Have you ever wondered what it takes to sell books in today’s publishing landscape? You’re not alone. With the proliferation of e-commerce, the way books are sold has changed rapidly over the course of the last 20 years. Publishers and authors are now reliant on metadata to drive SEO (search engine optimization) and consumer discoverability. What is metadata? Simply put, metadata is data that provides information about other data. It’s…meta.
You’re probably wondering why data about data is important or even relevant to your book. Metadata is the backbone of the publishing industry and is the key to book sales in today’s market. It is important for every author, commercially published and self-published alike, to understand how metadata works, why it’s important, and how to best utilize it to their advantage. Let’s dive in.
In publishing, metadata is a series of details about a book that is provided to book retailers and other channels to drive book sales. Any information a consumer uses to find a book is metadata, including: title, publication date, category, and ISBN. The more metadata attached to a book, the better, since metadata enhances searchability. The more details you can provide, the easier it is for the consumer to find it, especially when those details are specific.
Every time an author uploads a book to an online retailer or partner site, they are prompted to complete a form about their book. This information is then added to a database that houses data on thousands of titles, including yours, which is why it is important to understand what makes your book unique, find those factors, and use them to enrich your metadata. Taking the time to strategically develop strong metadata for your book can be the difference between selling 100 or 1000 copies.
Now that we’ve established the importance of metadata, how do you go about developing metadata? To get the best results from your metadata you should be as specific as possible. For example, if you have a book titled My Book and there are three other books on the market titled My Book, it is vital to have metadata specific to your book so consumers find the right one. Great ways to utilize metadata to differentiate your book from others with the same title are: author information, subtitle, cover image, keywords, book description, BISAC codes, and reviews.
Aside from attaching an author’s name to a book, it is important to include an author biography and photo. All of these pieces of data add depth to you metadata and make it easier for consumers to differentiate between two books with the same title or two authors with the same name. Finally, author photos put a face to the name, which makes you more recognizable and is ultimately a great way to build relationships with your readers.
Book titles cannot be copyrighted. With the amount of books being commercially and self published each year, chances are there might be another book with the same title as yours currently on the market. One way to make it easier for consumers to find your book is to add a subtitle. Subtitles differentiate two books with the same title from one another. They can also provide consumers with more context about your book. A book’s title is meant to grab a consumer’s attention while the subtitle is meant to provide more detail. In nonfiction, subtitles are typically used to explain the specific focus of the book, i.e. The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers. Generally, subtitles are not as necessary with fiction books. However, if your book is part of a series, it is a good idea to use your series name as your subtitle. Again, this helps to ensure consumers are finding the correct book and encourages them to look at the other books in your series.
Your cover image is a secret weapon. Consumers might not always remember a book’s title or the author’s name, but they might remember the cover was green and had a dog on it. A book’s cover is what informs the consumer’s first impression about a book. In commercial publishing there are teams of people who make the decision regarding what goes on a book’s cover. For self-published authors, investing in a professional and unique cover design can boost credibility and discoverability.
Keywords are the bread and butter of metadata. One of the most important pieces of metadata you can create is a list of keywords and phrases tied to your book, which are used to catch the attention of web crawlers. Understanding what people search for and how to best position your book will take a bit of time and experimentation on your end, but it will increase your book’s overall discoverability. Also, once you have a list of keywords for your book, you can strategically implement those keywords across other areas of your metadata.
Coming up with the right book description is a bit like trying to bake a souffle: one wrong step and the whole thing deflates. A book description should be both brief and descriptive. It should give the consumer enough of the plot to draw them in, but not enough to make them feel as though they have it figured out without reading. Your book description should also have as many keywords as possible, increasing its chances of showing up in search results. Having a strong, succinct book description that is keyword heavy can enhance your SEO and overall searchability.
Assigning the proper BISAC codes to your titles ensures they’re properly categorized with online retailers, particularly Amazon. Amazon has thousands of specific categories through which books can be sold. To ensure you end up in the right category for your book, be as specific as possible when assigning your BISACs. For instance, if your book is a historical romance set in medieval Scotland with lots of sword fighting, you might assign the following BISACs:
- FIC027160 FICTION / Romance / Historical / Scottish
- FIC027150 FICTION / Romance / Historical / Medieval
- FIC027260 FICTION / Romance / Action & Adventure
If you choose to utilize BISACs for your book, you must assign at least one, although a minimum of three is recommended for best categorization results.
Reviews are great because they not only mean that someone has taken the time to read your book, but to write about it as well. Even bad reviews can have a phrase or two that is worth extracting. Combing through your reviews and selecting a few choice ones to feature are a great addition to your metadata. Featured reviews can increase your overall searchability. When choosing your featured reviews, it’s best to select positive, evaluative reviews that can persuade other consumers to purchase your book. Furthermore, it’s best to utilize reviews that contain some of your keywords since they are already optimized for search.
These are just a few options for how you can use metadata to increase your book’s online reach. While it might take a bit of time and effort to build your metadata in the short term, in the long term it can help boost your discoverability and book sales. Ultimately, the choice is yours when it comes to how much time you want to invest into making your books more prominent for consumers.