What's this Metadata stuff?
Written by
Cait Levin
October 2015
Written by
Cait Levin
October 2015

Metadata. It’s a term we throw around a lot when we talk about the behind-the-scenes world of the publishing industry. Brooke has mentioned it a few times in her posts over the years, since She Writes Press was launched in 2012. It was a big thorn in our side when we were starting out, and it continues to be one of our top priorities as a publisher. But what it is this stuff, and why does it matter? As Project Editor and Author Liaison at SWP, I’ve had my hands full with metadata for a few years now. Here are nine quick facts about it, with a little bit of explanation for those in need.

1. Your book doesn’t exist without it. Seriously. Metadata is just a fancy way of saying “information”. That is, all of the information about your book that exists in the market—how much it costs, where it’s sold, who wrote it, the ISBN, even the title—that’s all metadata.


2. You need to be able to control it. This was a big one for us as a press. When we first started out, we didn’t have the major distribution that we now have with Ingram. Part of that deal was control over our author’s metadata, and that was crucial. You might think it wouldn’t be a big deal, but everything that appears on your product page online, right down to the very last em-dash, can be directly controlled.


3. Unless it’s on Amazon. Amazon is less than great about listening to publishers. We can put in specific categories for you in our systems and tell Amazon what they are, and Amazon might pick their own anyway. We can tell Amazon what price your book should be, and Amazon might pick its own price anyway. We can tell Amazon what day to start shipping your book, and Amazon might ship your book on its own schedule anyway. You get the idea.


4.You can change it. If you know who controls your data (and hopefully it’s you or your publisher, who listens to you), then you can update whatever you want, whenever you want to. You can literally change anything, and I mean anything. Want to fix the spacing on a blurb? Cool. Need to re-write your author bio completely? You got it.


5. But that doesn’t mean you should be wishy washy. Every time you change the data, all of the retailers have to update their product pages for you. Some of them are not so quick to do this. If you work with a big distributor (like Ingram), then there might be a team of people who can nudge the retailers for you, but still, don’t make it overly hard for yourself. Try to make changes in big batches, and only when you really need them. Policing all of the retailers to ensure they update can be a full time job.


6. Ask questions. If you’re working with a publisher or a distributor, there should be a person who can answer your questions about metadata. The upkeep of this data is just as important as the physical book itself, and it has an effect on everything from marketing, to sales, to the shelf life of your book.


7. Check your pages. Search for yourself and for your book on the major platforms where your book is sold. If you see an error, alert your publisher.

8. Changes aren’t made directly. This is important to understand. Editing a retailer product page is not as simple as pulling up Amazon, hitting “edit” in the corner, and making changes. Publishers usually have to go through another source to make changes for you. Then, that source will communicate the changes to the retailers, typically through something called a “data feed.”

9. Be patient.  There are a lot of retailers that sell books. Like, a lot a lot. You’ll need to make changes and then wait, usually about two weeks or so. So plan ahead, and then wait, and then check the big guys (B&N, Amazon, Apple, Kobo) and make sure everything looks the way you want it to look. 

Cait Levin is a Project Editor at She Writes Press. You can read more of her blog (when she stops watching so much Call the Midwife and actually writes more of a blog) here.

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  • Irene Allison

    Thank you, Cait! 

  • Michelle Cox

    Very good info, Cait!  Thanks!

  • Vivienne Diane Neal

    Thank you for this valuable information. I self-publish my books and have noticed that Amazon changes the price on one of my books, sometimes making it higher than the price I selected on Lulu.

  • Lisa Thomson

    Great tips, Caitlyn. Thanks for the explanation. I'm a self pub and so responsible for updating all the info. This is super helpful.

  • Cait Levin

    I'm glad you found it useful, Irene! 

  • Irene Allison

    Thanks for this information, Cait. It's so complex and what a help to have it all explained so clearly!