In the bookselling world, books are categorized with a coding system developed by a collaborative industry organization called the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). They own and manage the BISAC codes, an acronym for “Book Industry Standards and Communications.”
No matter how you are published, you will be required to categorize your book in one of the fifty-two primary categories, then by second and often third tier groupings.
There are a surprising number of combinations. Thousands.
And to make it more complicated, you need to choose three different codes for each book so an online search can more easily find you. For instance, your novel might be:
There are over 160 different codes for classifying fiction, three-dozen classifications for poetry and nine different types of “Needlework” books under Crafts & Hobbies. (I would have guessed only one!) BISG makes changes regularly, with five hundred changes between 2016 and 2017 alone.
But while there are thousands of book classifications, there are relatively few methods of categorizing readers.
Whenever I see a book described for “teens,” I cringe.
Really? Thirteen year olds and nineteen year olds might enjoy it?
And don’t get me started on the “Adults age 55+” classification. A person, now seventy years old who rocked along with Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969 should not be in the same audience classification as their 95-year-old parents who were disgusted by the entire unsavory event. It’s just wrong.
Granted, age and gender distinctions between book audiences are the simplest and fastest way to aim a book, but simple and fast are often not very effective.
You want to know why Amazon does so well selling books?
Among other things, they recommend books to people in a customized manner, not simply because you are a woman, man, teen or senior citizen. To them, you are as complicated as the BISAC coding system used to identify books accurately. Amazon looks at your searches and purchases to recommend titles.
When Amazon bought GoodReads in March 2013, publishing insiders nodded their heads and smiled. It was about as logical a business move as anyone could imagine. At GoodReads, you are like no one else.
In 2014 Apple purchased a company called Booklamp, which was described as “Pandora for books.” We have yet to see where it leads for iBooks. They might just take the software engine and weave it into their iBooks store.
Books are personal, not one size fitting all.
I will cover this more next week, but books are not mass media, they are “niche” media and no one should be afraid to embrace the niche.
For example, if you are aiming a book at adult men, you are aiming at a caricature of a man, not a real person. You are aiming at what you think all or most men are like and craft a message, which will miss most of them, because readers are diverse and complicated, just like the book you hope they read.
Some men love football, Bible studies, gardening and don’t mind changing diapers. How does this fit the target caricature?
Similarly, if you aim a book at women or teens or Eskimos, you are aiming at a caricature, not a real person.
Married, single, divorced, widowed, parent, grandparent, no children, physically challenged, caretaker, PhD, GED, white collar, blue collar, hobbyist, no hobbies, Democrat, Republican, Baptist, Methodist, atheist, athlete and thousands more combinations comprise what might be termed “Human BISAC codes.” Age and gender are not nearly as important as the combinations of personal characteristics.
With all this complexity, the only recourse for an author is to pay no attention to it.
When you write, think of one person and only one person. Books are personal letters many people read. Don’t worry about aiming too small.
Sure, a publisher will aim the book at a group containing millions and millions of caricatures, but in reality, the book will have a life of it’s own and will go where it goes. Rarely will a book remain within its predetermined borders.
And you wondered why book publishing is more art than science?