Work entity guideline


A work is a distinct, notable literary creation. The work entity captures information about the content that was created, not any physical or digital representation.


A work is considered distinct based on the substantive uniqueness of its content. A work is distinct from another if it is revised, adapted, translated or reconstructed. Content is not considered a distinct work if it only contains minor variations such as spelling or typographical differences.

Sometimes content is integral to a work and is not considered distinct from it. In general, chapters of a novel are not considered to be their own distinct works. Poems, essays, articles and short stories are generally considered distinct works.


The name of a work should be its canonical title, in the language it was written by its author, or translator of translated works. Additional names, such as descriptive titles, known variations or transliterations should be included as aliases.

The language of a work’s name can differ from the language of the actual work. For example, a work written in English can have a Latin name. The name of the work should be capitalized based on the rules of the language of its name.

Untitled works

If a work does not have a title, the name of the work should be the first line or sentence of the work’s text, enclosed in square brackets. Do not apply capitalization rules; retain the case of the original text. Examples:

The sort name of an untitled work should be the same name, omitting the square brackets.


The primary relationship of a work is to its main author, aka its writer; every work should have at least one writer.

A work’s writer can be a special-purpose author in specific cases:

  • Anonymous writer. If a work cannot be attributed to a specific writer (e.g. published anonymously or writer attribution has been irrecoverably lost) it should be related to [anonymous].
  • Unknown writer. If the author of a work is currently unknown, but can potentially be determined at a later date, it should be related to [unknown].
  • Oral tradition. If a work has been preserved in the oral tradition (e.g. received, preserved, and transmitted orally from one generation to another) it should be related to [traditional].


Each translation of a work is distinct from the original work as well as from any other translations. A translated work should be related to the original work as a translation.

A translated work should have a writer relationship to the original work’s author, and a translator relationship to its translator. Example:

If the translator is unknown or unidentified, the translator should be [unknown].

Notable information about a translation should be documented in the work’s annotation.

Work relationships

A work should be related to another work if:

  • it is derived from another work, for example: a translation, an adaptation, a revision, a reconstruction, a parody, an inspiration;
  • it contains the content from another work or is contained in another work, for example: a fix-up, a poetry cycle, an excerpt, a quote;
  • it references another work, for example: a citation.

Except for cases such as a fix-up or a poetry cycle as mentioned above, a discrete work should not represent a collection of works.


Oh my god, I didn’t even realize I went through to the MetaBrainz front page and jumped into a BookBrainz topic. Goodness me, I’m sorry, haha. I’ve redacted the contents of this post.


Well done @pbryan!
May be we should mention that a work can also be part of another work.

A good example might be " The Grand Inquisitor" by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It’s the 5th chapter of *The Brothers Karamazov" and a typical example for a " story within a story".
Another example are " Fix-up novels" (a term invented by A. E. van Vogt). These are novels created from several short fiction stories.
These are also exceptions to the “novel chapters are not considered as works” rule.


Great points. I’ll work on adding these.

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OK, I’ve updated my original post above with the latest version with @indy133’s suggestions (let me know if you think I should be more specific). I’m editing the original above as I go, because it provides a convenient diff tool… Translation became long enough to warrant its own section.

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The are some other points that should be included imo (of course, it is the tricky issues about which no final decisions have been made / could be made yet :wink: )

  1. When do we add a collection as a work?

There are collections that we have to add as a work, because there is no other way (examples: collections of quotations, untitled short prose texts like joke collections, thought splinters, religious texts like the Bible and the Koran etc.).

And there are collections that consist of individual texts, but which are placed in an overall context (examples: Poetry cycles, short stories embedded in a frame story like the Canterbury Tales).

  1. How do we add works that are abridged texts, simplified stories or text excerpts?

Since it seems impractical to me to create a separate work for each different variant (how to describe the differences of the variants?) I am in favor of using the (not yet existing) “credited as field” - maybe there will be tags for “abridged”, “excerpt” and “simplified” at some point.
For “excerpts” you should probably also distinguish whether it has its own title (= separate work + part of) - or is simply called “excerpt from “xyz””.

