What Every Author Needs to Know about Book Metadata in Publishing - article

For authors new to publishing there's a lot to learn. In today's digital world, metadata is one topic that you need to understand as an author. Although the term 'metadata' may sound like a minor technical detail, savvy authors know the importance of perfecting their book's metadata to reach more readers and boost sales. To set your book up for success you need to understand what metadata is, where it's used, why it's important, and what's required for publishing.

Book metadata definition

Merriam-Webster defines metadata as "data that provides information about other data." In publishing, metadata is information about your book, such as the title, book size, and description. Metadata not only helps people find your book online, but it also helps readers decide whether or not to buy your book, and it tells librarians and booksellers how to catalog or sell your book.

Where is metadata used in publishing?

For Distribution: Book metadata is used to populate bookstores' and retailers' websites, such Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Apple's iBooks. Your book's metadata holds information about your book, which your distributor disseminates to other retailers. If you are presenting a sales sheet to book buyers or librarians for consideration it should include your book’s metadata.

For Marketing: you can use metadata on your website, blog, and social media accounts. For example, use your book's description and your author biography on all of your social media accounts for a consistent marketing message and author brand.

Why is book metadata important?

Metadata helps people find your book

When readers search for a book, they may browse a bookstore category or use search terms. By ensuring that your book's metadata includes an accurate genre and search-friendly keywords, your book can be found by interested readers.

Metadata convinces people to buy your book

When readers view your book's page on a website, they look at the metadata—that's the cover image, book description, and other details, such as page count, book format, and price. People use this information to make a decision of whether or not to buy your book.

Metadata helps you reach your niche audience

Choosing the right words in your book's metadata can make the difference in reaching the right audience. By targeting your niche audience, you'll ensure that interested people can find your book. Just as in other marketing efforts, it's better to target a specific, narrower audience, than to target a larger, general group of people who might not be interested.

What metadata is required for book publishing?

Some book metadata is determined by the book itself, and some is entirely up to you. In general, the book fundamentals listed below are required for a book to be included on a bookstore's website. The book marketing details are usually optional. However, the more information you provide the better—as long as it's quality content that aligns with your marketing message.  

Book fundamentals – typically required

- Book title

- Subtitle (if applicable)

- Author/pen name

- Book format (Paperback, eBook, etc.)

- Publisher

- Language

- Page count


- Publication date

- Book description/About the book (Tip: ensure that your book description is rich with keywords that target your niche audience.)

- Price

- Genre/BISAC codes (Tip: BISAC codes (Book Industry Standards and Communications) tell others how to categorize your book. The more specific you can be, the better. For more information visit the Book Industry Study Group’s (BISG) official BISAC Subject Headings List)

- Audience level

- Cover image

Marketing information – typically optional

Not all websites have room to include extra marketing information. However, for those websites that allow it, you can be ready with carefully thought-out content that supports your marketing message.

- Keywords: A keyword is one or more words that people use to search for something. Consider how people will search online to find your book. Use Google to experiment with different combinations of keywords to find the results that you feel should include your book. Remember to target a smaller niche audience, instead of a larger, general one. NOTE: Not all websites use keywords in the same way, so do your research to understand where and how they are applicable.

- Marketing headline: This is a short, powerful pitch that sums up your book in about twenty-five words or less.

- Editorial reviews: When you've received glowing reviews from reputable sources, you can include them on retailer websites.

- Endorsements: Include any notable endorsements you've received about your book.

- About the author: This is your author bio—it's should be in line with your book's marketing message and author brand. Keep it short and sweet, and rich with targeted keywords.

Use your book metadata to reach your audience

By understanding what metadata in publishing is, how it's used, what's required, and why it's important, you can optimize your book's metadata to reach your niche audience and to ensure you are meeting distributor, bookseller, or retailer requirements.  Get started planning your book's metadata now, along with your marketing plan, to create a cohesive branding message. When you optimize your metadata you ensure that you're giving your book the best chance of being found by your targeted audience.

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  • Great information - Thank You! I am a first time writer just having finished my incredible life story: "Naked in the Middle of a Tornado: The True Story of One Family's Unbelievable Fight Against Polycystic kidney Disease (PKD)". I now have a starting point.

  • Good information that I can apply. I still have some questions. Is the marketing headline the same as or like a tag line?  Also, I have found it difficult to write my author bio. Where can I get assistance with that?

  • Good information; however,  was expecting more "how-to".  I already have a lot of online marketing experience,  just not targeted toward books/ literary marketing.  Perhaps examples of what you're describing in order to be more specific, would be helpful.