Colophon: The Publication Page
We’ve all seen and ignored it a million times, that page at the front of a book with all the dense little lines of text and strings of numbers. What the heck is it? And why do you need to consider it if you’re self-publishing?
That page at the front of the book is the “colophon,” or the copyright page. It’s where publishers put information about important things like copyright, publication details, and legal disclaimers. In the past, medieval scribes used the page to make little notes about how tough it was to transcribe a text by hand. Later on, the page was used for information about the work’s font. Today, it’s mostly used to get legal details out of the way before the real business of the book gets started.
The colophon is a relatively simple part of the book that makes it look more professional. If you’re planning to self-publish, you’ve already taken the time and effort to write the best manuscript you can, got it professionally edited, and maybe even hired a professional designer to lay it out. You’ve chosen a great cover, and you’ve got a catchy title. But that one little missing page can make the difference in coming across as a truly above-board publication.
Besides, the colophon is a really good way to give important information about your book and publication in a simple, condensed format. Let’s go over the main parts of the colophon and why you should pay attention to them.
Reservation of Rights
The reservation of rights is that block at the top of the colophon that says “All rights reserved” and that usually grants an exception for fair use under the 1976 US Copyright Act. It also states who owns the copyright to the book, usually the author.
This block states the name and address of the publisher along with any other contact details such as an e-mail address. This allows people who want to buy extra copies or obtain permission to quote the book to contact the folks who can help them do that.
Have you created a company to act as your self-publishing entity? This is the place to note its name and that the name and any logo are trademarked.
Cataloging and Ordering Data
This is probably the most important part of the colophon. The cataloging and ordering data allows bookstores, libraries, and others to easily find your book in an ordering system and to both order more copies and keep track of what they might have already ordered. This consists of two parts: the ISBN and the Cataloging-in-Publication data.
The International Standard Book Number (ISBN), is a series of 13 digits that uniquely identifies a work. In the United States, ISBNs can be bought through Bowker Information Services or can be resold through another company, such as a self-publishing group like Lulu or Amazon’s Createspace.
You don’t need an ISBN to publish a book, but it’s highly recommended. No regular bookstore will want to carry a book that doesn’t have one. It’s a bit costly, but it’s also a way to open up doors that your book otherwise wouldn’t be able to get through.
Keep in mind that you need a separate ISBN for every format you issue of your work. So you’ll need one ISBN for a print book and another for the digital edition.
Cataloging-in-Publication data is something that’s useful to libraries but isn’t necessary for most self-published books. This information is developed by the Library of Congress to help librarians and others categorize and find books with similar themes or content. It’s difficult for a small press, let alone a self-publisher, to get Cataloging-in-Publication data issued, but you can pay certain services like Quality Books to create a data block for you.
This information helps readers to know if a book has been revised. Often, you won’t find “first edition” listed in the first edition of a book, but you will find “second edition” and so on in all revisions. It’s best to list something like “First edition published 2000; second edition, revised 2015” if you’re updating a book, just so people know that changes have been made.
Have you ever seen a mysterious row of numbers at the bottom of a colophon page? At the left, there’s usually a year, and at the right, there’s a string of numbers that corresponds to the printing. If a new printing is done, say, because the book’s first printing sold out, the printer simply erases one number to indicate that. In today’s digital printing landscape, though, this is becoming something of a relic and not an element that you really need to worry about.
Credits and Other Information
There’s plenty of other information that can be included on a colophon if you have the space and desire. Some progressive publishers list contributors to the book’s development, thanking the cover designer, editor(s), editorial service, book designer, and so on. Others add a notice asking people not to pirate the book online. Still others, particularly with fiction, add a brief paragraph stating that the work is a fictional piece and doesn’t represent anyone living or dead. This is also the place to state that the book was printed in an environmentally friendly manner. You can even call up tradition and let your readers know what font was used to typeset the book. The sky’s the limit.
All in all, the colophon is simple: think of all the necessary legalese and boring publication details that a librarian, bookseller, or cataloger might want to know about your book and plop it on the page.
Then you can get on to the good stuff: your writing!
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