ISBNs and barcodes

English: A description of the elements in an I...

Image via Wikipedia

While it’s easy to see why many indies struggle with some of the elements of putting together the complete package that is your final, printed and released book, one of the things that many overlook is the barcode, generated from their ISBN.

I’ve been very lucky that I’m extremely interested in barcodes – in fact, initially, I was thinking of having a barcode tattooed on my spine instead of a biohazard symbol (which sits in the base of my back), because I really like them.  It’s the number/cryptography geek in me I guess.  These elegant bits of kit are often what mark the final level of ‘amateur’ from professional, and create an amazing effect.  Coupled with a well put together cover, the fact that your book *has* a publisher (for those that care and would know where to look) an ISBN/Barcode combo is often something that marks books out as professionally published.

As a reviewer, when I receive copies of books I’ve ordered from publisher websites to review, I’m often amazed to see that they’re missing barcodes.  I’ve done a quick straw poll of the books I have and nine of the 11 that I’ve received for review in the last three months alone are from one or two person presses.  One was from a co-op, and they HAD the ISBN/ information to set up a barcode, so it really was unforgivable.

Where do I get my ISBNs?

Honestly? That’s a conversation for a whole other post, but for now, the easiest thing to do is point you in the direction of the ISBN article on Wikipedia.  While you should never believe absolutely everything on Wikipedia, it does have the links to the best sites to check out.  Also, feel free to check the ‘related’ items in our footer.

Once you’ve registered a block of ISBNs, feel really good about yourself.  You are officially a publisher, and that opens up a whole world of fun!  But the next step is to generate a Jpeg or similar image for your barcode.

How do I generate a barcode then?

Many barcode generators are now available online.  But you’ve got to be entirely sure you’re using them right.  My favorite is here – but you’ve got to scroll along and choose the ISBN option for your barcode (or it won’t work the way you need it to).  Generate your barcode using the ISBN you’ve assigned to the print copy you’re using (whether that’s hardback or softcover – you need an ISBN for each, AND a separate barcode for each – ebooks need a separate ISBN again, but no barcode, though you might want to add one anyway!).
Once you’ve done that, fire it over to your graphics designer, or add it to your cover.  Good designers leave a white box for your barcode ;)

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Kai Wilson-Viola writes under various names, and in all genres. Co-founder and webmistress of the IAG site, she writes content on request of members.
She has written several books including the Ten Hour Marketing Plan and 12x12 - tutorials for social media.
When not writing, she can be found maintaining sites, designing themes, managing a charity called the Less than Three foundation, gaming, knitting or reading.

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