bisac codes and amazon kdp

BISAC Codes and Amazon KDP

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In this blog post, I’ll dive into what BISAC codes are, why you need them, and how you can choose the right codes for your book. We’ll also cover how BISAC Codes and Amazon KDP are intertwined – what are some similarities and some difference that you need to be aware of. Let’s dive in.

What Does BISAC Stand For?

BISAC is an acronym for Book Industry Standards and Communications. It’s a globally accepted system for categorizing books.

What are BISAC Subject Headings?

BISAC subject codes are basically genre codes. The BISAC Subject Heading list is an industry-approved list of subject descriptors, each of which is represented by a nine-character alphanumeric code that tells book retailers, distributors, and librarians what categories and subcategories a book belongs in. The descriptor itself consists of two, three, or four levels in the manner described below.

There are 53 major sections or subject headings. Within each major section are a number of detailed descriptors that represent sub-topics that the BISAC Subject Codes Committee has deemed most appropriate for the major topic. 

BISAC codes are sent to retailers as part of your book’s metadata. They tell retailers what your book’s subject, reading level, and genre are so they know where to place it on the bookshelf.

These codes guide shelving, categorization, merchandising, and marketing efforts. BISAC codes help signal to potential buyers, retailers, distributors, and search engines what your book is about and who would be your ideal reader.

Where the book ends up could make a huge difference on whether the right reader finds it and whether or not it sells well.

This is why BISAC codes were created. They make it easier for readers to find the content they want. This makes it more likely that a book will get into the hands of the ideal reader and ultimately make sales.

Where Can I Find the Complete BISAC Subject Headings List, 2021 Edition?

The entire list is published on the BISG website free of charge.

So, to better understand why selecting BISAC codes are so important, it’s good to start by breaking down the code itself. Each BISAC includes up to four layers of specificity, beginning with the subject general term. The basic subject headings list includes these high-level categories defined by BISG:

53 Main BISAC Codes

How Often are the BISAC Codes Updated?

The BISG Subject Codes Committee meets annually to discuss the BISAC codes. These codes are maintained and updated on an annual basis by the committee. And they also accepts suggestions for new codes. If you think a subject code is missing, you can submit your suggestion here –

How are BISAC Subject Headings Used?

The BISAC Subject Heading list was developed to standardize 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.

Many businesses require that publishers use BISAC Subject Headings when submitting data for all formats (physical and digital).

How Do I Select BISAC Codes?

Determine the major heading that best describes the content of your book. Then click on one of the headings on the complete list for more specific headings within that category.

Once you’ve selected a major heading, then determine ethe specific term that best describes your book. You may select more than one subject code. For Amazon, you are only allowed to select two. However, outside of Amazon, best practice indicates you should select no more than three categories for any book title. Also, if you can full capture the essence of your book in one subject code, then best practice indicates you should only select one.

BISG also recommends that you use the most specific code as possible. Avoid using the “general” option, if possible. The more specific the code, the more useful it is for you and your book and the fewer books you’ll be competing against for your readers’ attention. It’s actually useful for your book to be side-by-side with similar books. 

Action Steps to Identify Your BISAC Codes

1. Review full FREE BISAC Codes List

2. Find your book’s top-level category

3. Drill down to the best, targeted fit.

4. Choose the top 2 -3 items and rank them

5. Enter your top two BISAC codes upon upload on Amazon KDP

Your BISAC code tells others (human beings and online stores) how to categorize your book. Take the time to do this right because no one else will do it for you if you don’t. Booksellers and librarians skip over titles that make their jobs more difficult, and they typically don’t dedicate additional time trying to determine where they would put your book on their shelves. If it’s not clear to them at first glance, they’ll move on.

bisac codes help your idea reader find you

How Many BISAC Codes Can I Select During Upload?

You can select two BISAC codes upon upload on Amazon KDP.

What are Some Tips for Selecting the Right BISAC Subject Codes?

Here are some best practices for selecting the correct BISAC codes and putting the book in the right category on Amazon KDP.

