EDIT (April 2014): More changes have taken place at Amazon and it appears now that descriptions entered into Author Central AND KDP will reach the Amazon store, even if you've registered your book in Author Central and updated its description there. Whichever one you updated last becomes visible. So once you've entered an Author Central description you can now override it with your standard KDP description. The good side of this is that you can enter things like h2 tags easily in KDP, so it's now easy, finally, to get those into your descriptions. The bad side is that, if you're not aware of this change, you might not have kept your KDP descriptions up to date. Publish a new version of your book and suddenly the KDP description becomes visible, deleting what you entered in Author Central.
But, once you're aware of that gotcha, it is now, finally possible to embed some HTML in book descriptions. So that's all good.
EDIT (November 2013): Amazon's new approach is now in place and the effect is this: you can't add things like <h2> tags through Author Central. It doesn't make a great deal of sense, because these are valid tags on their allowed list, but still you can't do it. That's the way it is. The trick with the HTML entities outlined below no longer works.
Essentially, I can now see only two ways of adding <h2> and similar tags to your book descriptions:
- Don't ever update book descriptions in Author Central. If you never override your KDP descriptions in Author Central, the KDP descriptions will still apply. I presume (although I haven't tried) that all the tags on that allowed list can be entered via KDP (otherwise that list really makes no sense). But remember: the moment you update a description in Author Central, any changes you make via KDP thereafter will be ignored. Amazon don't take the most recent update or anything sensible like that. They just ignore the KDP descriptions. And there appears to be no way back. Even getting Amazon to remove the Author Central descriptions won't, they say, allow you to edit via KDP again. In fact, you'd end up not being able to edit your descriptions at all...
- If you have updated your descriptions in Author Central (as I have), you'll have to ask Amazon nicely to do the <h2> etc. formatting for you, which they say they'll happily do. Which makes me wonder why they don't just allow us all to do it...
The whole thing seems disconnected and incomplete to me. If these tags are valid and Amazon can add them, why can't we enter them in Author Central? Not sure. Perhaps because they simply haven't got round to enabling it yet...
EDIT (October 2013): Amazon have issued new guidelines on what is and isn't allowed in book descriptions, with the warning that certain HTML tags won't be supported after November 2nd 2013. Unfortunately their new instructions only make the picture more complicated and confusing. For example, I've been given a list of book decriptions I need to fix - even though I only use tags which are on their allowed list.
They also say this:
If you've updated your book description in Author Central, you can solve this in either of two ways. You can either update it in both Author Central and in KDP, or you can update it in KDP and delete your Author Central posting. For help with deleting descriptions from Author Central, please contact Author Central Customer Service.
But there still appears to be no way to update descriptions in Author Central to include tags like <h2>. Right now I'm going to see how things look come November 2nd, when my legal/illegal HTML may or may not be rendered as plain text...
EDIT (October 2013): It seems Amazon have been changing things and the following might not now work for new books, although it appears to still work for existing books...
If you're an indie-publisher using Amazon KDP, you probably have your books collected together within Author Central. Amongst other things, Author Central lets you make more-or-less instant changes to your book descriptions, whereas amending the descriptions from within KDP requires a book to be republished, which can take days.
But there's a problem with Author Central. Whereas descriptions entered via KDP support a wide range of HTML tags, those entered via Author Central only allow bold, italics and lists. So, for example, you can't do a nice Amazon orange heading to make your description look more enticing and professional. What's more, once you've entered a description via Author Central, it always overrides your KDP description. As a result of all this, I've seen several blog posts and books recommend you don't use Author Central to edit your descriptions.
But I've also read intriguing posts saying you can enter HTML into Author Central, by people claiming to have got it working. And they're right: you can. After a bit of research and some trial-and-error, I've worked out what you need to do. It's actually pretty easy. For proof it works, take a look at The Wrong Tom Jacks. That orange title in the description is because I surrounded the title with <h2> tags from within Author Central.
So here's how you do it. If you edit a product description within Amazon Central you can choose either "Compose" or "Edit HTML" mode.
Counterintuitively, you have to choose Compose mode. If you use Edit HTML and enter <h2> tags (or anything other than bold/italics/lists), they'll be stripped off when you save them. But you can't just enter HTML into the Compose box either - again, they'd be stripped off. What you have to do is use HTML entities...
The science bit
HTML uses tags to describe content. <h2>, for example is the tag for header level 2. All HTML tags use those angle brackets so that web browsers know to obey the commands they contain rather than displaying them as text. Ah, but what do you do if you want to display angle brackets (or other reserved characters)? You use HTML entities. To display "<" you actually have to enter "<" The "lt" there stands for "less than", i.e. the angle bracket pointing left. So, the other angle bracket (">") is displayed by typing ">" (where "gt" stands for greater than).
Just tell me what to do!
So what you have to do is enter HTML into the Compose box, but use HTML entities rather than angle brackets. That's all there is to it. So, for example, to get my heading with h2 tags around it, I actually had to type this:
<h2>The Genehunter #1: The Wrong Tom Jacks</h2>
When you save this, those entities will get converted into angle brackets and when your description gets displayed on Amazon, your tags will do their job. Give it a go - it might look slightly tricky at first, but it's easy if you remember to type "<" rather than "<" etc. And there's no reason to stop at headings - you could, I guess, display images too. Or whatever makes your descriptions look good. There's a full list of available tags here.
EDIT: It used to be possible to add hyperlinks to other books in your descriptions as well as images pulled in from elsewhere on the internet. As of July 2013, however, it looks like this has stopped working. Amazon have changed the way pages are rendered and these links no longer work. Which is a shame. If I find a way around this I'll update this post further...
A couple of things to remember
- You can't see the effect of your HTML until you save it and display your book in Amazon. So if you get it wrong, the whole world can see you got it wrong (which I did several times while experimenting with this). But it's easy to fix your HTML and resave. And if it goes badly wrong, just strip out all your HTML and start again...
- Also be aware that you have to enter your HTML entities each time you edit the description. If you don't do this, your angle brackets will be stripped off. I'd recommend keeping your descriptions encoded with HTML entities in text files outside of Amazon, editing there, then pasting the whole thing in as needed.
Give it a go - it's easy really. Good luck!