The ISBN mystery

29 Jan

As a reader or writer or librarian or book-seller, you are undoubtedly familiar with the term ISBN.  In theory, each book published (whether by a publishing house or not) has a unique ID number – the ISBN. Each iteration of a title – regular print, large print, e-book, audio or whatever should have an ISBN. It is not required, but it is highly recommended, especially if the book will be sold commercially and internationally.

International Standard Book Numbers are a child of the computer, and the concept was created in either 1966 or 1970, in the UK or the US, depending on who you ask. The number started as a 10-digit number, which would identify the country of publication, the publisher, the specific edition of the title and a single ‘check’ digit at the end. There are ten digits used for this last single number – 1 through 9, plus X, which represents 10.  It soon became necessary, however, to add more numbers, so the 13-digit numbering system was created by adding the numbers 978 to the front of the 10-digit number. Surprisingly enough, the last 3 of 13-digit number sometimes differs from the last 3 of the 10-digit number, even for the exact same edition.  There. Got that?

We progress.  As a long-time reader of Regency set novels, I determined to write them, which has not been as easy as it might seem. There are rigid rules of engagement with this genre (originally, if usually incorrectly credited to Jane Austen, except that she was really writing contemporary novels, not historical romance.)  Readers of today’s Regency novels are the most exacting and quibble-some readers possible. Every historical detail must be correct. Dates, clothing, and titles account for the most criticism, but other topics will also fall afoul of these critics. (This is not a complaint, merely an explanation for those who might not otherwise be familiar with this comparatively small, but extremely passionate, loyal and vocal readership.)

So, when the theme for the 2014 Cotillion Christmas submissions was announced as “Christmas Feasts” I made up my mind to produce such a novella. There is an enormous amount of data on the internet – no question about that, but I’m old-fashioned enough to like books. So I went looking for a book of Regency recipes or cookery. Image

After an hour or so of deliberation, I settled on Lord Byron’s Relish by Wilma Paterson. Having been published in 1990, a used copy was my best resource, so I chose a book-seller I thought was in the next state over from me, feeling that proximity would maybe help speed up the delivery.

Three days later, I received a book, but not the one I ordered, and not from the bookseller I’d chosen, either. There was not one teensy little scrap of paper anywhere to indicate where it came from (well, other than the ‘Royal Mail’ insignia at the top of the label, which did indicate the UK), nor why it was sent to me. I was baffled, and finally discovered a return address in very tiny little type. I put this address into the search box of my computer and came up with a company name. In the UK. Remember, I’d placed my order with a bookstore showing an address in Indiana.

ImageI sent them an e-mail, and they disclaimed all knowledge of why I was sent this book, which, by the way is titled A Sense of Something Strange by Archie E. Roy. Actually, the title is somewhat appropriate considering what follows.  But three weeks later, and two days before the final day of possible delivery of the book I’d ordered, I decided it was time investigate further. The order had been placed with, so I went to them first. None of their obvious choices on the ‘help’ e-mail seemed logical, so I wrote: ‘I can’t return what I’ve not received. Please help?’  The e-mail went through to Amazon in fine shape, but NOT the copy which was sent simultaneously to the bookseller. It bounced. Oh, oh. I thought. Not a good sign.

So I asked Amazon to call me. It took a bit of explanation to see what might be done, and I was told to wait the two more days and the rep would write to the book-seller for clarification. You guessed it – the e-mail bounced!  And then the rep mentioned that the e-mail was a UK based e-mail.

Mere seconds after disconnecting, a niggle about the book I’d received returned to my consciousness. I went back to Amazon, and entered the ISBN number from the back of the mystery book – 1872536026 – and what should appear on the screen? The description of the book I’d originally ordered from the store in Indiana! Whoa!

Come to find out – the publisher (Dog & Bone Press – now out of business apparently) was the same for both books, and both had been published in 1990. From my own experience, I know absolutely that two books may not have the same ISBN, so I checked several times for both books, and it kept coming up the same way. Impossible!

Of course, the ISBN should also always be on the copyright page, so I investigated that page in the mystery book. Ahah! The little grey cells were indeed doing well. The ISBN inside the book is 1872536069. The last three digits were different. The ISBN and bar-code were incorrect on the back cover, which is of course, the first point of reference for a book-seller.  If you can’t trust the ISBN, who can you trust? (I don’t know either, that’s a rhetorical question.)

Back I went to Amazon again, and a very clever young man was able to understand my babbling. He cancelled the first order, requested a refund, helped me order another copy, and gave me expedited shipping!  The book should be here tomorrow!  Hooray!  My own little mystery solved. And I can now get seriously started on my Christmas Feast.  For Christmas 2014.

If you want to know more about ISBNs, here’s a great site:

One week from tonight (barring any unspecified disaster) I’ll finish the Which is Witch discussion that began with the previous post. I just had to share this adventure now, while it was still fresh in my mind.

See you all next week! As always comments or questions are welcomed at

Post Script:  The proper book arrived  today, so I thought I’d post a scan of the backs of each book, showing the same ISBN on obviously two different books! Here they are. I hope they’re readable to you! Cheers!  




2 Responses to “The ISBN mystery”

  1. Trudy January 29, 2014 at 12:56 am #

    I love your blog posts. Could you write one about buying isbns vs free createspace ones as an indie author. I still don’t understand the difference.

    Stay warm-


    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Cathy Jo January 30, 2014 at 5:30 am #

    Great blog post, Kelly. A mystery, indeed! Glad you got it solved. Here’s to hoping the correct book reaches you speedily. 🙂

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