be better than effective marketing that’s totally affordable and just takes a bit of time?

You may already have a website with a blog capability. That’s great if you do. Otherwise, there are venues for creating blogs that make it simple to start, even if you have zero experience with managing a website.

If you don’t already have one or a website with a blog tab, my recommendation is to use WordPress (.com or .org) or Blogger, since they’re popular, professional and easy to learn. You can choose between a totally free design, or spend a little money on a custom template or domain name. Even if you opt for bells and whistles, blogs are super affordable.

How Often Should You Post?

Here comes the real divide. Some advice says blog as much as you can, several times a week if possible. Others tout quality over quantity, with more developed posts winning out in the long run. My advice is to blog however it fits into your schedule.

As a reader, sometimes I prefer short messages with immediate gratification, while other times I’m willing to delve into a topic. It’s smart to write both ways. If you have employees who enjoy participating, you can share the load with them. In some cases, you can even accept “guest posts” from others who want to contribute.

Getting Started for Newbies

The free platforms at WordPress.com and Blogger are fine choices for authors on a budget. There’s no monthly hosting cost, but it’s wise to purchase a custom domain name at around $12 per year. WordPress.org is great for those willing to pay for more template options and monthly hosting.

Essentials that Benefit Any Blog

  • Include subscription or follow links in two locations, one at the top of the page and another at the end of each post
  • Add call-to-action buttons encouraging visitors to get on your mailing list or add comments
  • Add social media buttons for retweeting on Twitter, sharing on Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, etc.
  • Provide navigation to other pages (e.g., About Us – Contact – Services – Products)
  • Include mobile friendly features for cell phone and tablet visitors

Remember that it’s never too late to start blogging or to resume one you began years ago but let fade away. A blog may become the best bang for your buck and time when it comes to marketing!

Save huge on my training course with this coupon, Blogging for Authors. Though it’s tailored for authors, it’s also great for any type of business owner wanting to get started with a blog or wanting to blog better.

Share any questions or comments.

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Check Your Scribd Sales for a Pleasant Surprise

Scribd authorYou might want to check your Scribd sales.

If you read that sentence twice and don’t think it applies to you, you could be wrong. I just discovered lately my books have been selling more with Scribd than with Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Google Play. My Scribd sales are also to customers in more nations than those other 3 combined! That includes places like Cyprus, Aruba, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Netherlands, Singapore.

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I had no idea. And I admit my sales are nowhere near what some of the super successful indies have done, but isn’t it nice to discover sales at vendors you never thought would really have sales in amounts you’d consider substantial. Let me explain.

Since 2007 Scribd has more or less flown under the radar as a major player in the ebook industry. It was created as a means for publishing documents online for anyone to read. That included business papers, theses, poetry, comics, short stories, novellas and even full length books. These were primarily free documents, and Scribd was called the YouTube of documents since users could browse through a bounty of free items to read. That platform eventually grew to 60 million documents and 90 million users.

Authors could also use Scribd to sell ebooks. Their self-publishing platform has existed for ebooks with price tags almost as long as the DIY platforms at Amazon and Smashwords. My free and paid “documents” have been at Scribd since 2010. Early on, my freebies got read by the thousands but sales of priced books were essentially non-existent. During those years Scribd appeared to be a location where users only wanted free books. I considered it an optional place to sell, more value for the exposure than the payoff.

Then in Oct. 2013, Scribd switched to an unlimited subscription service for ebooks giving users full access to their library for a monthly fee of $8.99. The library contained not just indies but plenty of big publishers. Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Harlequin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Macmillan are some of the biggies offering ebooks at Scribd. The method of uploading priced content also changed, so DIY types used Smashwords and other distributors to upload their content to Scribd.

By 2014, I had almost stopped thinking about Scribd. Were they on the about to be gobbled-up list? I wasn’t the only one with concerns. Many romance writers had titles pulled from Scribd since the subscription based model proved challenging when too many voracious readers devoured more each month than Scribd could afford to pay. Authors who had books removed felt like the rug had been pulled out. Compound that with a lack of corporate communication to authors except for DMCA copyright infringement notices that sometimes were and sometimes were not accurate… let’s just say the water felt turbulent.

