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ISBNs and Lightning Source

ISBNs: What difference do they make in marketing?

At the same time I've been involved with a discussion about how to self-publish, arguing with those who say to never use a company that charges set-up fees, I've also been in process of converting one of my novels into hardcover. My original thought was to not put an ISBN on it at all, thereby preserving my own cost at only having to order a proof book, and marking it as a special issue item available only through the author. My theory was that I'm already promoting the title and my website and most sales will be of the paperback edition.

However, even if I don't agree with those saying that "subsidy" printed books will never get to library or bookstore shelves (and having proved them wrong before and after arguing with them), I have to consider the point of who owns the ISBN and how valuable the ISBN can be. This is an issue every author should think about before putting work out there in any way.

Simply, the ISBN tells who published it. When a bookstore or library looks up an ISBN, they can see if it was put out by a big commercial press, a small press, a subsidy press, or by a small, unknown imprint which generally means one an author set up for his own work.

There is a heavy bias in the industry against fee-based POD companies. It can be worked around, but authors need to know this going in. The big reviewers rarely do pre-pub reviews for POD books. Bookstores balk at carrying them (much of this is due to a lack of return policy with most PODs). Many authors even look down on them.

Something to remember, though, is that most sales stem from word-of-mouth, not from "official" reviews. According to Brian Hill and Dee Power in A Publishing Primer, word-of-mouth is the most important factor in book sales, with reviews falling quite low on the list. Also, having your book in bookstores all across the nation is pointless if readers aren't searching for it. The amount of sales you'll likely receive by impulse browsing, with the amount of competition out there, isn't going to make it worth your time to market to bookstores, anyway. Marketing should be geared toward readers who can then order your book from local bookstores. Readers don't seem to care, or even notice, who publishes a book as long as the quality is there.

So, does the ISBN matter? How willing are you to fight the stigma of fee-based PODs? On the other hand, how willing are you to set up your own imprint and receive less publishing assistance to avoid it?

Having my novel's hardcover proof in hand, I hesitated during the conversation. Do I truly not want an ISBN on it? If I held to my original goal of wanting the hardcover edition for my own satisfaction, no, I wouldn't need it. While I've been marketing to libraries recently, though, I've held onto the proof while reconsidering.

The other day, my kids found my novel featured as new fiction at our local library, so I returned to get a photo. While studying the photo of the shelves of books all together (a bit of vanity there, what can I say?), I stopped and realized mine was the only paperback. Libraries do tend to prefer hardcovers. I think, at this point, I'll change tactics somewhat and put my own ISBN on it for the sake of marketing to libraries.

As indie authors, we need to find a good balance between bucking the tides (which can be plenty of fun) and working with the system. Break the rules, by all means, but first know them and then break them carefully and on purpose; as any good writer does.

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Publishing Company Highlight

This month's company is a bit different than most I've been highlighting. LSI (Lightning Source) is an alternative to POD companies that provide ISBNs and other services.


(Note: Info below is from what I can find on the site without registering plus what other LSI users have told me. Be sure to double-check figures and accuracy if the market has interest.)

Publishing Prices

Setup: $150 -- I believe this is per book title not per account and covers only having it put into their system. ISBN is not included.

Revisions: unknown

Cover art: publisher must make the one-piece cover art fit specifications using either QuarkExpress or InDesign -- guidelines are on site

Annual host fee: $12

Total cost: cost of books vary depending on page number and format; not provided without registering -- paperback, hardcover, and ebooks are all offered

Distribution: host fee includes listing with major distribution centers such as Ingrams, Baker & Taylor, as well as Bertrams and Gardners

Royalties: publisher receives the wholesale price minus printing expenses

Ebooks: offered -- cost unknown

Order Time: books are printed the day of the order

Returns: publisher decides whether or not to make the books returnable

Overall, LSI is not a publisher. It is a POD printing company that works with publishers for order fulfillment to bookstores, libraries, and to the publisher. However, it does not sell directly to consumers. The publisher (author) must submit all orders and provide shipping addresses.

This can be a less expensive option for those willing to purchase their own ISBNs, do all their own set up, and run their own sales. The price per book is lower, providing higher royalty potential, but it must be balanced by the amount of time it takes to be a publisher. An author taking this route must provide some kind of imprint for the ISBN and publisher name, as well as making sure to get the ISBN properly on the back cover.

I encourage anyone who has any experience with this company or any other to share it in the Market Listings forum: "Invalid Item.

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Brian Hill and Dee Power

On Our Own at Myspace!

(Email if you have a related article on the site to share in the next newsletter.)

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Wishing you all the best of luck in your publishing ventures!

~~Please note: This newsletter is for information purposes only. The owner takes no responsibility for content or for transactions stemming from the choice of any company listed or not listed in this issue or any other. Research carefully!~~

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