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:
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!
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.
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:
- Author name.
- Author Biography.
- Publication date.
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:
Words and phrases to indicate the content of the book.
Titles of articles/reviews about the book (including name of source).
Titles and authors of similar books.
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:
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:
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!
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 🙂