  • Check out your competition. Take a look at how their books are categorized. Get a general sense of the terms they’ve used to describe their books and see which ones align with yours.
  • Who’s your ideal client or target audience? How would they describe the book they want to read? What search terms would they type into the Amazon or Google search bar?
  • What’s the purpose or goal of your book? Your book may cover on a wide range of topics/subjects, but some may rise to the top more than others.
  • One BISAC code is required, but three is considered best practice to help ensure the broadest reach for your book.
  • Choose BISAC codes that accurately and clearly describe the content of your book as a whole. Do not select codes that pertain to only one chapter or reflect only a peripheral topic or theme of the work.
  • The first subject code should be the best, most accurate, and most specific code possible. The more specific your code, the more targeted the reader it will attract. The more targeted the reader attracted to your book, the more likely you are to secure a purchase by reaching your ideal customer.
  • Avoid “General” codes whenever possible. Don’t include a “General” code if you have already selected a more specific code for a given category or subcategory. 
  • BISAC codes should be consistent across different formats of the same work, meaning your ebook and print book BISAC subject codes should match.
  • Do not use a category and its sub-category: it is unnecessary.
  • Go for the one with the least competition. Check your categories of choice on Amazon to see the the total number of books in that category. (Stay with us to read more on selecting the correct category on Amazon.)
  • Works intended for children ages 0-11 should have at least one JUVENILE FICTION or JUVENILE NONFICTION code.
  • Works intended for young readers and teens ages 12-17 should have at least one YOUNG ADULT FICTION or YOUNG ADULT NONFICTION code.

What’s the Difference between BISAC Codes and Amazon Categories?

bisac codes - categories versus keywords on amazon kdp

Amazon uses categories to organize their database. That means that when you browse or look at bestselling books, you’re seeing results based on their categories.

Amazon keywords are the terms that readers type into the search box when they’re looking for a particular book.

When you upload your book to Amazon KDP, you get to select your two categories. However, understand that what you’re choosing is a BISAC subject heading, and not an actual Amazon Category.

Amazon KDP presents these BISAC codes for you to choose from, and then they will assign their own Amazon Category based on your BISAC selection, book title, and your book details.

Amazon will use the two categories you select, along with your selected keywords, to place your book into Amazon Categories, accordingly. They reserve the right to change the browse categories of a book at any time to ensure a positive customer experience.  

Additionally, they also use the keywords you set (up to 7) to put your book in the most accurate browse category. This is why sometimes you don’t end up in the category you selecting upon upload when choose your two categories.

So during this research process you’ll be finding the category string you’d ideally like, BUT then Amazon ultimately makes the call on where it slots you upon publishing. 

BUT REMEMBER, once your book is published, then you can go through the process of emailing them to request the specific Amazon category string you’d like and add up to 10 Amazon Categories (Not BISACs).  

Be aware that Amazon’s list often changes: new categories are constantly being added, as certain topics become popular.

It is important to check the list of Amazon browse categories every few months to see if anything new pops up.

How to Add More Amazon Categories to Your Book?

Instead of settling for only showing up in two book categories, you can actually get listed in up to 10 categories.

You can add your book to 10 categories. This process has been available to authors for years, but it was difficult to find out how. KDP allows authors to choose 2 categories to start with, but you can add up to 10 through the Author Central program after your book has been published.

Reviewing Your Book’s Categories Once Published

Once you’ve published your book, go back and visit your book’s sales page on Amazon and double check your categories. Are they the one’s you selected? Or did Amazon place your book in other categories they deemed a better fit?

If you don’t like the categories you’re in, you can request for them to be changed, or for new categories be added. Fine-tuning your Amazon categories and keywords takes time and effort, but these two pieces of metadata are key for discoverability and improving your best seller’s ranking.

How to Change Your Categories Once Published

There is a special way in which you can contact Amazon and not only get them to make changes to your current categories, but you can get them to add you to a total of 10 categories! 

That’s why, immediately upon publishing,  you need to follow the next step and immediately change your categories, and add more. 

Here are the steps: 

1.Find the categories you want to rank for (copy the full string or “breadcrumb”). 

2. Go to your KDP Account, click on “Help” in the top right corner. 

3. Scroll down and click on “Contact Us” on the bottom left corner.  

4. Click on “Amazon Store & Product Detail Page.” 

5. Select “Update Amazon Categories.” 

You can submit one single request for all category updatesCategories to be added and categories to be removed (list each category as a separate line item for all titles that apply) 

Interested in Learning More About Self-Publishing on Amazon KDP?

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