METADATA 101: A Non-Techie Does Her Best to Explain Metadata (and Why it Matters) In Plain English

by Ruth Harris

First of all, what the &%^# is metadata? AccordIng to Wikipedia, it’s “data about data.” But we’re writers and we’re talking about books, so, huh?

Let me try again: when it comes to a book, metadata can be defined both by what it is and what it isn’t. Metadata’s everything in a file that’s not included between the first word and the last word of your book. Which leaves us, well, exactly what?

Essentially, for a writer, metadata is everything except the book we include when we upload a book: cover, title, author’s name, series name (if the book is part of a series), categories, keywords, blurb, ISBN, reviews, author bio.

Metadata also includes front matter and back matter and tells a reader what s/he wants to know before deciding to buy (or not to buy) your book. Metadata matters (a lot) and here are some reasons why, starting with the front matter (everything the reader sees that comes before the actual beginning of the book):

The cover is the writer’s first sell opportunity and the reader’s first clue to genre. A naked male torso avec bulging six-pack promises the reader hot s-e-x and maybe romance. A fanged death’s head drooling pus and blood means horror. Be creative but don’t mislead your reader! Book designer, Joel Friedlander, often blogs about covers here.

The title (and the series title, if there is one) is another crucial signal, so choose wisely. You wouldn’t call a sweet romance set in a sleepy Southern village Night Of the Psychotic Avenger, would you? You wouldn’t call a dystopian urban zombie thriller Aunt Matilda’s Ye Olde Knitting And Crochet Shoppe, would you? And Adventures of a Girl is hopeless: too generic, tells the reader nothing. Bottom line: choose your title carefully. Leading a reader astray or leaving him/her to wonder what the book is about isn’t good for you, your sales—or for your reader.

The author’s name is your brand so respect it. If the author name is a pseudonym, though, match the name with your genre. “Studly McBoozehound” might be an OK choice if you’re writing brass-knuckled noirpulp. It would be a lousy choice if you’re writing swoony 18th Century historical romance set in the Scottish Highlands. Capeesh?

The blurb or, as Amazon refers to it, the Product Description, is your opportunity to tell the readers why s/he absolutely must buy your book. Your blurb needs to pop and sizzle and compel the reader to hit the buy button. After the purchase, when your book is already present on someone’s ereader, placing the blurb in the front matter will remind the reader why s/he bought the book in the first place.

Writing a powerful blurb is both an art and a craft. Superstar indie author, Mark Edwards, gives advice on how to write a compelling blurb here.

The Invisibles (to the reader but not to search engines.)

The ISBN (or ASIN) is the alpha-numeric string (ZZ12345) that identifies your book to readers and book-sellers. ISBNs can be purchased from Bowker; the ASIN is the FREE number assigned by Amazon. Kobo and Apple also offer their own FREE identifiers when you upload your book.

There is disagreement about whether it’s worth buying your own ISBN or not. Some think buying your own ISBN is worthwhile. Others think it doesn’t much matter. Joel Friedlander discusses the pros and cons of the different flavors of ISBNs/ASINs here.

Keyword and keyword strategy. Although the reader doesn’t see keywords, they are crucial to discoverability and visibility.

Joanna Penn writes about the importance of keywords and explains the techniques for finding ones that will work best for you. She uses specific examples using one of her own books here.

Lisa Grace, mystery author, goes into the mysteries (sorry, couldn’t help it) of SEO and keywords here and Christopher Shevlin tells how he used keywords to bring his book back from the dead and turn it into a best seller here.

Category tells where a book would be shelved in a bookstore. No one will find your sci-fi epic if it’s shelved with gardening manuals so choose your categories (Amazon allows two; Nook permits five; Kobo and Apple also permit multiple choices.) carefully.

M. Louisa Locke blogs about the importance of choosing categories (and keywords) here and FreelanceSwitch offers a detailed tutorial about category-choosing here.

Amazon provides overall metadata guidelines here, and lists required keywords for certain categories (romance, sci/fi, YA, thriller, mystery, suspense) here.

Back matter (the last pages the reader sees & another chance to sell—but be careful.)

Possibilities for back matter:
Some advise that back matter should be no more than 5% of the entire length. Readers can feel cheated if they get to 55% of a file (the end of your story) only to find that another 45% is devoted to sales pitches! Obviously, a full-length novel will allow you more back matter space. A short story, less.

The savvy authors on the KB Writers’ Cafe share their thoughts about back matter (they don’t always agree about everything) here. Writers share examples of different approaches to back matter here. Another discussion of front matter and back matter and what information should go where is here.

From the first word of your title to the last period at the end of the last sentence in your back matter, metadata matters because metadata is one of the most important ways readers can find (and buy) your book. Ignore it at your peril!

