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ISBNs What are they and do I need one?

An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a unique number that identifies a particular edition of a book in a specific format published by an individual publisher. It is designed to make the process of book ordering and inventory control easier for publishers, book distributors and book sellers. First introduced in 1970, and adapted from a system of book numbering first introduced in the UK by J. Whitaker & Sons, Ltd in 1967, and in the United States in 1968 by R. R. Bowker, they are now in use in at least 160 countries worldwide.

An individual ISBN’s structure comprises several elements – (1) prefix, (2) registration group (country/geographical region), (3) registrant (the publisher), (4) publication (specific edition) and (5) check digit.

(1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

Each country has its own ISBN agency which you can find listed on the International ISBN Agency’s website. It is their job to assign ISBN numbers for their country/territory.

The agency for the country you are resident in is where you must buy your ISBNs. So, for instance, if you live in the U.S you cannot buy your ISBNs from the UK – you have to go to the official US ISBN agency. This is particularly relevant because many agencies in the world are run by that particular country’s National Library and not by a commercial organisation which can mean that they are free to that country’s authors. New Zealand is an example of this – if you are resident in New Zealand you can get your ISBNs for nothing. Most countries will let you buy an individual ISBN number, though there are countries, like the UK for instance, who will only sell them in batches.

The system is particularly designed to help publishers keep track of their books. Therefore whoever buys an ISBN to assign to a book becomes the official publisher of that book. This is where it can get complicated as the whole system was really designed for the printed book market where publishers published in their own countries and if the book was published internationally then the original publisher would either use subsidiaries in different countries (who would then assign their own ISBNs) or authors or their agents would negotiate with different publishers to publish the book in a particular country or territory (who once again would assign their own ISBNs). This worked fine in the printed market as the vast majority of printed books were purchased from bookshops who brought their books from publishers and distributors in their own country. Even Amazon with its worldwide reach has not upset this too much, because with most books if you purchase a printed book from you will get the U.S. version and if you buy it from Amazon UK you will get the British version. This is the same with Amazon sites around the world. (It makes more sense for Amazon to get the book locally if the book is available from a local publisher rather than ship one version to all their depots around the world.)

The whole ISBN system, though, has got more complicated because of the internet and the rise of the ebook and the self-publisher and in particular how ISBNs are used by them. Whilst digital books now have ISBNs and the system works the same, especially with the publishing companies, where the book is published actually does not really mean anything with ebooks. Individuals now regularly publish their own books on websites not based in their own country. And, unlike with printed books, companies now provide ISBNs to individuals publishing on their websites and do not claim publishers rights (though they are the “official” publishers as they brought the ISBNs). This means that both the registration group (country/geographical region) and the registrant (publisher) part of the ISBN number are being watered down by the ebook.

So do you need an ISBN?

It is perfectly possible to publish an ebook without an ISBN. It all comes down to choice and where you upload the book. If you want to become your own publisher you can buy your own ISBNs and then publish the book on all the different retail sites retaining full control of your own book and ensuring it registration with your own country’s National library. When considering whether to buy your own ISBNs remember that each edition in every format of your book has to have a different ISBN number. So the Hardback version of your book has to have a different ISBN to the Paperback version which has to be different from the ePub version which once again has to be different from the Kindle version etc. etc.

This all sounds terribly expensive and complicated if you are publishing the book yourself but as most self-publishers only want to publish their book as an ebook you really only need one or at the most two ISBNs. If you only want to buy one then it needs to be assigned to the epub version as Amazon do not require one.

Another option is to publish your book to retailers who do not require an ISBN. Companies like Amazon, Apple and Barnes and Noble do not ask for an ISBN if you set up your own account and upload your book direct to them.

You can also publish your book via an aggregator such as Kobo, Smashwords or Lulu. Kobo, Smashwords and Lulu will accept your book without an ISBN if you are happy for the book to be only available on their own websites. If you want to take advantage of their distribution networks (they all distribute to other retailers) then you will need an ISBN. Smashwords and Lulu will provide you with a free ISBN (though remember that they become the “official” publishers of your book.) but both will insist that if you use their free ISBN rather than your own that the ISBN cannot be used anywhere else (so if you want to upload the book to a different retailer, who requires an ISBN and they do not distribute to, you will need a different ISBN).