It becomes much more difficult if we have different versions of abridged or simplified translations by unknown translators (old juvenile or children’s books usually have only very sparse credits).

We will have a lot to discuss :wink:


You’ve nailed the two cases that I can think of:

a) It’s impractical to break a collection into separate works.

Examples: lists of miscellaneous notes, quips, jokes, etc. It seems oftentimes the editor of an edition chooses the content, the order and the title of such a collection. I dislike the idea of bringing editors into works as authors to account for their collecting, abridging, ordering, titling.

Another possibility is to determine that such collections, if not sanctioned by the author, do not rise to the level of a notable work. Authors write things all the time, jotting notes, sketches of ideas, that are never released. Classifying them at works seems questionable to me. I currently exclude forwards, prefaces, etc. from editions, especially those unattributable to the author.

b) A work is an integral part of another work.

This seems pretty straightforward to my naïve self. Use the [Work] is part of [Work] relationship, and lay it out as a hierarchy. I think this is probably the right approach for the circle of poems example I was wondering about; it’s unclear what work(s) I should include in editions though. The outer work? All of the inner works?

Can you describe the “credited as” field?

There is a clear case of multiple versions of distinct, abridged works. Heinlein’s Strangers in a Strange Land has two distinct versions, the shorter version first released in 1961 and the original longer version released posthumously in 1991. It seems straightforward to handle these cases.

I agree that it would be too much work accounting for every variant of a work modified outside of the author. For abridgments made by editors, for example, I would far prefer leaving the work alone (it didn’t change) and noting its abridgment in editions as the work of the editor, not the work of the writer.

As for unknown translators, I’ve been thinking of this overall, not just simplified translations. I’m tempted to simply create a work where translator is [Anonymous] and relate any editions to that where the translator is not attributable.


The alternative would be an edition without a work. I’ve done this before when no editor was credited.
I’m niot sure if it’s a good idea, if an editor is credited. Compiling, grouping, annotations could also be considered as a kind of “work”. This would mean, however, that all collections would have to be considered as “work” (some are of this opinion, I belong to them). Tricky :wink:

Both, outer and inner works, should be displayed on the edition page.

It’s just the field we already have for the author on the edition page

Vollbildaufzeichnung 22.02.2023 101425

We need this field for all credits and also for work titles on the “edition page” to display the credits and tiles as shown in the book…

It would look like this:

Work: Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Work credited as: Uncle Tom’s Cabin (abridged) or Excerpt from “Uncle Toms’s Cabin”

I’ve thought about it too, but haven’t really come to a decision if it’s a good idea, or if it will lead to other problems. Maybe we should just try it :wink:

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Ah, the credit field, got it. Neurons didn’t fire reading that. Yeah, that would be a nice feature.

As to the editor vs. work idea, I sort of get hung up on the relationship between the word “edition” and the word “edit”. :wink: I guess the line of demarcation could be the act of creation? This would seem to be a subjective measure though. Would picking a “horror” theme for the collection of short stories rise to the level of creation?

I have added a few editions without works, in cases where the structure of the works are presently too complex for me to navigate. They are placeholders to go back and back-fill when I actually know enough about what I’m doing. Meanwhile, it is recognizing the edition exists, so it seems correct to do so.

I’ve updated the proposed guideline based on our discussions so far. Please take a look and see if there are any other areas I should address.

