Metadata 101: How to create book metadata that will increase discoverability and enhance your marketing

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Metadata might only have 8 letters, but it’s a huge topic in book publishing.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Want to improve your publishing prospects? Then you should also learn the 15-letter word that flows from the metadata you create: discoverability. How can you attract readers to “discover” your book among the millions listed online? The art of metadata is a balancing act between accurately describing your book—and laying out a welcoming buffet of tasty keywords and attractive references to allies and assets within your book.

Yes, this is longer than our usual Front Edge columns. That’s because our staff spends untold hours covering Metadata 101 with our authors. In the future, we will invite authors to begin with this overview.

Metadata 101: What Is Book Metadata?

Let’s start at the beginning. What is it?

Metadata is the information that describes your book to a digital world. It makes your book searchable on the world wide web. Included in your book’s metadata are: the title, the subtitle, the author’s name, the ISBN (which stand for International Standard Book Number), the barcode, the publisher’s name, your author bio, the number of pages in your book, the price of the book, BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) subject codes, keywords, two short descriptions of the book, a long description of the book, the cover image, the text from the back cover, and endorsements for your book. Anything that will assist in making your book easier for purchasers to find your book should be included in your book’s metadata.

Why Does Metadata Matter?

Properly presented metadata will assist you in selling your books with your hands behind your back. If you try to skip or scrimp on preparing metadata, you might as well never have taken pen to paper or hands to keyboard. According to Rick Beardsley for Publisher’s Weekly,  “Publishers (and authors) are at risk of losing time, money, and customers if metadata is not right. With the advent of search engines, metadata became the key to discoverability. Precision in writing descriptive metadata became critical.”

With so much material to cover I’m going to let some of my fellow marketing colleagues assist me in this course by serving as adjunct educators.

Here’s our first referral: At Front Edge Publishing, we collectively recommend an inexpensive book by the experts who work for wholesale giant Ingram. This new book was previewed at a nationwide publishers’ conference several of our staffers attended this summer, so it’s as up to date as any book you’ll find on the subject. The title is Metadata Essentials: Proven Techniques for Book Marketing and Discovery.

Choosing a Book Title and Subtitle

In Tucker Max’s blog post, “Picking the Perfect Book Title” he gives great advice on picking a title and acknowledges that it is step #1, and the most important step in marketing your book.

Choosing Your Author Name

This choice may sound strange—if you’ve never published a book. However, it’s actually a critical choice and requires careful thought. First, do you need a pen name or nom de plume? Probably not. Sure, we all can cite bestselling authors who use them, but the enormous challenge for new authors is discovery. You will optimize your chances of reaching friends, colleagues and allies if your name is consistent across all online platforms—and public appearances. Do you teach at a university, preach at a church, work in a major hospital, lead a nonprofit or club, hold public office? In what form do people already know your name?

But, wait! There’s more: Have you published before? How did you present your name in other publications? Did you use a middle initial? Did you add a courtesy title? Be consistent in how you present your name to the world!

Still more: Is there another author with an almost identical name? Can you distinguish yourself in some way from that other person? That may be the reason to add a middle initial on your book cover and in your metadata.

If you still are considering a pen name here is an interesting article and video by Derek Murphy of CreativIndie.com.

What Is an Author Bio?

Anne R. Allen, a fellow author blogger, educates us all on writing professional-sounding author bios in her article, “Your Author Bio: Does it help your Book Sales or Stop Them Dead?” I’d like to reiterate what Anne says regarding updating your author bio on a regular basis. Nothing stops a buyer in their tracks faster than out-of-date information. It says to the potential buyer: This book is old and the author doesn’t care about this material anymore, so I’ll just move along.

Where Do I Get an ISBN and Barcode?

According to Bowker, the official supplier of ISBN numbers in the United States, “The most important identifier your book can have is the ISBN. These numbers provide unique identification for books and simplify the distribution of your books throughout the global supply chain. Without an ISBN, your book will not be found in most bookstores, either online, or down the street from your house.”

Embedded within the ISBN is linking information that allows booksellers and readers to know what your book is about, who you are as the author, who the publisher is and—coupled with the barcode—it is used to track sales and inventory in stores and online. Each edition, print or e-version of your book needs its own ISBN number and barcode. Here at FEP we purchase these for our authors and publishers and make sure they are coded correctly.

How Should I Price My New Book?

Your metadata includes pricing information. Our FEP staff calls on decades of expertise in publishing when we advise our authors on book pricing. We also closely follow trade publications; we talk with other publishers at national gatherings—and we monitor current retail analytics. When we founded our company in 2007, one of our mentors was the highly successful veteran Stuart Matlins, who ran three publishing houses at the same time before he finally retired. “Whatever scheme someone tries to tell you is the secret to book pricing, the truth is: It’s an art and it takes years of bookselling to get it right,” Matlins advised. We’ve put a lot of effort into developing that art.

In this article from IngramSpark we agree with the advice to know your market/genre and to do your homework before choosing the price that you will charge for your hard work and considerable efforts.

What Are BISAC Codes?

Zsofia Dedinszky from PublishDrive says, “Just like choosing a title for your book, choosing the right BISAC codes can make or break a title. Take your time and, again, do your homework.

Note: The book we recommend, above, devotes a chapter to this topic.

What Are Keywords in Book Publishing?

Keywords have become their own industry within the publishing and marketing world. There are books, videos and whole companies that will help you choose your keywords. Here at FEP we rely on decades of experience and also up-to-date research in assisting our authors and partnering publishers with this task. I particularly like this keywords article by William Parker of Softpress Publishing. William does a great job explaining how to optimize your keywords to improve the SEO (search engine optimization) of your book. 

How Do You Write a Book Description?

Metadata requires one “short description” of up to 350 characters and another one, which also is known simply as a “short description,” of up to 512 characters—plus a “long description” of 4000 characters. Let’s turn to Reedsy.com for some great advice on writing an effective book descriptions. In addition to what they say, I would add that I’ve found it very helpful to use the highlighter tool on your computer to highlight your predetermined keywords. Make sure that you use as many as you can, and use some in the first sentences so that they are readable and searchable.

What Information Belongs on a Book Cover?

Damon Freeman is the Founder of Damonza.com, a specialist  book cover design and formatting company. Please read his advice on the importance of having a professionally designed cover.

What Are Book Endorsements?

Endorsements for your book may be listed last in metadata but gathering endorsements is a challenge you should address early in the process of publication. As soon as you have a draft of your book that looks professional enough to circulate, get it out to the people you want endorsements from so that they can have time to read it and come up with a thoughtful response. Dorit Sasson wrote this excellent article for Funds For Writers and it will help guide you through the process.

As you’re probably figured out by now, the metadata for your book is a key component of presenting your new book to the world. It requires lots of time and effort and professional assistance is crucial if you hope to be successful.

Because this challenge is so important to every author—and because the rules for metadata continue to evolve each year—our team plans to publish a series of upcoming columns that will zero in on the individual components. So, please, make sure you’ve signed up to receive our free weekly columns!

Got a specific question? Ask us!

Care to Read More?

Here are the parts in this Metadata 101 series:

About Susan Stitt

Susan Stitt is marketing director of Front Edge Publishing. Over the years, she has guided many authors through the challenging process of launching books and developing strategies that will grow readership. She also has worked widely with nonprofits. Now, she shares her expertise twice each month on our Front Edge Publishing website.