Are You Using Subject Codes?

Have you ever read a book’s description and wondered whether the book was fiction or a true story? I have.

subject codes

Often, the description of a book, alone, may not clarify whether a book is a fiction or true story, whether the book is a Bible study or devotional, whether the book is a young adult novel or an adult novel. Enter Subject Codes.

The BISAC Subject Codes (also called Subject Headings) were created for books. Their purpose is to give anyone looking at a book—retailers, librarians, distributors, reviewers, and readers—a clear definition of a book’s content.

For consumers, these Subject Codes let them know what type of book they are looking at. Yes, they discovered the book in the fiction section of a bookstore or library, but is this book an historical fiction, a romance, or a mystery novel? For booksellers these Subject Codes tell them where to shelve the book in their store. Do they place the nonfiction book they hold in their hands under devotionals, biographies, or parenting?

BISAC Subject Codes are found on a book’s back cover, usually in the upper left-hand corner, but they can also be listed in the lower right-hand corner either above or below the EAN barcode. Traditional publishers all use them on their books. However, I have found that many independently published authors and small publishers do not include these subject codes on their books.

BISAC Subject Codes are administered by BISG, the Book Industry Study Group, which is a trade association that helps create standards for the book industry. The Codes are a list of industry-approved subject descriptors, which consist of two, three, or four levels of information such as:

  • RELIGION / Christian Church / Leadership
  • YOUNG ADULT FICTION / Fantasy / Contemporary
  • JUVENILE NONFICTION / Poetry / Humorous
  • FICTION / Christian / Historical

If you have not used BISAC Subject Codes on your books, plan to do so with future editions. You can include the BISAC Subject Codes for your books in your online descriptions as well as the back cover of your book. Using BISAC Subject Codes can provide the following benefits:

  • Enhance your current titles’ discoverability.
  • Improve your market intelligence.
  • Increase your selling potential.
  • Maintain visibility of back-list titles.

Access to the complete approved list of BISAC Subject Codes is free. They are also free to use. The Codes can be found on BISG’s website. The organization updates the codes regularly. They just recently added more than 500 new Codes.

Related Posts:
Did You Forget the Subject Headings?
A Marketing Snafu

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2 thoughts on “Are You Using Subject Codes?

  1. Thanks for the BISG article. I use Lightning Source for printing. Recently I went onto their website and changed two of the three BISG subject codes for one of my titles. A week later I saw that an on-line retailer listed the book as no longer available! It took a while to figure out that Lightning’s procedure is to remove any title when the metadata is changed. It was during the Christmas season so they had a large backlog of requests.

    Therefore, it may make sense to get the BISG codes right prior to publication. Some work may be necessary to determine which subjects fit your book while at the same time don’t have a large number of titles already in that code.


  2. I fully agree that obtaining the BISAC Subject Heading prior to publication is best. That way it goes on the back cover of the book from the get go. It also costs less money to not have to make changes once you have uploaded your title for printing.


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