Metadata is the fundamental building block in the age of online discovery. It is how people find you, and your books. Not only does it lead people to you, but once they get there—if they find you—it becomes your ambassador. Metadata describes you, and your books.
Control and management of your metadata is one of the chief benefits of being a self-published indie author and this control gives you a huge advantage over larger publishers, and even what you can achieve using a vanity press. Yet it is so misunderstood, or overlooked, and just as bad, managed with indifference.
Laissez-faire metadata says, “I don’t care if I’m found.”
Beep. Beep. Beep. Let’s back up.
We’ve all heard about the importance of finding the right keywords, selecting the best categories, even researching book titles using Google Keyword Planner. Those are important and worthy steps but only a small part of the process. Another part of the equation is you, the author and your platform. How is information about you being prepared and maintained?
I believe our approach can be, and needs to be, more fundamental. I want to talk about how a better attitude and work ethic contributes to success and how easy it is to take control of the process. It’s time to take ownership.
The 7 Habits of Authors Obsessed About Metadata
In a nutshell: this is less about technology and more about being anal. So with apologies to Stephen Covey, here are the 7 things every author can do to improve their metadata and in the process make themselves, and their books, more discoverable.
#1: Record it.
I place this first because it seems to be the number one problem for occasional publishers. Recording a standard way of referencing our book or ourselves can be challenging because we are either unfamiliar with, or forget all the different ways the information is used. To be fair, stores, websites and marketing tools all differ in what they ask for, or permit. A good example is the book category field: Amazon has their own list (which can differ between the KDP publishing portal and the public store), while other stores use BISG recommended classifications, or versions of these. The only way to keep track of your decisions is to document your metadata and return to change it (#7) if that becomes necessary.
#2: Be accurate.
That’s another way of saying be precise. If your book uses a hyphen in the title, did you use a hyphen when you listed the book in the online store? What about in written materials like press releases? The idea is that every reference to you and your book should be the same, not sort of similar. Don’t be sloppy.
#3: Be consistent.
This goes hand-in-hand with being accurate. Are the various metadata elements that describe your book—title, description, series name, author name, etc.—consistent in all usages? By usages I mean your ISBN record, online store listings, website, social media profiles, book copyright page and printed materials. This also applies to us. We shouldn’t have multiple headshots in circulation or bios that differ from profile to profile. Don’t make this stuff up as you go.
#4: Be timely.
Release your metadata publically as soon as it is accurate, and at the same time update it (#7) as soon as something changes. Good examples are your book’s ISBN information or book pre-sales listings. In my experience this is where larger publishers have a slight advantage because they tend to be better planners (and have more staff!). The self-publishing author is usually managing the process themselves and worse, rushing to market. Savvy publishers pick a date in the future and manage to that date. As decisions are made, data is locked down, and put online as soon as possible. This naturally leads to the next step…
#5: Distribute it.
It is impossible for us and our metadata to be everywhere; we do not have enough time and frankly, we’re better off mastering a few distribution points rather than spreading ourselves across scores of networks. But two of the biggest oversights I see are self-publishers not circling back to finalize their ISBN record, or updating their Amazon AuthorCentral profile. If you maintain a profile, keep it up-to-date.
#6: Optimize it.
Optimizing metadata is the process of adapting your standard metadata (#1) to work better with a specific online service. To illustrate, the most common metadata element this applies to are book subject categories. This field may and often will differ depending on the online platform (Amazon KDP, Amazon CreateSpace, B&N, Kobo, MyIdentifiers, etc.). Optimization can also be applied to your profiles on services: Twitter, Facebook, AuthorCentral, B&N Nook book page, Linkedin, etc. (Obviously most metadata elements will never be optimized: book title/subtitle, author name, series name, ISBN, etc.)
#7: Maintain it.
Things change so this is not set and forget. You may write another book, you may decide to change your book category or keywords, or use a different profile picture, or refine a book description. This is why it is so important to not only document (#1) your metadata, but keep track of all the places where it exists. Remember, it isn’t just about your book—these best practices also apply to your personal brand.
Treat metadata as a chief benefit of indie publishing
As an indie author, or small publisher, you have a lot more control over the metadata that describes your book and your author presence than you think. You can insure it is always accurate, consistent, updated promptly, distributed to all relevant services and optimized appropriately to take advantage of each online service. So record your metadata and treat it with the respect and care it deserves. You never know where it will end up!
Interested in how metadata is used in SEO for Books? Check out these posts.