This took me a while to understand and I would probably have called this “cracking the “ISBN Code.” The International Standard Book Number is not going to guarantee you book sales after you publish. Yes, you heard that right. In fact, most people don’t know why we need ISBNs for anything. The ISBN is simply a tracking number.

Let’s look at this scenario. An author dies after several years of writing and making little or no sales. One day, someone stumbles on excerpts from their book. This person experiences something exceptional, a eureka moment. They decide that they need more from where that came from. The author is dead, the books are out of print and the only option left is the state or national library.

There is some wrinkled old and grumpy looking lady at the front desk. She hears all the excitement. This new bugger head wants her to look for a century-old book written by a dead Author. She cannot possibly go all about the tumbledown, dust infested library looking for any book. Then she asks for an ISBN because that’s like a universally acceptable way of arranging books in libraries.

The long and short of this story is that an ISBN at best is meant to help some wrinkle old lady after you are dead and gone. Yes, books are that important to people, they connect the living and the dead. However, if you think your book will matter in a few centuries from now, then you should absolutely get an ISBN. Get the ISBN so you don’t incur the curses of a grumpy old woman in the dusty old library.

Other than the explanation I have given above, I have not happened on any other articulate one. Please send me your thoughts if you have a better explanation. For the records, this is not the same as copyright registration. I will be touching on that some other time.

5 Ways to Publish and Get An ISBN Totally Online:

  1. Lulu: This platform allows you to publish both print and electronic copies of your books and the ISBN offers distribution within the Lulu channels, Amazon, Barnes, and Nobles etc. This may not apply to local distribution channels.
  2. Smashwords: Founded by Mark Coker, “Smashwords is an ebook publishing and distribution platform. Authors upload their completed manuscripts as Microsoft Word files and then Smashwords converts the books into nine ebook formats, readable on any e-reading device. Smashwords then distributes the ebooks to leading ebook retailers such as Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and the Diesel eBook Store.” – Smashwords. 
  3. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing: This is the leading ebook publishing and distribution network. There are the Kindle file designer and many other easy processes provided by KDP to help authors compile and publish their work. The books are assigned Amazon ISBNs or authors can purchase their local ISBN.
  4. Createspace: Is a subsidiary of Amazon publishing that allows paperback printing of books. This is an on-demand printing service for Amazon authors. This means that you don’t necessarily have to print and then find out that no one is buying. Your books are only printed when a purchase is made.
  5. Local or National Agencies: Typically the National or State Libraries issue ISBN for book publications. In Nigeria, independent publishers and individuals can purchase bundles of ISBNs once they meet some requirements.

How Important are ISBN registrations?

At this point, you would have realized that getting an ISBN is not such a big deal. It serves for distribution and referencing in libraries but would not sell your book. What else is more important than selling your book?

All the listed platforms provide ISBNs and also allow authors to include their own local or National ISBN. This should let you realize then that the ISBN is not as important as your audience. If you do not have an audience, then you are not ready to start bothering about ISBN or even getting published by anyone.

This year with the help of a publisher Monica Kunzekweguta, we embarked on publishing on Amazon and Createspace. The Book “Quills from Africa 30: Long Walk to Home,” was the product. The steps it took so far have only got us as far as production and publication but the next and harder steps are promotions. This is actually the aspect of publishing that a lot of prospective authors ignore while focusing a lot on publishing and acquiring foreign or international ISBN.

We have made a number of sales on cfwriterz ebook shop, which I founded. This tells me that our audience may be ripe for PDF ebooks but still need education on Amazon kindle. Going further, we are developing a strategy to capture Amazon Kindle readers. On this blog I also run my personal bookstore. This has been a source of frequent sales which is within my own distribution channel; my audience.

Earlier in the year, two books I authored had been published on Amazon. “Grey Wine” and “Zarfi” are short stories I wrote. I decided to experiment publishing on these platforms to see the difference. I did the publications but discovered that I have no footprint in the Amazon ebook market.

This is because the distribution channels for these platforms are largely outside Nigeria and like I said, audience matters. Most of my audience on this blog comes from Nigeria and it’s only reasonable then that I seek distribution locally while prospecting for international recognition.

Next year, my book marketing strategy would include reaching foreign audiences. My experiment with these platforms have shown me what should be my priority. An audience is key for any author, they should determine the kind of ISBN you need to get. If you want to publish online, you can always do this on Amazon, Createspace or Lulu. The challenges you may face are:

  1. Designing the Epub, PDF and Word files. I did all the designs for four Amazon and PDF publications using Amazon Kindle Editor, Calibre, Microsoft Word and Canva designer.
  2. Designing your book cover, 2D, and 3D versions. While struggling with 3D designs I stumbled on some easy design solutions which I will share on later dates.
  3. Formatting the interior of your book for the different file types.
  4. Creating press releases and networking with bloggers.
  5. Promotions and Sales.

The last item listed above is the most important and I hope to share my experiences as I implement my strategy for marketing on Amazon and Createspace. Let’s say your audience does not read on Amazon Kindle, can you sell on other platforms meanwhile? Yes. I run an ebook store for African Authors, while there is also Okadabooks. These are platforms where you can easily publish your ebook and promote it by sharing your links online. The sale is way more important than any other fear you have about publishing or getting ISBNs.

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