How Self-publishing Works

What a Real Book Needs

The basic components of a book are obvious -- you have pages of text and graphics, bound between two covers. But for your work to be a viable book that can sit on bookstore and library shelves, it needs a few additional things. Before printing, you need to:

  • Get an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). This is sort of like a book's Social Security number -- every book in print has a unique one, and bookstores, book wholesalers and the like use this number to identify particular titles. To get an ISBN, you fill out some forms from the R. R. Bowker Company, pay the fee (a couple hundred bucks), and the company issues you 10 ISBNs. If you have a hardback, paperback and audio version, all three will need separate ISBNs. Check out for more information.
  • Get a Library of Congress catalog number : You need this to get your book into libraries, which is a big market. Check out this site to learn more.
  • Get a European Article Number (EAN) scanning symbol. This is simply a special UPC bar code scanning symbol used just for books. This page lists vendors who will create EAN symbols for your book.
  • Set a price. You'll need to print this on your book, so you definitely need it before printing. But beyond that, you'll need it sooner rather than later, so you can manage your budget. Conventional wisdom says your book should cost at least five times the cost of each book in your initial production run. To find the right price, just look at similar books. In most cases, going for a lower price than the competition won't help sales, so pick an average price.

Other things to consider:

  • You may want to solicit blurbs (endorsements) for the back cover of your book.
  • You'll need to write front and back material for your book -- the preface, table of contents, the copyright page, and acknowledgments that you find at the beginning or the end of a book. Look through published books similar to yours to get an idea of what this should include.
  • You may want to write an author bio for the back cover.

Once you have your content ready to go, it's time to get all that content into book form. In the next section, we'll look at this process.