This Sunday is my release day for The Royal Wizard (a tiny bit of shameless self-promotion there) and because it is self-published and I have to do all the work of getting it formatted, packaged and put in place, it got me thinking about everything that goes into self-publishing. The first time I did this, I was caught off guard by all the extra last minute little steps I hadn’t anticipated, so I thought I’d make myself useful and give enterprising authors out there a heads-up about blurbs, key words, genres and ISBNs. Warning, this one will be a little long, but all of it stuff that’s good to know.
So you have a book and you’re ready to take the big leap into self-publishing. Awesome! But you’re not done. You’re probably missing the metadata about your book. What? What are you talking about? What is metadata?
Simply put, metadata is data about data. In this case, it’s additional information about the book. Anything that is not the story itself is metadata. Title, cover page, word count, page count, author name, editors, cover artists, release dates, ISBN numbers, copyright and licensing notes, blurbs, keywords, summaries, etc. are all metadata. Every little piece you have makes your book more recognizable. But everything has its place in the big picture, so be careful not to waste one opportunity by overdoing another.
The biggest piece of metadata, of course, is the title, followed closely by your author name and cover page. Those are the first things people see when they come across your book. The next big one is the blurb and here I have discovered there is some controversy as to what it should say. One school of thought is to cram this little 500 words or less summary with keywords that will drive searches to your book. Well, that’s great, but once they get there, what do they find? In my humble opinion, a blurb should be the back-cover summary of what your book is about. It should give enough of a teaser to make people want to read it, without giving too much of the plot. This is your hook. Better make it a good one.
Sometimes you will also need an even shorter catch phrase or one- to two-sentence summary. You thought writing a blurb was hard? The catch phrase cackles at your blurbiness (or mine, anyway). I mean, honestly. How do you sum up a 100,000+ word novel with all it’s intrigues and intricacies in two sentences? That’s nuts! It drives me bonkers every time I have to do it, but it gets easier with practice. I am rather fond of the one I put together for The Royal Wizard:
When the gods begin to play, mortals tremble…
So now you have your blurb and your summary, but where do you put the keywords? What are keywords? Well, keywords are pretty much tags, or “hot” words that identify and relate to your book and are searchable. Your title and author name are keywords. The genre is also. If you write werewolf romance, for example, your keywords would be something like paranormal, fantasy, romance, werewolf, shape-shifter, immortal, etc.
Now here’s the catch. While there is a designated area for you to add these keywords, there may be a limit on how many you can use. Be sure to use the ones most appropriate. Your title, author name, series name, genre and subgenre should definitely be on it. If you write about something easily identifiable like dragons, elves, magic, witches, wizards, etc., those should be in the keywords. This is one place where quality and quantity go hand in hand. The more keywords you have and the better they relate to your book, the easier people will find you. This goes for any kind of search, including Google, and any website or online store where your book will be published.
My boss always says that the definition of frustration is when what is promised does not match up to the experience. Whatever you put in the metadata should be fitting to your book and its genre, directly relate to your story, and give readers a fairly good idea of what they will find when they start reading. Don’t try to fool people into buying your book by labeling it as something it’s not. Categories and genres are another piece of metadata, and a VERY important one. Placing your book in the wrong categories will not only hurt you, it will confuse and disappoint your readers. If you can’t find the specific subgenre, find something as close to it as possible.
This was hard for me with The Blood Series because the stories don’t align perfectly with a single genre. They are set in the future, but on different worlds which are deliberately set up like tourist attraction blasts from the past, so sort of futuristic/sci-fi fits. But they aren’t centered on technology, so they’re more paranormal than sci-fi. They are about shape-shifters, but not the kind that turn into a monster during a full moon so I can’t call them werewolves. There are also telepaths, but again that is only one facet of the stories. They’re romances, but not all lovey-dovey, and probably not what you would call erotic (although there are definitely some steamy parts to them). There is a lot of heavy, dark back-story with my couples, and also an element of murder-mystery/ crime drama to the plot of each. The overarching story of the series is even becoming somewhat epic in the fourth installment (which I am working on now) so… what to do? In the end, all I can do is call it Paranormal/Sci-fi/Shifter Romance. That is as close as I can get.
ISBN numbers. This one is not clean cut. A lot of people are under the impression that they need an ISBN number as a unique identifier for their book. Well, yes and no. The truth is, people don’t search by numbers. They search by what they’re looking for (also known as keywords or tags–see above). An ISBN or similar number uniquely identifies your book in the store. Meaning, the store needs it more than your readers and because many of them require some sort of identifier, you might actually need one to publish there. On the other hand, many stores have their own numbering system, which makes this a moot point anyway. Confused yet? So am I…
Smashwords, for example, makes it easy by giving you the option of using a free ISBN number they provide, or purchasing one when you publish through them. This number gets assigned to your book and pushed out to all the distributors in their premium catalog, which saves you a LOT of work. On the other hand, you cannot take your Smashwords ISBN number and use it elsewhere. So when I publish TRW on Sunday, I will have a Smashwords ISBN for all their distributors (Apple, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobo, Diesel, etc.) but when I go to AllRomanceEbooks or Amazon (to whom Smashwords currently does not distribute or does but only in a limited capacity) I have to use something else. Amazon is a non-issue, as they have their own labeling and numbering system and AllRomanceEbooks allows you, as a publisher, to set your own identifier number which works only on their website.
*pause for breath*
There. I think that covers the highlights. And now I have to go and apply them. Wish me luck!