Novel approaches: part 8


Rolls off the tongue like honey, doesn’t it?


Oh yeah. Say it again, and this time, mean it:


Uh huh. That’s right. I have the most wonderful number of all. What do I mean by that? And why am I getting all sweaty over a number?

Allow me to explain. Well, even if you don’t want me to, that’s exactly what I’m about to do. Call it blogger’s prerogative.

978-0-615-74338-7 is not my cholesterol number, though without my Lipitor (or generic version thereof), it’d be pretty close. It’s not the combination of a wall safe that holds millions in bearer bonds. It’s not my Swiss bank account number. It’s not my Social Security Number or the map coordinates of my wife’s place of birth.

What it is, is this: the Holy Grail for a writer, particularly one who hopes to become published. Hammett has a few of this type of number. So does Hemingway. So does Vonnegut and Greene and Thurber and King. Harper Lee has just one, though she really only needs one. And sure, countless lousy writers have them too, but let’s ignore them, shall we?

What’s important is that I have one now, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s official: I have an ISBN, or, as the acronym-averse like to call it, an International Standard Book Number. It’s that 13-digit number found on the copyright page of a book (or, as I like to call it, the opening credits) as well as the UPC bar code sometimes seen on the back cover. I say 13 digits, although technically it’s a special 10-digit code, the first three – 978 – being applied to all books.

Now that I have one, I care about what the numbers mean. They’re not applied willy-nilly. Oh no. They do mean something, most importantly, that bookstores will stock the thing. Without an ISBN, a book is pretty much something that fell out of a printing press. Books aren’t required to have them, but they sure as hell help if the author and publisher want to sell it. Booksellers like ISBNs. Makes it easier when it comes time to order and inventory.

After the 978, we’ve got a 0. Most books you’re familiar with have a 0 there, since it signifies a book printed in English. I’ll be very happy if I ever have another number in its place, but in the meantime, I’m content with a 0.

Next comes the 615. That’s not necessarily always a 3-digit number, but it does always denote the publisher, and in my case, Red Skies Publishing has the publisher’s code of 615.

The penultimate series of numbers is for the title of the book. Mine is 74338. Other books from other publishers may have a 4- or 3-digit number; what matters is that the publisher’s code and book number in America always add up to 8 digits. Isn’t this fascinating?

Finally, the number that makes my head explode. It’s the check digit or checksum, used for error detection. I cannot begin to describe how it’s calculated, so I’m going to credit the wonderful people at Wikipedia for the following explanation:

The check digit “must range from 0 to 10 (the symbol X is used instead of 10) and must be such that the sum of all the ten digits, each multiplied by the integer weight, descending from 10 to 1, is a multiple of the number 11. Modular arithmetic is convenient for calculating the check digit using modulus 11. Each of the first nine digits of the ten-digit ISBN – excluding the check digit itself – is multiplied by a number in a sequence from 10 to 2, and the remainder of the sum, with respect to 11, is computed. The resulting remainder, plus the check digit, must equal 11; therefore, the check digit is 11 minus the remainder of the sum of the products.”


I can state with certainty that my checksum is 7. I cannot explain it. All I know is that I’m irrationally proud of it.

Selling more copies of Two Birds than I have family and friends will be a great accomplishment, I’m sure, but for now, knowing that I’m in the system will sustain me.

About Admin

Dana Pearson is a writer living in Kennebunk, Maine.
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4 Responses to Novel approaches: part 8

  1. Richard Morse says:

    This is the slowest roll-out since Obamacare, and the hype is taking longer than each year’s Super Bowl pregame show! The public continues to await The Great American Novel.

    We will need a script for casual conversation: “Hey, have you heard about this new novel from this writer from Maine? You didn’t? Well, it just came out……blah, blah, blah.” We’re going to need some help with this.

  2. Admin says:

    Yes, well, the suspense is killing me, too. I could have waited until the thing was actually printed before spreading the word, but then I might have had to deal with, “Hey…you wrote a book? Really? Why didn’t you tell me?” Though I suppose the Goodyear blimp was a bit of overkill.

    Actually, “Blah blah blah” would work quite well in a conversation about Two Birds. You don’t mind if I use it, do you?

    • Richard Morse says:

      The Goodyear blimp would be overkill, but TWO Goodyear blimps, each with a bird on it, would be a promotional masterstroke.

  3. I understand the delay upon delay and trust that my own poetry book that I started hyping for the summer tourist season, then Christmas Prelude, will actually be published in time for the Spring book sale sponsored by MWPA. When I self-published my book, “Outdoor Drama” by Mary Nordstrom dba North South Artscope Publications with an address in Chapel Hill, I was equally excited when the ISBN arrived. Thanks for reminding me that I need to apply for that ASAP. I think you need to have someone design announcements with those 2 blimps with 2 birds. Perhaps KBK’s resident cartoonist? For my book, I sent out pre-publication order blanks not asking for money; pay cost plus shipping upon receipt of the book. Only one default : ) Baker and Taylor sold a lot to libraries, as I remember.