Format Your KDP Book Description in One Try!

Format Your KDP Book Description in One Try!

When publishing a book at Amazon, trying to get the description formatting right can be a frustrating experience. This article is intended to help you manage the process.

On occasion, it has taken 3 times longer to get the book description right than it took to get do the interior formatting. There are several reasons for the frustration:

  1. There are different rules for print-book descriptions and Kindle ebook descriptions.
  2. You can’t preview the description. You can only see it after it has been published for all to see online.
  3. While the set of HTML tags that can be used are documented, the way whitespace is distributed is not—and the rules are inconsistent.
  4. It can take 12-72 hours—or 3 days—before your changes to appear online, so you can see how they look. (Typically, it takes about 12 hours. But on at least one occasion they have used every second of those three days!)

This article discusses the nature of the problems, what the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) group may be doing about them, and what you can do to expedite the process. Let’s take them in order.

This article is accurate as of the time of writing. But KDP will (hopefully) be making changes. By all means let me know when they do! That way, I’ll be edified, and I’ll be able to update the article.

1. Different Rules for Print & Kindle

This one is not entirely KDP’s fault. Back when print books were produced by CreateSpace, and Kindle ebooks were handled by KDP, the two groups each had their own set of rules.

To be fair, the KDP publishing process came second, and they are way better than the print-edition rules. For one thing, whitespace around HTML tags in your Kindle description are preserved, which makes editing a lot easier when you come back to the description.

In Print descriptions on the other hand, such whitespace is removed when you save the description. When you come back to it, you are greeted by a massive block of text the size of an Egyptian pyramid block. That makes it a lot harder to edit — and the process generally starts by putting in some blank lines so you can see where things are!

And that is just one of many ways in which the KDP publication process was better! So over all, the merger was a Very Good Thing (VGT). But for the moment at least, we are still living with the headaches created by the existence of two different groups.

But now that the two groups have been combined, a single set of formatting rules should emerge at some point. (Let us hope so.)

2. Description Previews and Other Good Things

Even better, there should be only one description that applies to both editions! At the very least, that should be an option. (This, like other items under this heading, depend on KDP’s development team. But they’re worth mentioning. Reference this article when you contact KDP support, to give them a vote!)

When there is only one description for multiple editions of a book, then perhaps:

  1. Update the Online Description could be a separate processing step which doesn’t require getting content-reviewers involved.
  2. Given a separate process, a Preview option could be made available, to let you see what the description looks like before it goes public.

There might even be extra blocks or tags for material that is specific to the print, Kindle, or Audible editions — but the bulk of the description would be “one size fits all.”

There are other areas where a single set of options should probably apply to both books, as well:

  1. The book URL.
    Right now, the print edition is published to one page, and the Kindle edition is published to another. So they have different URLs.It can take an extra 24 hours after a book goes live for one edition to link to the other on the Amazon page — and sometimes Amazon folks forget to put in the links!  So that’s one good reason to have a single page.

    But a more important reason is that multiple URLs make things more difficult for publisher. Every book needs 2 URLs in announcements and on a web page. A single URL would be ideal, with an optional modifier to pre-select the version, when it matters (?edition=print, or ?edition=kindle, for example).

  2. Ad Campaigns.
    At some point, I suppose it will be desirable to have separate campaigns for different editions. I mean, it’s possible that such a separation could be desirable. But as a self-published author with no idea what version my readers prefer, I only need one campaign.

3. Understanding the Spacing Rules

It took a while, but I finally sussed out most of the spacing rules for description formatting. Use this list in conjunction with the list of HTML tags to get your description formatted properly, hopefully the first time.

The rules are nearly complete. They represent my best understanding at the moment. It simply takes too long to verify things! And as KDP’s processing improves, things may well change. So by all means let me know!

Basic Rules

  • Kindle: NLs (Newlines — the invisible characters you get when you press the Enter key) are preserved when saving, and sometimes become <br> tags.
  • Print: NLs are ignored, and are discarded when saving.

Best Practice

  • Do the Kindle description first (whitespace is preserved when saved, so it’s easier to edit).
  • Do the Print description second (whitespace is removed when saved, so everything is smushed together the next time you edit.).
  • Copy the Kindle description to the Print edition.
  • Replace NLs with one or two <br> tags, as indicated in the formatting notes.

