When a bookstore, whether online or off, gets your book, one of the first concerns is where to put it. For a brick-and-mortar store, what shelf should they put it on? For an online retailer, what category should it be listed under?
And that’s why every one of your books, print or e, should be associated with a BISAC category.
But what the heck is BISAC?
BISAC is an acronym for Book Industry Standards and Communications, a product of the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). To find a BISAC category (technically called a Subject Heading), just visit the BISG website at and pick one or two Subject Headings where you think a bookstore should shelve your book. Typically, the Subject Heading (the words, not the code) is placed on top left of the back cover.
If you feel your book could be placed in multiple categories, you can list them one below the other on the back cover. However, I would recommend no more than two, although I have seen three. Too many categories might be as bad as no categories. Remember that the purpose is to help get your book on the right shelf in the bookstore, and very few books will have copies on multiple shelves. The only advantage to multiple categories is to help bookstores that don’t even have a shelf for your preferred category. In any case, put your preferred category first.
For eBooks, we put the BISAC categories in the book’s internal metadata. Most of the eBook retail sites also use BISAC as the basis for their categories you can select during the title setup and upload process.
Getting a BISAC Subject Heading is free, so why would you not do it?
In the UK, there is a similar system published by the Book Industry Communication (BIC, the UK equivalent of BISG). You can find the appropriate Standard Subject Categories on their website or download the lists in various formats here. Then pick one or two that apply to your book. You won’t be putting them on your book’s cover (at least, not in the US) but some eBook retailers will allow you to include the BIC Categories along with the BISAC Subject Headings.
By the way, if you don’t see a category for your book that you think should be included in the BISAC list, you can suggest additions by using their Contact Form.