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eBooks and Digital Publishing

A Primer on ISBN Codes, Bar Codes, and UPC Codes

October 14th, 2015 . by Peggy

ISBN image(This article has been updated. Original publication date was March 17, 2008, under the title “The Difference Between an ISBN, Bar Code, and UPC Code”. Updated October 14, 2015.)

An ISBN number stands for International Standard Book Number, and when you are assigned one for your book product, each number is totally unique. A modern ISBN has 13 digits, as of January 2007. Embedded in each number is a code that identifies your country, you as a publisher, and the unique publication. (See a future post for nerdy details.)

There is one ISBN governing body for this entire planet, and each country has an agency devoted to administering it for their country. In Canada, this is Library and Archives Canada – an office in our Federal Government, and in the USA, along with a few other countries, it is run by an organization called Bowker.

A bar code is really a computer font. When you enter a series of numbers and convert them to this font, it appears as a series of lines of varying widths which can then be read by a computer with the appropriate hardware, a bar code scanner.

An ISBN can be used to create a scannable bar code for your book, making it uniquely identifiable to booksellers who subscribe to the ISBN database. Your ISBN is a totally unique number, making it very easy to convert to a totally unique bar code using the special font.

A UPC code, or Universal Product Code, is a type of bar code, but the core number which is used to create the scannable code is derived from an entirely different source than the ISBN number. A UPC code has 12 digits rather than 13, and is grouped into two sections of 6 digits each. There is one large UPC organization that tracks and issues all the codes for the USA, called the G1-USA. They are part of the G1 organization worldwide, who also has a representative in Canada.

Why have a UPC code plus a bar code on your book? If your book is a product with wide appeal, and is likely to be sold outside of bookstores in venues like giftshops or consumer stores, a UPC code guarantees that any retailer can scan your book successfully. Not all retailers can scan an ISBN bar code, because there are more digits, and they may not have the ISBN database to relate it to.

So to sum up, both ISBN scannable codes and UPC scannable codes are types of bar codes. An ISBN is only assigned to a book or similar product, while a UPC code can be assigned to a book or virtually any product that is meant to be scanned in a retail store. My recommendation to clients is typically that they have both on the back of their books, in order to maximize market expansion options.

AND, always make sure you TEST your bar code before your book goes to press to make sure it scans properly! Your printer may offer to do this for you.

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You’re Going to Need to Hire an Editor

March 10th, 2014 . by Peggy

 (This is an excerpt from my book “Your Book Title Here“, available on the Kindle platform at, $2.99 USD.)

The editor is the one bit of outsourcing that I must recommend no matter how good a writer you are. With editors, you are paying for something that cannot be achieved any other way: objectivity.

Editors come from many paths. Some of them are language specialists, but many come from other, far more interesting sources. Some of them are industry experts, and some of them are teachers or business people. In my experience, the degrees on the wall matter very little to the quality of the service and work you will get. Instead, focus on their communication style. Do they seem to understand what you’re trying to achieve? When they read your work, do they make intelligent criticisms, and explain the reasons for them clearly? If so, great. You’ve got the foundation for a wonderful working relationship. Don’t just look for someone that agrees with you on everything. Not only is that not objective, but it means that they’re not telling you the whole truth of what they observe in the work.

Criticism is a big part of the editing process, and I’m here to tell you right now, get over any personal feelings you might have about the process. You have bigger stuff to care about, like creating a high-quality product. You need to focus on the big picture, not your personal feelings. Think early on in the process about your budget to hire an editor, and it will be easier to make happen.

Ouch! Peggy is really mean! Yes, I am. I’ve been on both sides of the editing fence. And now, I truthfully enjoy being the writer receiving help from the editor, because I can really see the improvement it makes in my final product: I’m actually becoming a better writer because of good editing. The thrill of working with someone who also believes in your book is so satisfying. You’ll know they believe in making it successful if they offer plenty of constructive criticism. This will happen for you too. I’m not saying it will be easy, but you will be better, and the praise you’ll receive as a quality writer will hopefully make up for any hurt feelings.

What does an editor cost? OK, prepare to be angry at me again: I can’t tell you that. The fact of it is, it fluctuates wildly. As I said, editors come from different backgrounds, and they all charge differently. Some charge by the word, and some by the hour. Some will only do certain types of editing, and the charges for different types of editing are also different. Some types of editors, like style and content editors, will only offer big-picture advice, rather than picking through your manuscript line-by-line.

At the very least, a copy-editing pass should be done before you finalize your work. This means just checking for things like spelling and punctuation mistakes, along with things like proper sentence structure and grammar. An abundance of copy errors will ruin the credibility of the entire work. However, I find that someone who can point out things like “You drag on a bit here,” or, “I would leave out that entire paragraph,” or, “You need to explain this further,” are extremely helpful, and that stuff is what really makes me improve. Simple copy-editing is also often better performed by a different editor than the one who does any style editing on your work. A fresh pair of eyes will catch stuff you wouldn’t believe.

Despite all editing you may have done, don’t freak out when the inevitable happens: your manuscript will still have errors. And I don’t just mean one, as there will probably be a bunch. Of course, you will only see them after the book has been sent to a major newspaper for review, or when your mentor is reading it. Relax. All authors cringe at this thought. It happens. Move on.

To read more from this book, please see

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Setting Your Self-Publishing Sights Higher

February 18th, 2013 . by Peggy

Setting Your Self-Publishing Sights HigherAll the smart self-publishers these days are using techniques like speed-implemented print on demand, which is low-risk and high-yield. However, be sure you’re still thinking like a big-business publisher and using some classic business-building techniques.

I totally advocate the use of Print-On-Demand (POD) services like The low-risk approach, the profit comparisons to major publishers, and the speed-implementation mindset are all things I really admire. However, be sure you’re not missing something that I make sure all of my clients are aware of from the get-go: publishing is a go-big or go-home business. I’m not saying increase your risk, but there are a number of small things that will make a big-thinking approach pay off. You can be all-in emotionally, without losing your wallet.

Let’s assume you’re a great writer. Your topic is timely, you’re credible, you know who your customers are, and you are very logical in your overall strategic business approach. Many authors do this, sell a fair amount of books, and have every right to be proud of themselves, especially if they sell the equivalent amount that a publisher asked them to commit to for the book project – a major accomplishment, to be sure.

But, what I don’t see many doing is hitting the pavement to simultaneously push your book through multiple outlets, including an affiliate marketing program, small retail outlets, and a wider non-business (or parallel-niche) audience. I would love to see more indie authors practicing good online marketing activities, like building a list of interested customers. You don’t have to sign up for anything to get many author’s free stuff, which is nice for us, but very bad for the author’s business. I would also like to see more authors move their RSS feed signup (the way people get the blog posts delivered to them in their inbox) to someplace more visible on your site. I want more podcasts. I want online training. And I want more interactivity.

Many author’s blogs get buried within their current site, meaning you have to click around the find the blog, which could be their biggest mistake. Make it the first page! The first thing people see! Even if you’re freelancing other writing, and selling a decent number of books anyway, think bigger! You could be building a wider following, and enhancing your personal profile, in minutes a day by making the blog the forefront of your website. If your existing website is a little flat, pump it up, and correct any lingering usability issues like buttons that don’t quite work the way you want, etc. Polish it up to a nice shine.

Why don’t all writers set their sights higher? A good book is hard to come by, and I know many writers that have several, each worth bragging about – yet they don’t. When one book is not wonderfully profitable, the next one is harder to write. Even if your self-publishing business doesn’t seem to be suffering, waiting until that is happening is the wrong time to start additional marketing activities.

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