Everything You Want to Know About Library of Congress Numbers, ISBNs and More


Ever since I’ve struck out on my own in 1997, I’ve worked consistently on some element of book publishing–writer, editor, publicist, and yes, publisher. In addition to writing fiction and doing some public relations on the side, I have a small, tiny press–Midori Books (not to be confused with the S&M bondage outfit). I call it a legacy press; it’s not vanity in that we don’t publish anyone’s work indiscriminately.

Instead of depending on the consumer market, I’m paid by organizations, families, and individuals to either write and/or produce history publications or memoirs. I use freelance artists, copyeditors, and sometimes production managers. Not all of the books are sold over Amazon or retail stores; instead they may be distributed by corporations/nonprofit organizations to employees, members, and stockholders or families to friends, relatives, and colleagues.

Since I worked as a newspaper editor for almost ten years, the transition from creating newspapers to producing books was not that big of a leap. But there are some differences. The two most distinct differences are related to numbers: 1) Library of Congress catalog number and 2) ISBN.

Let me first explain these numbers to you:

1) Library of Congress CIP vs. PCN

Every bibliophile has heard of the Library of Congress. I’ve never had the opportunity to visit, but picture it as this vast, hyperorganized tomb of books, pristine marble floors and columns, and row after row of book shelves. I’m not sure if the reality is as idealized as my image, but after perusing its web site, I’ve concluded it comes pretty darn close.

Anyway, there are two numbers available to publishers:

The CIP is the luxury model of the Library of Congress number. The publisher sends an electronic file of the manuscript weeks before the book is due to be published to the Library of Congress and the staff creates bibliographic information based on the contents. Sometimes the bibliographic information is sparse, consisting of only the title and the author’s name. This information, which is often printed on the copyright page of a book (usually opposite the title page), is available to library and book vendor databases throughout the nation.

For instance, my first mystery, SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, published by Bantam Dell, has the following subject headings:

1. Japanese Americans–Fiction

2. Los Angeles (Calif.)–Fiction

3. Gardeners–Fiction

4. Aged men–Fiction

5. Revenge–Fiction

I especially like the last subject heading. So I suppose if some student is doing a research paper on revenge for an English class, he or she can look up Revenge-Fiction and come up with SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI. It’s too bad that Hiroshima or the atomic bomb wasn’t mentioned. Oh well.

My bibliographic information also includes a number, the title, my name, and heaven forbid, my birth year. I understand that the birth year is important to distinguish one Grace Lee from another Grace Lee or perhaps a Jeff Cohen from another Jeff Cohen, but a Naomi Hirahara? How many Naomi Hiraharas are out there? Age is not that big a deal for me, but I’ve noticed that many authors don’t necessarily have their birth year published on their copyright page. Well, enough said about that.

As a tiny, tiny press, Midori Books is only eligible for a Preassigned Control Number (PCN), not a CIP. The books that I publish unfortunately do not get a bibliographic record. As a result, I don’t have to e-mail the manuscript to the Library of Congress. I merely provide them with the exact title, publication date, ISBN, etc. In usually less than a week, a nice woman (or at least a computer program with the nice name of a woman) sends me a number that I’m supposed to place on the copyright page. This number provides libraries with a unique identification number that is used for cataloguing purposes. It’s up to the publisher to then send the printed product to the Library of Congress, which then decides whether the book is worthy for the tomb.


Everyone knows what ISBN stands for, right? Okay, I see some of you scratching your heads. ISBN is the International Standard Book Number. Oh, so what the heck does that mean? It’s basically the fingerprint of your precious book–the "unique identifier" assigned to each book format (hardcover and paperback versions of the same book get different ISBNs) for booksellers throughout the world. Or at least Amazon, which requires it and a corresponding bar code, as well as a whole lot of retailers. It usually consists of 10 numbers, or digits, that is until January 1, 2007. That’s kind of the Y2K time for ISBN numbers. Because officially those numbers need to be 13 digits by the beginning of next year.

Why? Well, just like overflowing land fills, there’s too much junk–excuse me, books. Or not enough space. So yes, what I’m saying is that we have an ISBN shortage. And apparently 13-digit number would conform more readily to the international standard.

So how does a small publisher get an ISBN? Let me tell you–it’s become increasingly difficult, at least from my limited experience. I suspect that the popularity of self-publishing and POD print services, which have contributed to the 195,000 books published in 2004, have caused a numerical logjam. The keys to these numbers in the U.S. are owned by an agency called R.R. Bowker in New Jersey. In 2000, when I applied for a set of ISBNs for one of my clients, there was no problem. We filled out the application and paid our 200-plus dollars and wha-la, in a month’s time, we received a set of ten spanking new numbers.

But after I created Midori Books and applied for my own numbers in 2003, I hit a major roadblock. Month after month passed and no numbers. Our book was at the printer in Vermont and no number. I sent e-mail after e-mail and even called this mysterious place called Bowker multiple times, and finally, after much cajoling, my numbers arrived in an e-mail. Now I could proceed–I then ordered and received a bar code over the Internet almost instantaneously.

