Monday, December 13, 2010

Sing a Song of BISAC

Our discussion of genre sales over the past two weeks has brought something to my attention, mes auteurs: I've never properly explained to you exactly how genre classifications are established and handled.

The Book Industry Study Group (of which the vast majority of publishers, via the Association of American Publishers, are members) employs a system of BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) codes, which provide a framework (both conceptual and technological) for identifying a title's genre.

The most recent BISAC code list can be found here; keep in mind that whatever you're writing is going to have to be coded under at least one of these categories (many books have a secondary or even tertiary BISAC code), so try not to go too bananas with your proposed genre (e.g. "it's a literary romantic psycho-suspense thriller with elements of science fiction Western").

I suppose you could go in under NON-CLASSIFIABLE if you felt you had to, but 1.) that's not super helpful, 2.) it won't make your book even remotely easy to find in book stores, and 3.) your code will be "NON000000," which is one of the more depressing-looking ones. It's almost as if the book is crying out for a better BISAC code ("No! NOOOOOOOOO").

So, for example, if you're writing paranormal romance, your BISAC code will be FIC027120 (FICTION / Romance / Paranormal). If you're writing a book about stamp collecting, you'll get ANT044000 (ANTIQUES & COLLECTIBLES / Stamps). They get pretty specific, so it's unlikely you'll write something that can't easily be mapped to the system.

If you're writing something that could just as easily be one genre as another (say, science fiction or thriller), it's no big deal to have one as your primary BISAC and the other as your secondary (though the primary will pretty much determine who buys the book at the larger accounts like Barnes & Noble and where the book will eventually live in the store).

All the details of BISAC coding will be handled by your publishing house, but if for some reason you're concerned about it, you can always ask via your agent. (Remember, kids: always ask your agent first!)

And now you know!


  1. I'm still carrying a grudge for whoever decided that ALL sub-genres of mystery when paired with romance would be called "Romantic Suspense." Because Suspense ISN'T the same as Mystery.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Wow, I never knew this-thanks for illuminating us authors!

  4. I'm 90 percent away from writing my last chapter of what so far I've called a thriller. But it has heavy elements of sci fi, some fantastic romantic scenes, some religion, and suspense. Any advice? Could I call it a "thriller sci fi" or...? I didn't think so. SF seems like a genre of its own. And I understand why. Book stores must set up sections of their sales floor and only have so much room and so many signs.

  5. Oh, oh...I misspoke. The book is ten percent from completion.

  6. I've always wondered about this. Muy interesting post, thank you!

  7. Well this is awesome! It's so useful it's not even funny. Trying to determine more specific genres has always been a pain for me, but knowing what genres are actually there is really useful. Thank you for posting this.

  8. Ha ha--LOLed about the NoNoooooooo code--I thought it was a joke.

    This is such an important topic. Yes, categorizing is important for placement on shelves, etc. But the conventions that make up those categories can be as illusory as shape shifters (I know, don't say it, speculative fiction). I'm very interested to hear Terri's conception of how suspense differs from mystery.

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