What the Hell is Metadata?

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I bet most of our readers already know what metadata is and how important it is for an author to use correctly. Today we will look at how to properly apply metadata to your Lulu project so you don’t receive one of those dreaded distribution rejection emails.

First, I want to quickly restate what metadata means.


It’s all the information attached to your book that serves to describe the book. This includes:

  • The title
  • The author
  • The description
  • Author bio
  • Publication date
  • ISBN
  • Copyright
SEO = Search Engine Optimization

More data can contribute to the metadata for your book, but the list above will catch most of the important information.

Why is it important?

Glad you asked!

First and foremost, consistent metadata helps searches point to you. When someone looks for your work, you want them to find it right? Not only that, you want them to find it easily. This is the entire theory behind Search Engine Optimization.

Aside from the SEO value metadata adds, there’s a really important piece of the puzzle that can be easy to miss. Without accurate and consistent metadata, you can’t sell your book!

How do I make sure my Metadata is accurate?

Every self-publishing platform will require that you add metadata at some point in the process. How they do so may vary, but you will absolutely be expected to contribute to this information.

With Lulu, we draw the metadata from the information you apply on each step of the publishing process. This can make the process a little tricky because you have to keep a close eye on the data you enter.

Let’s go through the creation process step by step, with a careful eye toward the metadata.

Create Page


For this step, we’ll look at print books only, since creating an ebook doesn’t require a “create” page.

This step is pretty simple. But important! If you will be selling your book online with retailers like Barnes & Noble or Amazon, be sure the “Eligible for retail distribution” line appears. If it’s not there, your book is not a format those retailers will accept and you won’t be able to sell it.

Title Step

Okay, here’s where the metadata starts





Your first pieces of metadata! The title and author name are also the most important pieces of metadata to get right. Because they need to match EVERYWHERE. And they will appear in a variety of places.

Please note that the Print Book Title Step will include a pre-filled title of “My Paperback Book.” This title MUST be changed.

Here’s the thing with titles and authors—they have to be consistent. If your cover says “John P. McAuthor” and on the title step you enter “John McAuthor,” your metadata is mismatched. Retailers will reject your book, and you’ll be sent back to revise the information. This is doubly important because this metadata is LOCKED once you publish.

File Step / Cover Step

You won’t enter metadata on Lulu with either of these steps, but you do have to remain consistent in the metadata application.

For a print book, this means including a title page with the title and author information to match the title and author you entered on the title step. Don’t be confused by this, it just means that you have to be consistent. If the title includes a volume or book designation, it must appear everywhere.

This does not include a half-title page, something many books will use. If you do a half-title (which is a page featuring just the book’s title, no sub-title or author info), you just have to be sure the full title page follows. Many books will use a half-title as their first page, and the full title as their third page.

You also have to include a copyright page featuring the copyright date and ISBN. Your title should match on this page too.

Table of Contents

Ebooks have the same basic rules. The primary difference is that for an ebook you MUST include the title as you entered it on the title step as the first line of the first page. And this title MUST be in Heading 1. If any of that is confusing, I suggest carefully reviewing our EPUB creator guide.

The essential thing here is that your ebook’s table of contents (also known as an NCX file) needs to have the title as the first entry. To achieve this, you place the title on the first line and use the Heading 1 style to prompt our converter to add the title to the table of contents.

The same title and author rules will apply to your cover (for an ebook, we refer to this as a marketing image). If you use our template (the New Lulu Cover Wizard), the title and author you entered on the title step is pre-filled. Same for the ebook’s marketing image.

Now, I bet you’ve got your own cover designed? Good. You should. Using the template works, but this is your book, you should take complete control over it and design your own cover. Just make sure that the title and author on the front cover match the information you added on the title step and the information listed on the title page of your interior. Also, make sure the ISBN barcode is on the back and is correct.

Description Step

Okay, here comes the metadata heavy Description Step.

Lulu Metadata Description step

Look this one over carefully. Every single line on this page is a piece of your metadata. Period. I see too many books with poorly crafted descriptions. I know you’re nearly through all the difficult parts when you get to the description step, but don’t rush to the finish line. If you want to sell your book, you’ve got to take the time to add your metadata and verify it is all accurate.

