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Amazon Hacking - Adding HTML To Your Author Central Descriptions

Monday, 8 April 2013

EDIT (December 2014): It's been reported by some that they can't make changes in KDP again once they've used Author Central. However, I found I still could, but be aware there does appear to be some circumstances when this doesn't work.


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:

  1. 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...
  2. 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 "&lt;" The "lt" there stands for "less than", i.e. the angle bracket pointing left. So, the other angle bracket (">") is displayed by typing "&gt;" (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:

&lt;h2&gt;The Genehunter #1: The Wrong Tom Jacks&lt;/h2&gt;

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 "&lt;" 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!

52 comments:

  1. Author Central is the publishers nightmare because of that override feature. Once an author publishes a summary through AC, then the publisher can't change it. Even if the author cancels their AC account (which btw is impossible to do, Amazon just won't take it off at all), the override still exists.

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    1. Interesting. Goes to show how powerful Amazon have become.

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  2. I'm giving it a shot - but my Author Central still says it'll take 3 to 5 business days to see the change. I think KDP republishes within 12 hours. Thoughts?

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    1. It always says that, but in my experience the changes happen in a few minutes. Your mileage may vary of course...

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  3. Yep, the next morning your h2 suggestion was in place, cool, thanks.

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    1. Excellent. In my experience, the change using AC is very often instant...

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  4. This is a really helpful post, Simon. Thank you.

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  5. And here I was, thinking Amazon would be impervious to such magic. Good stuff, Amigo!

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    1. Thanks, Milo. It all helps, right?

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  6. Hi Simon -

    I've had similar challenges with publishing Amazon HTML Entities via Author Central. For the individual author, I continue with the KDP Bookshelf editor since it is easier to update with the Amazon HTML.

    Your readers might be interested in my Better Book Description Tool. It is an online editor that will generate the Amazon HTML for you instead of having to hand code it.

    I'd be interested in your opinion of the tool.

    http://www.betterbooktools.com/launch-offer/

    Thanks!

    Andy Makar

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    Replies
    1. Andy - looks like a useful tool; I might start using it myself.

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  7. There's no need for a tool - just search and replace in any text editor find "<" replace with "<" and the same for the >

    Unfortunately I can't get it to work in Authorcentral - all I get on the book desccription is the visible html tags

    Any ideas?

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    Replies
    1. You'll see the HTML tags in the AC preview, but they won't appear on the actual Amazon page. They'll be treated as HTML. Try it!

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    2. Hi Lissie -

      You're right, you can get an HTML editor, do the search and replace, rinse and repeat...but I found it easier to use a tool that generates the code.

      Andy

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  8. Very annoying modification to perform, what with the text and html editors being at odds with each other but it worked well in the end. Thanks. Hopefully Amazon don't bother to patch this or we'll all end up with bizarre book descriptions...

    Only downside is it looks a little weird on the .co.uk because Amazon insists on putting 'Product Description' in there twice for no obvious reason. The extra orange text really highlights this absurdity.

    Not sure sticking my name in the h2 will have the effect on Google's page ranking that I desire but currently Amazon's layout has the author name as basic text rather than the h1 and so it doesn't really work well in searches.

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    1. It can be fiddly and it's annoying the way you have to redo the angle-brackets all the time. But maybe that's a positive. Most people won't bother so those who do will stand out. That's what I tell myself!

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    2. Yeah I've just saved it to a txt so I can paste it in fresh if I need to change anything. 'tis a little silly though. Would of course just be better if Amazon gave people full control in the first place. Though I agree this means you get the chance to stand out.

      Only problem I have noticed is that when you post the book on something like facebook it will grab the text from the description and run the h2 right into the rest. I tried sticking a space after the h2 but unsurprisingly it disregards trailing spaces. Anyway, thanks. Doubt I would have ever realised this was possible on my own... KDP is a tad incomprehensible at the best of times.

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  9. It worked, and almost instantly! Thank you, thank you! And it was as easy as you said.

    Tory

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  10. Hello Simon,

    Can one enter such HTML codes in the profile on AuthorCentral
    https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/profile ?
    I tested but the preview didn't seem to be ok... But in the case of a bad preview (and a good final rendering...). As it wasn't stated explicitly, I was wondering if I could improve my bio...

    Does all these work for books others than Kindle ones? I guess it does, but before I suggest my editor to change his description, I prefer to ask it here (and have it answered for future readers of this post).

    Thanks for this post anyway!

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    1. Hi,

      As far as I know, you can't add HTML to your profile to make it more appealing. Which is a shame, I agree. As to non-Kindle books, I think editing the descriptions will work, so long as you've added them to your Author Central. But I haven't tried this to confirm.

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  11. Hey Simon,

    Great post! So I more or less got the H2 tags working which is great, but I can't seem to figure out how to properly link to other books. Would it be possible for you to post the exact line you used to link from "The Genehunter" to "The Wrong Tom Jacks"?

