Metadata in publishing is all information about a book: it includes author, title, description, keywords and much more. Ebook metadata input is not only important to keep distributors happy, but is a powerful tool to improve sales. PublishDrive has teamed up with a publishing metadata expert, Zsofia Dedinszky who has kindly agreed to share her extensive knowledge and experience with us. This article is the third in a series: we talk about best practices for selecting the correct BISAC codes and putting the book in the right category on Amazon.
Previous articles in the series:
- Metadata 101 and most important metadata guidelines
- Filling in the title, subtitle, and series fields
There are many ways of classifying a book. Most countries have their own traditionally preferred methods, many using separate systems for libraries and stores. But why is classification important at all? The classification system decides where your book will appear in the stores.
Everybody understands the importance of knowing where to look for a book in a brick-and-mortar store. You either immediately go to the cookbooks in the basement or to the language books on the third floor: a misplaced book has little chance of ever being found.
It is exactly the same for ebooks. Unless somebody knows exactly what they are looking for and is searching for your name or title, they’ll browse through a category, looking for something they might find interesting.
Most ebook stores let you place your book in three categories. So, you have three chances of finding your ideal reader and putting your book in front of them. If I were you, I would take this seriously.
Just as importantly, a badly classified book can be highly disappointing to readers. If somebody is expecting to read a paranormal shifting romance but gets a psychological thriller instead, they are understandably unhappy. They might leave a negative review on your otherwise amazing book.
In the following, we’ll write about BISAC (the most common classification system), and about the importance of selecting the correct category for your book.
Selecting the right BISAC codes for your ebook
All classification systems work with a relatively small number of broad genres, eg. fiction and non-fiction. The broad genres are then divided to sub-genres (Fiction / Christian), then to even smaller genres (Fiction / Christian / Futuristic), or even smaller (Fiction / Mystery & Detective / Cozy / Crafts).
PublishDrive is using BISAC for categorisation and lets you select three categories. BISAC is currently the most widely accepted classification system. It was developed by Book Industry Study Group and is updated yearly. The BISAC Subject Headings List is an industry-wide accepted standard of classifying books: most distributors use BISAC, including Amazon. The current BISAC Subject Headings List is freely available for anyone. They also have a useful FAQ on selecting the right category for a book.
All of our partner stores accept the BISAC we send them and use it to determine the correct category for your book in their own system (if they are not using BISAC).
Here are the steps you’ll need to follow when selecting the BISAC codes in PublishDrive.
1 Get the list
Go to the BISAC Subject Headings list or go to PublishDrive’s category browser. We always have the latest version of BISAC implemented in our system.
2 Select the main category your book belongs to.
Select sub-categories until you find the books most similar to your own book. Repeat two more times.
3 Follow these guidelines:
Do not use a category and its sub-category: it is unnecessary. For example, do not select both Fiction / African American and Fiction / African American / Mystery & Detective. The latter already includes the former.
Be as specific as you can. Spend time getting to know the list and discovering your options. Selecting Fiction / General is never a good idea. If your book is literary fiction, please select Fiction / Literary. If you select Fiction / General, your book might as well be hiding in a pile of books in the corner. Fiction / General means that you don’t even make the slightest
Do not lie. If your book is not suitable for kids, don’t classify it as juvenile. If your book is for kids, please select the appropriate target audience in the ‘target audience’ field and using the ‘age range’ slider.
Do not use non-fiction categories for a fiction book. For example, if you wrote a novel with a lot of poker in it, still don’t classify it as Games & Activities / Card Games / Poker. Fiction books should only go under FIC, JUV (kids’ fiction) or YAF (YA fiction) categories).
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.)
Be creative. If you book is cross-genre, try to indicate all elements in your classification. You can most creatively do this for non-fiction books. For example, a book about the positive effects of decluttering can go under Home & Garden, but also to Self-Help. Similarly, a business book can go into Business, Self-Help, and even into Biography, if it’s based on your life story). Displaying a book in very different non-fiction categories us better than displaying it in similar non-fiction categories.
4 Enter the three BISAC codes in PublishDrive’s system.
The first category is the most important: it is your book’s primary subject. While most retailers will use all three available subject codes, the primary subject is the most important.
5 Be ready to reevaluate your choice every now and again.
Check the list of available categories regularly (BISAC comes with a yearly update) and be ready to re-categorize your book if something more suitable comes up. Also check Amazon’s list of categories every now and again.
You have to follow the same steps even if your book is not in English. Please do not select Language learning / Russian, unless your book is indeed a language textbook.
Selecting the best Amazon category
It is always important to get into the right category, but it has a special importance at Amazon. Amazon bestseller ranks are calculated per categories, and it is easier to achieve a higher rank if the competition is smaller. Please note that Amazon has separate bestseller lists for paid and free books.
But how to get into the right category on Amazon, especially if you are not going through KDP but an aggregator?
Everybody knows that Amazon’s category list doesn’t completely match with any industry standard categorisation. It is a lesser known fact, however, that Amazon’s sub-categories differ per domain: you’ll find a different selection on Amazon.com than on Amazon.co.uk, just as all the language specific subdomains.
Amazon accepts the first two BISAC codes you set and uses them to determine the most closely matching Amazon categories. Additionally, they also use the keywords you set (up to 7) to put your book in the most accurate ‘browse category’.
Thankfully, these domain specific keywords are public: anyone can check them. To find this list, visit the KDP Help Center, then scroll down the page for ‘Categories with keyword requirements’. Select the Amazon store of your choice, then pick your preferred category.
For example, to get your book in the category Romance / Inspirational / Amish on Amazon.com, select BISAC FIC027000 for Fiction / Romance, and put Amish to the keywords.
If you are writing in a language other than English, still select the correct category BISAC codes (in English), then add your keywords on your own language – check Amazon’s list for help.
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.
It is not only impolite and impractical to put your book in the wrong category, but is also against Amazon’s metadata guidelines. They have very strict guidelines when it comes to assigning a book to a category, for example books with erotic content cannot be placed under the categories Fantasy or Science Fiction, but can only be placed under Fiction / Romance / Science Fiction.
Come back to read more about the secrets of keyword optimisation.