There’s a good chance that if you’re reading this you’ve heard some of the hype about book metadata but don’t really know what exactly it is or why it’s important. I mean, you’re a writer, not a data expert. Why should you care? Well the truth is, metadata can take your book to new online heights. When you’re an independent author with self-publishing aspirations, being a data expert is one of the many hats you must wear. But don’t worry, we’re here to help.


In layman’s terms, metadata is data that describes other data. So that begs the question, what is data? Data is the information from the digital version of an electronic file or document. If you’re anything like me, that sounds miserably boring. I don’t even really care about data—why should I care about the data of other data?


Well in this case, your book is the data, and the information describing your book is the metadata. It is this exact metadata that helps readers find the book they want to read. In other words, it is how you are going to sell books. If you weren’t on board before, maybe you are now …


Simplifying Online Searches

When a book is sold in a brick and mortar bookstore, the search process is fairly simple. I’m sure you already know how it works: A book is placed in a section or aisle of the bookstore according to its genre. Readers wander the bookstore, stopping in sections they are most interested in to start browsing through the array of books. They are able to gauge their interest in a book by physically picking it up and flipping freely through its pages without any limitations.


The search isn’t as hands on for online book buying. Readers must rely heavily on search engines to produce relevant results and get the right books in their hands. To simplify online searching we need an advanced form of organization. The solution is metadata.


Book metadata is what search engines use to decipher the differences from one book to the next.


Simplifying Book Metadata

Book metadata is broken down into different categories: title, subtitle, author, ISBN, keywords, genre, book description, author description, and more. This information gives your book its identity and makes it unique in comparison to the millions of other books online. It’s like your book’s very own DNA.


So, when a potential reader searches something either on a search engine like Google or in an online bookstore like, the search engine scans through its database and returns results to fit the search.  


However, search engines can’t scan through every word on the internet to deem what is most important or relevant to the searcher. And in this case, search engines don’t analyze your entire book to decipher what will peak the interest of your potential readers. They use algorithms that value metadata because again, metadata is the data that describes your book.


It’s up to you to choose what you specifically want to stand out for search engines. You know your book better than anyone, and metadata is your opportunity to describe the most important aspects of your book to search engines so they are able to match it with the right searches. The book metadata you apply will determine how readers can find it.


Discovering Your Book Online

Metadata makes it possible for readers to find your book in a variety of ways. For example, they can search your book’s title or your author name and ideally should be routed directly to your book. But in reality, the number of books you sell will be limited if the only people who buy it are the ones specifically looking for it.


I’m just going to assume you aren’t as famous as J.K. Rowling, and that just means people will need to discover your book without even realizing they are looking for it. While it’s a bit of an obstacle to be a lesser-known author, the keywords you use in your book’s metadata make it possible for readers to organically discover you through their natural online searching.


So what are keywords? They are exactly what they sound like. Words and phrases that you have chosen as key descriptors of your book. In other words, even if someone was to search only a word or phrase, they would still be matched with your book. With the keywords in your book metadata, you can identify the setting or time period of your book, list key characteristics of your main characters, describe the plot theme, or anything else that simply describes the important aspects of your book to a reader.


Put yourself in the mind of your potential readers. What will they be searching for that might help them stumble across your book?


Maximizing Reader Discovery

This is only the tip of the metadata iceberg. Book metadata is such a diverse topic and understanding it better is only the start. Learn how to optimize your book metadata to maximize reader discovery.