The unexpected downside of an ISBN number.

I dipped a toe into the murky pond of self-publishing a few months ago.

My aim? Not to sell a book, but to see how easy – or how hard – it was to convert a document into a printed book, using Amazon’s CreateSpace service.

Soggy Socks cover of booklet by Ruth LivingstoneThe final result is a 36 page non-fiction booklet of 8,000 words, based on one of my walking experiences. Soggy Socks is not a masterpiece. But it’s OK. As I said, my aim wasn’t to sell any copies, but to experiment with the process.

I did order a single copy for myself.
(Well, OK, two copies actually.)

This is how I set about creating the book:

  1. Took a completed long-essay assignment  (written for my BA course at Birkbeck).
  2. Expanded and reworked several sections.
  3. Paid a copy-editor to check grammar and punctuation.
  4. Inserted photographs – which turned out to be the hardest part of the whole exercise.
  5. Set myself up as a publisher and bought a string of ISBN numbers.
  6. Uploaded the finished document as a PDF file to the CreateSpace site.
  7. And was amazed at how simple it all was!

The 5th step (setting up as a publisher and buying ISBN numbers) isn’t strictly necessary, as CreateSpace will supply an ISBN number for free – but you then will have CreateSpace listed as your publisher and I wanted to experiment with proper independent publishing.

And then came the surprise!

A few months after the book was ‘published’, I got an unexpected email.

ISBN request for 5 copies of book

Crikey! So all these official libraries want a copy of my book? Five of them: Oxford, Cambridge, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. And there is one more library to go. The British Library.

Actually, this request is far less impressive than it sounds, because the deposit libraries simply collect a copy of every book published – however good, bad or indifferent – if they are made aware of its publication. I suppose they knew about my book because setting up its ISBN number created a listing in the Nielson BookData catalogue.

But, this means I needed 6 copies of the book to send to the official deposit libraries!

Apart from a minor feeling of irritation about the expense of buying 6 copies of my own book, I realise this has done wonders for my sales figures, which have more than tripled overnight!

So, if you do decide to buy your own ISBN number, don’t forget you will be expected to send copies of your book to be lodged in the official deposit libraries.

Author: Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.

11 thoughts on “The unexpected downside of an ISBN number.”

  1. Oh, Ruth, I didnt’ know that. I went for the free one and createspace are the pubilsher. You need to have a few though, incase you want to sign them for family presents. That’s what I’ll do. And you should carry some on your travels as well. It looks good, well done.


  2. Interesting. That gives me something to think about. I was aware of the libraries requiring copies of every book, but hadn’t actually thought it through to the point of considering I’d be the one having to buy copies of my own books and then presumably pay the postage as well. Have you come across any other ‘unexpected’ expenses throughout your self-publishing process?


    1. A friend on Facebook suggested I don’t send and see what happens. Will there be heavies knocking on my door demanding books?! But I quite like the idea of copies of my book being stored in a vault somewhere, so they’re in the post.
      Other unexpected expenses? Not yet. I did buy the ISBN numbers and pay for copy editing. And I almost wish I’d either outsourced or spent more time on creating a better cover.


      1. I completely understand you liking the idea of having copies of your book archived in some of the world’s greatest libraries, but I do think you’ve missed out on some great publicity by sending them so easily. Imagine the potential headlines if you hadn’t: ‘Coastal walking GP has door beaten down by knuckle-duster toting librarians’ or ‘Librarians raid doctor’s office in attempt to score free books’.


    1. It was a useful exercise. I should probably write it up in more detail, including costs. I paid a small amount (it’s a short booklet) for copyediting, and for those ISBN numbers, and then buying those copies for the libraries. Less than £100 in total.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m fairly certain that in the US, publishers (or self-pub authors) are supposed to send a copy or two of their book to the Library of Congress. There’s some atrocity of a form to fill out. I don’t know if the LoC sends out notices to remind people. But hey, maybe that’ll be more exposure for your book, so possibly congratulations are in order.


    1. Yes, I think any book with an ISBN number should have a copy in their national library. But I’m not sure about ‘exposure’?! I think they just store them all in a dusty vault somewhere 🙂


  4. Not sure if my previous comment registered, anyway I have bought a copy as I don’t want you to be your biggest customer! Also you have 100% 5* rating on Amazon. I look forward to reading it.


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