I published and applied for Global Reach distribution, why was I rejected?

You probably didn’t get the metadata right!

Okay, that’s not helpful, I know. And the automated replies we send with information about how to correct the metadata issues aren’t perfect for helping you get these issues sorted out.

Let’s go through the most common errors we see from our users and reinforce how to avoid these problems.


An author writes Jimmy McAuthor on the title step, James P. McAuthor on the title page, and J.P. McAuthor on the cover.

This is a metadata mismatch. For defining which entry is correct, we have to use the Title Step.

Whatever you enter on the title step for your book title and the author becomes the metadata, and must match everywhere.

Tied to this is the “My Paperback Book” issue. Yes, our print book wizard will pre-fill the title line with “My Paperback Book,” and if you don’t update this, the metadata will be wrong. It’s an issue we’ll get fixed in future iterations of our wizard, but it is important regardless of this pre-fill that you be aware of the title and author.

A similar problem we see often for print books is the ISBN. Be very careful to be sure your ISBN is correctly listed on the interior copyright page and the barcode appears on the back cover.

Blurry images or text

Images have to be 300dpi resolution for clear printing. Ebooks have a lower standard and need only be 72dpi. Retailers won’t sell a book with an image that will appear or print poorly. Text is actually included in this too. For this reason, we’ll show you a warning when making your book about the text at less than 6-point font. Text this small can print poorly.

Pay special attention to your images. Our converter will detect and warn you if we find images with a resolution below 300dpi, but this is not an exact science. If you have an image created at a lower resolution and use software like Photoshop to up the resolution, our system may pass that file without a warning, despite it technically being low resolution.

Retailers check all images and text, and if they judge any of this content blurry or potentially blurry, they can reject it. Avoid using photocopied images, charts with fine details, newspaper clippings, or any other images that have been reproduced multiple times. There’s a good chance resolution will be affected.

The bottom line is, make certain your images are high quality and your text is large enough to print clearly.

Ebook NCX

Ebooks have one special piece of metadata a traditional print book does not: the NCX.

What is an NCX you might ask? The simplest way to think about it is a super-powered table of contents. A print book has those pages at the start with a listing of chapters and sections, showing you accompanying page numbers so you can flip to the right page. An EPUB has a table of contents accessible from anywhere in the book, with links to the content. You can tap or click the NCX button on your eReader screen and then any of the items in that menu to “jump” directly to that content.

The NCX file—where all these tables of contents links are stored—is a part of the ebook’s metadata.

It makes sense that a retailer wouldn’t want to sell an ebook if the table of contents didn’t work. So we have to check this and ensure that the NCX functions and meets retailer requirements.

Luckily, there’s only one major metadata requirement you have to watch out for yourself. All the other ones will send back an error when you’re making your book.

The title of your ebook must be on the very first line and set in Heading 1 and must match the title on the Title Step and cover. Placing the title on the first line in Heading 1 causes it to list as the first item in the NCX—a requirement for retailers to list your ebook.

For more complete instructions, check out our EPUB Creator Guide

Is Accurate Metadata Enough?

Not if you want to sell your book. Metadata is important because search engines track all of this information and use it to determine if someone puts your name into Google are looking for you. Luckily, the same rules for creating accurate metadata apply for creating good metadata.

I’ve written on this subject, as have many others. I encourage you to read our Marketing Toolbox post for more about how metadata works for your author brand:

The bottom line hasn’t changed: everything you do in creating your book should be done accurately and consistently. The way online search works heavily favors consistent information, and the way online retail works requires accurate, consistent information. Take the time while creating your project to prepare the metadata and thoroughly review it.

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7 thoughts on “What the Hell is Metadata?”

  1. I got an alert telling me that there is an error (a miss-match).
    So, how do I EDIT and CORRECT a METADATA that has already been submitted?
    Please advise me (step by step, click by click).

    1. Hi Thor,
      Sorry to hear about the metadata problem. Unfortunately, I can’t access your book’s info to see where the problem lies. If you reach out to our Support team at Lulu.com/support, I’m sure they can guide you through the process.
      Best of luck with self-publishing!

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