Making a Master File for eBook Metadata
Metadata might sound like a jargon term invented by Silicon Valley executives, but it’s actually extremely relevant in all facets of the book trade, from ecommerce to brick-and-mortar libraries. In fact, nowadays, if you want to succeed as an indie author, you need to know not only what metadata is but also how to optimise it to maximise your books’ success.
So, what is metadata? In layman’s terms, metadata is the collection of words that computers use to understand and catalogue a physical or digital item. This could be anything from a car to a blog post. For authors, your book is the data and your metadata includes its title, author name, genre – any information organisations need to publish and distribute it.
Readers never see most metadata, but book trade professionals have relied on it for years in library, distribution and bookselling systems. It wasn’t until the rise of self-publishing, however, that metadata became critical author knowledge. Successful indies noticed that retailers sold books more effectively when they had high-quality metadata. This is particularly evident for ebooks on Amazon, because the Kindle gave Amazon even more data points to optimise their recommendations. Hence, the lesson became obvious: optimise your metadata and you’ll reach more relevant readers, accumulate more positive reviews and make more money.
Optimising your metadata can seem complicated at first, but it’s easier than most authors realise. There’s actually a lot of overlap between platforms so it’s possible to compile your metadata all in one spreadsheet that covers many bases, from Amazon to Apple Books. No matter how your publish, making a master file to organise your metadata can help you to improve quality and accuracy across the board, which will save you time and improve your bottom line.
If this still sounds technical, don’t worry. Today’s blog post will explain all of the basic terms you need to understand to make your very own optimised metadata master file for ebooks.
Book titles, subtitles and series titles all impact discoverability, so coming up with good ones and keeping your naming conventions consistent can make a massive difference to sales. This might seem insignificant, but it’s important. For a start, books that share an identical series title also share a dedicated page on some platforms, which improves read-through and overall series sales. You just have to ensure you always type your series title exactly the same way when publishing books in the same set. If you don’t, you won’t receive this benefit.
A well-chosen book title or subtitle can also make your book easier to find. This is true on Amazon but also other retailers. Search “sweet romance” on Kobo, for example, and you won’t always see the bestsellers. Those that rank highest often include “sweet romance” in their title or subtitle. So, a title like “Love in a Kitchen: A Sweet Romance” or “Sweet Romance in a Kitchen” may perform better than “Love in a Kitchen” for that search term. Just be sure to check each retailer’s rules before you apply this strategy everywhere because some won’t publish a book unless the subtitle features on the cover.
While a book’s volume number has no impact if you only write standalones, it’s extremely important for series writers who rely on fans to read their whole series to make a profit. Associate the wrong volume number with a book and you can completely halt a reader’s progress. Likewise, tagging a box set or side-story novella with a main-series volume number can have a similar effect, as well as being against the rules for some retailers. Therefore, it’s sometimes wiser to approach auxiliary titles differently. You could, for instance, choose to claim book 3.5 in a series under the same series name but not assign it a volume number. Or, for box sets, you could claim a different series title, specifically for the series box sets.
In this case, the series, would look like this:
Series Title: Witch Academy Chronicles
Book 1: Witches Be Witches
Book 2: What a Witch
Book 3: Kill the Witch
Book 4: Mean Witches
Book 5: Filthy Witch
Book 6: He’s My Witch
Book 7: Whatever, Witch
Book 8: Witches Be Thirsty
Book 9: Life’s a Witch
Box Set Series Title: Witch Academy Chronicles Box Sets
Book 1: Witch Academy Chronicles: Books 1-3
Book 2: Witch Academy Chronicles: Books 4-6
Book 3: Witch Academy Chronicles: Books 7-9
Side Stories Series Title: Witch Academy Chronicles
Witch Way’s Up (No volume number)
Science, Witch! (No volume number)
We’re Gonna Be Witch! (No volume number)
Admittedly, the box sets won’t appear on the main series page but they arguably appeal to different audiences anyway. By separating your series in this way, you optimise their metadata and give all of your books the best chance of success. Keeping consistent volume numbers in your master file is as critical to maximising your books’ discoverability as your author name and series title. Getting it right can strengthen your brand and lead to more favourable reviews, which can have a positive effect on retailer recommendations.
International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) make up the standard book industry system that publishers, distributors, librarians and booksellers use to track books and their sales figures. Many publishing platforms offer free ISBNs to authors who publish with them. As citizens of many countries have to pay for ISBNs, this looks like a great deal. However, buying your own and keeping track of them in your spreadsheet can benefit your author career in various ways.
A major advantage to owning your own ISBNs is that it allows you to apply the same one to a book on multiple platforms, providing there is minimal variation between the files. Doing this allows Nielsen, or other book-tracking authorities, to count the sales recorded for that book everywhere as one entity, which makes it easier to hit bestseller lists like the USA Today or New York Times. Meanwhile, free ISBNs offered by retailers cannot be used on multiple platforms. So, any sales attributed to them must be recorded per platform as separate books. Managing your own ISBNs in a metadata master file makes all of this much easier, giving you more control and potentially more opportunities.
Storing a list of links to your books’ sales pages on retailer websites isn’t essential for publishing, but it does make your job easier when applying for promotions and distributing your books to reviewers. You may even want to keep links for different purposes in your master file. That way, you could keep Amazon geolinks, which send readers to their local Amazon store, for when you want maximum Amazon exposure, or universal book links for when you want to widen the focus to other retailers, say, for instance, if you’re running a campaign to hit a bestseller list.
As authors, we’re often required to write sales descriptions when uploading our books to publishing platforms and marketing websites. Without a record like a master file to help, many of us copy sales descriptions from Amazon then rework them to adhere to each site’s length specifications. However, this means they are often rushed, written as a last-minute afterthought with little consideration for the readers who will encounter them.
A better approach would be to work in advance and store several ready-to-go book descriptions of different lengths in your metadata master file. This forethought will allow you to optimise your long, medium and short descriptions independently so that they are SEO friendly and convert shoppers into readers to their full capacity. This extra planning, though fiddly, will save you time in the long run and enable you to get more bang for your marketing buck.
If you aren’t familiar with subject codes, they’re essentially letter-and-number codes that represent categories used by the book industry to catalogue books in physical and digital systems. One of the most popular subject code systems used in the world is BISAC, which is favoured by the US book industry. Thema codes, which are based on the UK’s BIC system, however, are growing in popularity because they have more nuanced capabilities that encompass the US criteria but also cater for other territories. Keeping a record of BISAC and Thema codes for your books can help to maximise their exposure around the globe.
It’s possible to choose subject codes on the fly on many publishing platforms. However, their dropdown menus typically have limited options and are difficult to browse. In reality, there are thousands of unique BISAC and Thema codes you can choose from to categorise your books. You can find a full list simply by searching online. It’s tempting to pick an obvious option and move on, but take the time to trawl through them all because picking a relevant niche can multiply the number of readers who encounter your book for free every day. Once you’ve found great BISACs and Themas, you can store them in your master file and never have to do that work again. As you write more books and grow your author business, managing your metadata will become an increasingly difficult but important challenge. Establish a system like a master file in advance, though, and you will save time, reach more readers and expose your books to more opportunities forever.
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