There are many people out there that seem to think the work of selling a novel stops with the author. If the book is good and well marketed, it will sell. If it is not good or not marketed well, it won’t.
If only that were true.
As it turns out, there are many things that influence whether or not your book will actually sell, including how the book is categorized before it is sent out into the world. In this article, we will be covering the important world of BISACS and how crucial they are to sell your book.
In traditional publishing, when a book is acquired by a publishing house, it’s journey to publication begins with the editor. Editors are not only responsible for working with their authors to keep them on deadline and editing book content, but also providing crucial details about the book to their in-house sales, marketing, production, and metadata colleagues. Furthermore, because editors are a book’s in-house advocate and spend the most time with a manuscript, they generally know how best to categorize the books they are working with. Therefore, it is the editor who chooses a book’s audience category and BISAC codes.
Book Industry Standards and Communications or BISAC codes, are industry-standard genre categories that tell booksellers and librarians where to shelve books. BISACs are created and maintained by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). The BISG is comprised of members from every aspect of the book industry including trade, professional, and academic publishers, librarians, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, and manufacturers. According to the BISG website, “The BISAC Subject Codes List, is a standard used by many companies throughout the supply chain to categorize books based on topical content. The Subject Heading applied to a book can determine where the work is shelved in a brick and mortar store or the genre(s) under which it can be searched for in an internal database.”
BISACs are vital to a book’s discoverability as they help to ensure a book is positioned in the correct place. When a consumer or library patron is looking for a book, it is important that the book be in the right location. Most likely, that individual is in that section of the library for a reason, that reason being that they are looking for a specific type of book, perhaps not even knowing that your book will perfectly fulfill their list of requirements. So if they head to that section of a store or library and are not immediately presented with your book as an option, they will find something else and you lose out on a sale or circulation. Similarly, in online retail, BISACs are used to inform online retailers how to categorize books and make them searchable within their platforms. This is why it is important that the correct BISAC codes are assigned.
While editors typically assign BISACs, is is not uncommon for collaboration between editorial and sales to ensure the best codes are being applied to each title. Although editors have the closest in-house relationship to the manuscripts, the sales department works more closely with librarians, booksellers, and retailers who have a stronger pulse on consumer behavior. It is important for editors to take the knowledge and experience of their sales colleagues into consideration when assigning BISACs, because by taking the time to assign the right codes to each title, publishers are ultimately making it easier for consumers to find and purchase their books.
For the Self-Published Authors in the Room
BISAC codes are also an important metadata component for self-published authors to explore. Because independent authors do not have the resources provided by a publishing house, they must invest their own time and effort into developing metadata. Savvy authors take the time to assign BISACs to their titles, ensuring they’ll be properly categorized with online retailers such as Amazon. Amazon has thousands of specific categories through which books can be sold. If your book has the wrong BISACs, it can get lost in Amazon’s virtual jungle.
Here at Three Houses Press, we want all authors to be savvy. So we’ve included some tips below to help you pick the BISACs that best fit your book.
- If you are going to use BISACs, you must assign at least one BISAC, although a minimum of three is recommended for best categorization results.
- Be as specific as possible when assigning your BISACs. For instance, if your book is a historical romance set in medieval Scotland with lots of sword fighting, you might assign the following BISACs:
- FIC027160 FICTION / Romance / Historical / Scottish
- FIC027150 FICTION / Romance / Historical / Medieval
- FIC027260 FICTION / Romance / Action & Adventure
- Capitalize on the moment. If your book is about a current event or has a plot that is timely or trending, choose your BISACs accordingly. Being strategic with your BISACs can help your book garner attention on the shelf or in online searches.
BISACs are not an exact science and, like all metadata, require time and effort. If you choose to add BISACs to your titles, it is important to keep them up-to-date, along with the rest of your metadata. With so much of book sales and discoverability being driven by metadata these days, it is a worthwhile investment of your time to add BISACs to your titles to increase their sales potential. To get started, here is a link to the BISG’s current list of BISACs.