Avoiding Cannibalism and Bibliocide: More About ebook Metadata

Here at Lulu, we receive dozens of letters every single day asking questions about ebook metadata. While we can’t answer each one personally, we read them all. Occasionally, we come across a cry for help that we simply can’t ignore—a yearning that sums up the heartbreak and confusion of writers from all walks of life. We have no choice but to respond.

Today is such an occasion. So we’re sharing this question and answering it as best we can. Toby Maguire (no, not the Toby Maguire) of Hamburger, TN, asks:

Dear Lulu,

While it was approved for retail distribution, no one seems to be buying my ebook. It’s called “Murder a Book About Killing. Do you think my metadata is at fault? Please help!

-TM (not the TM)

Well, Toby, we think we know what the problem is. Your ebook is suffering from a fairly common affliction known as Title/Subtitle Confusion Disorder (T/SCD). Luckily, there’s a very simple solution to fix your ebook metadata: punctuation!

You see, “Murder a Book About Killing” sounds like you’re ordering the reader to actually murder a book, in particular a book on the topic of death-dealing. It’s confusing. Also, no one likes to be ordered around.

We think your intended ebook title/subtitle pairing is “Murder: A Book About Killing.” That colon makes a huge difference. It now reads more like a title (Murder) with a descriptive (though somewhat obvious) subtitle (A Book About Killing). In the same way that “Let’s eat grandma!” and “Let’s eat, grandma!” mean very different things, improper punctuation or formatting of your title and subtitle can alter the impact and the meaning of your title. And likewise, that punctuation impacts the accuracy of your ebook metadata.

T/SCD is also prevalent among series of ebooks. The Lord of the Things Part One The Fellowship of the Thing (it’s not fanfic, it’s a pastiche) needs punctuation. This is the ebook metadata equivalent of a run-on sentence. It needs a break between elements. For example:

The Fellowship of the Thing, Part One: The Fellowship of the Thing

Much better, right? And such a simple way to improve your metadata. It only takes a moment. When you’re entering your project title in the Content Creation tool, simply insert a colon followed by a space (: ) or a hyphen preceded by and followed by a space ( – ) where you want the title/subtitle split to occur. Either method will break your metadata into more digestible chunks for readers and catalogers alike.

Toby, make your ebook metadata accurate, make it easy to understand, and make it more catchy than confusing. Do this and you’re that much closer to reaching your audience. (And you’ll have fewer people killing innocent books.)

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