The scene opens on a classroom. The students’ eyes are glazed over from the glow of the computer screens, half of them open to D2L, the other to some Instagrammer’s latest post. The professor asks the question, “What is metadata?” and one person, with a fox-like grin on their face, raises their hand and calls out, “It’s data about data.” Everyone breaks out in applause, confetti rains from the ceiling and cupcakes are served. This has happened to me more times than I can count, and yes, a quick hand raise asking for clarification could have solved all my problems but then I wouldn’t have had a blog post idea. So come with me as we take a journey on self-education and find out what all the fuss is about metadata and why you should actually care about it.
Metadata, as it turns out, is not that complicated and is just the language and information you use to describe your book. It is everything from the author, title, and publication date, to the synopsis, trim size, and page count. There are about twenty to twenty-five data fields that booksellers require publishers to submit for their books. The information submitted acts as both a front-facing marketing tool for potential customers (why would I buy a two-hundred-page book on cupcakes when I could easily buy a seven-hundred-page book on cupcakes) and behind-the-scenes information that search engines use to allow people to find your book. This is the heart of the matter and the reason metadata is so important; it is the way in which people discover your book. There is that age-old adage; if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Yeah, maybe, but I don’t know, I wasn’t there. If a great book comes out and the metadata is wrong, will people still buy it? Not a great analogy, but you get the idea. It is so incredibly important that the metadata publishers submit to booksellers is accurate.
What’s more, having accurate metadata is not enough to stick out in the crowd. Savvy publishers also need to include keywords sprinkled throughout their twenty to twenty-five pieces of data in order to attract views. That’s why I have said the word cupcake three times—to target that niche baked-goods literary crowd. They are both voracious readers and eaters of sweet treats. It’s this seemingly simple and yet incredibly hard to achieve balance between raw data and creative copy that determines whether a book is found or lost to the hollows of the internet. In a world where most people don’t go beyond the first page in a Google search, you don’t want to make it hard for people to find your book.
It turns out that metadata is not as intimidating as it sounds. When done right, it can be an extremely powerful marketing tool, and when done incorrectly, you may not even notice because no one will be talking about your book anyway. Yet in the end, is it accurate to describe metadata as being “data about data?” Sure, but that is an oversimplified take, so don’t expect confetti to rain down anytime soon.