June 18, 2024

Why I Finally Purchased ISBNs

I wrote this post on my I chose not to purchase my own ISBN. The post was very much a reaction to the passionate and loud advice to indie authors at the time that you had to buy ISBNs to give your books any semblance of respectability, and I just wasn’t buying it (the advice or the overpriced identifiers). I felt the world also needed a passionate retort to the discourse: No way! I do what I want!

Coming back to this topic, I feel like an absolute hypocrite because in the time since I originally wrote about it, I’ve purchased my own ISBN. Not only did I buy some, but I ordered a whopping 100 identifiers for my books past, present, and future.

ISBNs are Stupidly Expensive

So, what changed after I first waxed poetic about my hatred of the book-number industry? Honestly, not much. They are still priced way too high, with one ISBN costing $125 in the United States. And I still believe the other points I made, like books seldom having only one identifier their entire lifetime and readers don’t care about the publisher on record.

I was fortunate when the sales of my Puzzling Escapes series absolutely took off during lockdown. I finally had real money from my author career, and I wanted to reinvest some of that cash into my publishing business.

In addition to increasing the budget for the art in subsequent Puzzling Escapes adventures, I hired a narrator to create an audiobook for my favorite novel, Quality DNA. But I also wanted to add more legitimacy to my publishing brand, and I acknowledged that ISBN under my publishing name, BETH MARTIN BOOKS, was a decent way to do that. $125 for one number, however, is way too expensive.

$295 for only ten numbers is still like $30 per number, and I’d likely need more than 10.

The next step up is $575 for 100 numbers. Regardless of what I’m getting, $575 is a lot of money. It’s a stupid amount of money for a list of numbers. However, it’s also an investment in me and my business. Now, as long as I write 100 books, that comes to a little less than $6 per number, an amount I can more easily stomach.

Am I going to write 100 books? Abso-freaking-lutely.

Books Still Get the Benefits of Having ISBN with the Free ISBN

On Bowker’s website (Bowker is the only company where you can purchase ISBNs in the United States), they list all the reasons why books should use an ISBN, and a lot of these reasons are valid and valuable.

Retailers, including online retailers like Amazon, require books to have an ISBN before they can be sold. ISBNs allow for standardized book identification and enable the book’s distribution worldwide.

Something that people shilling author advice tend to ignore is that your book will enjoy these benefits even when you use a free number. There are limitations imposed on your book when you use the free identifier usually including that only that retailer/printer can print your book. However, that doesn’t prevent authors from utilizing multiple (free) ISBNs for use with multiple book distributors.

IngramSpark Now Offer Free ISBN

The only point I had no good argument against was using IngramSpark. Ingram is the largest book distributor in the world, and in the past, if you wanted their print-on-demand subsidiary IngramSpark to produce your indie title, you needed to provide your own ISBN. However, in late 2019, even IngramSpark started offering free ISBNs.

Honestly, I never saw the draw of using IngramSpark to print my books. Their print quality is no better than Amazon’s KDP since both companies use the same machines and materials. In fact, a lot of KDP books get printed outside the Amazon ecosystem, so your KDP print book might get fulfilled by IngramSpark.

But what about libraries and bookstores? The best way to get your indie book into libraries is by donating it, and the simplest way to get indie books into bookstores is through consignment. In both those situations, you, the author, are providing the book, so it doesn’t matter what the identifier is or which company printed it.

Making New Editions

Moving forward with free ISBNs, I knew that I could change my mind down the road, and it wouldn’t be a huge issue. And it absolutely wasn’t. Many books go through several different editions, and each new edition requires its own ISBN. So, if you have a published book and you want to assign a new number to it, you release a new edition of the book.

I had fun with some of my new editions. Mental Contact got a new cover, and I updated the formatting. I actually changed the title for At Fault to The Earthquake Anomaly. When I originally published The End of Refuge, I did so on a shoestring budget. For the second edition, I hired an editor since the previous one had done a lousy job (I still don’t recommend Fiverr because of this) and commissioned a professional cover.

Other books like Puzzling Escapes: Trapped in the Bookstore barely changed at all between editions, only the barcode on the back cover and ISBN listed on the copyright page getting updated while everything else remains the same. However, there’s no requirement that the copyright page includes an identifier (or that the book even contains a copyright page), and print-on-demand companies add the barcode on the cover for you, so most indie authors wouldn’t need to change a thing in their book files in order to release a new edition with an update ISBN.

Other Publishing Endeavors

I must admit that the authority provided by having my own identifiers has opened an avenue I hadn’t really thought of as an indie author publishing their work: I can publish other people’s books under the Beth Martin Books imprint. However, for the most part, I’ll remain a one-woman show, only distributing my work.

However, I have published a fun word-search book my husband put together. Also, I never would have taken on the Starship Blunder project if I couldn’t go down as the publisher on record. And I imagine it would be harder to get other writers to submit to the project if they didn’t already view me as an industry pro.


