How to obtain ISBN numbers

Updated April 13, 2017

An International Standard Book Number (ISBN) uses the metric system to help distinguish books. The unique nine-digit ISBN identification number helps to identify the book publisher for inventory systems and online databases. Although a book may be distributed without an ISBN when self-published, this is normally rectified if you want to sell your book in bookstores or online. If you decide to self-publish, you will need to know how to obtain an ISBN number.

Go to the ISBN web site and go to "Order ISBNs". Applications are available in English and Spanish. Click on the application information and you will have a page that gives you an option to apply for a single ISBN number or a block of ISBN numbers. You will prepare your application on a secure server if you submit online. You will need to enter your e-mail address and retype the address for verification. Once this information is entered, you will need to enter your credit card information.

Submit your application. Once it is processed, you will be e-mailed your ISBN numbers and your user name and password for Bowker Bar Code Service. This is the web site where publishers request a bar code for the back of their book.

Prepare your book so it includes the ISBN on both the copyright page and the back cover.


If you choose to submit your application via paper, you will need to submit an additional £32 processing charge for manual processing.


Avoid requesting an ISBN before you have the copyright through the U.S. Copyright Office.

Things You'll Need

  • Credit or debit card
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About the Author

Andrea Helaine has a Bachelor of Philosophy in theology and is currently finishing her thesis course for a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. Helaine has been writing professionally for over 10 years and has been published in several anthologies and is currently breaking into the screenwriting market.