I don’t know that I like using [anonymous] so liberally for any unknown author. over on MusicBrainz we’ve got [anonymous] too, but we’ve also got [unknown]. it might help with some examples of how I’ve used both entities on MusicBrainz or how we might handle them on BookBrainz:

  • [anonymous]: for when an author can’t be known. for example, this song on MusicBrainz was written by an unnamed son of an executive of the company that made the show.
  • [unknown]: for when the author could be known, but isn’t. I tend to try not to use this entity
  • and for good measure, [traditional]: the author is a large, unknowable group of people. stuff like oral tradition and such. for example, the many hundreds of versions of “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” which Tom Scott did a great video on

see also the MusicBrainz documentation on Special Purpose Artists

sorry for the music bias, but I came to BookBrainz from MusicBrainz… lol

I also feel like collection works could be useful, mostly because it would make it easier to add works to editions in some cases. for example, collections of comics (newspaper comics, comic books, or webcomics), where there may be about 100 different “works” contained in one book. if an editor wanted to add all of them, they could, but if we allow collection works like this, they wouldn’t have to in order to add works

I will note, I am pretty new to BookBrainz, so I may be talking a whole bunch of nonsense… lol


FWIW, I too come by way of MB, and do have a bias toward how we’ve classified things in MB.

In literature, I’m not yet encountering many unattributed works that might seem more suitable for an [Unknown] author. I’m dealing extensively with notable public domain works, so could be missing something.

Agreed. The consensus is that we should have an author named “[Oral tradition]” for such stories. The sticking point may be with titles; I think we’re just going to go with whatever the “common name” of a traditional work is.

I currently disagree with this:

  1. I do not see the work of an editor “selecting stories” to include in an edition as the creation of a notable work. I sense there may be exceptions though.

  2. I believe improving editing of editions should address the pain of managing editions containing many works. I have opened an issue to work on this.

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I don’t think we necessarily need a German example. The English one is enough :wink:
But maybe we should mention that the brackets should be removed for the sort name.

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I’m warming up to [Unknown]. I think it would be especially useful for unknown translators.

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I’ve updated the guideline draft to reflect latest feedback.

I see much has been written since, but this is mostly a response to the first post.

A work is a distinct, notable intellectual or artistic creation, in the form of text and/or images

We are defining work as used on BB. Are images valid works here? I think that’s actually something worth considering (e.g. for art books), but I don’t think that’s what BB was created for or how were are using it.

A work is also distinguished based on its independence from other works. For example, individual poems, individually released essays and short stories are distinct works. In contrast, chapters of a novel are generally not considered to be distinct works.

I’m not sure the sentence “A work is also distinguished based on its independence from other works” is needed. It’s vague, and the paragraph above already states “a work is considered distinct based on the substantive uniqueness of its content”. If its content is “substantively unique”, isn’t it also “independent from other works”? — or am I missing the point.

I disagree that essays and short stories need to be individually released to count as distinct works. It is common for essays/short stories to be released in anthologies, not individually, but they’re still separate works.

I entirely agree with everything else, but given what I’ve read below we have an issue of interpretation, so a few examples to discuss could be useful. The way I see it, we have a derived work if the work was changed in a creative way, that required a person or a group of people’s creative input. Any version that is changed in a non-creative way is not its own version. I would not consider the following works in their own right:

  • Textual corrections (typos, punctuation, missing words, etc.) — this is probably the most common type of uncredited changes.
  • Application of different spelling rules, e.g. a work from the UK being published in the UK with adapted spelling (colour → color, centre → center), or the application of a spelling reform, as some European languages have had.
  • Adaptation to a different script variant, such as Simplified Chinese to Traditional Chinese, or vice versa.
  • Change to a completely different script (e.g. Turkish was written in the Arabic script until 1928 and in the Latin script after; Mongolian is written in the Mongolian script in Inner Mongolia (PRC) and Cyrillic in Mongolia).

I would consider the following works derivative works:

  • Translations;
  • Any kind of adaptation, including local adaption,that consists of more than spelling changes;
  • Abridgments;
  • Expurgation (“bowdlerization”).

If all of us here tried to apply US spelling rules to a Harry Potter book, we would all come up with the same result (unless any of us made a mistake), but if we all set out to do an abridgment, we would end up with completely different texts, the results would depend on what each of us considers important in the book.

