I suspect many of us are inclined to regard the whole idea of BISAC* subject headings and keywords as a bit of a bother, even rather a waste of time. Unfortunately for our self-regard this is nonsense. In the olden days when the system was just getting going the allocation of subject codes perhaps did have merely marginal value — maybe you’d manage to get a couple more books sold to libraries — but since we became internet slaves, these categorization tools have become very important; in fact the correct word is — key.

If your book contains information on the Portinari Altarpiece you need to get these words out there, so that anyone searching for this term will find your book near the top of the search results page(s).  Hugo van der Goes and the Procedures of Art and Salvation is a title which gets part of the way there in that it does give the artist’s name, but as the book is actually about the Altarpiece itself “Portinari” and “Altarpiece” as well, no doubt, as “Portinari Altarpiece” would be essential keywords here. The publisher, Brepols, doesn’t appear to have done their keyword homework, though there’s a limit to the number of pages of results I’m willing to scan in order to check this.

Digital Book World provides solid practical advice with its piece Generate More Book Sales with a Keyword-Powered Blurb by Beth Bacon.


* Book Industry Standards and Communications. It is a subcommittee of the Book Industry Study Group which was founded in 1975 at the Book Manufacturers Institute annual meeting. Their subject codes can be inspected at their website, here. You could go crazy trying to apply these accurately and comprehensively. Maybe publishers should ask authors to do the job for them! Penguin Random Houses’s News for Authors site has a good description of the system.