What I learned from work experience in publishing: Meta-data and keywords for book marketing #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop

Those of you who have visited my blog before may already know that I was offered two weeks work experience with Penguin Random House in London. The introductory post for that can be found here: I’m going on an adventure: Work Experience @ Penguin in Editorial!

I worked with Penguin’s Vintage branch for two weeks from the 13th-24th March. As part of the Author Toolbox Blog Hop, hosted by Raimey Gallant here:

Click to browse other posts that are part of the hop 🙂

I decided to summarise what I learned about the editorial process.

I hope that my experiences will provide a useful insight into how one of the big five publishers works. Last time, I covered marketing and money. This time, I will cover Meta-data and keywords! 

Editorial Work Experience Metadata Keywords

Part Four: Meta-data & Keywords

The topic of this post may sound dreadful. Meta-data. Blergh. Half of the editorial staff hated it! I actually found it fun, probably because I’m a history nerd graduate, and I enjoy trawling the internet and reading books to research!  From that perspective, let’s take a look at meta-data!

What is meta-data?

Meta-data, not to be confused with meta-humans from The Flash (even it does seem like those who use it well appear to have super powers!) is a set of data that describes other data.

s03e21_Barry and Wally stop Heatmonger
Meta-data. Not to be confused with meta-humans.

In the case of publishing, meta-data is the use of keywords to help your book appear when potential readers search for it on the internet. 

Penguin have a large database, using Biblio, where data is stored on the books they publish. The record for each book includes:

  • Title. 
  • Author name.
  • Author Biography.
  • Publication date.
  • Description.
  • Meta-data. 

For each book, editorial assistants develop a list of keywords for meta-data, including words that are associated with the book. The idea is that, when people search these words online, they will be happy to find your book among the results.

Keywords can include:

  1. Words and phrases to indicate the content of the book.

  2. Titles of articles/reviews about the book (including name of source).

  3. Titles and authors of similar books.

  4. Any famous quotes referred to within the book.

‘When Breath becomes Air’: An example of finding key words

‘When Breath becomes Air,’ is a non-fiction autobiography by Paul Kalanithi, a young neurosurgeon who wrote about his experiences with terminal cancer before his death:

Click to see Amazon page


During work experience, I was given the task to update the keywords for the book. Ever read something and feel your eyes tear up? That was me with this book. It was heartbreaking to think that it was written by a brave young man who knew his days were numbered. 

If I hadn’t already had an existential crisis in May 2016, this book would have made me question my life and where it was going!

1. Words/phrases to indicate content:

The keywords I chose were ‘Stage IV lung cancer,’ because this was the stage Paul was at when he was diagnosed. I also picked out ‘neurosurgeon terminal cancer,’ because one of the points in the book was how difficult it was to go from treating patients to becoming the patient.

However, the book has a strong message about life too. Therefore ‘life affirming autobiography,’ and ‘how to face death,’ were also good keywords.

The idea is to chose anything directly related to the content of the book. Even ‘neurosurgeon training stories,’ are valid keywords, as the book includes anecdotes from Paul’s training.

If I were to do the same for Tales from Dragonspire, I’d pick out young adult fantasy, dragon village, fantasy civil war and medieval style fantasy kingdom, among others!

2. Articles and reviews:

If your book is reviewed, list the title of the article and the name of the source in the keywords. One example review is below, just after the paperback edition was released:

WBBA Guardian review.jpg


I used the article title and shortened it for keywords: ‘a surgeons life cut short – the guardian.’


If someone searched for stories about life being cut short by cancer, they would find the book review in the top results. From there, they may read it and buy the book. 

3. Titles/Authors of similar books:

It is worth mentioning authors who have written similar books in your keywords. Similar to ‘When Breath becomes Air’ are: Atul Gawande’s ‘Being Mortal’ & Henry Marsh’s ‘Do No Harm.’

If you list similar books in your keywords, your book will show up somewhere in the search results as a similar or related work. Useful for marketing 🙂

4. Famous quotes:

Sometimes in our work, we quote other authors. In ‘When Breath becomes Air,’ the quote below is used at the start of the book:

‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’ –The Unnamable, Samuel Beckett

The quote and the author are listed as keywords, because they appear in most of the reviews of the book. Anyone searching them may find reviews of Paul Kalanithi’s book in the results.

Top tips for keywords:


  • Keywords should be short and to the point to have maximum effect.

  • Where possible, your keywords/phrases should appear in the description of the book.

  • Try not to repeat keywords, and enter the most important ones first in your list.

  • Use words and short phrases a potential reader might enter into a search engine when they are looking for their next book.

  • Get rid of less important or generic filler words. You don’t need to include ‘the,’ ‘and,’ etc.

  • Some keywords are already flooded with results. Think about what makes your book unique: The more specific the better!

  • Enter potential keywords into Amazon to see if books like yours feature in the results.

  • Re-evaluate your keywords every few months. Use new trends, news stories, information, and reviews to improve your list.

