How to Choose BISAC Codes for Your Romance Novel and Get the Best Results
Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC) codes are used consistently across the book publishing industry to help retailers know the genre and topics of your novel. Every retailer uses them (even online retailers). They are established by the Book Industry Standard Group. BISAC codes are updated every fall, so they are often more on trend with current terms, genres, and reader interests than other systems of categorizing books, which is why these codes are used so widely. These codes help place your book within the right genres and with similar books.
BISAC codes are nine-digit alphanumerical codes that describe the genre of your book. It begins with the overall genre, such as FICTION, then a descriptive genre, like Romance, then the subgenre, such as Paranormal, and then to topic, such as Shifters or Vampires.
While everyone uses BISAC codes, Amazon calls them Browse Categories. These Categories match BISAC codes options very closely, if not exactly. When publishing on Amazon through KDP, you will be asked to choose two Browse Categories during the title setup. Most other retailers though let you choose up to three BISAC codes to describe your book.
First, I want to go over how to choose your BISAC codes. I will show you an example of choosing a BISAC code for a historical romance novel that takes place in Scotland. This will be a great example to show you how descriptive these codes can get.
Go to BISG.org/page/BISACEdition. This is a complete list of the BISAC Subject Headings List.
Now, you’re going to determine your major heading. For this example, I will choose FICTION. (In most cases for a romance novel, you would choose FICTION for your romance novel or YOUNG ADULT FICTION for a young adult romance novel.)
Next, you will choose the specific term that describes your book. In this example, we would scroll down to the Romance section. (There are terms such as Romance, Erotica, and Women.)
There are options within the specific terms that describe the subgenre. So, for this example, we would look in the FICTION/Romance/Historical part of the list.
Finally, we would narrow down even further by choosing the best description within the FICTION/Romance/Historical option. In this case, our final choice would be FIC027160 FICTION/Romance/Historical/Scottish.
These are just the basic steps to choosing a BISAC code.
I want to take this a step further and recommend two other BISAC codes I would choose for our example romance novel, if I knew more about it. So, say this is a historical Scottish romance novel that takes place when the Highlanders are fighting for their land and it is a clean romance novel. Knowing this, the other two codes I would choose would be FIC027260 FICTION/Romance/Action & Adventure and FIC027270 FICTION/Romance/Clean & Wholesome.
Now, let’s try a different summary for our example. Let’s say the book is a historical Scottish romance novel that involves a witch trying to hurt the clan's chieftain and some very erotic sex. In this case, the two other BISAC codes I would choose would be FIC027440 FICTION/Romance/Paranormal/Witches and FIC027010 FICTION/Romance/Erotica.
Next, I would like to share some tips to help you choose BISAC codes that will work the best for you.
Choose Accurate Codes To reach the right audience, you must choose the correct codes. If your intended audience wants to read a medical romance, then there is no point in choosing a paranormal romance code (unless it’s a medical paranormal romance). If you don’t categorize your book correctly, retailers can’t categorize it correctly, and your intended audience won’t find it.
Be As Specific As Possible The more specific your codes are, the better. The more specific you are, the more easily readers will find your book when they are looking for a specific topic. The reason that you want to choose these very specific codes is because your book will be listed in all the general categories as well. Let’s look at our example. In the example, the main code chosen for our book was FICTION/Romance/Historical/Scottish. That means that the book will be listed in each of the general categories as well as the chosen genre. The book will appear in Fiction, Fictional Romance, Historical Fictional Romance, and Scottish Historical Fictional Romance. So, choosing more generalized categories will actually provide you less exposure than choosing a more specific code.
The First BISAC Code Is the Most Important While you are allowed to list two to three BISAC codes, the first code you list is always the most important because it is the one retailers will consider the most important. They will believe this is what you consider the most accurate description of your book because you’ve listed it first. So, if you have a Christmas romance about a firefighter, you must decide if your book is more of a holiday romance or firefighter romance, so you can decide to list the code FICTION/Romance/Firefighters first or FICTION/Romance/Holiday first. Different retailers use the three codes differently, but all retailers consider the first code you list the most important.
Explore the Competition
If you’re having trouble deciding on BISAC codes or you just want to do some research before you choose yours, look at the genres and categories your competition and similar books are listed in. Having your book listed with similar books and with your competition can actually get you greater exposure and help readers find your book more easily. It will do your romance novel loads of good, so take the time to explore where similar books are listed.
BISAC codes are one of the many choices to be made in the self-publishing process, but choosing them is one of the most important steps to ensuring your book makes it into the correct genre listings and to your intended audience. So, take your time and explore your options. Then, pick the best codes you can to describe your romance novel.
"Browse Categories," Kindle Direct Publishing, https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200652170.
"What Are BISAC Codes? (& How to Pick the Right Ones), Scribe Media, https://scribemedia.com/bisac-codes/.
"Selecting a BISAC Code," BISG, https://bisg.org/page/BISACSelection.