Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
If you’re one of the many self-published novelists who gets chills of dread when you hear the word “metadata,” this article is for you. Like Sesame Street’s Grover, who had no reason to be scared of the nonexistent monster at the end of the classic children’s book, there’s no reason for self-published novelists to be frightened when it comes time to fill out the metadata for your book.
What is metadata, anyway? Metadata, for a self-published author, is the set of keywords that describe your book. (Technically, the word “metadata” is a plural noun, but the rest of the sentences sound weird if I treat it like it’s plural, so I apologize in advance to the grammarians out there.)
Metadata helps your customers find your novel, so you really should love metadata, not fear it. A customer types words into a search engine. If those words line up with the metadata you’ve listed for your book, then your book has a chance of showing up on the customer’s screen. That’s wonderful, not frightening.
Metadata is all about connecting with the customer. Customers at online stores type in what they want to read—and books with matching metadata appear in their search results. A customer who types “Paris romance” wants to read a romance that happens in Paris. If your novel takes place in Paris, and people fall in love—even if it’s also a WWII thriller—the words “Paris romance” might be great choices for metadata.
If a customer types in “mass murder 1950s” they are looking for a suspense book that takes mid-century. Does this match your novel? If so, use those words as metadata.
As you write your list of metadata keywords, think like your readers. One helpful exercise is to ask people who’ve read your book to tell you what they’d type into a search engine to find it. The words they choose might not be words you’ve thought of.
Different online retailers ask self-published authors to provide metadata in slightly different amounts, in slightly different formats, and in different orders. But they ask for the information either in online forms or in formatted spreadsheets, so all you have to do is fill in the blanks. Here’s a quick list of things to think about when coming up with your metadata lists.
- Nuts and bolts: Include the full title and subtitle of your book in your keywords. List your name as the author, and any other major contributors (illustrators, photographers, etc.) You want to include words that describe the form of your book, such as “novel” or “essays” or “collection.”
- Detailed genre: Be as specific as you can be—the more precise the better. If you write “science fiction” your book will be competing with a lot of other books. The top spots in the query results list go to the highest-selling books. So if you’re not already a best-selling self-published novelist, competing in a smaller arena gives your book a better chance at appearing on the customer’s first page of results. To do this, modify the subject with a few focused words, from “science fiction” to “steampunk science fiction romance” or “ “paranormal vampire science fiction thriller” or whatever describes your novel. Your book will have a better chance of standing out—and you’ll attract the people who are seeking your specific niche.
- Tone: List the adjectives that describe the emotions that your readers will feel when they read the books. Will they feel suspense or humor? Will they wax nostalgic or become edgy? For this keyword, think about your reader’s state of mind as they read, not the way yor characters feel in the book. Customers often type in the feelings they want to take away from the experience of reading, so include those words in your metadata.
- Topic: This is where you list the specific details of your book. Does a main character in your book have a disease? If so, “Asthma” or “leprosy” are potential keywords. Do large parts of your novel have to do with the goings on in an “art gallery” or an “investment club”? Think about the concrete elements of your story,—the city or country it’s set in, the time period it takes place. Someone may be looking for those very qualities in a novel.
- Audience: Describe the ages and reading levels of your ideal readers. This is especially important in books for young readers. If your novel has mature content, or if it’s got a strong religious message, make sure to specify this. Those audiences self-select via keywords.
- Other reasons to buy your book: Does your book make a great “Valentine’s Day Gift” or “Graduation Present”? The chick-lit authors often use the term “Beach Reads” in their metadata. Customers seek books that fulfill their needs, so if your book can be used for a specific function, list it.
- Don’t try to game the system: Just don’t. Don’t mention other authors or titles in your metadata—even if everyone tells you your style is reminiscent of Jodi Picoult, do not put her name in your metadata. Online retailers police for cheats like that and they could de-list your book for it. Play fair—describe your book and your book only.
- BISAC Subject Headings: When you enter your book into online stores, you’ll be asked to enter BISAC subject codes. BISAC stands for Book Industry Standards and Communications. The Book Industry Study Group organization created this list or standards to create a unified way of describing books. Many online retailers use these codes to categorize the books they sell. Visit the BISAC web site to browse through the list of subjects. Pick the codes that are most specific to your novel. “General” labels will not distinguish your book, so drill down to something more detailed. For example, try not to choose choose FICTION / Mystery & Detective / General. Instead choose FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Police Procedural or FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Cozy or whichever sub-category best describes your book.
If you’ve been avoiding dealing with metadata because you thought it was too complicated, now you know, it’s fairly straightforward. In the classic children’s book, Monster at the End of This Book, Grover discovered the monster was actually… himself. That’s the way it is with metadata. The most frightening thing about it just might be your own fear.
Oh, and you can go into your book listing and modify your metadata any time you like. So this might be a good time to refresh your lists. If you want your novel to appear in search results when people seek novels like yours, give a little extra attention to your metadata.
Related: Learn more about metadata in the DBW U courses Introduction to Metadata, starting in August, and Essential Metadata Elements, starting in September. Want to learn earlier and at your own pace? Make an independent study of it!