PUBLISHED APRIL 2015
by David Wogahn, digital publishing consultant
In an increasingly online world, metadata best practices go beyond fields in an ONIX record and pertain to how we create, present, and maintain information about ourselves as authors and publishers. Accordingly, I believe we need to define metadata more broadly and develop new habits to ensure its effectiveness.
One of the benefits of being an independent publisher is direct involvement in the various steps of the publishing process. From ISBN registration to book distribution setup; from website page titles and descriptions to bios on social networks, each step provides opportunities to make ourselves and our books more discoverable. Taking control is less about technology than it is about attitude and work ethic.
So with apologies to Stephen Covey, here are the seven habits of smart metadata managers.
1. Record it.
This seems to be the number one problem for new and occasional publishers. Recording and referencing information about your book(s) and yourself in a standard way is essential, but it’s also challenging, because the information is used in so many places and in so many different ways. Stores, websites, and marketing tools all differ in terms of what they ask for, or permit.
Consider the book category field. Some stores, such as Amazon, maintain their own category lists while others use the BISAC subject headings. The only way to keep your metadata consistent is to record it and use your records as your source for new applications or changes.
Unless your budget can accommodate an investment in dedicated software, a simple spreadsheet will suffice for cost-effective record keeping. I also keep a record of information that never changes (ISBNs, for instance) in our customer resource management system.
2. Make it accurate.
That’s another way of saying be precise. For instance, if your book title includes a hyphenated word, did you use a hyphen in that word when you listed the book in online stores? What about in written materials such as press releases? Every reference to you and your book should be exactly the same, not sort of similar. In brief, don’t be sloppy.
3. Make it consistent.
This goes hand in hand with being accurate. Think about the various metadata elements that describe a book of yours—title, description, author name, series name if there is one, and so on. Are they the same everywhere, including in the ISBN record, in online store listings, on websites, in social media profiles, within the book and in promotional material about it?
The same goes for metadata elements about author and publisher. For instance, you shouldn’t have multiple author headshots in circulation unless a special shot is needed for some particular purpose, and you shouldn’t use author bios that differ from profile to profile, except, as necessary, in terms of length. Don’t make this stuff up as you go.
4. Make it timely.
Release your metadata publicly as soon as it is accurate, especially your ISBN metadata. The key here is careful planning. Savvy publishers don’t rush to market. They pick a realistic pub date in the future and manage to that date. As decisions are made, they lock in data and put it online as soon as possible so it can be indexed by search engines. They also promptly update the information if it changes.
5. Disseminate it.
Disseminating book metadata is straightforward and no doubt part of your existing procedures. Key destinations for metadata include social cataloging sites such as Goodreads and LibraryThing, author and publisher websites, and key social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, as well as major online retailers.
Regardless of the number of places information about you and/or your book exists online, keep track of the locations, maintain the profiles, and consult your records if you need to make a change.
6. Optimize it.
Optimizing metadata is the process of adapting your standard metadata so that it will work better with a specific online service. For books, this sort of optimizing most commonly involves subject categories and search terms. As noted, the category field may and often does differ among online platforms, including Amazon KDP, Amazon CreateSpace, B&N, Kobo, MyIdentifiers, and more. There are additional optimization opportunities on sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin.
7. Maintain it.
Because things change, managing metadata is not set and forget. Publishing a new book; changing a book category or keywords to reach new readers; replacing a profile picture; rephrasing a book description to reflect review feedback—all these require circling back to refresh your metadata.
As an independent publisher or indie author, you have a lot more control over the metadata that describes your book and author presences than people published by major houses. You can ensure that it is always accurate, consistent, up to date, distributed to all relevant services, and optimized appropriately to take advantage of each service.
Metadata is more than a tool for discovery; it’s your ambassador. Because once you or your books are discovered, you want the information that’s found to be accurate and descriptive. As coach John Wooden said: “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”
David Wogahn writes frequently about search engine optimization for books and authors at Sellbox.com. To learn more: firstname.lastname@example.org.