  • Make sure your keywords reflect the content of your book. You may irritate potential readers if you choose unrelated keywords!

A prime example of that last point is on Amazon UK.

When I search ‘adventure, friendship, dragons,’ in the book category, ‘The Railway Children,’ is the 6th result. Whilst it’s not a bad book, I’m pretty sure there were no dragons!

When I search for dragons, I want dragons!

Final tip: Keywords:

Keyword search tools can help find keywords with lower competition. They can also show how popular certain keywords are. WordStream is free, but only for 30 searches so use them wisely!

Fun fact: The dreaded question, ‘What is your book about?’

During my work experience, I was asked what my book is about. Moral of the story, if you tell people you’re writing a book, have an answer ready! I somehow feel that muttering, ‘It’s a fantasy with dragons,’ isn’t going to cut it long term!

I decided to create a page for ‘Tales from Dragonspire’ on my blog. It’s not done yet, but planning what to write has made me confident I can provide a better answer next time!

Thanks for reading! I imagine this blog post is more useful from a self-publishing point of view, but I hope it proved interesting for those who want to pursue traditional publishing as well! 

I’d like to give a shout out to the awesome Pontius, who featured my blog, as well our epic host Raimey Gallant, and the wonderful Ronel, over at his blog. Pontius is a micro fiction genius 🙂

Hate being asked what your book is about too? Have questions? Let me know in the comments! I have a number of posts planned for future #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop months, so stay tuned 🙂



  1. Hi! It’s actually quite helpful for anything, I would think. I know when I write a blog post, I need to create search words, and that would be true also when I’m posting something to promote my book. I need to use the correct keywords to lead searches to my post. Great info 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent explanation 🙂 I practice keywords when adding tags to blog posts and hashtags to content on social media. I love it when I start typing something into a search engine and it fills in what it thinks I’m searching for – “rottweiler turning white” was an interesting find and might end up in a story about the Cù Sìth 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ronel 🙂
      I love using tags on blog posts, and WordPress is very good at picking keywords from your blog posts for you, which is a bonus!
      It’s fun to see what google thinks you’re searching for! Some of them are bizarre! That sounds like a fun story idea though 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great tidbit from the cave of the official book dragons. I find tagging blog posts much easier than trying to find the right meta-data on sales platforms which are effectively balanced between well-sought and non-competitive. I never considered including names of review sources before; will have to check that out.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Welcome, I’m glad you liked your own special tag ;p
        Yes, and none of the platforms actually give you any feedback data on which of your tags helped get your book noticed. E.g. if Amazon provided some sort of data on the sales report that indicated which search words directed customers to your book page, such as what we get on WP, showing us even which platform is the referrer. When we update our meta-data on sales platforms, we could be altering an input that has been working great for us already.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Great article! I had no idea. Now that I think about it, it makes sense, but I did not think of things like meta data or keywords. Thank you for explaining this today! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome 🙂
      I’d love to have added where to use them, but I didn’t find out during the experience, and I’m not completely sure.
      I think, on Amazon at least, if you create a brand new listing there is a section for keywords. WordPress, as far as I can tell, automatically picks up keywords from all posts and sends them to google.


  5. I’m really enjoying this series. Amazon keywords is one topic I am really confused about. Everyone thinks they have cracked the code. (and they will sell you the answer for a nominal fee. lol) thanks for the insight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, glad you like the series 🙂
      I worked in online retail before, listing products on Amazon and Ebay for a pet food company, so I learned a little bit there too. It took me a while to get my head around it, but my work experience in publishing really clarified things 🙂
      People will sell anything given half a chance 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  6. AWesome post topic. I have a graphic design background too and learned about meta data and keywords while dabbling in website design. I lnever thought about the importance in writing though. Thank you so much 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, glad you liked it 🙂 It’s amazing what you can learn from graphic design and website design. I learned a fair bit working in online retail with newsletters and product descriptions too: We all have lots of transferable skills. I never thought one day my office job would come in handy!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve seen/heard a lot of authors get freaked out at the mention of metadata, but it’s not as complex as it sounds – at least, not the way you’ve explained it.

    One question: are you allowed to use the names of comparable titles or authors as keywords on Amazon? That seems like something that could be abused by a less scrupulous author.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad I made it a little simpler 🙂
      I’m unsure about amazon. From working in retail, I know they have very strict rules on just about everything (If you list on amazon, it breaks terms to list the same item cheaper on your website!)
      I would guess that, so long as your book really is very similar, it would be okay.


  8. wow. up until a few moments ago i believed the meta data were a few numbers or something sinister like that. they come as opf files and they don’t open on my pc and i never really tried researching it, even if i’m planning to self-publish soon and i know amazon asks for it. I believed i’d need professional guidance for it, so I always thought i’d tackle that when the time came. I feel thoroughly dumb.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don’t worry, you’re not alone 🙂 Before I found out what meta data was, I avoided it because I was convinced it involved html or other computer programming code. The word just sounds technical or mathematical (and I dislike that side of computing too!)
      Good luck with self publishing 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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