The 3 most common ways new indie publishers distribute print books are online via Amazon Advantage, Amazon CreateSpace and IngramSpark. The last two are POD (print-on-demand) printers. Advantage is Amazon’s consignment program that you can use to sell books printed by any printer.
My use of the word distribute in this case refers to making your book available for purchase by readers from a retail store like Amazon.com, and by physical bookstores, who might order your book from their distributor (usually Ingram) if someone comes in the store looking for it. What these two ways to reach readers have in common is that you, the indie publisher, have unfettered access to these distribution channels. There are no gatekeepers.
The second thing these 3 distribution methods have in common (and the point of my post) is that success with online distribution depends in part on the quality of your metadata—the information used to describe your book. Obviously, complete and accurate information matters. But each of these distribution channels supports a different number and type of metadata.
Your book's metadata, the key to book discovery
As I've written about before, some of this metadata—such as your book's title, subtitle, publisher and contributors—is fixed and cannot (and should not) be changed once you publish your book. These 4 data elements are also required by all online stores, as well as other places to list your book such as its ISBN record on MyIdentifiers.com. It is possible to optimize some of this metadata for search engines, for example the title and more often the subtitle, but this exercise is more strategic requiring research and planning well in advance of publishing your book.
The real opportunity for optimizing your print book listing for search engines depends on the store or distributor's support for categories, keywords, descriptions and series metadata. Each online store or distribution platform can differ slightly in how they implement support, and the extent to which these fields are made available to the public for searching.
That said, here is what we know, and what we should look for:
- Categories: The more, the better, and be sure to use all that are available.
- Keywords: Are they supported? If so, how many keywords can you use?
- Descriptions: Every online listing provides space for a description, but how long can it be and does it support HTML formatting? This is important because it makes quick scanning by impatient shoppers easier and more inviting. (Read my article 5 Golden Rules for Writing Book Descriptions.)
- Series: Every store and distributor I've seen allows you to use a series name. But I call it out here because not all interfaces show a field to enter it so you might need to contact customer support.
In the case of CreateSpace, Amazon Advantage and IngramSpark, each handles these metadata elements slightly differently. This is all you have to work with so you’ll want to optimize and utilize each field. Also worth pointing out is that you can return to change your initial inputs.
(Btw, eBook distribution supports similar opportunities. See the list of articles at the bottom of this page for details.)
|Metadata Elements||CreateSpace||Amazon Advantage||IngramSpark|
|Keywords||5||Email Advantage Member Services with your list (They claim no limit)||Not Supported|
|Description||4,000 characters. Limited HTML formatting support||3,900 characters or 1,000 words. Limited HTML formatting support||Minimum 200 characters, 4,000 maximum|
|Series Name||Yes||Email Advantage Member Services||Add the series name after the subtitle (or title if no subtitle)|
Begin by understanding the difference between direct distribution and distributing via an aggregator by watching this video. Then read my article 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Decide How to Distribute Your eBook.
If you'd like to learn how to do this yourself, check out my Lynda.com training course Distributing and Marketing eBooks. Click here to learn more and get a free trial pass.