Generally, these should be considered derived works, no matter how small the changes made. This is part of what makes BB unique, being able to inform people of the differences in works that are released under the same title.

[Personal anecdote: I recently read a poetry anthology, the poems of which I had already read in the past. And, as I read, I couldn’t help thinking there was something different, I didn’t know what it was, but I couldn’t help feeling it was different from what I remembered. Eventually, I compared the poems with older online versions and realized the book had been bowdlerized, the “naughty bits” had been removed — something that wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the book, including the editor’s preface. It was only a couple sentences in a couple of poems, but it made all the difference – the shock caused by those lines is intentional (I should have said nasty rather than naughty before), removing them completely changed the tone. Being able to indicate this, that this edition contains a couple of bowdlerized poems, even if it is a difference of a couple sentences, is part of what makes BB unique]

Here are a couple examples I would like to discuss, it would be interesting to see if we can agree on this

US version of Harry Potter books: please see the differences between these versions here. There are three kinds of changes I can notice:

  1. Simple spelling changes;
  2. Replacing works or terms that aren’t common in the US with a more commonly understood word/term (car park → parking lot; shan’t → won’t; jacket potato → baked potato)
  3. Actual changes in content (Philosopher’s Stone → Sorcerer’s Stone, removal of bank vault number, shiny silver badge → red and gold badge)

Should the US versions be derived works? And, if so, why? I would say both 2 and 3 make it derived works. I imagine 2 is debatable but the adaptation isn’t mechanical, it’s some person’s idea of what American children understand, and somebody else would make very different choices.

Second example: the new versions of Roald Dahls books. This Guardian article reveals at least part of the changes. Derivatives works or not? Again, I would say yes, they are. This is somebody’s (actually an organization’s) interpretation of what is appropriate for children to read in 2023 and could be a very different adaptation if made by different people (or in a different year)

(Note that there is no point discussing whether it is appropriate to make such adaptations. They exist, we should add then to BB; the question is how.)

Sorry for the length of the post. I’ve wanted to reply for some time, but just couldn’t find the time. Even now, I don’t have the time to make a shorter post.

Minor corrections:

The name of the work should capitalized

Missing word, should be capitalized.

If a work cannot cannot be attributed

Repeated word cannot.


@indy133, I noticed you mentioned the Bible as an example of a “collection-work”, but “bible” literally means books, plural, and it is a collection of very different kinds of texts; narratives, letters, history, law codes, poems (including an erotic poem), etc. And there is no such thing as the Bible, different religions and different denominations choose different books and different translations at that for their “the Bible”. There never was a “book” so in need of the BB treatment — indicating which texts and which translation are included in each edition — as the Bible. But this is also something that is going to be very hard and likely require specialized knowledge. I wouldn’t suggest focussing on it for now, when there is more to do with more orthodox works.


comic books are an ideal example too~ I’ve added a few from my collection already (technically collections of comic books, but I do have some old Bionicle comics somewhere that I’ll add at some point…)

oh, most definitely~ I actually created a work for it a while back before I really understood how works are supposed to work* and related a few translations to it.

*still a bit true to this day, honestly… but I suppose we’re working on it now (puns very much intended) :wink:

I also think something to consider is suggesting the use of ambiguous works, especially when there’s multiple similar versions of the same work. an example from MusicBrainz is the catch-all works for arrangements, especially used in classical music, say for Pachelbel’s Canon. that way if you know it’s a version of a work but aren’t sure which one (maybe because the differences aren’t clear on BookBrainz or you don’t actually have the edition or something), you can still link it to a work.


I think comic books, graphic novels, manga, fine art and photography books all make good use cases for BB.

That paragraph is intended to guide what would be considered an integral part of a work vs. a discrete work of its own. We don’t necessarily call chapters of a novel discrete works, even if the novel may have been previously serialized; we may do so if the novel is a fix-up. We don’t necessarily call a section of a non-fiction book a discrete work, even if its subject matter seems disjoint from other sections. If there’s a better way to address this, suggested changes are welcome.

