It’s no small wonder that the words “metadata management” can be overwhelming to anyone unfamiliar with what exactly that job entails; this is especially true in the publishing world, where all we want to do is help people tell their stories and get those stories into the hands of readers who will love them as much as we do. We love bookshops, and shelves upon shelves of beautiful covers and clever titles, and perusing Powell’s and reading their “Staff Picks” at our leisure. But we also have to be realistic: a growing majority of today’s readers just don’t have time to browse indie bookshops on a regular basis for their next epic tale, memoir, or anthology. Today’s audience does much of their browsing (gasp) ONLINE.
That’s where metadata comes in. When I tried to explain to my mother the project I’ve been working on (more on that later), she said “what even is metadata?” This eventually digressed into a conversation about what the word “meta” means, but what I got from it was that there are a lot of people (including me before I started this program) who have heard the word but have no idea what it means. In publishing, metadata refers to all of the information that helps sell your titles, especially online. It includes the title, creators, pub date, BISAC codes, and other key pieces of information needed for booksellers to actually sell your book. But it also includes crucial information for buyers: what the book is about (main description or synopsis), critical reviews, blurbs and endorsements, and information about the author—all of which is searchable by keywords on Google and Amazon alike.
This year, one of my largest undertakings as one of the publisher’s assistants and operations managers here at Ooligan Press was a project we called the “metadata fitness project.” My co-manager and I each took on different pieces of this project with the goal of creating a more understandable and comprehensive guide to help the press compile each upcoming book’s metadata for input into our title management system, CoreSource. It has been a “help us help you help us” kind of project and has consisted of updating the “best practices” manual for project teams and future publisher’s assistants alike, as well as combing through all of our backlist and frontlist titles in the system to make sure their metadata is correct and as robust as possible. We undertook this project partly because we wanted to combat the overwhelming appearance of “metadata” to project teams, but also because we had found that some of our titles weren’t distributing properly to libraries because they were missing specific pieces of metadata required by certain platforms.
According to Amnet in their article “Best Practices for Metadata Management for Publishers,” these are two of the things publishers can do to really help sell their books online:
- Train the people most closely involved in the project (for us, that’s editors, project managers, and project teams) in compiling metadata, because no one knows the book more intimately than these people. This makes for more accurate and robust metadata. This will also help with the creation of keywords in the metadata, which is crucial to search engine optimization (SEO).
- Create vendor-specific data. Some vendors have different requirements in terms of metadata in order for certain fields to populate on a website, or in order for the vendors to even distribute at all. Providing information for as many fields as possible and understanding which fields are used by which vendors ensures that titles are reaching all of the online sales platforms and retailers you’re targeting.
In our case, that meant making sure that every title in our list had a “main description” in the metadata. For many of our backlist titles, the information was there but under a different field name, like “long description.” In some cases, all of the metadata was there for the print version of a book, but some was missing for the ebook version, which was keeping it from distributing to platforms like Overdrive. It was amazing how some of these seemingly small differences in fields (like “long description” versus “main description”) could have such a huge effect on the reach of a particular title. By making sure all of the metadata is there and being labeled and categorized correctly, we now have a chance of reaching more readers and increasing our online visibility. In publishing, managing metadata is crucial to ensuring that our beloved stories—which we have worked so hard to produce—are actually making it into the hands of those who want and need them most.