PUBLISHED AUGUST 2016
by Joshua Tallent, director of Outreach & Education, Firebrand Technologies
Independent publishers are known for their innovation in many areas. The David and Goliath metaphor is probably overused in our community, but it does apply pretty well. However, one area where I don’t see independent publishers innovating very often is metadata management.
Metadata is the information about your books—this includes the title, subtitle, author name, author biography, book description, pub date, price, and more. This information is the lifeblood of your publishing venture. It is used by you and your team as you plan for and develop a title; it is used by your sales team, your wholesaler, your distributor, retailers, and, finally, the consumer when they are deciding whether or not they want to buy your book.
Unfortunately, many indie publishers don’t handle this data well. I have heard horror stories about where this data is saved, how it is distributed, and how (and how often) it is updated. Let’s look at these three areas and some best practices you might consider.
There are a lot of ways a publisher might save and manage their metadata. Most small publishers manage data in Excel spreadsheets. Oftentimes, these are the same spreadsheets that they need to send to their distributor, with columns for all the most important metadata fields. Some publishers have different copies of the same spreadsheet on different staff members’ computers, making it impossible to know which one is the most up-to-date version. I have also heard of publishers who lost all their data when that large spreadsheet got corrupted or was lost in a computer crash.
One solution to these issues is to use an online spreadsheet tool such as Google Drive, Office 365, or SmartSheet.com. These tools allow you to maintain one copy of a spreadsheet instead of multiple copies, and can also keep you from losing your information if a computer dies or your Excel spreadsheet gets corrupted.
Spreadsheets work well for publishers who only have a few titles, but once you get up to about 50 titles, you are likely going to outgrow the spreadsheet method. That’s when you want to start looking for a metadata management service that can help you manage everything in a database and can create ONIX files to send out to your retailers and other partners. ONIX is an industry-standard metadata file format. (Full disclosure: I work for a company that offers this service, but there are a lot of companies and tools you can use.)
Most indie publishers are limited in how they send out their metadata to retailers based on their size and the number of titles they have on their list. Retailers, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, usually require small publishers to submit titles through their self-publishing platforms, and some retailers won’t even work with small publishers. A common workaround for this is to send the metadata to a distributor or aggregator and allow them to set up your books in the retail channels. This can be a great option, but it is important that you double-check their work. Don’t assume the information will be correct just because you gave it to them correctly. Always take a look at the retailer websites and ensure the information came through properly.
If you are doing the metadata entry yourself, take extra care when copying and pasting the information from your spreadsheet or database into the retailer submission forms; that is often when errors are introduced into the metadata.
Metadata as a Living, Breathing Thing
I cannot stress enough the importance of filling out your metadata completely and keeping it up-to-date. Don’t skip over a field on the submission form just because it is not required. Write out your book description well, considering who your audience is and why they might be looking for a book like yours. Come back to your metadata every once in a while to see if it needs to be updated or adjusted. Has the author written a new book? Is there a recent news story that relates to your book? Do you need to reduce the price to see if you can increase your sales volume?
Keep your metadata up-to-date and relevant; it makes a difference on the sales of your books. If you are using a metadata management service, you should be able to update the metadata directly in that system and have your service send out the updated ONIX files. If you are creating your own ONIX files, you can update the files and send them out to your trading partners. If you are manually entering your metadata into Ingram Spark, Amazon, and/or other services, follow their instructions for updating your metadata.
I hope these tips are helpful to you. Your metadata is key to your company’s future. Manage it well and it will serve you for many years to come.
Joshua Tallent, the director of Outreach and Education at Firebrand Technologies (firebrandtech.com), is an expert in metadata and e-book development, and an acclaimed teacher and guide on digital publishing. In addition to heading up training and outreach efforts for Firebrand, Joshua serves on multiple industry committees and working groups, and teaches in-depth workshops and sessions at publishing conferences throughout the year. He also leads the development of FlightDeck (ebookflightdeck.com), the most robust EPUB quality assurance tool available.