The ISBN is a mighty number, and I discovered this week that libraries depend on the ISBN more than the number issued by the Library of Congress. "[The ISBN] is always available by the time a book is bought for the library. It is the most frequently used point of identification for a book. Public libraries rarely use the Library of Congress number, preferring the ISBN," explained Viccy Kemp, a technical services manager of a library in Texas who also worked as a bookseller for 10 years. This doesn’t mean, however, that the publisher should forsake filing for a Library of Congress number as the ISBN will get recorded into the library system during the application process.

With the implementation of ISBN-13, those publishers with 10-digit numbers like me will have to obtain new numbers with the prefix of 978. But it’s not like an additional area code; I can’t just tack 978 onto my existing numbers. That would be too easy. Instead, I’ll have to go to the ISBN converter to punch in our old numbers to get some new replacement ones.

Large publishers and bar code service bureaus have already prepared for ISBN-13. If you look at the bar code on the back of most any book, the new ISBN-13 number should be underneath the stripes (it’ll have the 978 prefix). In fact, my latest book published this year, SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN, has both the ISBN-10 and ISBN-13 numbers on the copyright page.

What does this all mean for authors? Not a whole heck of a lot. Only that you may have to update your promotional material in 2007, because ISBN-13 will soon be here. And for you neurotic ones, you will have three more numbers to press on your phone when you check your Ingram numbers in 2007. Happy Early New Year!

SISTERS IN HOLLYWOOD: It looks as though the SinC Goes to the Movies: Selling Your Book to Hollywood conference is close to being filled. But there might be some slots still left. (The event is only open to 100 participants.)

The beauty of the Nov. 3-5 conference is that the Author’s Coalition will be reimbursing all participating Sisters in Crime members–who must be published by a traditional publisher–the $100 conference fee. The event seems extremely well organized, complete with group signings at area bookstores on Saturday, Nov. 4. What a great idea! (Unfortunately, the deadline to put your name in for the signings was this past Monday.)

I don’t harbor any illusions that a Mas Arai feature film would ever be made. Hey, there’s not a Jack Reacher film yet, so you know that the deck of cards is stacked against you. For 14 years, Robert Redford had to scratch and claw his way into making Tony Hillerman’s novels into PBS movies. Robert Redford, with all his connections!

But I’m going there to learn–maybe a film student someday might want to try his or her hand in turning Mas into celluloid for a short film/school project–and besides, the event is in my backyard. Best of all, out-of-state friends will be in L.A., and I’m just thrilled that Sujata Massey will be coming out west (I think her L.A. fans will be, too). Sujata and I will be teaming up to do a program together at Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena on Thursday, November 2. I’ll keep you posted with details as we get closer to the date.

And I just learned this week that Murderati’s Pari Noskin Taichert will be making the trip from Albuquerque as well! Double-trouble, I’m telling you.


Dog. Do you know that 2006 is the Year of the Dog? Since the Asian zodiac repeats itself every 12 years, anyone born in 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958, 1946, 1934, etc. is officially a dog–known, of course, for being loyal. In contrast, for second-generation Japanese Americans incarcerated in World War II U.S. detention camps, inu also refers to being an informant to authorities, a snitch, a stool pigeon, a backstabber.

6 thoughts on “Everything You Want to Know About Library of Congress Numbers, ISBNs and More

  1. Pari

    Naomi,Thank you for almost everything in this post. I learned more about CIP,PCN and ISBNs than I’ve realized there was to learn. But that bit about the 13-number isbn and the prefix and the replacement numbers . . . argh.

    Can’t wait to see you in Hollywood. Like you, I’m going to learn. So many people have told me that Sasha would make a great movie or television character . . . I thought I’d better see what it’d really involve.

    Oh, and I’m a DOG. I like the loyalty definition rather than that stool pigeon association.

  2. Naomi

    I think I should have named this post, “Everything You DIDN’T Want to Know . . .” I realize that I did a bit of an overkill on this ISBN/LOC business, but I’m preparing for a book by one of my writers to be sent to the printer soon, so the ISBN-13 stuff was on my mind. At least some of this info can be a resource for small-press publishers.

    BTW, your ISBN-13 number is below your BELEN HITCH bar code–978-0-8263-3915-7. And a-ha, you dawg, they put your birth year on your copyright page too, as if there could be any other Pari Noskin Taicherts around!

  3. Naomi

    p.s. I read in this week’s Publishers Weekly that a self-published author had sued the Library of Congress for not issuing him a CIP number, claiming that it was discriminatory and had hurt his sales. Of course, the author lost his case. The lack of a CIP is not the reason a self-published book won’t sell in the mainstream market.

  4. Pari

    Well, bless UNM Press.

    And, if there is another PNT around . . . I pity her. For my next series, I’m thinking of using a pseudonym–something with initials and a monosyllabic surname.Maybe we can have a “name the author” contest here . . .heh heh heh.


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