BISAC Subject Codes

Monday, April 10, 2017

BISAC subject codes are essentially genre codes. These codes are intended to guide shelving, categorization, merchandising, and marketing efforts. BISAC codes help signal to potential buyers, retailers, distributors, and search engines what your book is about – the primary genre(s), topic(s), and theme(s) that matter in regards to your book. Without these codes, readers and those within the industry cannot identify what your book is about or if they'd like to stock or read it. 

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Tips for Selecting the Right BISAC Subject Codes

  • One BISAC code is required, but three is considered best practice to help ensure the broadest reach for your book. Why only give your book one opportunity to be found when you can give it three? Books are seldom about just one thing. Look for codes that reflect the breadth and depth of your book's content. 
  • Choose BISAC codes that accurately and clearly describe the content of your book as a whole. Do not select codes that pertain to only one chapter or reflect only a peripheral topic or theme of the work. If someone was looking for a book about a particular topic, imagine their disappointment if they only found one paragraph about it in your 200-page book. Be kind to your readers by being as honest as possible with your BISAC codes.
  • The first subject code should be the best, most accurate, and most specific code possible. For example, the BISAC code HEALTH & FITNESS / Diet & Nutrition / Weight Loss is better than HEALTH & FITNESS / Diet & Nutrition / General or HEALTH & FITNESS / General. The more specific your code, the more targeted the reader it will attract. The more targeted the reader attracted to your book, the more likely you are to secure a purchase.
  • If possible, select codes from multiple top-level BISAC categories to broaden discovery. 
    • For instance, you might classify actress and comedian Mindy Kaling’s memoir under both BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY and HUMOR. 
    • Or, you might classify an inspirational novel as FICTION and RELIGION or possibly even BODY, MIND & SPIRIT or SELF-HELP depending on the content of the book and which aspects you think are most likely to resonate with potential buyers.
    • Avoid “General” codes whenever possible. We cannot stress this enough.
    • You do not need to include a “General” code if you have already selected a more specific code for a given category or subcategory. 
    • Do not use FIC000000 FICTION / General unless there is genuinely no better, more specific code. It's rare that there will be no better code to describe your book than FICTION / General. Actually describe your book. Selecting this code is almost a waste of one of your BISAC subject code slots.
    • BISAC codes should be consistent across different formats of the same work, meaning your eBook and print book BISAC subject codes should match.
    • Works intended for children ages 0-11 should have at least one JUVENILE FICTION or JUVENILE NONFICTION code.
    • Works intended for young readers and teens ages 12-17 should have at least one YOUNG ADULT FICTION or YOUNG ADULT NONFICTION code.

Your BISAC code tells others (human beings and online stores) how to categorize your book. Take the time to do this right, because if you don't, no one else will do it for you. Booksellers and librarians skip over titles that make their jobs more difficult, and they typically don't dedicate additional time trying to determine where they would put your book on their shelves. If it's not clear to them at first glance, they'll move on. For a full list of available BISAC codes, see BISG’s Complete BISAC Subject Headings List, and for more tips to help you improve your title metadata, download our free guide!

 

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IngramSpark Staff

Hi there! It's your friendly IngramSpark staff here, happily sharing a wealth of publishing knowledge with people from all walks of the self-publishing biz.