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eBook metadata mishaps

Crumbly Writer

This discussion deal exclusively with ebook metadata. If you aren't publishing your own books, you can safely ignore the entire discussion. Since few of the authors on SOL self-publish, the information probably won't impact many of you.

Wrestling with lulu over their weird capitalization rules, I've consistently run into trouble listing any series into distribution. Working with Ernest, we finally traced the problem to conflicts between metadata: specifically, differences between information on the cover, the ebook's metadata and the ISBN data (which distributors use to identify books).

In my case, due to my creating the books in WORD, I ended up with various random entries. I'd sometimes list a series entry as "The Catalyst I" (Roman Numeral), "The Catalyst 1" and other times simply "Catalyst 1".

However, the current ebook format has NO FIELD containing series information. So unless you use the series as part of the book name, it's meaningless in ebook setup. Calibre has a field for it, both the title and the series number, but it's NOT stored in the final ebook. Thus you can include anything you want on the book cover, as it doesn't conflict with anything!

A more important conflict is with a book title and the ISBN entry. Again, few of you will EVER use your own ISBN. They're expensive, and most book distributors provide free ISBNs whenever you publish a book. However, doing so means you have no control over that information, and in my case, I often couldn't list newly published books on goodreads.com for months at a time, and thus couldn't offer book giveaways to draw attention and reviews for my books.

The problem is, because unless your publisher requires a specific Style Guide, Bowker and the other ISBNs don't specify how to capitalize titles. If I define the title a year or more in advance of publishing, and then attempt to list it with lulu, with it's own capitalization rules, I'll often have to throw away a $57 ISBN because I didn't capitalize "is", "if" or "as"! (Hint: If you want to list yourself as the publisher, never purchase only a single ISBN. You've got to purchase them in bulk. This is mainly an American problem, as many countries either offer ISBNs free, or substantial subsidize the fees.)

In my case, I published the book on lulu using the correct title "Grappling With Survival", but I listed the ISBN as "Grappling with Survival" (uncapitalized). As such, I could create the book and list it on lulu's limited internal market, but I couldn't offer it to ANY of lulu's distributed services (B&N, Apple, Amazon or Kobo)!

There's an easy fix for this, though I only discovered it by accident. Once you officially publish a book, the title remains fixed (i.e. you can't change it). If you misspell something, you've got to republish the book using a new ISBN rather than correcting the spelling. However, there's absolutely NO reason why you need to list a publication date in the ISBN data!!!

You use your own ISBNs for two reasons, to be listed as the publisher, and to have distributors recognize the book. If you leave off the publication date entirely, you're free to change the title whenever you want, even after it's been published. Technically, this is a copyright violation, but it doesn't seem to violate any of Bowker's rules.

Since distributors and websites rely on ISBN registries, they'll recognize a book even if the entry isn't finalized (i.e. the title is locked in place with a specific publication date). As such, lulu and other book distributors will recognize the ISBN as belonging to you even if the information is 'temporary', and if the distributor has weird naming conventions, you can change the spelling on the fly (though it may take some time for the company to recognize the newer spelling).

Conclusion, NEVER list a publication date until a book has been officially accepted by the various distributors, regardless of when you published it. Once it's been accepted by everyone, you're free to enter the original date. However, if a distributor like Apple suddenly changes their rules for capitalization, you might make a correction to a book and find yourself unable to make updates. Generally, it's better to NEVER specify a publication date.

Note: There's a huge discussion about modifying series data in epubs using calibre, but this only includes changing the title to INCLUDE the series name--something which can bite you in the ass. Neither the ebook or Bowker have data fields to enter a series title, and although Bowker will add one, it's done on a case by case basis, and they frequently screw it up. I specified I wanted to create a series title of "Great Death", and they instead created an entry of "The Great Death ser". The field only allows so many characters, and they decided, on their own, to add extra erroneous information which would screw up any book I listed. In short, DON'T DO IT!

Sorry for the long diatribe, directed on less than a half-dozen publishers, but I thought it was useful information for self-publishers to consider.

Please, feel free to contradict or offer any contrary positions, as I'm still learning as I stumble through this apparent minefield. Also, note the only place I've encountered any problems in this regard is with lulu.com. Apple may ultimately be behind it, but I haven't published directly through them recently and have no direct evidence of this.

Whew! That was a long spiel.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

I'll expand on this a little, and not sure how well it relates to lodging with other self-publishing sites. I won't go into the background of where the rules or the validator come from, been there in other threads, not that relevant here.

At Lulu there is a validator that checks the e-pub file you lodge with them when you upload an e-pub file. Three of the checks it makes is to compare the way the the Title, Author Name, Publication date are in the metadata and compare with how they show in the project data. Thus if you name the Project Title of the book as Fred and Harry and have it in the file metadata as fred and harry it will have a major hernia. They must match in all aspects.

When you expand this process to a series title you can either include the series name in the book title or not. In one series I include the series name - Clan Amir - The Falcon, Clan Amir - The Berant UMAMA Wars in another I don't include the series in the title, just the story name and have text on the cover saying A Rivers Region Story and both work OK. How this relates to this issue is: ensuring you use a uniform way to show the title in the project name as in the e-pub title, and if you include the series name in the title you do it the same way in each book. My suggestion is don't include it in the title, just put it on the cover as extra text, especially if it's a long one.

Part of the problem CW had is due to him buying and using his own ISBN numbers, and thus he enters the data in the ISBN database. I don't have the same problem because I use the free ones issued by Lulu. The advantage there is when I had an issue pulling a book from the Market Partners because of how I was being treated by one of the partners I had trouble getting them to stop listing it, but when I retired the project to cancel the book completely, then created a new one with the same title the next day it got a new ISBN from Lulu for free while the ISBN system listed the old one as out of print and not available.

Replies:   REP

@Ernest Bywater

but when I retired the project to cancel the book completely, then created a new one with the same title the next day it got a new ISBN from Lulu for free while the ISBN system listed the old one as out of print and not available.

Neat solution to their ignoring you.

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