The crux of it is experimenting with newer business models for digital content, similar to what the music and film/TV industries have been dealing with. Vendors like Amazon and Scribd have been determining how to pay content providers (authors) in a way that’s profitable and sustainable while being good for the reader. So many questions enter the mix. How much of a book defines a full read? Should authors be paid a flat rate per page read, or a percentage of the list price, or a pool of the monthly subscriptions? While you and I have been busy writing books, vendors have been experimenting with pricing and payouts for subscriptions.

Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited gives full access to ebooks and audio books enrolled in the program for $9.99/month. KU is well established at Amazon, but it has some issues including lower payments per read and the whole exclusivity clause to Amazon that turns off so many authors and publishers. Oyster, another ebook retailer that tried subscription based selling, was acquired by Google and essentially closed doors for business. Google Play hasn’t shown intent on making its digital content subscription based, but I’ve learned many times not to make predictions with Google.

Scribd still allows DIY types to upload free content, but it’s necessary to use an aggregate source for paid content. Many authors use Smashwords for this. On the subject of the business model, Mark Coker of Smashwords said, “Oyster faced the same headwinds Scribd is facing – namely that romance and possibly other genres were too popular with their subscribers and therefore too expensive to make profitable under the current model.  The solution is you either need to pay authors less, charge readers more (or limit their reading), or something in between.”

Scribd made this announcement in 2015:

As you know, in starting Scribd, we bore the majority of the risk when establishing a business model that paid publishers the same amount as the retail model for each book read by a Scribd subscriber. Now, nearly two years later, the Scribd catalog has grown from 100,000 titles to more than one million. We’re proud of the service we’ve built and we’re constantly working to expand the selection across genres to give our readers the broadest possible list of books for $8.99 per month.

We’ve grown to a point where we are beginning to adjust the proportion of titles across genres to ensure that we can continue to expand the overall size and variety of our service. We will be making some adjustments, particularly to romance, and as a result some previously available titles may no longer be available.

We look forward to continuing to grow subscribers, increase overall reading, and increase total publisher payouts in a way that works for everyone over the long term. We of course want to keep as many of your authors and titles on Scribd as we can, so we’d love to discuss our plans and how we can best work with you going forward.

Today Scribd is being called the Netflix of ebooks. Sounds like business is working. Easy for authors like me to assume upward trends when sales start trickling in where before there were none. Last month my titles had sales from the US as expected, but also Spain, Canada, India, Japan and even 2 sales from Mexico. At Scribd? Have a look at the image below from my Smashwords dashboard and let me mention a few things.

Scribd ebook sales

  1. Sales are happening in Mexico. I mentioned other nations like Aruba, the Netherlands and Cyprus. It seems Scribd is becoming popular with international readers even at countries where Amazon gives no data or has very few sales if any for the average indie author. Why are international readers important? English is the most common 2nd language on the planet with more new readers each year. A successful author is likely to see international sales continue to grow as a percentage of their income. Just a few years ago much of this wasn’t possible. Let’s hope Scribd continues to enlist international subscribers.
  2. Notice the middle example highlighted, where only 11% of the book was read beyond the sample 10%. It paid 30 cents. Sure, the sale fell short of full price but still earned some money on what likely would have been nothing from the reader just sampling. Personally, I like that. Others may disagree, but I’d prefer a sure-thing partial payment to the likelihood of none. The subscription model also allows a reader who is more of a browser to get further into a book than just the first 10%, which can lead to good things.
  3. In the bottom example 36% of the book was read, and a full payment of 60% of the sales price was paid. It only takes 20% of a book to be read (beyond the 10% sample) to receive full payment. Less than one-third of the entire book is enough to be paid for a full read. That’s good for authors in my opinion.

What does all this mean? Subscription is probably the future and it’s terrific. Or maybe it’s totally ruining the industry. It’s debatable. People are going to figure out ways to read, write, sell and design a system that supports it. As for Scribd, it’s thrilling to see sales where before there were none, and it could be a business model more retailers adopt. I’m hoping it continues to grow.

How are your books doing at Scribd? Are they selling better these days, or do you still have romance/erotica titles that haven’t made it back on their shelves?

Leave any thoughts or questions in the comments section.

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