The Hows and Whys of Metadata for Authors

    by Sarah Juckes
    May 28, 2014
    A list of keywords that are used most often in the self-publishing community.

    The word metadata sounds potentially confusing but is really very simple. Its direct translation is “data about data.” When we’re talking about books, it simply means all the information about your book that isn’t the story itself. This can be anything from the title, to the traditional blurb, to the tags that make it easier for search engines to find your book.

    For authors hoping to sell your book online, the smart use of metadata is crucial. Without it, a book is much harder to come across. At the self-publishing company I work for, CompletelyNovel, metadata is integral to how we display books on our online store. The booksellers you’ll be selling through, the search engines where people might find your book – they all use and depend on correct and complete metadata. Ignore it, and your book won’t show up where it otherwise would have.

    "If you’re hoping to sell your book online, then smart use of metadata is crucial... Ignore it, and your book won’t show up where it otherwise would have."

    Title and Author Name

    The most important metadata there is! Make absolutely sure they’re spelled and capitalized correctly in any forms you have to fill in.

    Photo by mobilyazilar on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

    Photo by mobilyazilar on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.


    Blurb / Book Description

    The next most important metadata is your book description, or blurb, so read our tips to writing a blurb here. Once you understand that a blurb is an example of metadata, then it makes all the online stuff much easier to understand! Blurbs and other metadata exist to help people understand and, hopefully, buy your book: whether in a bookshop or on the internet.


    Your online book description can however, afford to be a little different than the one on your physical book. You could take the chance to include as many keywords as you can. This will be a lot easier for non-fiction writers as you can smoothly integrate technical terms. Fiction writers can try to include information like similar authors and books, and the genre. Make sure you don’t go overboard with this; you still want a well written piece that will entice readers.

    Category / Genre

    When you publish a book with CompletelyNovel you’ll be given the choice of which category or genre your book fits in to. There are two categories to make a decision on.

    • The first is the BIC category (or BISAC in the US). This is the standardized format used in the ISBN database.

    • CompletelyNovel also have our own list of genres for when your book is sold on our site.

    You should think very carefully about these. Definitely do some research into similar books that are successful. You could choose a very popular genre, or could instead pick a more niche genre where you are more likely to ‘rank’ on sites like Amazon. Click here for an in-depth guide on picking a genre from Cathy Yardley.


    These are the words or short phrases attached to your book that will help people find it online. There is a danger of putting in keywords that are far too specific to your book. Instead, you should pick keywords that people actually search for to maximize your chance of having your book seen.

    Start by brainstorming lots of words that apply to your book and write them all down. Once you have a good number, a great place to start is Google’s Keyword Planner. If you visit the Keyword Planner you can type in your potential tags and see how often people search for them. Google will even suggest popular words that are similar.


    You can then visit bookstore websites like Amazon. Amazon doesn’t have a tool akin to the Keyword Planner. However, they do have a search bar that automatically populates with suggested searches when you start typing. Choose to search for books and then start typing your tags, letter by letter, and see what comes up. These suggested searches are what everyone is typing when they look for books; they’re a good benchmark of what your tags should look like!


    Joanna Penn goes into even more detail on the same techniques here.

    Getting your metadata right will ensure that your book appears in the appropriate place in bookshops and online stores. It will give it the best chance of getting seen by your target readers. It might even mean that your book appears amongst the recommendations for other ‘similar’ books, which is great. After you have invested so much effort into writing your book, it’s worth paying attention to ensure people can find it!

    This post first appeared on CompletelyNovel, a friendly publishing platform and author community specializing in print-on-demand. More advice here on publishing.

    Sarah Juckes is Communications Manager for CompletelyNovel, where this post first appeared. CompletelyNovel is an online publishing platform and author community that aims to make book publishing simple through use of online tools.


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