If you’re looking into self-publishing, you’ve probably come across the two “I” words that get talked about frequently, and often without much explanation: imprints and ISBNs. The two go together like writing and coffee (or maybe you’re more the whiskey kind). You can’t have the first without the latter.
There are many benefits to self-publishing (if you’re still on the fence, read more about the drawbacks and perks here and here), and one of the upsides is that you get to become your own publishing company…all without the financial overhead of a big publishing house. In fact, becoming your own publisher comes down to one small thing — the name.
Enter the imprint.
Everything You Need to Know about Imprints and ISBNs
So, what is an imprint?
In the industry, the name of your self-publishing company is referred to as an imprint. In traditional publishing, popular imprints are publishing houses like Random House or Penguin. But with independent publishing, you get to decide what you want to call your imprint. It can be anything you want it to be: your name, a business name, the name of your dog or the street you live on, etc.
Do you need one?
The short answer is no, but there is a more complicated answer. You can self-publish without an imprint if you want, but the company you use to publish with will likely use their own name as the imprint if you do. For example, if you use Amazon KDP, your book might say “independently published” or “Amazon original story.” And this will make your book look more “self-published.” Many of your readers won’t notice, won’t care or won’t know what any of it means, but some readers will and many potential media sources like podcasts that you might want to interview you might look down upon self-published titles. So it’s up to you to decide how important it is to have a publisher name associated with your book.
How do you get one?
Simply make it up! There are no rules when it comes to creating an imprint. It can be anything you want it to be. We suggest doing a quick check on Google and Amazon to see if anyone else is using your imprint, but even if they are, it’s not a big deal. Similar to book titles, they can’t be protected by a copyright.
If you plan to publish more books in the future, keep that in mind when choosing your imprint. It will keep things easier to publish under the same imprint, so choose something that will work for your future works as well.
Here are some examples of imprints our authors have used:
Canadian River Press
March Hare, Ltd.
Highsmith Creative Services
Wise Ink Creative Publishing
Adding “Press,” “Publishing,” or “Books” can have a nice, professional ring to it, but it’s not necessary. Have fun with it!
But here’s the Catch 22:
You can only use an imprint if you buy a unique identifier for your book, known as an ISBN. When you’re self-publishing with a large distributor like Amazon, for example, you don’t necessarily need to buy an ISBN. You can use their version of a unique identifier, called an ASIN, for free, if you want. But then you cannot use an imprint. Your book will say “independently published” or that it’s published by Amazon.
So, what is an ISBN?
ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It’s a 13-digit number that acts as a unique identifier for your book. It’s usually found near the barcode on the back cover, as well as on the copyright page, and is used by publishers, booksellers, libraries, internet retailers and distributors for ordering, sales and record keeping purposes.
Do you need one?
You absolutely need an ISBN, but whether you pay for one or use a free one depends on whether you want to use an imprint or not. Your book essentially doesn’t exist in the marketplace without an ISBN, so it needs a number to be counted in the system. If you purchase your ISBN through an agency and connect it to your imprint, the two will be forever linked. If you use a free one through Amazon or another service provider, it will be forever linked to them.
How do you get one?
If you traditionally publish, your publisher will obtain an ISBN for you. If you self-publish, you are the publisher, so it’s up to you. You’ll need a separate ISBN for each format of your book — paperback, hardcover, ebook and audiobook — so you’ll want to buy a package if that’s more economical. There are several places where you can purchase ISBNs, often including the aggregator or retailer you’re using to publish your book. We’ve found that if you need more than two ISBNs (i.e. you’re publishing more than two formats of your book), the best bang for your buck is Bowker’s 10-pack for $295. They sell one ISBN for $125, which is more expensive than purchasing it elsewhere, but a 10-pack brings them down to a palatable $29.50 each. Simply go to myidentifiers.com and create a new account. Then under “Register and Copyright Your Work,” select “Buy ISBNs’ and add the 10-pack to your cart.
Remember, the process should be fun. Writing the book was undoubtedly hard but enjoyable, and often the publishing process can be exhausting and defeating. Creating an imprint can be a fun way to help keep the excitement alive. Yes, it adds a couple of extra steps to the process, but you’ll likely be glad you did it when your book is finally live and in readers’ hands. And if you don’t want to do it yourself, we’re here to help.