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How to Update Book Metadata to Improve Discoverability

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by Jenny Bullough, Senior Digital Content Strategist, Cineplex Entertainment

Jenny Bullough

Conventional wisdom has long held that your metadata—the information about your book—should be finalized as soon as possible in a book’s production cycle, sent to metadata recipients, and updated only if absolutely necessary. While it’s true that your critical points of metadata will be set early on, to maximize the potential for discovery, each book’s metadata should be considered fluid, not fixed. In the current online retail environment, make your metadata responsive to changes in the marketplace, with the goal of improving your book’s discoverability throughout its life. Here’s how.


The description, or “cover copy” field, has great potential for updating due to its flexibility. Once the cover copy has been crafted to be at its most compelling, most don’t see the need to change it. But there are a number of occasions when it’s a good practice to update the description, even if it means it doesn’t match what’s on the printed cover anymore. If the book receives particularly notable reviews, you may want to quote that in the description rather than—or in addition to—the reviews field. If a sequel or second book in a series is planned or published, definitely point readers to other books in the series using the description field as well as the series field. If an e-book edition was updated with new information, absolutely call that out in the description field to alert readers to the update.

A meme created by Subject Codes Committee Chair, Connie Harbison. Bet you never thought you'd see a BISAC meme!

A meme created by Subject Codes Committee Chair, Connie Harbison. Bet you never thought you’d see a BISAC meme!


The Book Industry Study Group has a standing committee on BISAC subject codes to consider new codes and reexamine current codes, and to publish an annual update to the universally agreed standard subjects for book metadata. This makes for a convenient reminder for publishers to look through the BISACs for their current on-sale catalog, and determine whether to add to or update the codes. This is especially critical when codes are deprecated by the BISG committee; any titles with deprecated codes should be reexamined, and newer codes applied. It’s also a good time to consider adding codes to your titles, depending on what new subjects may have become popular. For example, the BISG added a code for “coloring books” in the most recent edition, and added “young adult” to differentiate from “juvenile” titles in part due to the genre’s recent growth. (See Top 10 Things You Should Know About the 2015 Edition of BISAC)


The subtitle field isn’t as widely used as it could be, and its advantage is that on some sites, it’s highly visible and indexed for organic search along with the title. This makes it a good field to utilize for adding consumer-facing keywords. Don’t overstuff it, but if new trends in the market dictate that a topic or theme in your book is popular, add keywords via the subtitle (e.g., “includes a chapter on …”) If another edition is published, call this out to readers by adding “original edition.” If it’s a title that’s been newly digitized, add “the classic novel, now in e-book format.” This helps readers make a buying decision.


Keywords offer the opportunity to greatly enhance the discoverability of your title online. Keywords are not just the key words in your title, subtitle, and description, but the keywords field in your metadata or ONIX file. They’re used by just a few retailers and aggregators, but those that do accept them and utilize them in their search algorithms have large user and customer bases, which can be critical to your book’s success. As with the description, BISACs, and subtitle field, the keywords field can and should be updated with newly common or popular terms that accurately describe a theme or topic in your book.

Getting the Word Out

If you’re using a third-party service, share the update and request that the company send it out. If you’re not using a service, it’s possible to upload or amend metadata directly on some sites. However, it’s best to follow up with an email to any contact(s) you have wherever your metadata is being sent or updated since some data handlers and aggregators don’t automatically assume there will be an update for a title with an on-sale date in the past. Send the update everywhere your book is listed and/or sold, to ensure consistency, but keep your main focus on your consumer-facing sites where readers are most likely to be searching for the keywords or subjects you’ve added/updated. Some sites will publish the update immediately, but give it a few weeks to flow through everyone’s systems across various platforms.

Refreshing your metadata can be time-consuming, particularly if you have a large catalog. But making sure your metadata is always as current as possible is a worthwhile effort, as it can help readers find your titles. Remember, they can’t buy your book unless they can find it.

Jenny Bullough is a senior digital content strategist at Cineplex Entertainment in Toronto, Canada area. Previously, she was manager of digital assets at Harlequin Enterprises.

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