Lastly if you are selling the book on your own website and not going through the retailers you can decide for yourself whether to have an ISBN or not. You can also obviously combine and choose from the different options available.

So whilst ISBNs are important for publishing companies they are less so for the individual self-publisher as most do not have lots of stock to control and keep track of. Amazon and the other big retailers do not require one if you set up accounts direct with them. Kobo are the only big retailer who require one (and then only if you want your book to be distributed by them to other smaller retailers).

In the end it is a personal preference as to whether you have one or not as there are plenty of options that do not require an ISBN.

The Beatles

Beatles cover

This is the inside story of the Beatles by a writer who knew them from the Hamburg days and was with them through the height of Beatlemania. He relates the secrets of their lives on the road and at home, and tells the full story of the night he took them to party with Elvis Presley and its astonishing consequences. John’s secret shrine to a Beatle who died; the night Bob Dylan came to call; the Hollywood siren John mixed a most unusual cocktail for. It’s John, Paul, George and Ringo as you have never read about them before …

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Conflict of Lions


The lion of revolution is coming, insidious and menacing, to the quiet West African republic of Free Guinea.

In the hiatus following the Falklands War, a group of hardened SAS troops is sent as a safeguard against rumblings of political discontent against the moderate elected government. It is intended to provide the ideal location for the men to rest after the violent burst of full-blooded warfare in the South Atlantic.

And so it does – that is, until a tourist is found dead on the beach.

In the remote territory up country, the forces of violence and terror are gathering and it is certain that innocent blood will be spilled.

That is when the legendary SAS captain returns. To the only woman he has ever loved.

And to a brooding land of fear and unrest, swept by a rising tide of revolutionary fervour and bloodlust.

‘Frightening credibility’ Gloucester Citizen

‘An all-actioner which never slows’ Glasgow Evening Times

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White Viper


He was on the Z-file, the last resort. Infiltrator, investigator and sometime executioner.

A freelance to be used when all else fails. Uniquely qualified to operate in dangerous territory where even government agencies fear to tread – against state tyranny, terrorism and narcotics traffickers. Reaching out beyond the arm of international law to dispense justice, however rough.

Working for various human rights organisations, the DEA and several intelligence agencies. And for the anonymous organisation to which he has made a very personal pledge.

A man driven by a hatred of intimidation and an unquenchable thirst for revenge. Pursued by dark demons from his past.

So when vast quantities of White Viper – an exceptionally pure and branded cocaine – threaten to flood Britain, Europe and the USA, he is the natural choice to head-up a covert search-and-destroy operation. One that is to plunge him into the deadliest, most harrowing and unnerving mission of his life.

The author of WHISPER WHO DARES, THE TICK TOCK MAN and SOME UNHOLY WAR has created a startlingly different kind of hero and a stunning page-turner inspired by real people and events.

‘Explosive…all the more page-turning because it reads so close to the truth.’ Daily Mail

‘For your action novel and authentic thriller, Terence Strong is hard to beat.’ Today

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That Last Mountain


He is a sergeant-major in the SAS. His task is to snatch a defecting Russian ‘Star Wars’ scientist from Stockholm.

She is the she-wolf. Leader of a crack Spetsnaz pack. Her task is to get the scientist back. Dead or alive. Their paths have crossed before. Now the score has to be settled.

In between is the scientist, ruthlessly manipulated by both sides, torn between loyalty to his country and the love of a woman.

THAT LAST MOUNTAIN is a story of sweeping passion and betrayal, of endurance and breath-taking action in the Scandinavian mountains – the toughest terrain on earth.

‘Genuinely exciting’ Sunday Telegraph

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The Fifth Hostage


He is a journalist who knows too much.

She is his lover, a Norwegian press photographer who shares his deadly secret.

They are held in revolution-torn Iran, and President Khomeini wants them to talk. Britain is determined they should not…

Their fate lies in the hands of an SAS team that must disappear into the hostile turmoil of Iran in a desperate rescue bid against the clock.