    Thanks!
    Griffin

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    1. Griffin,

      For some reason I couldn't get the HTML to display properly in the comments - so I updated the main article to show the HTML I used. It's a bit tricky because you have to double-escape the ampersands to get them to show up, but if you copy and paste what you see (and use your own URLs, obviously), it should work...

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  12. It worked beautifully! A million thanks Simon!

    Cheers,
    Griffin

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  13. Hi Simon,

    I noticed that the links I'd set up, as well as the ones you made for Genehunter, have gone out of whack. Now the code is showing rather than the link. Not sure if Amazon changed anything, but I'm suspecting they might have since I noticed another author friend is experiencing the same issues. If you have a fix, I'd love to know it since I tried correcting the problem and nothing seems to work.

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    1. Griffin - you're right! Gaagh! Amazon must have changed something. I'll experiment but perhaps it just isn't possible any more.

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    2. Yep, I can't get links to work any more. Amazon have changed how descriptions are rendered. That's a shame. I'll keep on experimenting, but for now I've edited this post to reflect the new situation.

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  14. Hmm, too bad. Was good while it lasted. I'll swing by from time to time then to see if you managed to find a work around. Thanks for all the great work!

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  15. Wow! This is great news! I had just started to use markup in KDP this past spring, and then in June Amazon stopped allowing you to enter HTML entities (it now renders and double checks for resulting tags). So half my books one way, another a different way... *head desk*

    I had previously tried using HTML edit mode in Author Central, but obviously they strip your HTML down to the bare minimum. Entering the HTML entities in non-HTML mode works and is an easy genius way to get good descriptions in place!!

    Thanks for sharing!!!

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    Replies
    1. Glad it was of help, Max. Of course there's no guarantee Amazon won't change everything again some time...

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  16. You all may find this tool helpful: http://www.htmlescape.net/htmlescape_tool.html

    It will "escape" the characters that need it if you feed it HTML; put in Amazon & voila!

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  17. I've been trying this in AC and when it's live the html shows. I'm adding the HTML entities in the "Compose" mode. Here is what it does: http://amazon.com/dp/B00EBATCTU
    What am i doing wrong?
    Thanks,
    jim

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    1. Hmm, not sure. I'll test mine and make sure it still works. Are you definitely entering the entities and not the angle brackets?

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  18. Yes, here's an example:
    <h2>There's someone watching you as you sit at your computer.
    Oh, you don't think so? Are you sure?</h2>

    Thanks for looking into it, I'm going to have to change it for now because it looks terrible.

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  19. Funny, the entities were automatically converted in the comments here.
    But I did use them and I made sure I was in the "Compose" mode. I tried it several times.
    Weird!

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    1. Yes, the entities always get converted for display - it made this post quite tricky to write! I just tried on one of my books and it all came out fine - so I'm not sure what's going on with yours. Is there any other HTML formatting in there that could be upsetting things maybe?

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  20. Hi Simon, thanks for helping me with this.
    I've tried to narrow it down and have only one line of text. using this, (without the quotes.)
    "<h2>There's someone watching you right now as you sit at your computer.</h2>"
    It still doesn't work.
    Here is the link to my product description again.
    http://amazon.com/dp/B00EBATCTU/

    Thanks a lot for your help!

    Thanks.

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    1. Seems like you're doing everything right. So what you actually enter is:

      &lt;h2&gt;There's someone watching you right now as you sit at your computer.&lt;/h2&gt;

      right? Only thing I can suggest is letting me take a look directly - if you trust me enough to get into your AC account for a bit. Quite understand if you don't!

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  21. Sure Simon, should I send you my info to your theciderhouse.org address? my email is jim@jimsgotweb.com
    Thanks,
    jim

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    1. Have you guys found a solution to this? I've been experiencing the same issue...

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    2. Please see my comment at the top of the post - basically, if you've used Author Central, your only hope is to contact Amazon and ask nicely. Hopefully they'll sort their systems out soon...

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  22. I saw your April '14 update, but that no longer seems to be the case. I updated my book description in KDP, but my Author Central description stayed in place, even days later.

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    1. Hi Roland - Ah, that's not good. I'll have a go, too, and see what happens. Thanks for letting everyone know.

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    2. I've experimented - and found I could still change descriptions from both KDP and Author Central. It's a bit of a mystery as to why it would sometimes behave differently.

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    3. great news! I was wondering how I got my KDP powers back. I had emailed them a year and a half ago, but never heard back. part of me thought they listened, but now I know better.

      To be fair to them, they have given me great customer service in many areas, so...

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  23. Is it accepted by Amazon to add images html into description for non-book store? If yes, how can I do this? PLs help me out!

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    1. Not as far as I'm aware - but you should be able to upload your own images to the images area?

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I'd love to know what you think.