What is metadata?
In the publishing industry, metadata refers to data about books. This includes the ISBN, keywords, the author name, pub date, BISAC code, reviews, author bios, and more.
Why does metadata matter for book publishing?
At the most basic level, metadata is how people find your books. Say, for example, that I heard an interview with an author about a new sports romance. I might remember a few plot details, but not the title or the author. If I wanted to find that book again, I’d probably Google “sports romance football single mother” and hope to come up with the right title. If the book’s metadata is set up well, those keywords will be enough to help me find the book I’m looking for from that search.
Without important metadata, you might as well be tossing your book into a huge bin of other unrelated books, instead of placing it carefully on a categorized shelf. Because metadata ensures that books are discoverable and searchable, it has a huge impact on book sales. Metadata can also help potential consumers see what other readers are already saying about your book.
What do I need to include in my metadata?
If you want to push metadata about your titles out into the world, here is the minimum information you’d want to include, according to Firebrand’s Director of Sales and Education, Joshua Tallent:
- Book Media/Format
- Publication Status
- BISAC Subject
- Main Description or Brief Description
- Publication Date and/or On-Sale Date
- Sales Territory
- Page Count (for print and ebooks)
- Total Runtime (for audiobooks)
- Spine Size
- Book Weight
- Trim Size
Adding a few more fields to your metadata can really improve its quality, which will ultimately help retailers better sell your books. Tallent recommends adding the below:
- Table of Contents
- Citations (this is where you’ll put professional reviews and endorsements or reviews from industry publications)
- Title Relationships (comp titles, the author’s other books)
- Age & Grade Ranges
- BISAC Merchandising Themes
How do I distribute metadata?
ONIX is the industry standard for distributing metadata.
According to BISG, ONIX is “A standard form that publishers can use to distribute electronic information about their books to wholesale, e-tail and retail booksellers, other publishers, and anyone else involved in the sale of books. ONIX enables book information to be communicated between different organizations even if they have different technical infrastructures and business needs. It isn’t a database, but provides a standard XML template for organizing data storage.”
Essentially, ONIX is a standard format used to share metadata to variou trading partners.It is used to create and update title information on their websites.
Eloquence on Demand, a service owned by Firebrand Technologies (NetGalley’s parent company), is the gold standard for ONIX distribution in the United States. It provides publishers with simple but powerful tools to help them manage their metadata and send it out to trading partners around the world.
How can I use metadata in my marketing strategy?
Providing detailed metadata to your retail partners and updating that metadata consistently will help retailers sell your book and will help consumers find your book. Metadata helps position your titles in a crowded retail marketplace by giving retailers as much information as possible about those titles. The more information retailers have about your book, the better they will be able sell it. For example, retailers will use metadata fields like keywords, BISAC subjects, age ranges, and comp titles, to figure out how to best position titles for their consumers.
One powerful way to make metadata work for you is to keep it updated as new information becomes available. Pre-publication, update your metadata as often as you need. From publication date to 3 months post-publication, update your metadata every few weeks. If the pub date or price changes, make sure to update that in your metadata. And, be sure to update your keywords and add reviews as you start getting more and more feedback. After that, you can update metadata as needed.
You should also be sure to update your Citations field to get the most out of reviews you’re receiving. When you add reviews in to your metadata – from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and elsewhere – you are demonstrating to retailers that people are paying attention to your titles.
It is also important to update your keywords based on early feedback that you receive from NetGalley or BookishFirst. Learn more about Firebrand’s Keywords service, which provides audience analysis and keyword creation here. The ways that early readers are talking about your books are likely the ways that potential consumers will be searching for your books. Pull keywords from that feedback to see what is resonating with your earliest readers and add that to your metadata to help bring in more readers.
Metadata is one of the most powerful ways that books become discoverable in a crowded marketplace. By ensuring detailed and high-quality metadata as part of a standard workflow, publishers and authors give their books the best possible chance at finding a wide and enthusiastic audience.