Monday, September 23, 2013

MetaData, the New Dewey Decimal System

Aspects of Independent Publishing: Part Two - MetaData

MetaData: the New Dewey-Decimal System

This term is new to me. It was first coined in 1968, but it’s new to me. It’s been haunting me for the last six months of my life, stalking me, hiding in dark corners pretending to be innocent…

It occurred to me that I should know what this term means. I have, after all, spent most of my entire working life shuffling data through data systems. Somehow, the term never came up.

Until I started research on how to self-publish.

This innocuous term is EVERYWHERE now. Websites brandish the term like it means something, and if one is “in-the-know”, then one would understand and if one has to ask, then one doesn’t need to know.

But you know me. I asked. I probably started some wildfires on the internet because the question came up. Some coglet somewhere broke its soldered bond, turned inside out, and then exploded.

Shel, how could you possibly be in the 21st century
and NOT know what metadata is?

Eh, I'm not sure anybody really knows what metadata is. The best answer I ever got from people “in the know” was that it’s data about data. That’s nicely non-specific. But yet, the term exists and appears to be what my dad would label: an answer for which there was never a question, like laboradoodles and those fuzzy hats people insist on putting on toilet seats.

Why, Shel, do you bring up this topic if you find it so ridiculous?

Because even though it’s a new-to-me term, it’s not a new-to-me concept. I harken back to the days of library catalog drawers and those magical little file-cards that helped me find the book I was looking for. You remember those days too don’t you? The days of the Dewey Decimal system? No? Lie to me and say you do anyway. Just so I don’t feel quite so old.

The data-about-data is important, don’t get me wrong. You want a book off the library shelf? You don’t have to go to the drawer to look it up. Libraries are wonderfully accommodating in that you can find the Fiction section and peruse alphabetically through the shelves until you find the book you need or want.


Same scenario applies to everything in life. The end-consumer just wants the new-fangled-jelly-fruit. The end-consumer doesn’t need to know, doesn’t care to know, the launch warehouse, the shipping manifest, the alien-abduction insurance number, or the size tires on the ox-cart that harvested said jelly-fruit off of the mountain. This sort of information is valuable to the market personnel who need to quantify the jelly-fruit, so they can better source a supplier, better display the product, better pair it with a complementing wine.

But where the Dewey Decimal System doesn’t change, the metadata does. It is a fluid term. The metadata at one site isn’t necessarily comprised of the same data from a different site.

How does metadata affect the independent publishing industry?

The same way it does the traditional publishing industry. The copyright page on the book contains data about the data in your book, but isn’t necessary to the story of the book. The front matter, the back matter…this is all metadata of one degree or another. The Bowker ISBN registry will ask you for the metadata behind the process of the publishing of your book, like the names of the publisher, author, and book. Expected right? But it also encompasses the where, when, and how of the sales information. What is the scope of your right to publish? What are the dimensions of the book? The packaging? Is it part of a volume set, or a series? All important information that you as the publisher and marketer need to know in order to bring your book to the end-consumer who wants to read it.

Do your readers care how you published it? The packaging size? The return policy? Probably not. Even you as the author probably don’t really care a whole lot. But you as the publisher, the seller, the small business book distributer should.

My suggestion regarding your book metadata is this: copy down somewhere the information you provide to Copyright Office and/or to the ISBN distributer. Keep it as detailed as possible and as close as possible. Why? Because KDP, Smashwords, B&N, Kobo, they all want this information to a certain degree. The more consistent you keep your information, the less likely there is to be confusion during the process, and the more likely your book will reach your reader’s hands without an act of the Universe aligning the stars together. 

As with other posts in this quirky series, if you have other questions of a non-legal nature about publishing independently, or if you would like a cheer squad to help you walk through the process, feel free to ask me. I’m willing to help where I can. If it takes a village to raise a child, why not a community to publish a book?

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