A gruelling ordeal that calls for ingenuity, sacrifice and courage in a dangerous and desolate terrain – cut off from the outside world.

This is a story of passions and loyalties tested to destruction as the sweeping shadow of fanaticism and terror darkens the land.

“A nail biter climax” NEWCASTLE JOURNAL

“No one can cram in the action like Strong” GLASGOW EVENING NEWS

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The Tick Tock Man

The Tick Tock Man

He has the most dangerous job in the world: defusing terrorist bombs. A job that demands nerves of steel and courage to match.

But his skill is being tested to the limit by a new IRA bombing campaign. It’s different from the others, each device more deadly and cunning than the last, each more difficult for him to neutralise. It’s almost as if someone is testing him, trying to find his limits – a long-dead adversary reaching out for him from beyond the grave.

Time and luck are running out. From Belfast to London, he is pitched into a very personal battle – a fight where just one small mistake will be his last.

From the author of WHISPER WHO DARES, THE FIFTH HOSTAGE and SOME UNHOLY WAR, this is a terrifying, brilliantly researched journey into the dark, claustrophobic world of the professional bomb-disposal man.

‘Breathless entertainment’ The Guardian

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Whisper Who Dares

Whisper Who Dares

It is 1976 and Northern Ireland is not a pretty place. The UK province is torn by sectarian hatred and violence.

Under increasing pressure, the Provisional IRA comes up with a masterstroke that forces the British government to take desperate action. The terrorist organisation enlists the help of rogue former members from America’s Special Forces to raise the carnage and chaos to a new level.

Four men from the British Army’s legendary SAS are given their toughest mission yet…to probe the inner sanctum of the IRA’s terror machine. Never before has so much been at stake.

One small Sabre team is pitted against the Provos’ latest and most secret combat force in a mission so secret that you will scarcely believe it and everyone will deny.

It is a bitter sweet story of innocence, love and evil, treachery and courage in a dark world where nothing is as it seems.

‘Best I’ve read for a long time’ Glasgow Evening Times

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The French Bulldog Handbook


The new French Handbook is simply the biggest, most up-to-date and detailed book on French Bulldogs.

It’s the only reference book you’ll ever need and suitable for new owners, prospective owners and anyone thinking of rescuing a Frenchie.
The 250 pages are packed full of information and tips on everything you’ll ever need to know about caring for and training one of these highly affectionate and entertaining dogs. This handbook has over 200 pictures and is written in an easy-to-understand manner by specialist canine author Linda Whitwam, with major contributions from leading French Bulldog organisations and breeders.
The book covers looking after a Frenchie from the cradle to the grave. It gives great insight into the Frenchie’s temperament and changing needs throughout his or her life. Topics include:

How to Find a Good Breeder, The Questions to Ask, How to Spot an Importer or Puppy Broker, How to Pick a Healthy Puppy or Adult Dog, French Bulldog Temperament, How to Pick a Puppy With the Right Temperament to Suit You, Puppy Proofing Your Home.

Once you bring your Frenchie home, the book guides you through the first days and weeks, and covers Housetraining, Crate Training, Obedience Training, How to Socialise your Dog. You’ll learn the habits and situations to avoid and how to deal with behaviour problems. There are over 20 pages on Feeding a Frenchie, with all the options explained – including a Raw Diet, an increasingly popular choice for owners of Frenchies, especially those with allergies. There are also Feeding Charts, Calorie Counters, Feeding Puppies, How to Read Dog Food Labels, Feeding Senior Dogs.

More than 60 pages are devoted to French Bulldog Health, Skin and Allergies with details of tried and tested medical and holistic treatments. The advice in this book could save you a fortune in vets’ bills – not only by helping you to choose a healthy puppy or adult dog, but you’ll also learn about Keeping your Frenchie Healthy, Getting a Rescue Dog, Understanding Your Dog’s Personality, the Frenchie Facts of Life, Spaying, Neutering, Vaccinations, Worming and De-fleaing, Grooming, Caring for Older Dogs – they are all here.

The French Bulldog, like a lot of brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds, is a special breed requiring extra special care from their humans. This book will arm you with all the knowledge you’ll ever need for the challenge of owning one of these highly rewarding and lovable dogs.

