When we close a season’s list to new authors here at SparkPress—actually, we just closed our Spring 2019 list—all those new authors embark on a journey into the wonderful world of book metadata. Since metadata can be overwhelming at first, we’d like to break down what information is needed and why.
SparkPoint Studio’s imprints, SparkPress and She Writes Press, are distributed through Ingram Publisher Services, a.k.a. IPS. IPS is a traditional distributor, meaning that your books can end up in both chain and independent bookstores, as well as hundreds of online retailers. It’s no different than if you published with a big traditional house like Hachette or Penguin Random House.
One of the first things we have our authors do (after he or she is assigned a project manager) is to fill out a document called a tip sheet. This document holds all the data about an author’s book. The use of the tip sheet is two-fold. Your project manager will input the data into a spreadsheet that IPS can understand, thus informing the retailers about this important information. Your tip sheet also goes to the sales team, who will use it to sell your book into bookstores.
Some of the information on a tip sheet is pretty basic, like title, subtitle, author name, and price. Unless there’s a specific reason for a price (lots of images, business book, children’s book, or a hard cover run), the standard price at SparkPress is $16.95 for a paperback.
The first two big sections of the tip sheet are the sales hook and the description. Both of these are used to describe the book, but they have different purposes. The primary use of the main description is to inform the reader of the general premise of the work. This is the description that goes up on retailers, such as Amazon, BN.com, Kobo, iBooks, and more. This is also the first impression of the book the sales team will get. This is your chance to get them excited about the book, because they’re the ones who are going to work to get it into bookstores. We recommend that the description is less than 250 words.
On the other hand, the sales hook is much, much shorter. These usually float around 50 to 85 words, giving us just the juiciest bits to tease the reader. The sales team may read your full description, but it is the sales hook that must stick in their memory. They’ve only got 30 to 50 seconds to pitch each book to merchandise managers, so they’ll glance at the sales hook to remind themselves what they liked about the book and how they want to pitch it. Thus, it should cover some of the material from the description.
The next section, key selling points, is arguably the one that provides the most trouble for our authors. These should be clear, quantifiable facts about your potential readership. Think about the genre of your book. Pull a statistic about the percent of people who read that genre every year, or what markets love to read that genre. Think about the themes in your book, and pull a statistic about the populations that affects that issue. Have you previously published anything? Give us numbers on your sales, awards, reviews, likes, and comments. These will help prove to the sales team that your book is important and that people will want to read it.
What naturally follows is clearly identifying your audience. What gender(s) will want to read it? Age groups? What life circumstances would make a reader empathize with the protagonist and/or feel compelled to pick up the book?
The next section is your author bio. This should be written in the third person and give a quick summary of who you are. Previous works, hometown, website, and day job are all good information to include. You may also want to include something about what makes you uniquely qualified to write this book, or perhaps some passions or hobbies.
Your author residence should be pretty straightforward; simply include the city and state in which you live. This will let the sales force in that area know that you’re local, and thus may have a special appeal in that area. This can be extremely helpful in getting copies of your book into local stores. If you split your time between multiple locations, you recently moved, or have deep roots in your previous community, that is worth mentioning as well.
Comparative titles is another section that tends to give our authors pause. Here’s the thing: they don’t have to be just like your book. There are probably upwards of five main themes that bring your story together. Don’t look for all five. Pick three. If you’re having trouble, go down to two, or make one more general. It is important to note that your titles all need to be recent—for example, for Spring 2019 authors, everything needs to be published in 2015 or later. They also all need to be the same format as your book. In most cases with SparkPress books, that means paperback versions. Additionally, you need to keep an eye on the amount of reviews, mostly on Amazon, the comparative titles have. Fifty to five hundred reviews are ideal. Five hundred to one thousand reviews are okay; but anything over one thousand reviews is likely too big. Also, you can’t just pick best-sellers, either. They will recognize that as unrealistic expectations. A good way to tell if a book is a best seller is to look at the cover for that term, or the Amazon description.
While publicity highlights will ultimately be an important section, identifying the efforts your publicist will make to get coverage for you and your book, this section is often left nearly blank on the tip sheets our authors send in. This is because IPS needs metadata very early in the process, and many authors have not hired a publicist yet. If this is you, acknowledging whether you plan on hiring a publicist or not is a great start. If you can, a rough figure on how much you plan on spending on publicity can also be a great indicator for the sales team about how much buzz you may generate. If you have hired a publicist, but have not had a chance to go over your plan yet, identifying who you have hired and the size of your campaign will be extremely helpful.
In the keywords section, we ask that authors identify seven keywords. These will be the words that people can search (in addition to the title, your name, and the description) to find your book. It’s important to use descriptive words true to the themes of your work.
Blurbs are another section that many authors are not prepared to fill out this early, and that is perfectly okay. If you already had other authors or high-profile people read your book and they provided praise, you can use that. Don’t panic if you have not—there’s plenty of time for that.
The last section is BISACS. These are the codes used to position your books in the marketplace. They will lead to placement in bookstores (along with discretion of booksellers) and Amazon categories (along with their algorithm). Our authors pull three BISACS from this list—although it is important to note that the starred BISACS may not be in IPS’s system yet. When choosing your BISACS, be as specific as possible. Narrow your fields, but pick three codes that are in vastly different categories. There is one caveat—if your book is fiction, all of your BISAC codes must be fiction. It cannot be fiction and memoir. It cannot be fiction and education (although there is an education subcategory in fiction that you can select). Your book is either fiction or non-fiction, and in the publishing world, that is an unbreakable binary.
With this advice in mind, filling out your tip sheet should be a breeze. And don’t forget: you can always ask for help. We have a couple tip sheet editors that we recommend that work with our authors, and their guidance can be invaluable.