Alphabet Soup (Self-Publishing Flavour)

So I’ve been dealing with two key ingredients in publishing’s alphabet soup: the ISBN and the CIP data. Before I say anything else a quick reminder: I’m doing this whole exercise in Canada, and if you’re based somewhere else, the rules are probably different and all I can tell you — until someone invents a functional Time Turner — is that Google is your friend. Sorry about that.

Also, this (as will become clear very quickly) is not a comprehensive guide to Obtaining an ISBN and CIP Data, but it is basically part of the Giant List of Things I Had to Think About, so I thought it would be worth posting a (very) brief introduction.

Essentially, here are some things I learned:

The ISBN is the International Standard Book Number. This is the descendent of a code called the Standard Book Numbering code, invented in 1965 by a professor called Gordon Foster working at Trinity College, in Dublin (alma mater of Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. Ireland is awesome.) In Canada, you can get one for free when you create an account as a publisher with Library and Archives Canada. (I work with ISBNs on a daily basis; I tell you, when you get one that’s got your book’s name next to it, it’s a good feeling.) You go to, fill out the form, and they set you up and send you the number via email fairly promptly. One thing I will say, though: they do ask for a lot of data about your physical book, so if you’re doing a print run, you’ll need to have a fair idea of your trim size (i.e., the physical dimensions of your book when it’s printed), binding (paperback? hardcover?), and prospective date of publication, or you won’t be able to fill out the form. ISBNs are free in Canada, to encourage Canadian culture, so if you’re a Canadian writer who’s been putting things off for a bit – well, you have no excuse: you have officially been Encouraged.

The CIP — Cataloging in Publication — data is also available for free from Collections Canada and is the apparently incomprehensible collection of letters, names and punctuation marks that you find on the back of the title page, starting with Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication. If you want to go and have a look to make sure I’m not making things up, go ahead. I’ll just wait here.

<makes cup of tea while waiting>

See? Not making things up. This data is written in Librarian, and is very much of concern if you are a Librarian (bless ‘em all) trying to figure out where the book in your hand should go on your shelves so that the Readers (bless ‘em all!) can find the book that the Author has sweated blood and tears over. The CIP program is also, to quote their website,

a voluntary program of cooperation between publishers and libraries. It enables the cataloguing of books before they are published, and the prompt distribution of this cataloguing information to booksellers and libraries.

This is Not A Bad Thing. Again, you assemble all your info – author details, print run, and so forth – fill in the form, and you’re away (although they can take a while to get back to you, so if you’ve applied, it might be good to make a note of them and follow up before you publish, because you don’t want your CIP data to arrive when you’re already sitting there on a giant pile of money with your last remaining copy of the print run in your hand*). Three things to note here: 1) CIP data is only available if you’re doing a print run; 2) your print run has to be more than 100 copies; and 3) if you submit your application and then change your details (such as your title) before you publish and don’t let the nice CIP people know, you will ruin the lives of librarians everywhere. Don’t do that. Be nice to librarians. They deserve it.

My tea is getting cold. Back in a bit.

*I’m told authors do this all the time. Especially the self-published ones.

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