Monday, November 19, 2012

E-Book Metadata: Key to Sales

One blog reader, Chihuahua Zero, commented on Friday's post that he'd like to read more about metadata—one of the key elements identified by Jon Fine of Amazon as important to e-book sales, and discussed briefly in my post. I appreciate that request—thank you Chihuahua Zero!

Simply put, what I gather from reading about the topic is that metadata is the information about your book that describes your work, and is used to classify it for e-book sales. The e-book publisher uses the metadata you provide to categorize where your book belongs in their lexicon, and how they will present it to potential readers (much like deciding which bookshelf it goes on in the brick and mortar bookstore). 

Here's part of how Jon Fine defined metadata (as reported in a Digital Book World post):

Metadata is basically the online version of everything publishers used to sell books before the rise of digital: Book cover, synopsis, author information, book-jacket blurbs and more. Ignoring the digital versions of these things can doom a book to obscurity.

It starts with the cover. Online, an effective cover is different than what works in print.
“What looks good full-size doesn’t necessarily look good on your cell phone,” said Fine.
But it doesn’t end with the cover. Publishers must make sure their books are categorized correctly and associated with the correct keywords.
“The amount of time you go online to shop for a book and use keywords has grown astronomically,” Fine said.
Perhaps the best piece of metadata that publishers can use to help readers find their books is the text of the book itself. For publishers that enable it, Amazon will search inside the text of the book when readers use the site’s search function.
Fine went on to make a strong pitch for Amazon's approach to selling e-books and how authors should tailor their metadata to fit that approach.

Fine identified metadata in terms authors can easily relate to, such as the appearance of the cover and the content of the book blurb. But there's a whole area about how the data is used technologically and how authors should enter it into e-book publishing sites, that needs to be emphasized as well. This is not stuff that many of us relate to so easily.

One way to understand what authors need to focus on when developing their metadata is to note the emphasis placed by Fine and others on 'key words.' It makes sense that the words you identify as key words to describe your book will determine the categorization and presentation, right? Anyone who's worked with SEO (Search Engine Optimization) knows how important key words are to getting traffic to your blog or website.
So where and how, exactly, do you enter key words for your book, and what else is involved?

According to the website,, when you are ready to make your book into an e-book for a sales site, you will find that all e-book converters give you a way to add or edit metadata. But it's important to realize that "you should try to embed as much of your metadata as possible into the source file" because editing it in the files (once they've been set up) is not easy. (Go here for the full discussion.) The discussion also identifies what and where metadata is stored—in what online files of the publisher, etc., along with suggestions for how you, the author, might use that information.
I've got to admit, I have the same emotional reaction to this sort of important information that I have when I'm trying to grasp the details of filing my taxes each year. It feels overwhelming. 
So, those of you who've been through this process, could you chime in and tell us about your experience with providing (inputting) metadata, and share any wisdoms you've uncovered? I'd love to hear how you made it work for you.


  1. I never heard of the word or this concept before. Thanks for sharing about it though I feel I have a lot to learn about it yet.

    1. It's one of those things we need to know about, Natalie, although it makes me want to have an expert on board to help!

  2. Thank you Linda, This is overwhelming. My problem was trying to limit all the data. If I remember correctly you only have 3 to 6 options to add connections. Think of it like labels on the blog. So for mine, I added Aviation, Flying, Aircraft Accidents... That way anyone interested would go. I wanted to add empowering women, Safety... ect. Wait...there might have been six and I had aviation safety. But... I wanted more. That's all I remember. The's a terrible thing to waste. But when you lose it... so sad.

    1. I knew you'd have a story, Karlene! Yes, it does sound overwhelming, but thanks for confirming that it's a lot like SEO.( Losing the memory? I was up in the middle of the night watching Dr. Daniel Amen on PBS last night, and I hate to think what a scan of my brain would look like!)