Recently in the land of self-publishing, I found out what purchasing ISBNs - International Standard Book Numbers - is all about. So Imma write up a little guide to help anyone who's thinking of self-publishing! I don't consider myself an expert on the subject just yet, but here's what I've figured out so far:
1. Copyright your stuff first!
This seems like a no-brainer, but before you print anything on a large scale, take the time to apply for a copyright of your material. You can do this through Copyright.gov - you don't need to use a third-party service like LegalZoom. These days you can even submit your files electronically!
Word to the comic folks: comics are copyrighted as Serialized material. Visual Arts copyrights are more for single illustrations.
2. An ISBN is an investment.
Want to get your book out there? Consider purchasing an ISBN. This gives your book a unique 13 digit code that allows bookstores and retailers to find your book. This means people could walk into a Barnes & Noble and order your self-published comic! This also means your book can be put in libraries - a lot of libraries won't accept books without ISBNs.
ISBNs are usually $100+ when purchased individually. You can purchase them online from a lot of different places. I used isbn.org, which made the process really simple!
3. ISBNs can be purchased in bulk.
This is news to a lot of folks getting into self publishing. You can certainly purchase ISBNs individually, but this is usually more expensive. My printer alerted me to this while printing my first book. I was able to purchase a group of 10 ISBNs for $300. That's pretty danged cheap, especially since I'm going to keep publishing!
Most broker websites you'll use (such as myidentifiers.com) will ask you to create a login. Once you do, you'll have the option of purchasing ISBNs individually or in bulk.
4. ISBNs can be purchased through your printer or on your own.
When I say printer, I'm talking about private book printers here, not Kablam or other small job places. When I got my first book printed, my printer offered me a choice in ISBNs: I could either get one of theirs, or a "custom" ISBN. Custom in this case just means a plain ol' ISBN. CreateSpace and Lulu also give you these options.
The advantage of getting your printer's ISBN is usually price (in my case it was less than half the price), and some of them will sell your book in their stores. If you plan on having a long-term self-published career, I'd recommend just going for the custom ISBNs. It gives you a lot more freedom with your work - and you never know if there may be something lurking in the fine print of the cheaper options.
5. ISBNs don't come with barcodes!
When you say "ISBN," most people think of the barcode on the back, which is really just your ISBN put in a form that retail scanners can read. But just because you buy the number doesn't mean you get the barcode. These are purchased separately, and there's a reason for it. Buying a barcode for an ISBN means you have to set a price for your book. Once you purchase a barcode, the price for that book is locked to the ISBN. That means if you want to change the price of your book, you'll have to republish it with a new ISBN. So think carefully about your prices before you buy your barcode!
Barcodes are usually an extra $20-$30 and can be purchased through your broker website, or on isbn.org.
That's all I can think of for now. ISBN.org has a lot of great info on the topic, including the history of the code. Don't be scared of purchasing ISBNs! Your printers will usually be able to answer any questions you might have about the process. Now go forth and publish!