Actually, I did not say that they must be individually released to count as distinct works; rather, that if they are individually released, they are considered distinct works. There are cases where a section of a non-fiction work could be interpreted as an essay, but that may not necessarily rise to the level of a separate work.

I still get hung-up on this one. I think I’ll just concede it’s a separate work. So, when Reader’s Digest publishes an abridged version of a novel, who do we credit as author. And what work→author relationship should we use? And how should we disambiguate it?

I do like this principle.

I’m glad you brought this up, because it’s come to mind for me a couple of times.

This should not qualify as a separate work in my opinion.

This is probably the most debatable of the three points.

I’ve been cataloguing Standard Ebooks, and they perform “light modernization” of the text. In that link, I think Cabal makes reasonable arguments for such changes.

Another example: I’ve seen translations of works where clearly they were performed by the same translator, structurally being the same, but containing minor idiomatic differences; slight changes to turns of phrase here and there.

To date, I have not classified these as separate works. But I could definitely see the argument that they should be. If we choose to go down this route, I think it may be world of pain as we try to distinguish between an author’s original work (in my case, often handwritten!) and the subsequently edited and published text.

To me, this definitely crosses the threshold to distinguish it as a separate work.

I agree, these should be separate works; they’re not just minor spelling or typography; they’re clearly substantive changes to the actual content.


I’m glad to see I may be wrong, and most are actually in agreement over what should be considered a derivative work.

Actually, I fully agree. Comic books/graphic novels/manga are very much within the scope. I took the or in “in the form of text and/or images” to heart: I thought you meant images themselves (such as photos in a photography book) could be works in BB. Work including images should definitely be works. Images themselves, I’m not so sure.

I understand what you mean, but I still feel this sentence is unnecessary. And if you use as an example of distinct works “individually released essays and short stories”, it’s natural so assume essays and short stories not released individually aren’t distinct works. It would be better to just say “For example, individual poems, essays and short stories are distinct works.” Yes, there can be exceptions, but this is a general definition.

I would say author should generally be the author of the original work, as abridgements generally credit only the author, and presumably make an effort to maintain their voice. If the person who abridged the work is known, they should have an “adapted by” relationship. “Reader’s Digest Abridgement” seems clear enough to me as a disambiguation in this case.

I actually feel these are very different situations. I checked SE’s Manual of Style and their spelling update tool. It seems very clear to me that they are actually very conservative in the changes they make. They apply American style punctuation (without otherwise changing the author’s punctuation) and update archaic spelling. Any commercial edition of these books published in recent decades would have the same changes. This isn’t a creative process, it doesn’t reflect any one person’s view of the text.

The changes to the HP books I mentioned in 2 are very different, they’re not just changing the spelling but choosing words and expressions to substitute for local equivalents — SE doesn’t do this, and presumably many of their books are harder to understand than Harry Potter.

I can’t say I have seen this, but would apply the same some rule as original works — is this a typographical change or a subjective adaptation? If the second, I would support making it a derivative work of the earlier translation.

For some works, especially pre-modern works that arrived to us in different and often fragmented versions, this will be a pain. But I also think the reason BB has value is exactly for choosing the hard way of doing things.

For most works, though, I don’t think the manuscripts are particularly relevant; we primarily deal with published works. Many authors can’t spell or punctuate properly and don’t care for it either, they leave that work for the publisher to deal with — spelling and punctuation aren’t an important part of the work. Of course there can be exceptions, authors that are particular with their punctuation. A good example is Emily Dickinson, who had a sui generis style of punctuation which was “standardized” in the first editions of her poems, which can really affect the reading; so I would consider the “standardized” poems separate works. (Compare this version with this version. Only the punctuation was changed, but it reads quite differently.)