Author’s Guide: Choosing BISAC Codes

Don’t panic. This one’s not hard.

BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) codes basically represent the various subjects used in America’s (and English-Speaking Canada’s) book trade.

Just like your local bookstore, online realtors need a way to organize books into different categories to help us, the readers, find them.

Currently, there are over 3,000 BISAC codes. Every year, a committee (Book Industry Study Group) updates the list to remove out-of-date subjects or add new ones. A complete list of subjects is available to the public at no cost on the BISG website.


Let’s start with how to go about finding a code.

Step 1: Choose the Main Subject

Main Subjects (or “Main Headings”) are broad categories/genres that you’ll immediately recognize. Here’s a complete list, from BISG’s website:

Step 2: Choose a Category

Once you’ve chosen the Main Heading (or Subject), you can choose a category to make your code more detailed. For example, FICTION has over a hundred categories, including:

  • FICTION / Mystery & Detective
  • FICTION / Holidays
  • FICTION / Horror
  • FICTION / Humorous
  • FICTION / Medical
  • FICTION / Romance
  • FICTION / Science Fiction

…and on and on. Some subjects have way fewer categories tied to them. PETS has 18, for example.

Step 3: Choose a Subcategory

Some categories don’t have subcategories, while others have many. For example, the category FICTION / Medical doesn’t have a subcategory, meaning it doesn’t get broken up any further than that. There’s no FICTION / Medical / Hospitals BISAC category, and there’s no FICTION / Holidays / Christmas BISAC either.

Some categories, however, have many subcategories. FICTION / Romance is a great example of this. It has around 40. Here’s a taste:

  • FICTION / Romance / General
  • FICTION / Romance / Action & Adventure
  • FICTION / Romance / African American
  • FICTION / Romance / Billionaires
  • FICTION / Romance / Clean & Wholesome
  • FICTION / Romance / Later in Life
  • FICTION / Romance / Romantic Comedy 
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Book covers for romance novels start looking the same…better get some BISAC codes.

Step 4: Choose a Sub-Subcategory

Some subcategories split even further. FICTION / Romance / Paranormal is an example of this. Here are a few:

  • FICTION / Romance / Paranormal / General
  • FICTION / Romance / Paranormal / Shifters
  • FICTION / Romance / Paranormal / Vampires


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Fun fact: The first Twilight book sold so well because its cover didn’t have a cheesy image on its cover. The hands holding a red apple did a better job of instilling emotion than any of these covers.



We’ve got contrast, blank space, and an eerie feel. Meyer’s marketing team didn’t need a shirtless vampire and photoshop cloud effects to make this a powerful cover.


At the minimum, a BISAC category includes a Subject and Category. Each combination of Subject/Category/Subcategory/Subsubcategory is given a number:

  • FIC027220      FICTION / Romance / Military
  • FIC027230      FICTION / Romance / Multicultural & Interracial
  • FIC027240      FICTION / Romance / New Adult
  • FIC027120      FICTION / Romance / Paranormal / General
  • FIC027310      FICTION / Romance / Paranormal / Shifters
  • FIC027320      FICTION / Romance / Paranormal / Vampires

It’s easier to see now how there could be 3,000 codes, right? Now all you have to do is narrow down from 3,000 to just 2 (the amount most retailers like Amazon allow). But don’t worry, there’s only one major rule:

The more specific, the better

You might be tempted to keep things vague and broad. For example, you might think putting your book in FICTION / General means more people will see it. Someone looking for romance, or someone looking for science fiction, may both stumble across it, right?

Wrong. The more vague and broad your category, the worse off you are. Amazon typically only shows 20 search results on a page, so if you aren’t one of the most popular books in FICTION / General, your book won’t be found. There’s too much competition there.

If, however, you choose a more detailed (but still appropriate and fitting!) category, your target audience is more likely to find you, and you’ll have less competition.

If your book was Twilight, for example, some good choices would be:

  • FIC027320      FICTION / Romance / Paranormal / Vampires
  • YAF052050    YOUNG ADULT FICTION / Romance / Paranormal

Both are very specific. Some worse choices would be:

  • YAF041000    YOUNG ADULT FICTION / Monsters
  • YAF026000    YOUNG ADULT FICTION / Horror
  • YAF000000    YOUNG ADULT FICTION / General

Sure, these still technically fit Twilight, but if I’m a teenage girl trying to find a vampire love story, I’m gonna find your book a lot faster with the first two, than the others.

Overall, don’t stress to much over BISAC Codes. They’re important, but as long as you pick codes that fit your book well and are detailed, it’s hard to go too wrong.

At DP, we offer marketing material services, which includes choosing BISAC Codes on your behalf, in addition to writing your tagline, back cover copy, book description, summary, and author biography. We’ll also choose your keywords. If you’re interested, please contact us today!



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