Code of Classification: BISACs

By Erika Hodges on Aug 5, 2019
eContent Pro
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The BISAC Subject Heading list was originally developed to regulate the electronic transfer of subject information. The headings can be used for transmitting information between trading partners, as search terms in bibliographic databases, as access points for database searching, and as shelving guides.

A BISAC Subject Heading is essentially a genre code. 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 with regard to your book.

What is BISAC?

First and foremost, BISAC is an acronym created by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) that stands for Book Industry Standards and Communications. The BISAC Subject Heading list is an industry-approved list of subject descriptors for books, each of which is represented by a nine-character alphanumeric code. The descriptor itself consists of two, three, or four levels in the manner described below.

Many businesses within the North American book industry, including Amazon, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble, Bookscan, Bowker, Indiebound, Indigo, Ingram, and other major publishers use the headings in a variety of ways. Some libraries are also utilizing the BISAC Subjects to facilitate the browsing experience for patrons.

BISAC Terminology:

To better understand the BISAC Subject Heading list, familiarize yourself with some basic terminology. There are two parts to a BISAC Subject Heading:

Code (also referred to as value) refers to the nine-character tag attached to each subject listing. The code itself begins with a three-character alpha segment that is usually an abbreviation related to the subject (MAT for mathematics, FIC for fiction, etc.). Following that is a six-character numerical value that is unique to each book.

Heading (also referred to as descriptor, literal, and term) refers to the English language description attached to each code. In other words, it is the subject heading itself. The heading description can be comprised of two, three, or four parts, each separated by a forward slash (/) The amount of levels a BISAC Subject Heading contains depends on the level of focus of the subject of the book. Many books only have two levels.

Some examples:

COM059000 COMPUTERS / Computer Engineering

COM074000 COMPUTERS / Hardware / Mobile Devices

COM050020 COMPUTERS / Hardware / Personal Computers / Macintosh

There is no need to include the BISAC nine-character Subject Code on the book or catalog itself. The code is only used for EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) and serves no real purpose for the customer. The subject heading descriptor also isn’t necessary to be included on the book. But if an author desires it, the descriptor’s most useful position is the lower-left-hand corner of the back cover or jacket cover.

Tips for Choosing the Most Effective Subject Heading:

It’s important to take the time and care to choose BISAC Subject Headings that most closely describe 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 about how targeted customers might search for the book.

Choose several BISAC Subject Headings for your book to improve the chances readers will see it. Not only will it belong to several different subject lists, the book may appear higher on the list of options for a more specialized subject listing containing fewer titles.

For example, a biography of Winston Churchill may be classified under BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY, HISTORY, and POLITICAL SCIENCE. It’s key to order the BISACs in order of importance, though. While most publishers allow several codes, some will only permit one, so be sure that the first one listed is the most relevant.

All in all, BISAC codes are a very small, yet important mode of classification that is required in order to distribute books. The entire list is available on the BISG website free of charge. Organizations whose needs exceed the free online look-up service and/or who require a way to incorporate the list into their internal systems and databases can purchase the licensed version in Word, Excel, and PDF file formats for a fee or become members of the Book Industry Study Group.

Choosing BISAC codes is an important step to consider when trying to reach a targeted audience, but readers won’t be interested if the content isn’t grammatically correct and well-written. Luckily, eContent Pro is dedicated to helping authors around the world prepare their work for publication. Don’t let trivial errors stand in your way of getting published! Learn more about our English Language Copy Editing services here.

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