ISBN Navigation – Musts and Wants

ISBN and Barcode

A Sample ISBN Barcode and Pricing code
                                   A Sample ISBN Barcode and Pricing code

So, as I mentioned, I just purchased my first 10 ISBNs (international standard book number) on behalf of Gaming Ballistic. I also bought 6 bar-codes, which have to be purchased separately,

apparently. I was tempted to get a whole bunch of either, but right now, I can only see my way to three releases – Dungeon Grappling, The Book of Heroes (for Dragon Heresy), and The Book of Deeds (also for Dragon Heresy).

You need a different bar code and ISBN for each type of book, even if the content is the same, is what I’m gathering here. So for Dungeon Grappling, I’ll need a unique ISBN for both eBook and PDF versions, maybe. It seems if you select “Digital” for medium, you can select both ePUB and PDF. If you select eBook, you get one choice – “Electronic Book Text.”

So, while it appears I might be able to use a common ISBN for my PDF and my eBook, I suspect that’s a bad idea. Especially since they will be different – the eBook will be a one-column easy-read layout for small screens. PDF will be basically “you could print and read this if you wanted to.”

So there may well be some choice involved here, and for my first few products, I’m erring on the side of proliferation, to ensure I don’t bollux it up.

That means I dropped $250 on the 10 ISBNs, and another $138 for six (6) barcodes.

Required ISBN Information

There’s a LOT of information you can enter when assigning a title to an ISBN. There is some information you must enter. I’ve tried to list these below, in case others find themselves where I am.

The information you enter is in four sections at the Bowker website.

Title and cover

There is only one thing you must enter in this section: the books title. Easy enough.

There are many other things you may enter:

  • Subtitle
  • 350-word main description
  • Original Publication Date (year)
  • Currentl Languages
  • Cover Image
  • Full Text of the book in PDF format (they say this is for keyword generation)
  • Copyright Year
  • Library of Congress Control Number

I get the feeling you can edit some of this over time. Not entirely sure, but it definitely seems the later in the process you do this, the easier time you’ll have if you’re a completist.

For the “upload full text” thing, personally, what I’d consider doing is just saving my Word manuscript as a PDF file and uploading that. No reason to wait for layout if they’re just generating keywords.


This is pretty much what it says on the tin, and you need at least one: the author or primary mover here. The only piece of information you have to have is the contributor’s last name, or company name.

For options, you can put first and last name, and list at least as Author, Editor, Illustrator, Artist, Consultant Editor, Cover design by, General Editor, and Index by. No layout (that might be Artist?).

Format and Size

I mentioned some of the difficulties here in the introduction. Ultimately, you must have the Medium (such as Digital, E-Book, and Print), Format (PDF, ePUB, Hardback, softcover, and leather/find binding), and Primary Subject.

Primary Subject has a ton of options, but Roleplaying Game isn’t one of them. I suspect “GAMES” is the right call. Rulebooks aren’t exactly fiction stories, but it’s sometimes hard to play the “what am I?” game here.

There is a secondary subject entry with the same options. So Primary could be Games, where secondary is Fiction-Fantasy. Not sure I’d do it, but it’s possible.

Sales and Pricing

Each time you click on a country, it adds a tab. This took me a bit to figure out. You get to enter the unique pricing information for each one. Setting the price in US dollars is straight-forward for me. Not sure if there’s a trick other than exchange rates for elsewhere – I see the DMG listed as a suggested retail of about $50 USD but $58 Canadian. That’s $67 now, but maybe it was less when the book came out. For now, I’ll probably just set the US price and let exchange rates fall where they may.

There’s actually quite a bit required here: Where sold (as noted above), the publisher is an auto-fill from when you bought the stuff, Title Status (Forthcoming for when it’s in production, Active Record for when it’s on sale, and others, depending), Target Audience, and Publication Date. That one’s required and I suppose it could be a guess, but it defines when someone can physically possess your book (or electronically possess). You will also need to know currency, price, and price type (Retail Price will likely be the most common).

Bunch of other things can be entered. Imprint, if as a publisher you have different lines, ages for which your product is targeted, Price Availability, Distributors, and discount codes. Ship dates, is it returnable, and other things.

Then the Barcode

After all of that is entered, you submit it and a lot of that info is going to be permanently, or at least semi-permanently, associated with and assigned to your book. So if I dork it up, it just cost me $25, I suspect.

Once you’ve done that, you can generate and assign a barcode based on that information. They charge a bunch of money for this ($25 each for 1-5, $23 each for 6-10, etc), and there are at least two sites that seem to do it for free. Not sure if that is going to cause problems, so I’m not going to economize here.

The barcode will go on the back cover of the book; the ISBN will also appear in your front matter/credits page. Strongly suggest checking out many other RPG books to get a feel for it, as well as seeking out guidance from printers and other people in the know.

When all is said and done

At minimum, then you must have a dozen pieces of information to associate the ISBN with your book. The hardest is probably publication date, so you might wish to wait until you know it to get the numbers and put them in. I know I put in a blank space that is 1.25″ x 2.00″ on my mock cover, but I also have a company logo to put there, and I have several versions to choose from. I suspect the one I put in the current mockup (target and dice) will be easier to put on more books, and takes up less space, disrupts a layout less, and is not anachronistic (the target, dice, and bullet logo on my masthead here is awesome, but would look a bit funny on a swords-and-sorcery book).

I can pretty much answer most of the questions above for Dungeon Grappling except what looks like picky details about Digital vs e-Book (and I will likely use both, because the pricing will be different), and of course the every dangerous publication date.

That one has some rowing to do first.

It’s interesting, though. Were I self-funding, that one could be fairly easy. I guess it’s no different now. The KS will happen in November and part of December. Art and final layout then in December and January, so probably in folks’ hands in January or February. So maybe the publication day will be Valentine’s Day.

Nothing says Valentine’s Day like grappling, after all.

3 thoughts on “ISBN Navigation – Musts and Wants

  1. I had wondered how ISBNs and barcodes came into the equation – another practical bit I don’t see many to-be-published authors discuss. I’ve noticed some books have a barcode for the ISBN, and many do not (Goodreads being how I found this out).

    1. Most of the big guys won’t stock you anymore if you don’t have a barcode. Probably more important for print than not, but I notice that Total Party Kill Games’ Fifth Edition PDFs don’t have either one. As long as you’re only selling through specific outlets, that’s fine.

      I supposed this one could also get away with that, but my point for this Kickstarter is, in no small part, for practice to see all the things I need to do for a real project. And Dragon Heresy will *definitely* need both ISBNs and bar codes, since a print version is 100% in the plan.

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