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Book Metadata Makeover Success

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by Diane Vallere, author —

Diane Vallere

Learn how author Diane Vallere tripled book sales after experiencing IBPA’s Metadata Makeover program.

Everybody loves a makeover, right? Picture Tess McGill in Working Girl: “You want to be taken seriously? You need serious hair.” The implication is simple: Success equals looking the part to the audience you intend to impress.

Enter the Metadata Makeover, my new favorite benefit of IBPA membership. As an author of fashionable fiction, I find few words induce excitement like “makeover.” But “metadata”? That’s the sort of word that makes my eyes glaze over.

Of my catalog, there’s one series that consistently underperforms. The books in question are the Space Case Mysteries, and they feature amateur sleuth Sylvia Stryker, a half human, half alien who solves crimes while working as a uniform lieutenant aboard the Moon Unit Cruise Line.

Sylvia and I blasted off in December 2017 but stalled in January. I rebranded with new titles and covers in June 2018 and published two additional books in rapid succession. I promoted, watched, and waited for the books to find their audience. They did not. Yet reviews lined up with what I already believed: The books were good. Which meant, to me, there was still an opportunity.

Not one to give up easily, I set to work figuring out how to make this series profitable. I ran through a checklist: blurb, price, visibility. I tested cozy-mystery-specific covers. I dropped the prices. I ran ads. I went into KDP Select. I came out of KDP Select. The results were not encouraging, but I still believed it wasn’t the books. In the immortal words of George Michael, “You gotta have faith!”

When I happened upon the metadata section of the IBPA website, I was curious. Was metadata the problem? How would I know if it was? Were my categories correct? Did I fully understand keyword placement? Had I optimized my blurbs? Was metadata like Spanx—a secret support garment that made everything else fit better?

I watched two videos in the Metadata Resource Center and implemented tips learned, but what really intrigued me was the “Metadata Makeover” opportunity.

I purchased the package. The process started with a 30-minute video conference with Independent Publishers Group (IPG)’s director of digital strategy, Kelly Peterson. We talked about the challenges to my series and what I should expect from the makeover. I sent along requested materials, marked my calendar, and moved on to something else. When we regrouped a month later, I was blown away.

Among the lessons learned were:

    Fly to the Moon by Diane Vallere

  1. Author, know thyself. I’d written a cozy mystery series set in outer space and categorized it as a cozy mystery. Turns out in the grand poker game that is publishing, outer space trumps cozy mystery. My book, because it featured aliens, was science fiction.
  2. Look the part. Like Tess McGill in Working Girl, my books had to match reader expectations. newer, cozier covers (which I loved), were too cozy for science fiction readers and too spacey for cozy mystery readers. I had, ahem, alienated both of my potential audiences.
  3. Reviews are your secret weapon. Kelly combed my Goodreads reviews for pull quotes and mixed them in with the blurb to optimize my book description. These reviews addressed both cozy mystery and science fiction readers.
  4. If Amazon gives you a field to fill out, use it. Kelly provided me with an optimized blurb and an improved author bio. She pointed me toward 10 categories for book placement (not just the two on the KDP dashboard) and recommended I maximize A+ content.
  5. It’s OK to be different. After writing four humorous/cozy mystery series, I was afraid to veer out into a different genre. Would science fiction readers destroy me in the reviews? Turns out all science fiction isn’t hard science fiction, and when your main character is half alien, you’ve earned the right to go into the alien category.
  6. It’s OK to stay the same. My other series feature amateur sleuths with style. This series features an amateur sleuth with style. Nothing proposed in the makeover changed what it was that I’d written.
  7. Accept that there are things you just don’t know. On our call, Kelly and I discussed Amazon algorithms, Kindle browse trees, and category search node IDs—most of which was all new to me. Luckily, there was a follow-up email!

The metadata makeover was a success. I walked away with a clear understanding that by focusing so strongly on convincing my (known) audience to try something different, I’d missed the opportunity to get the books in front of an unknown audience who already loved this sort of thing. Basically, I’d been moon walking in heels instead of space boots.

The recommended changes initiated a domino effect. Once I saw my series as science fiction, I had to reassess my cozy covers. I tested multiple options using BookBub ads and found the clear winners to be the covers I’d abandoned in 2019. The month my metadata updates went into effect, I spent 78 percent less on promotions and tripled my sales. We had liftoff!

Multiple actions led to the positive results, but they all stemmed from the experience with the Metadata Makeover. My belief all along was that if I made the correct adjustments, the series would sell. Since the makeover, the Space Case Mysteries have been among my bestselling titles, and if this trend remains consistent, I’ll write more. Until then, I’ll happily let Sylvia Stryker circle the launch pad in her newly tailored uniform while picking up new readers every day.

Diane Vallere is a national bestselling author who writes funny and fashionable character-based mysteries for both traditional publishers and on her Polyester Press imprint. After two decades working for a top luxury retailer, she traded fashion accessories for accessories to murder. A past president of Sisters in Crime, Diane started her own detective agency at age 10 and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since. Learn more at dianevallere.com and polyesterpress.com.

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