Book Deals of the Week. 
We have two hilarious comedies this week.

The Chanel Caper by Ruth Harris is $3.99 on Amazon USAmazon UK
And Nook | Kobo | iBooks

Award-winning historical romance and USA Today Bestselling contemporary romance winner, Vanessa Kelly's take on The Chanel Caper in Love Rocks:

"Set primarily in the world of fashion and advertising in New York City, THE CHANEL CAPER features a fifty-six year old heroine who is smart, sardonic, and whose marriage to her sexy, ex-cop husband has hit a rough patch. Blake Weston makes for a fabulous heroine, watching in some bemusement as her husband Ralph, now head of security for a large international corporation, goes into mid-life crisis. For Ralph, this involves extreme workouts in an effort to recapture his youthful vigor, a new wardrobe, and a flirtation with a bombshell war correspondent doing everything she can to get Ralph between the sheets. Blake, naturally, has no intention of allowing her beloved husband of twenty-five years to slip away from her.

"In an ongoing effort to upmarket her own outdated style and rekindle some romance in her marriage, Blake buys a faux Chanel handbag from a street vendor. This sets off a chain of wild events that includes murder, explosions, counterfeit drug rings, and the pursuit of suspects and warlords from Shanghai to Afghanistan. The Chanel Caper is a romantic comedy, a thriller, and a send-up of the big city lifestyle in the wake of the global financial crisis. All the disparate elements of this very funny story are tethered by the engaging Blake, a smart, sensible, and dryly witty heroine intent on saving her marriage. It’s definitely a romance for the grownups, set against the backdrop of the bright lights of the city that never sleeps."...Vanessa Kelley, award winning Romance author

Plus Anne's fourth Camilla Mystery, No Place Like Home 
is 99c for two weeks only on Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA etc.

It's #4 in the series, but reads as a stand-alone.

"Under the guise of a great beach read - and no doubt it is that too, full of suspense and pleasingly written, the words keep flowing naturally, effortlessly and you keep turning the pages, eager to find out what happens next - this is a book that in fact delivers far more. 

It explores what is behind our love for our home, our need for security and what happens to us when we lose it all. It raises some serious existential questions as age inexorably erodes the looks of one successful woman (Doria)and the recent economic recession that has affected us all destroys the livelihood of a woman who thought she had finally pulled it all together and resolved her problems (Camilla). The contrast between the two is intriguing and also raises more questions...

But don't get me wrong. This is a book that is high comedy, not deep philosophy...Happy reading and expect some unusual twists and turns!"...Claude Nougat, author of a A Hook in the Sky

Opportunity Alerts

1) Quirk Books "Looking for Love" contest. They offer a $10,000 prize for the best quirky love story of 50,000 words or more. Visit the Quirk Books website to download the entry form or for further information. Quirk Books was founded in 2002 and publishes around 25 books each year. Their bestselling titles include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Entries close October 1. 

2) Get your book international visibility for a reasonable price. EBUK is now advertising bargain books to close to a dozen countries, including the US and Canada, and they're still at half price through the end of August. You can get more info here. Make sure your book is under $3.99 and provide links to all stores, not not only Amazon (unless you're in Select.) Ads are a little over 10 bucks until the end of August. And you can sign up for the newsletter for your country right here. I've signed up for the new US version. If you like bargain ebooks, this is a great free service.

3) Writer's Digest Popular Fiction Awards. Since most short fiction contests tend to favor literary work, this is a great one for genre authors. Choose your favorite genre and enter your best in 4,000 words or less. Six first prizes of $500 each and a Grand Prize of $2,500 and a trip to the 2013 Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. Deadline September 16th

4) The Harper's Bazaar UK Short Story Prize is open to all writers. NO ENTRY FEE. Are you the next Dorothy Parker or Anita Loos? Submit an original short story (up to 3,000 words) on the subject of 'spring' The winning entry will appear in the May 2014 issue. Its author will be able to choose a first-edition book from Asprey's Fine and Rare Books Department to the value of £3,000 and enjoy a week-long retreat at Eilean Shona House, on the 2,000-acre private island off the west coast of Scotland where JM Barrie wrote his screenplay for Peter Pan. Deadline December 13th.

5) BARTLEBY SNOPES WRITING CONTEST - Can you write a story that's dialog only? $10 ENTRY FEE A minimum of $300 will be awarded, with at least $250 going to  first place and at least $10 to four honorable mentions. 5 finalists will also appear in Issue 11 of the magazine due out in January 2014. Last year they awarded $585 in prize money. For every entry over 25, an additional $5 will be awarded to the first place story. Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. You may use as many characters as you want. Your entry must be under 2,000 words. Your entry does not have to follow standard rules for writing dialogue. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.) Deadline September 15th 

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