Tech Tips Installment One: Metadata: a Definition, and Some Myths
Lori Bennett heads up daily operations at Nelson Literary Agency’s digital wing, NLA Digital.
Increasingly, my role at the agency has expanded from mostly sitting behind a computer (as you’d expect a software engineer to do) to being called upon to speak about the more technical aspects of self-publishing.
The latest such presentation I gave was at the fall 2015 NINC Conference. The topic I was asked to address was metadata. I’ll be breaking up the meat of my Metadata: Management and Maxims presentation into quarterly installments that I hope will educate and empower authors.
The standard definition of metadata is this: Metadata is data about data.
Huh? Talk about circular logic! What this basically means is that your book is the primary data, and all the other self-referential data associated with it—the title, the author, the book description, the price, the search categories you pick, the ISBN, etc.—is its metadata.
In general, the more metadata—i.e., the more pieces of information affiliated with your book—you have, the better. It’s silently working for you in the background, helping to strengthen your brand, to drive discoverability of your titles, and, with luck and skill in almost equal measure, to increase your sales.
Myth: Metadata is too technical and hard to learn. It’s best left to the experts.
Reality: Anyone armed with some knowledge and discipline can learn to produce better metadata.
Don’t get hung up on the technical sound of the term. After all, you know your own product data best: book description, search strings, categories, prices, etc. These are all examples of metadata. There are many more, but it’s not as mysterious as it sounds.
Myth: Metadata is static.
Reality: Metadata should be tuned periodically to reflect new releases, or information about your brand like awards and upcoming ventures.
This is not the time to “set it and forget it.” Successful authors know that metadata management is a process, and you may sometimes feel like you’re chasing a moving target. Unfortunately, you are. The metadata management techniques you use today may not work in six months. All you can do is resolve to educate yourself and keep trying new things.
Myth: Metadata doesn’t make a difference in sales.
Reality: Happily, this is false!
You can see and hear an example of just how big an impact mastering your metadata can make in a video from the archives of Agent Kristin’s PubRants blog.
(Note/disclaimer: Some of the information in this video example is out of date, particularly the practice of mentioning other authors and/or titles in metadata, which is now discouraged, if not outright disallowed, at certain retail venues.)
Myth: Metadata doesn’t make a difference in sales, continued…
Reality: A more recent example of the power of metadata to drive sales was presented by Carolyn Reidy in her keynote address at the Book Industry Study Group’s annual meeting. Ms. Reidy, the president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, described how Galveston, the first novel by Nic Pizzolatto, experienced a huge sales boost once it was connected to Pizzolatto’s later work on the HBO series True Detective primarily through one piece of metadata: the book description. Prior to that, print and ebook sales of Galveston were under 1,000 annually.
Scribner rewrote the first line of the book’s online description to read “From the creator, writer, and executive producer of the HBO crime series True Detective.” Sales began to rise, and a reprint featured a new burst on the cover, which was displayed online. As a result, in 2014, Scribner sold more than 37,000 copies of Galveston in print and ebook editions. Reidy called it “truly a resurrection.” —Shelf Awareness Pro, September 21, 2015
I hope you’ve enjoyed this very brief intro to metadata. In later installments of this series, we’ll delve into some real-life examples of how you can tune specific, common metadata fields to your advantage.
Next Tech Tips installment: BISAC Basics
We’ll talk about what BISAC codes are, how to use them, how to supplement them, and what to do when you your preferred category is not yet implemented. We’ll also talk about the impending addition of over 500 new BISAC listings in 2016.