Metadata means the basic information that helps publishers, distributors, libraries and bookstores keep track of your book. It’s like the data on your book’s dashboard: the mpg, rpms, temperature gauge, etc. A few years back, when I first stuck my toe in the publishing pond, I was totally daunted by the term “metadata.” I had no idea what it meant, but the term went right to the pit of my stomach.
That queasy feeling reminded me of being on a road trip with my engineer husband. His favorite way to needle me is to lob “story problems” at me.
“Two cars are traveling between Phoenix and Tucson. Car A is going 65 miles an hour. Car B is traveling 75, but Car B stops for 15 minutes to gas up. Which car makes it to Tucson first?”
My brain freezes. I can’t process this information, especially with my mind on the road.
I’ve talked to many other writers who freeze up at the word “metadata.” It’s truly unfair to expect creative people to enter the land of geekdom. Rather than try to understand what metadata means, authors contract with an independent publisher or fee-for-services publisher like Xlibris.
Here’s A Little Background
So what is metadata, exactly? It’s easier to wrap your head around if you take it piece by piece. First, you have the core metadata. Second, you have the expanded metadata.
Let’s start with easiest and most obvious ones: the core. Here are the key pieces of metadata every book must have:
It’s pretty obvious that if you want to publish a book, you’ll to provide all this info. However, just on the off chance that you’re a little fuzzy on some of these terms, I’ll review them.
ISBN Numbers – Lesson 1
Three years ago I didn’t know books needed a separate ISBN for a print version, an e-book version, and an audio book. I discovered this by putting a chapbook called The Rug Bazaar on Smashwords. My other two books were produced by independent publishers, so I could be blissfully ignorant of these nitty gritty publishing details.
The ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. This 10 or 13-digit number identifies a specific book, an edition of a book, or a book-like product (such as an audiobook). Since 1970 each published book has a unique ISBN. In 2007, the assigned ISBNs changed from 10 digits to 13.
ISBNs have four parts (if it is a 10 digit ISBN) or 5 parts (for a 13 digit ISBN): The parts of a 10-digit ISBN appear above the bar code. The corresponding EAN‑13 (European Article Number) and barcode appear below the bars. The code is used everywhere books are sold, from Portugal to Madagascar.
Serious authors who want to upload manuscripts to CreateSpace, Smashwords, or IngramSpark should purchase their own ISBN numbers. That’s because you own that number forever. If you live in the United States, you can purchase an ISBN through Bowker. They are the only official registrars in this country.
Technically, Bowker (who administers ISBNs in the US) says you need a different ISBN for each different digital version (one for Kindle’s .mobi format, another for .epub, another for .pdf, and so on). Of course, they have skin in the game. I think it’s pretty pointless to buy a .mobi ISBN from them because Amazon will assign you one anyway.
I want to just say a word about Amazon’s tantalizing offer to provide an ISBN number to authors who don’t have their own. If you take them up on that, you will pay nothing. They will automatically assign you an ASIN, the term they for the Kindle version of your book. (It’s also called a .mobi file.) This Amazon ASIN number, however, will not apply to your e-book on Barnes & Noble, Apple’s iBooks, or Kobo, etc. When you upload your files to Barnes & Noble, they’ll offer to give you a free Nook number.
Many authors find it convenient to upload their e-book files to Smashwords. They are a book aggregator, and they take care of crunching your raw files into all the various formats. Smashwords will assign your book a free ISBN, and they can upload to Apple, Kobo, and Amazon.
Unless you have already purchased an ISBN for your e-book, my strong recommendation is that you save your money because you don’t need an ISBN for the Kindle Edition. Nor do you need an ISBN for e-books on the Barnes & Noble website (your Nook Edition).
- Amazon (Kindle Edition) = No ISBN required
- Apple = ISBN is required (but you can get one for free through Smashwords)
- Barnes & Noble (Nook Edition) = No ISBN required
- Kobo = ISBN is required (but you can get one from Smashwords)
If you’re publishing more than one version of the same book, and if you plan to be “an author,” you should invest in your own ISBN. If not, think about where you want your book to be carried. It’s not just Apple that requires an ISBN. So do libraries, schools, and most e-retailers. International sales will require it, as well. If you’re going to have one book with limited distribution, then go with the free options. If you plan to publish several books or to have your books sold abroad, then buy a block of ISBNs from Bowker.
A Book’s Title – Lesson 2
You know what a title is, right? But did you know that the title of your book plays a big role in whether search engines will identify it as a book they show to folks searching for a particular keyword? This is something I was totally clueless about. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have titled my first novel Montpelier Tomorrow. Who in their right mind is going to search for the keyword “Montpelier”? Some fourth-grader learning the state capitols?
If I’d know then what I know now, I would have come up with a different title, one in which I could have embedded a keyword. Keywords are all about making merchandise easy to find. “Caregiver” or “caregiving” would have been good keywords to consider.