Reviews for the Canine Handbooks:

“Remarkable book – very informative and comprehensive. It is not to be missed, even seasoned bulldoggers could stand to learn a few things from this book.” W. SHOPLAND, of EXTREMEBULLS, MIDDLESEX, UK (Bulldog Handbook)

“This handbook is a great tool for a new owner or someone looking into the breed. Written in an easy manner, the information is well laid out, an excellent read and resource,” T. HOLT, CONNECTICUT, USA (Schnauzer Handbook)

“This is a must have resource for anyone thinking of buying a doodle pup, or adopting a doodle rescue. Linda has navigated the minefield of marketing hype and confusing information, and the result is a well written book with lovely photographs that is an invaluable tool for any doodle owner,” J. COUSINS, TEXAS, USA (Labradoodle Handbook)

“Brilliant book! There is everything you need to know about Schnauzers in this book, truly a great insight into these beautiful dogs from start to finish,” G. M. HICKEY, LONDON, UK (Schnauzer Handbook)



A very important consideration for all self-publishing authors is which retailers to use. Whilst there are a myriad of choices you do not need to set up accounts with all of them. Many of the retailers are also aggregators who sell the book on their own website and also distribute it to other retailers.

The biggest retailer of them all is Amazon – love them or loathe them they cannot be ignored. The vast majority of your sales will be via Amazon. They led the way with self-publishing on the internet and helped turn what was a small and limited part of the publishing industry into something major which changed the publishing world and turned it upside down. Kindle Direct Publishing or Amazon KDP, as they are known, are one of the easiest retailers to set up accounts with and also one the easiest to upload to. They also have a Print On Demand company called Createspace so you can also have your book as a paperback.

Despite Amazon being a ‘closed’ system they do offer apps for the PC/MAC, iPad, iPhone and Android phones so your book can be brought from Amazon by readers who do not own a Kindle.

Apple are another big ebook retailer. Though like Amazon they are a ‘closed’ system, unlike Amazon a compatible device is needed to be able to read the book. So the reader has to have an Apple MAC, iPad, iPhone. Despite this Apple and its iBookstore are a major ebook retailer thanks to the ubiquitous presence of all the different Apple devices. Authors need to set up an account with iTunes Connect and to sell books on the iBookstore non-US citizens need an ITIN (International Tax Identification Number). To upload a book to Apple access to an Apple Mac is required. The book is uploaded using a program called iTunes Producer.

Barnes & Noble are one of the last major bricks and mortar retailers who also sell eBooks and, like Amazon and Apple, produce their own ereading device called the Nook. Despite being the largest physical US bookstore chain they lag behind Amazon with their internet presence. It is only recently that Barnes & Noble have made their Nook Press platform available to authors outside the US and then only to authors in the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium.


Apple and Barnes and Noble can be difficult to set up an account with for Author’s outside the US but there are aggregators like Lulu and Smashwords who distribute to both.

Kobo are a large ebook retailer based in Canada who produce their own eReading devices and also sell ebooks via their own website. Kobo are a useful choice for self-publishing authors as they also distribute to other retailers like WHSmith, Best Buy, Walmart, Indigo, Fnac, Mondadori, Livraria Cultura, Libris, and Gardners. Kobo announced back in 2012 that they intend to compete against Amazon and they are well on the way to doing it by aggressively expanding their distribution network with new retail partners being added all of the time. In many countries they are the only real competition to Amazon and their ereading devices are now said to be the third bestselling devices behind Amazon’s and Apple’s. Kobo’s author program is called Kobo Writing Life.

Google are another growing ebook retailer helped by the all-pervasive presence of Google on the web. Books can be bought on Google Play. Google can be quite complicated to upload to but they are worth persevering with as they are growing bigger all of the time.

One more retailer worth mentioning is Smashwords. They also distribute to other retailers including Amazon and Kobo. Smashwords will convert your book into several formats though we recommend uploading an ePub version of the book rather than allowing their automatic software to convert a word document.

These are just a very few of the ebook retailers out there but by uploading to just a few you can cover most of the ebook market.