The Secret Language of Books: What Authors Need to Know about Metadata

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

For many authors, books are like their babies. From conception through months of writing and evolving into a fully formed product of love, there’s no better analogy than the pride a parent feels when they have something perfect on their hands. But it’s not enough to just have a finished book—authors should also consider information about the book.

Before we start, let’s quickly talk about metadata. This is the stuff your book is about—not just the words contained in those pages, but the things that describe your book’s physicality (binding type, number of pages, trim size), production (the design of the book, where it was printed, total print run), descriptive text and subject matter (book descriptions, biographies, categories and themes, audience information), and other data elements (ISBN, price, literary reviews, territorial rights). Hundreds of data elements are hidden from view of the final customer, but they all comprise a finished book.

While there are many things that should be left in the hands of publishers, authors should feel free to be involved with their works in a number of ways after they have gone to print.

Take off your blinders

Authors and their editors are often so passionate about their projects, that they may not be able to see beyond the vision they had for the books. Ask those friends and relatives you had reading and reviewing the work for their honest thoughts on it.

What you’re looking for are themes that you yourself didn’t see, similarities to other works on the market, and other details that as a writer or editor are missed because of the narrow field of vision you hold.

Jot down notes and send them to your editorial and marketing teams; they can then translate these things into data points like subject codes, keywords, better book descriptions, and the like. It will also help salespeople understand your book better when they can compare your work to existing titles customers are already familiar with.

Write for yourself

Remember that you are in control of how your work looks online. While you should cede any edits to an experienced marketing team, it doesn’t hurt to write a book description in your own words. They’ll take it and use their marketing skills and knowledge to make changes as necessary, but the heart of it will still be you.

You’re also in charge of what’s said about you. Write your own biography that goes along with each book. Amazon also has an Author Central section that allows you to log in and create your own author page, which every author should take advantage of. This piece of advice ties in closely with the next point.

Be consistent; stay evergreen

Keep your name consistent across titles. If your name is Jonathan Adams Doe, don’t call yourself “J.A. Doe” for one book, “Jon Doe” for a second, and “Jonathan A. Doe” for a third. When your name is the same across all titles, it allows readers to identify you and your other works easily because the same name will be linked to your books on retail websites.

When writing your own biography, take care to allow it some breathing room for your own growth. Bios are often ignored years down the line, so you may live in Seattle with two cats now, but will you in 5 years? Notable achievements may make more sense that current living arrangements; talk your about awards and recognition, blogs you run, and other relevant facts.

Another thing to keep consistent is the titling across a series. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark was simply known as Raiders of the Lost Ark when it was released. The title was changed later on when the sequel was released. If you plan on writing a series, plan your series name from the beginning and make it consistent for all titles.

Your work will always be yours

Remember, this is your book, and you get to make the final decisions on it. And while you’ve been working with a crack publishing house and marketing team, the truth is they’ll eventually push your book to the back burner when newer books are released a year or two down the line.

Review your books’ pages when they go up on retail websites and your publisher’s website. You can ask questions and you can request changes (just be careful with how you phrase your requests). The book represents you, so when a book description they’ve written isn’t to your standard, then ask for an update to the page. The publisher might come back with an explanation why that wouldn’t make the most sense, so heed their advice—otherwise, such changes are typically seen as positive engagement.

Know your limits when it comes to selling your book. There’s an easy line to cross when you’re a writer who’s passionate about their work. Being engaged is a great way to learn from the professionals who have done it for years, but you shouldn’t be completely hands-off. And most importantly, enjoy what you do; you wouldn’t be writing if you didn’t love it, so don’t stress over the little things.