Today, readers don’t walk into a bookstore and ask the clerk for recommendations. They’ll go to Amazon or Google and enter something like “paranormal” or “Civil War” or “mystery.” Up will pop suggestions for books that those search engines believe are the closest match. If the title of your book contains a keyword, such as “The Mystery of the Haunted Moors,” having the keyword “mystery” in your title could potentially help your book sales. (You might want to take a look at Amazon’s helpful tip sheet on keywords for ideas.)
Author Name – Lesson 3
Your name is also a data point. Authors should take a quick look at others who might be writing with similar names. Adding a middle initial won’t help John Q. Smith distinguish his writing from John R. Smith’s.
Categories – Lesson 4
Now, this is the big one I’ve been waiting to tell you about. That’s because I was clueless about categories when my first book came out. I was slightly less clueless with the second, my short story collection, Bonds of Love & Blood. Now, I think I’ve got this piece of the puzzle figured out. On my “to-do” list is the following item: Check the categories for both my books and make sure the books are listed in the least competitive niches.
If you’re uploading a manuscript to Amazon’s Createspace, the uploader will ask you to pick categories for your book. Categories help Amazon group books so that customers can find other books like the ones they’ve enjoyed before.
In the past Amazon allowed you to have up to five categories. Now, they limit you two, although those authors who previously had five categories can keep them.
Kindle Direct Publishing uses the industry-standard BISAC Subject Codes. (I’ll be doing a blog post with more on this next week.) Some categories require you to add more keywords. The keywords are different for the U.S. and U.K., as well as for other countries, but you can find them here.
As part of the upload process for either Kindle Direct Publishing, CreateSpace, or IngramSpark, you can enter five to seven descriptive keywords about the content of your book. Make sure you enter the ones on Amazon’s keyword list. But don’t stop there. Use your full allotment. Compare your book to others like it. See which keywords those authors use. If the book’s selling well, try to duplicate those words in your book’s title and description. (I’m hoping your book hasn’t yet gone to press.)
Here’s another aspect of this keyword business I wish I’d known. When you’re thinking about keywords and categories, type a word into Amazon’s search engine, and see which keywords pop up. Who knew there were people searching for “cozy cat mysteries”? I guess cat lovers knew, but I sure didn’t. (For more on keywords and how to choose them, go to Dave Chesson’s blog on this topic.)
Price – Lesson 5
If you are self-publishing your book, you have great latitude in determining the price. Amazon and IngramSpark publish worldwide. When you upload your manuscript, you will set your list price. Then you can watch the numbers convert to Euros and other currencies. Amazon includes the VAT (Value Added Tax) in its conversions. As you’ll see, that tax can be as high as 21%. When you’re deciding on your price, make sure you factor in the likely hit you’re going to take from the VAT.
Publishers – Lesson 6
This is a tricky bit of metadata for authors who wish to disguise the fact that they’re self-publishing their books. Amazon says that you can enter your own name or the publishers’. Whatever you do, don’t put down “Amazon” or “CreateSpace” or “KDP” as the publisher. Amazon doesn’t allow that.
Actually, the safest thing you can do is to set up a publishing company. It’s not hard if you use software from MyAttorney or Quicken Legal Business Pro. The software allows you to register copyright, too.
If you plan to publish multiple books, it’s probably a good idea to set up an LLC. A limited liability company (LLC) is the United States-specific form of a private limited company. It is a business structure that combines the pass-through taxation of a partnership or sole proprietorship with the limited liability of a corporation. For more on LLCs, go to the U.S. Small Business Administration website.
But, if it’s unlikely that you won’t sell more than a hundred books, then just keep your life simple and use your own name.
Enhanced Metadata – Lesson 7
The core data—title, author name, price, etc.—is absolutely necessary if you want to see your book listed in online bookstores or library catalogues. However, you can take your quest for “discoverability” a step further.
What else is there? Well, there’s enhanced metadata. The term refers to the additional info that will help sell your book. Sample chapters, reviews, book blurbs, and author bios are examples of enhanced metadata.
Here’s where keywords come in again. You should put the keywords that appear in your categories into the first 50 to 100 words of your book blurb. Add an author location so that online bookstores can target local audiences.
Enhance your author bio with keywords. Be sure to mention prizes, awards, and reviews. Every little bit helps.
What I wish I’d known a couple of years ago is how important it is to get all this done before a book launch. You want the book to make a big splash the first two or three weeks after it’s published. That’s because Amazon’s search engine favors new releases. Make sure you have great keywords, and that you’ve optimized your book blurb. Do the same on Goodreads.
What’s Your Strategy?
I never feel like I’m doing this perfectly, and some days I don’t even think I’m doing it adequately. That’s probably because my eyes are on the road and my hands on the wheel. I’m trying to reach my destination, and that involves making sure I write my next book. In my favor, I can say that I’m less of an ostrich than I was in the beginning, and I hope some of the lessons I’ve learned will be of value to you.
Whew! That’s enough brain training. Do you agree with me that it’s hard to figure all this stuff out?