In short, who do I think should buy ISBNs? For starters, anyone who plans on setting up a publishing company and publishing work other than their own should purchase their own ISBN. Also, in some areas of the world, these identifiers are more affordable than they are here in the US, and in those places, definitely go for it.

And then there’s my case. If you have money burning in your pocket that you want to invest in your publishing career, and you plan on publishing as many books as possible, then you have my blessing to buy some numbers.

June 1, 2024

New Short Story Release: Worth a Thousand Words

I recently gave a talk for the Maryland Writers Association on using AI tools for creative writing. I felt confident giving this talk because I’ve fully integrated tools like Chat GPT and Midjourney into my workflow.

Specifically, Chat GPT was been a wonderful tool to bounce ideas off of (no worries, I’m not using AI to write my stories and all my words are still my own). I pulled up the chatbot on my desktop and asked for some sci-fi or thriller short story ideas. It gave me a list of quite a few, but this one intrigued me the most:

Perception Alteration: A young artist discovers a mysterious painting that seems to change every time they look at it. As they become obsessed with unraveling the painting's secrets, their perception of reality begins to shift, blurring the lines between what is real and what is imagined.

I decided that instead of centering the story around an artist, it would be about a young woman who inherited a peculiar painting and that the changes in the artwork over time would be subtle. I also didn’t want my character to devolve into total madness–not in this story at least. Coincidentally, I named the main character Doreen before realizing the clear parallels between my story and Portrait of Dorian Gray.

I’m really excited to share this story, but also a bit apprehensive. I’ve had friends tell me this is the best thing I’ve written, to others saying that they hate the romance aspect and I should change the love interest. Ultimately, I decided diverse representation is more important to me than ruffling a few feathers, so if you don’t want to read sex scenes with a non-binary character, maybe skip this story.

To help celebrate the launch of “Worth a Thousand Words,” I’ll be featuring artistic endeavors throughout the month on my social media. I’ll share tidbits about my favorite artworks and the artistic activities I do in addition to writing.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of “Worth a Thousand Words” directly from me, you can do so here:

Buy “Worth a Thousand Words”

You can also purchase the story from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Eventually, after I release a few more shorts, I’d like to compile them into a paperback anthology. But for now, releasing the individual pieces allows me to continue releasing fresh content while working on my next novel.

May 13, 2024

Book Review: You by Caroline Kepnes

Stalking as a spectator sport!

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

While chilling inside during a very rainy spring break, I decided to read a fun and entertaining book while stuck inside. Recently, some of the writers on my Discord group discussed the best stalker romances they were/had read, and You came up in the convo. I was already aware of—and a huge fan of—the Netflix adaptation, but had never realized the TV series was based on a series of novels.

I was excited to dive into this book and thoroughly enjoyed the story. The main character Joe Goldberg narrates the story to his love interest, Beck. At first, it feels a little odd since Joe keeps saying the word “you” referring to Beck, but it doesn’t take long to get used to this style choice.

As a pretentious connoisseur of books working in a small independent bookstore, Joe loathes the normal clientele who come in only to purchase the newest best sellers. Therefore, he’s delighted when an attractive MFA student who’s into esteemed literature and has just the right balance of quirky and weird comes into the store. Soon he’s infatuated with this woman who goes by Beck.

He has to balance learning more about her, removing obstacles, and revealing just enough to draw her into his web and make her fall in love with him. Of course, learning about her includes following her while in disguise, hacking her email, and interrogating her therapist. Meanwhile, removing obstacles also includes meddling in her relationships and locking away her ex-boyfriend. And of course, he can never reveal all the heinous things he’s done otherwise she might not like him back.

I loved how incredibly flawed both Joe and Beck’s characters were. Beck is a terrible student and bad friend, surrounds herself with toxic people, and seduces her married therapist, all while ignoring her role in creating her own problems. Meanwhile, Joe is literally a stalker. However, he’s not particularly good at it, and he makes lots of mistakes and slips up a number of times in hilarious ways. These two deeply flawed individuals almost seem like a suitable match.

If you enjoy true crime, or thrillers in general, you’ll probably love reading You.

Check out more of my book reviews.

May 1, 2024

May's Theme: Engineering in Writing

This month, I’m shifting focus from GET ALL THE WORD DOWN (learn more about Badger Camp in my previous post—we’ll be doing another Badger Camp soon, so stay tuned!) to creating intentional and intricate stories using the power of engineering. My math background is engineering adjacent, and I hung out with lots of engineers in college. I’ve always found the meticulous problem-solving and innovative thinking that defines the field inspiring, so I’m featuring “Engineering in Writing” for the month of May.

Engineering principles can facilitate many aspects of creative writing. From constructing complex characters, charting their relationships with one another, plotting out a twisty narrative, and puzzling together the many elements of a story, writers often wear the hat of an engineer. I want to explore how engineering concepts relate to writing and other creative processes and how writers can use them to make more effective and engaging stories.

Make sure to follow me on social media for insights, including specific writing tips and some of my favorite video games that exemplify engineering creativity. Check out my profile on Instagram, X, or Facebook, or join my newsletter by following this link.

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