What is a BISAC? Why should you care? Here we will demystify the term and help you use them to your best advantage.
BISAC is an acronym for Book Industry Standards and Communications. The official definition of the term is an industry-approved “list of standard subjects designed for use in the book trade in the U.S. and English-Speaking Canada.”
Meaning, these codes are used to properly “shelve” your title at retailers. Think of them as your subjects or genre listings for bookstores and libraries. The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) reviews the list each year to remove outdated codes, add new ones, merge redundant codes, and update terminology to keep up with the times. For example, a unique code for New Adult was only added in the past year as a direct result of a boom in the genre and a need for better categorization for online and brick and mortar retailers alike. Visit BISG’s website for a list of the most recent and complete BISAC Subject Headings.
Currently, there are over 3,000 subjects and they can be very specific!
Drilling down to the most specific and appropriate subject ensures your title will be placed in the best possible category on retailer sites. Not only will this help customers find what they want to read and bring your title to the forefront, it will also increase your title’s chances for higher rankings.
For example, let’s say there are 111,638 titles under Science Fiction at Amazon, but only 243 are listed under Cyberpunk that feature AIs. Your title could go from ranking #94,562 under the more general category to #63 in the more specific category.
Follow these 8 Best Practices to select the best BISAC Subject Code for your title:
1. Be as specific as possible.
Consider the content of the book. The BISAC should reflect what the book is about; not the format, language in which it is written, audience, or author. Think: How might your targeted customers search for the book?
2. Assign your BISACs in order of importance or relevance. Some retailers will accept two, three, or even more codes, but many will only accept the first one listed. Your first Subject Code is your most important! INscribe accepts up to to four.
3. Never use NON-CLASSIFIABLE BISAC subject code NON000000.
This is only appropriate for books that cannot be classified (e.g. blank books.) It should not be used for books that are not yet classified.
4. Don’t pair a specific subject with a general one.
For example, if you use FIC031040 (FICTION / Thrillers / Medical), do not then use FIC031000 (FICTION / Thrillers / General) to simply fill your BISAC slots. This is stongly discouraged by BISG as the general category is implicit within the specific one. The only exception to this is if you are adding Amazon Thesaurus Subject Keywords (TSK) for your title.
5. Never mix Juvenile BISACs with Adult BISACs.
The book could be featured in an inappropriate age listing on retailer sites! As a reminder, children’s titles must also include an Audience Type and Age Range in the metadata.
6. Never mix FICTION and NON-FICTION BISACs.
This goes for Juvenile BISACs as well as Adult.The only exception to this rule is if the book is a collection of FICTION and NON-FICTION within LITERARY COLLECTIONS.
7. Be consistent across formats.
This includes mass market, audiobook, eBook, etc. If your publisher or company handles more than one format of a single title, make sure your BISACs are the same in the individual metadata!
8. Remove old BISACs.
BISG updates the list each year. INscribe will make sure our bulk metadata sheet reflects this change. Best practice is to review the new list to ensure none of your title’s BISACs were removed! You may also find a new BISAC that is more appropriate.
Sources and Helpful Links:
Book Industry Study Group, Inc. Best Practices for Product Metadata: Guide for North American Data Senders and Receive. Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (2014) (June 1, 2015). PDF. https://www.bisg.org/publications/best-practices-product-metadata
Book Industry Study Group, Inc. “BISG BISAC Tutorial and FAQ.” Accessed: Aug. 25, 2015. https://www.bisg.org/tutorial-and-faq#General
Book Industry Study Group, Inc. Differences Between the 2013 Edition and the 2014 Edition. PDF. https://www.bisg.org/sites/default/files/files/Differences%20between%20the%202013%20and%202014%20Edition(1).pdf