What Every Author Needs To Know About Copyright, ISBN, PCN and LCCN - WRITE | PUBLISH | SELL

Jun 28, 2023 | Publish

What Every Author Needs To Know About Copyright, ISBN, PCN and LCCN


There are three elements that identify a book as yours, and yours only. The first is your ISBN. You’ll want to ensure you have purchased a valid ISBN.

The second is an LCCN. While this is not a requirement, if you want your book to be considered for cataloging in the Library of Congress, or if you just want your book to look as professional as a traditionally published book, you’ll want the LCCN on the copyright page. (Applying for an LCCN does not guarantee inclusion in the Library of Congress.)

And importantly, you’ll want to copyright your work.

What is an ISBN?

An ISBN is an International Standard Book Number and is a book’s unique identifier. It tells us not just the identity of the book but who the publisher is. ISBNs are unique to each edition of a book. ISBNs are obtained by the publisher, whether it’s you or an outside publisher. We often think of the ISBN as a barcode but in reality, the ISBN is the number itself and the barcode has to be requested separately.

Each ISBN consists of 5 elements with each section being separated by spaces or hyphens.

  • Prefix element – currently this can only be either 978 or 979. It is always 3 digits in length
  • Registration group element – this identifies the particular country, geographical region, or language area participating in the ISBN system. Between 1 and 5 digits
  • Registrant element – this identifies the particular publisher or imprint. Up to 7 digits
  • Publication element – identifies the edition and format of the title. Up to 6 digits
  • Check digit – this is always the final single digit that mathematically validates the rest of the number

There is quite a bit of debate on whether or not someone who self-publishes should buy their own ISBN or use the KDP free ISBN. In my experience, unless you NEVER plan on distributing your book anywhere other than through KDP (Amazon) you should purchase your own ISBNs. Most stores do not take books that are published by KDP. (IE, with a KDP ISBN.) Additionally, because of the particular identification elements as listed above, it is to your benefit to have your information attached to your ISBN. If you plan on publishing more than one book, you can create your own imprint and publish all of your books under that imprint. ISBNs can be purchased through Bowker.

I recommend you buy a TEN PACK – ISBNs only, you don’t need EANs or barcodes. Your cover designer should know where and how to get a barcode (the IngramSpark template will embed a barcode if they select that option, so make sure you tell them to include a barcode – WITH pricing!) and they can use that to create your KDP template. If you’re only publishing through KDP, you can Google free barcodes, or you can use this company I LOVE – Bookow.

If you are in Canada, your ISBN is free! Check out this blog post for more information.

What is LCCN?

An LCCN is a Library of Congress Control Number. The Library of Congress assigns a number to every publication it will acquire, and an LCCN can be requested by US publishers prior to publication. Unlike a copyright, you do not have to pay to register the LCCN but the publisher (that would be you if you self-publish your book!) must send a copy of the book to the Library of Congress upon publication.  It is important to know that ebooks are ineligible for an LCCN.

What is a PCN?

A PCN is a Preassigned Control Number (PCN) Program which enables the Library of Congress to assign Library of Congress Control Numbers (LCCN) in advance of publication to those titles that may be added to the Library’s collections. The LCCN is included in the copyright page of the book and this helps the book to be cataloged. The PCN links the book to the Library of Congress records and is therefore very important. Self-published authors MAY apply for an account to register for a PCN.

What is a Copyright?

A copyright is exclusive legal right to the creator of original works to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same.  In simpler terms, it means no one can use your stuff without your express permission or share it without accreditation. Did you know that your work is copyrighted the minute you produce it and you don’t have to do anything to retain that copyright? However, if you want to protect your copyright, you need to register it with the US Copyright office. You can do this through the Electronic Copyright Office. This additional step provides you a legal basis to sue for if someone violates your copyright, and is easier because the ECO has a copy on file of what your work looked like when you filed. You can file for a copyright as soon as you have all of the key metadata and a close to final draft.

If you need help with any parts of this process, do not hesitate to reach out to us, or join our FREE Write.Publish.Sell Facebook group to ask any questions!

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