A Self-Publisher's Guide To Metadata For Books

This article, by Carla King, originally appeared on PBS.org‘s MediaShift on 10/12/10.

Metadata used to be a wallflower, hiding out at the library with the Dewey Decimal system. Now it’s at every party, flitting about gathering and sorting books on mobile devices, e-readers, and websites. Metadata is a core component of digital information and news; so good book metadata is good book marketing. It’s an essential tool for all self-publishers.

For those unaware, metadata is data about data, words about words. In the semantically driven matrix of search, all words have a value, and "key" words have more value still. These keywords must be strategically selected and then placed where they can do the most good. Creating metadata tags for your work is a marketing challenge that requires both editing skill and narrative common sense.

"As our digital landscape explodes — as web search becomes not just one way but THE way readers find what’s next on their reading lists — metadata only becomes more important," wrote Laura Dawson of Authorweb.

It might sound daunting, but if you know who your audience is, and you can fill out a form, you can create metadata for your book. Here’s what you need to know about providing metadata for your book record on the Bowker system and for all your web activities.

Identify Your Keywords

First, we must spill into search engine optimization (SEO) territory. The typical self-published author doesn’t need to hire an SEO expert. But I spoke with expert Mark Petrakis who helped me create these steps to identifying a solid keyword list:

  1. Imagine the words and short phrases your readers might enter into a search engine to find you and your book. Begin to eliminate the less important and more generic words and phrases from your list. Try to keep the number of repeated keywords to a maximum of three. The final list should be no more than 10 to 20 words with a 900 character maximum. This constitutes your "keywords" metadata and can be used for your book metadata, for creating tags on blog posts, and in your social media activities. Most major search engines (like Google) no longer factor in the keyword metatags at all in search results, so this just makes having effective TITLE and DESCRIPTION tags all the more important. (Similarly, your file names should be descriptive.)

Read the rest of the article on PBS.org‘s MediaShift.