I have what seems to be a rather complicated situation and need some advice.

I have co-authored a book with an author living in a different country. We began by using a publisher in her country but had so many difficulties with them (re: mistakes, layout) right from the beginning that it ended up with me doing all the layout, graphic design of the cover, in fact everything that the publisher should do.

When it came to printing the book we found many mistakes made in the reviews on the back cover (words missing, others joined together) that it was decided that I would publish my books here and she would get hers printed in her country using the files that I had prepared and sent to the original printer.

I have since printed and published the book on my own (i.e. I did the printing and binding and assigned myself a name as publisher) and started selling them myself. Now she tells me that she is thinking of going back to the original publisher in her country who will assign an ISBN (I haven't done this yet with my books).

I know that this publisher uses a different paper type and very slightly different size, so will I be able to assign my own ISBN to the books I self publish or can I just use the one her publisher will use even if there are the above mentioned minimal differences?

  • 5
    Which (or how many) ISBN the book has may be the least of your worries. That is just one of the issues of who owns what in your collaboration and whether you have breached a pre-existing agreement with your (her?) publisher by printing in another country. Seek expert LEGAL advice.
    – Fortiter
    Commented Jan 13, 2013 at 11:25
  • I'm pretty sure no agreements have been broken yet - any pre-existing agreements were probably null and void when the publisher failed to deliver a product of acceptable quality and the plans of publishing were scrapped. Now, at the new attempt the publisher will have to deal with the fact the book is already published. New agreements, new obligations. Using that ISBN as your own without permission is illegal, but I believe a contract between you and the publisher could be made, e.g. them outsourcing production of your country's volume to you, with them as the legal entity behind its ISBN.
    – SF.
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 13:03

2 Answers 2


Since your question specifically addressed ISBNs, I will limit my response to only that.

First of all, every country has a different organizing body that is responsible for distributing and managing ISBNs. Even if you had used the same publisher abroad and in the US, you still would have been required to obtain separate ISBNs. In fact, if you decide to republish your own book here in the US using a different paper size, that also would require a different ISBN.

Now, let's assume that you decide that you want to self-publish as an e-book. Each different format (mobi for Kindle, ePub for Nook, etc.) would require its own ISBN. One exception to that would be if you were using a service like Smashwords. They will create multiple formats for distributing to various retailers, but they will only need one ISBN because they are publishing them all at the same time. (Technically, you could do the same if you generate all the formats using the same source file.)

Also, if you decided to republish your print version using a service like CreateSpace or LightningSource, that would also require a separate ISBN. Basically, any time your book is published in a different format or in a different manner, it is usually going to require a different ISBN. There are a number of other factors, but these basic guidelines should be enough to cover most general scenarios.

There are probably a number of other problems you might have to deal with that will be much more problematic than the ISBN issue. Without knowing what terms you may have had with the original publisher, it's really hard to say, but you should probably seek legal advice just the same. (As mentioned in one of the initial comments.)


No, you cannot. It is illegal.

The ISBN codifies (among other things) the publisher. If you steal that ISBN, then you state that your book was published by your co-author's publisher. But you published that book. You are responsible for it, not the publisher of your co-author.

You are pretending that a different publisher published your book. Which is just not true. A correct imprint does not make it better, only more confusing.

You are scraping the bar code of a milk carton and glue it to your carton, because the milk comes originally from you and you are selling it also in cartons of your own. Does that make sense? I hope not.

BTW, I hope your co-author mentions to her publisher, that the book was published in the meantime by someone else. Otherwise she could get in trouble.

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