Authors have a lot of questions about getting their books published, and for indie authors and self-published authors, the questions and processes can sometimes seem unending.
“Do I need an ISBN to sell my books?” is an easy yes.
“Do I need an MFA to become a published author?” is usually a no, but with a few “here’s why it’s worth thinking about” points.
But sometimes, the questions we do have aren’t so easily answered. Of the questions we receive at the Kirkus Writers’ Center, the one we can answer less definitively is this: “Do I need to have my book in the Library of Congress?” And the answer is not really...but maybe?
One of the greatest library collections in the world—and the “research arm” of the United States Congress—the Library of Congress (LOC) is undeniably one of the most impressive collections of books and knowledge in the world. Millions upon millions of books have been registered there, along with maps, photographs, videos, and all manner of art and archival media. It even has a copy of the Gutenberg Bible.
With a collection of over 170 million items, it is also one of the largest libraries in the world. And you could be part of it.
While you need an ISBN to sell your book, you don’t have to register your book with the LOC. You don’t even need to do it to protect your work. But there are a few distinct advantages:
- It’s free.
- Registering your book won’t give you copyright protection, but it may protect your book from copyright infringements.
- Your book will be accessible for the millions of users who visit the LOC.
- And most of all, registering your book with the LOC means your book will be assigned catalog data, which is used by all libraries in the United States to catalog their books. In short, it makes it easier to give your book the proper catalog information.
If you decide to apply for registration, you’ll certainly have a few more questions, particularly about all the acronyms you’ll soon stumble across.
Do I need an ISBN to submit my book to the LOC?
Yes. (Not sure what an ISBN is or how to get one? We’ve got you covered with “Everything You Need to Know About ISBNs.”)
Do I need to send a printed copy of my book?
What is an LCCN? Do I need it?
LCCN stands for Library of Congress Control Number.
And yes, authors and self-published authors should apply for one with every book they plan to publish.
This number is used by US libraries for cataloging your title, but only books approved by the LOC will receive the LCCN.
Authors and self-published authors can create an account and apply for the LCCN here.
What is a PCN? Do I need it?
A Preassigned Control Number (PCN) is a number assigned to a book that has been submitted to the PCN program. It allows publishers to assign LCCNs before a book is published (such as a new release).
You need one only if you publish your books through your own publishing company.
A PCN is sort of like an identification number, so that even if a book is not accepted into the LOC, the LOC can still identify it. In order to be considered for a PCN, your book must be published within the United States, list a place of publication on the title or copyright page, and have an editorial office in the US where the LOC can contact you or someone else about the book and confirm bibliographical information.
PCNs are traditionally used only by publishers. (If you have your own publishing company, though, you may apply here. Otherwise, authors and self-published authors can apply directly for an LCCN, without needing a PCN.)
Note that many books and materials are ineligible for a PCN, including already published books, mass market paperbacks, e-books, and more.
What is CIP? Do I need it?
Exclusively for traditional publishers, the Cataloging-in-Publication record (CIP) is for unpublished books that are expected to be “widely acquired” by libraries across the country.
You do not need to apply for it.
CIP data is generally applied for by the publisher, rather than by the author. This is kind of like the VIP line for books that are higher profile and more likely to be requested. And no, you can’t try and sneak your book in this way.
What happens after I apply?
Once you’ve submitted all your information and a printed copy of your book, a selection of “librarians and recommending officers in compliance with Library of Congress collection development policies” will then decide if your book will be accepted into the program. According the LOC, requests are processed in a week or two.
But there are some authors who are warning others that once a book is accepted into the LOC, it may not necessarily remain in the system.
“Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee the Library of Congress will actually keep your titles in their system indefinitely, as I know from experience,” writes Michael Sahno in “Do I Need a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN)?” “Fortunately, I also know that, once accepted into local libraries, your books are likely to remain there. A quick search of worldcat.org reveals one of my titles in several Florida library systems, and another continues to appear in a New York system. Those represent actual sales to libraries, unlike the copies ‘gifted’ to the Library of Congress.”
Where and how do I use the LCCN?
If your book is accepted into the LOC, you will be assigned a ten-digit number that will read as “Library of Congress Control Number: XXXXXXXXXX.” This number is included on your book’s copyright page.
The biggest deterrent to applying for an LCCN from the Library of Congress is generally just dealing with a little extra administrative red tape. For some authors, it might be worth it. For others (especially those authors with e-books), it might not be a priority.
But it’s certainly something to consider, if only to know that your book is part of one of the biggest library collections in the world. And isn’t that worth bragging rights?
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.