ISBN, Copyright, & Pen Names

isbn-copyright-pennamePart of publishing a book is understanding and making a few decisions about the legal-related items. CAVEAT…we are NOT lawyers. So please make sure to do separate, thorough research into each of these aspects of publishing. The purpose of this article is to get you started with the basics (as we understand them).


ISBN – or international standard book number – is a 13-digit # assigned to a book which is used internationally by libraries and booksellers to identify a book, the specific edition, author, and publisher. Which means…you guessed it…you will likely have multiple ISBNs for what you think of as a single book.  Off the bat, you’ll have an ISBN for the eBook, and a different ISBN for the print book. If you ever republish, then you get new ISBNs.

ISBN is NOT related to copyrighting. ISBNs are controlled by Boker ( You can purchase a single ISBN, or a block of them. You then use the Boker website to assign those ISBNs to books as needed. It’s not cheap to purchase.

When you’re ready to publish, go back on the Boker website and fill out a form assigning one of your numbers to a specific book. Once an ISBN is assigned it can never be reused or repurposed.

Currently (as of December 2016) an ISBN is optional for eBooks. The reason being how many versions (EPUB, MOBI, PDF on various retailers or distributors) there can be. In addition, some retailers or distributors will assign one of their ISBNs for you. Our suggestion is:

  1. Use a purchased ISBN for Amazon Kindle eBook upload
  2. Use a FREE Smashwords ISBN for all other eBooks
  3. Use a FREE CreateSpace ISBN for your print book

Just make sure you are changing the ISBN listed on the copyright page in the copy you upload at each of those sites to match the ISBN for that version.


Copyright is a form of protection for intellectual property. It covers both published and unpublished works. Essentially, the second you put pen to paper, you are copyrighted. The date is typically associated with  when you finish OR when you publish (go with the later date of the two).

Technically, you do not have to apply for copyright from any authority. However, we do recommend that you do, because, were you to get into a legal battle, it’s a bit easier to prove you’re the owner of a work if you officially registered the copyright. You can do so at: .

A couple things to note:

  • Copyrights aren’t the same as Trademarks which are more about protecting a brand.
  • You CAN get sued for improper use of Trademarks. Most publishers will either eliminate named brands (say soda instead of Coke, say fairy tale princess instead of Disney princess) or will use the copyright page to list all trademarks mentioned in the book.
  • Please take the time to look into what copyright does and doesn’t cover.
  • Copyright doesn’t necessarily apply outside the U.S. In general, most countries try to honor copyrights, but not all do, and how they do may differ.

The biggest issue in this area for self-published authors is pirate site which publish a copy of your eBook and sell it without explicit permission from you, and sharing ZERO of the profit with you. When you find your book on these sites, you can ask to have them removed, but often that does little. Most of the time, there’s little recourse. Sorry!

Pen Names

A pen name is a made up name used by writers, usually to protect their identity, or sometimes for branding purposes. The use of a pen name is a personal choice and one made for a ton of different reasons. Here is a good website with a list of questions to consider when thinking about your pen name:

If you do decide to write under a pen name, here are a few things to know:

  • There is no place to officially register a pen name
  • When registering copyright or ISBN, there is a place to enter your pen name
  • When uploading books for publication, you enter your pen name as the author name
  • At most writing conventions, workshops, groups, etc. you will go by your pen name, so think about having to answer to it in person.

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