When it comes to self-publishing a book, there are three things that help protect and identify your book in the market place — Copyrights, ISBNs, and LCCNs. Here is the lowdown every writer needs to know on these important elements, whether you are starting your own imprint or not. See my earlier Sidebar Saturday articles if you need more information about how to start your own imprint and which business entity is right for you.
Copyright refers to the federal law that provides legal protection for creative works, like books, films, art, photography, music, and videos. The copyright last in the US for the life of the author plus 70 years after death. When the copyright expires, the work enters the public domain.
Your book should always have a copyright notice. It appears on the copyright page (which is traditionally after the Title Page) along with other information like the edition, imprint name and address, legal notices, credits for services like photographs and layout design, ISBNs, and LCCN. See this article by Joel Friedlander for short and long copyright page examples you can use for your book.
The general form of the copyright notice is ©, the name of the copyright owner, and the year of first publication. For example, © Matt Knight 2017. Or some variation of this, Matt Knight © 2017
In addition to the copyright notice, add another notice as to which reproduction rights are reserved by the owner. For example, All rights reserved. Or if there are certain reproduction rights you are willing to donate to the public domain, list which rights are and not reserved.
You, the author, are the owner of the copyright, not your imprint. You created the work, so you own the copyright. Place your name on the copyright notice, not the imprint. Same applies for books that are traditionally published. The author is also the owner of the copyright, not the publisher.
There is no need to register the copyright with the US Copyright Office unless you want to sue someone for copyright infringement. You should note that the type of damages an author can recoup depends on when the notice was filed. If registration is made within three months after publication or prior to an infringement, an author can recoup statutory damages and attorney’s fees if they prevail on the claims in court. Otherwise, the author is only entitled to an award of actual damages and profits.
Current cost to register a copyright is $35 for online ($85 on paper). See www.copyright.gov for registration forms and additional info. See our earlier Sidebar Saturdays article by Stephen Fishman for more information on copyrights in general.
International Standard Book Number, or ISBN, is a 13-digit number assigned to a book. ISBNs are unique to each book and can be purchased in the United States from Bowker (Thorpe-Bowker in Australia and Nielsen in the UK). Libraries, bookstores, and distributors use ISBNs for ordering, distribution, fulfillment, and payment purposes. ISBNs are also used by the publishing industry to track sales and search metadata.
You need not wait until after publication to buy an ISBN for your book. Buy the ISBN ahead of time, then assign it to your book when you are ready to publish. Buy the ISBN directly from Bowker for your imprint to be listed as the publisher. Some companies purchase a block of ISBNs and resell them cheaply for an author to use, but the reseller is still listed as the publisher, not your imprint. Likewise, self-publishing services and printing companies offer free ISBNs as part of their publishing packages. The publishing service or printer will own the ISBN, not your imprint because ISBNs cannot be transferred, sold, given away, or reused. Tracking data will be linked to the publishing service or printing company, not your imprint. If you want to change printing companies, for example, the ISBN stays with the printing company if they bought it and you would need a new ISBN. Change ISBNs and you lose the sales and metadata associated with your book. Personally, I would buy the ISBN myself to keep as much control over the publication process as possible (but hey, that is the control-freak lawyer in me).
Some publishing services like CreateSpace and IngramSpark offer special rates on single ISBNs so your imprint will be listed as the publisher ($99 for the “Custom Universal ISBN” on CreateSpace). This however is only for a single ISBN. The best deal is to buy a package of ISBNs in your imprint name (currently 10 for $295 versus 1 for $125 from Bowker). Why? Because ISBNs are unique identifiers for a book, with a different ISBN assigned to each edition, format, and variation of the same book. Meaning you will need a different ISBN for the e-book, paperback, hardcopy, audiobook, and translations. You do not need a new ISBN when making minor text corrections, changing the price, changing the cover, or switching printing vendors. But you do need a new ISBN if you change the title, make significant changes to the text, or publish the book in larger print or size.
One note of clarification on using ISBN’s with ebooks and audiobooks:
- You need an ISBN for ebooks and audiobook formats if you are publishing through a third-party, like a distributor, aggregator, or trade publishing house. The reason is that payments are tracked by ISBNs.
- You do not need an ISBN if you are publishing those formats directly through Amazon (or the other retailers like iBooks, Barnes and Nobles, and KoboBooks). The reason is that payments are not tracked through a third-party distributor or publishing house. These retailers create their own tracking number. For example, Amazon will use an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number), which is unique to the Kindle eBook on Amazon.com. Just remember that an ISBN is what’s used to report your book’s sales to industry reporting agencies, as well as for national and international charts. No ISBN. No reporting.
- If the retailer distributes through a third-party, like Kobo distribution through partner sites (Chapters/Indigo in Canada, WHSmith in the UK), an ISBN may be needed to track payments.
ISBNs appear on the copyright page, and on the back cover of the book.
Make sure you register your ISBN on the Books In Print database on Bowker. Just buying the ISBN from them does not automatically enroll you into the database, which is a great marketing tool and used by the publishing field to find books.
The Library of Congress Control Number, or LCCN, is a unique identifier issued by the Library of Congress for books in their collection. Librarians catalogue books using the LCCN. LCCNs are like ISBNs but where a book will have multiple ISBNs for different editions and variations, the same book will have only one LCCN. The LCCN will be placed with the copyright information on the copyright page.
The control number is free, and you obtain one from the Library of Congress prior to the book publication. I repeat, PRIOR, not after. You will want the Pre-Assigned Control Number (PCN) Program which is open to self-publishers. When you set up the account, use your imprint name.
Self-published books (paperback or hardcopy) must be sent to the Library of Congress and reviewed for acceptance into the collection. One recent article by RJ Crayton suggested self-published books have a 50% chance of being accepted. The LCCN will only be used if your book is accepted by the Library of Congress.
Be aware that your self-publishing service or printing company can obtain a LCCN for you, usually for a cost tacked on to your publishing package. Why pay for it when you can easily obtain one yourself for free.
Make sure your copyright notice is in the correct format with your name listed as the owner, not the imprint. Purchase your ISBN though Bowker in the name of your imprint and enroll in Bowker’s Books In Print database. Prior to publication, obtain the LCCN from the Library of Congress yourself using the imprint name. All three identifiers are added to the copyright page in your book.
Any questions, feel free to ask. We are happy to help.
The obligatory legal disclaimer (fine print or heard at lickety-split speed) — All information provided in this article is general in nature and for educational purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship between you and me. I am a writer, who is also a lawyer, helping other fellow writers learn about publishing law. Consult a qualified lawyer in your jurisdiction for all legal opinions for your specific situation. You can read our full legal disclaimer below. Or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.