Today on our Publishing 101 series, we’d like to talk a little bit about BISAC codes, genres, and keywords. This post has particular relevance for Amazon, but you can apply the general information here to a variety of online retailers.

What’s a BISAC code?

BISAC ListThis alphabet-gone-wrong code isn’t something you hear about every day. BISAC stands for Book Industry Standards and Communications. Think of the BISAC code as a category for your book. When you publish your book, at least on Amazon as a self-publisher, you can choose two main categories and seven keywords. The categories come from the BISAC code list.

These codes cover both fiction and non-fiction. If you drill down into the fiction list, you can choose romance, fantasy, science fiction, Christian, gay, ghost…all sorts of things. There are fifty-two major sections and within that section, any number of sub-sections. We didn’t feel the need to go figure out just how many unique BISAC codes there, but trust us. There are a lot.

AmazonBISACWhen you publish on Kindle, you’ll get a very similar looking list of codes and categories. Choosing categories has a variety of repercussions, so it’s important to choose wisely. While you won’t quite encounter the side effects from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade if you don’t, you could negatively affect your book sales by ending up in the wrong category (or not using the right keywords within that category).

What repercussions?

This is a post for another day, or perhaps a post from a previous day. In Know Your Genres, we introduced you to the concept of reader contract. If you have a book with a small bit of love story, but really, your lovers don’t meet until Chapter Seven and they don’t end up together in the end, you cannot choose a romance BISAC category. Or at least, you shouldn’t. Why not? Because when a reader browses Amazon’s lists for romances, they are expecting a Happily Ever After (HEA). If you don’t give them one, then you risk bad reviews. Pick a science fiction category and don’t have any science in your book? Again, bad reviews. Christian fiction with immoral characters who never redeem themselves and don’t once mention God? Yep. Bad reviews.

If you have a book that happens to be in an infrequently used category, you could be golden in terms of sales. Why? Well, we’ll talk about that next.

Keywords – What are they and how can they help you?

In order to sell well, you need to do several things. 1. Write a darn good book. 2. Have a good cover, professional editing, and clean formatting. 3. Pick your keywords correctly. There has been a lot of confusion over keywords, or perhaps more accurately, misinformation. Let’s take the story of a tattooed, veteran who finds love. He works in a bar in Seattle. It’s a love story. At first glance, you might think that the following keywords are good: tattoo, veteran, love, bartender, Seattle, romance, contemporary. But do you know what? Those are a waste.

First of all, the description for this particular book includes all of those words (except contemporary). Your description is indexed by Amazon and search engines, so you’ve already taken care of all of those keywords just by having them in the description of your book. No, you want different keywords. You want keywords that will put your book on those bestseller lists.

What bestseller lists?

We’re glad you asked. These.



You want to be able to get on those individual lists: holidays and military. But how do you do that? Easy. You set very specific keywords. In this case, the keywords are army, valentine, amputee, domestic violence, battered woman, female protagonist. You can use others, and should, depending on what your book is about. Here’s a handy list of the keywords that Amazon accepts.

Each category has its own specific set of keywords that it accepts. Know your keywords and know your category and you’ll be climbing those bestseller lists in no time. And once you start, your book will sell more because some readers spend all of their time on those lists! So get keywording and categorizing and get selling.