Detailed Formatting Rules

  • To space between headings
    Kindle: NL <br> NL before the second heading
      Print: <br> tag before the second heading
  • To space before headings, after text
    Kindle: Add a blank line (NL+NL) before the heading
      Print: Add <br> tag before a heading
  • For a paragraph after a heading:
    Kindle: Start the text immediately after the heading. No NL or <p> tag
    Print: <p> before the paragraph
  • For 2nd and subsequent paragraphs:
    • Kindle:
      • It is not possible to add space between paragraphs, as far as I can tell.
        • NL + NL does not work
        • NL + <br> + NL does not work
        • <br>+NL + NL + <p> does not work
      • Since paragraphs have no additional space between them, to a reader they look like a single block of text. The only way to set off succeeding paragraphs, then, is to use the time-honored typographic technique of indenting the first line of a paragraph.
      • To that end, I have tried putting 4 spaces at the start of a paragraph. That will be the easiest option, if it works. Otherwise, we will need to see if HTML non-breaking space tags are processed properly. (Such tags are written like this: &nbsp; ).
        ToDo: Report results of experiment.
    • Print: <br><p> before the paragraph text
  • Bullet lists:
    • Start of list
      • Kindle: Start list immediately after heading or text (<ul> or <ol>). No NL.
      • Print: NL before is okay while editing. It’s removed when text is saved.
    • Both:
      • </li> at end of each No space before next item.
      • After end-list tag, for next heading:
        Heading tag immediately after end-tag. No NL.
      • After end-list tag, for next paragraph
        Start text immediately after end-tag (</ul> or </ol>).
        No NL, no <p>.
    • Print:
      • NL before the start of list (<ul> or <ol>)
      • Add </li> at end of each item. No space before next item.
      • After end-list tag, for next heading:
        Heading tag immediately after end-tag. No NL.
      • After end-list tag, for next paragraph
        Start paragraph immediately after end-tag (</ul> or </ol>).
        No NL, no <p>.
    • Heading following a list:
      • Kindle: Triple spaced, no matter what you do.
        Even with no space between tags: …</ul><h3>…
      • Print: TBD
    • Paragraph Text following a list:
      • Kindle: TBD
      • Print: TBD
    • To center text: Not possible
    • To indent a paragraph: Not possible

Kindle Template

Use this template as a guide for common format-combinations:

Paragraph text.
blank line here
<h2>Level 2 Heading</h2>
<h3>Level 3 Heading</h3>Paragraph under the heading.<br>
blank line here
<p>Paragraph text.
blank line here
<h3>Level 3 Heading</h3>Paragraph under the heading.<ul><li>List item 1</li><li>List item 2</li>…</ul><h3>Next Level 3 Heading</h3>Paragraph text.<br>
blank line here
<p>Paragraph text.

Print Template

In some ways, the print template is easier. You don’t have to worry about the interactions of blank lines and HTML spacing elements. It’s just darn hard to read and edit!

Paragraph.<br><h2>Level 2 Heading #1.</h2><br><h3>Level 3 Heading</h3>Paragraph.<br><p>Paragraph 3.<br><h2>Level 2 Heading</h2>Paragraph 4.<ul><li>List item 1.</li><li>List item 2</li>…</ul><h3>Level 3 Heading</h3>Paragraph. 5<br><p>Paragraph.

4. Minimizing the Review Time

You are in the Book Details tab, and have revising your description. Now what do you do?

You only have two buttons at the bottom of the page: Save and Continue, or Save as Draft. If the book hasn’t been published yet, then Save and Continue is what you want. But if you’re “republishing” an existing book to change the description, you have a dilemma.

The problem is that Save as Draft won’t let you proceed with the “publication” process that ends with your revised description online. But Save and Continue changes the status of the Content tab to “In Progress”.

Now then, when the Content tab is “In Progress”, it needs to be changed to “Completed” before you can go to the Pricing tab, where the “Save and Publish” option lives.

One way to make that change is to click Save and Continue from the Content tab. But that puts your entire book back through the publishing pipeline.

Whether or not you save any time in the review process, it means that you need to wait 10 or 15 minutes for the book to be reformatted before you can take the next step. And then you should probably review the results, just to ensure that the interior formatting process hasn’t changed.

But there is a better way! The trick is to change the status of the Content tab from “In Progress” to “Completed”, without going through the publication process.

So far, this workaround seems to work. Shorter sequences have not worked, so it’s possible that one reason it works is just that takes more time. At any rate, this is the best sequence I have found:

  1. Refresh the Content page.
    The Content still still shows as “In Progress”, but this seems to be a required step, for reasons unknown.
  2. Go back to the Bookshelf.
    Click the Bookshelf link at the top of the page.
  3. Refresh the Bookshelf page.
    This too, is a critical step. Without the two refreshes, the process does not appear to work.
  4. At the far right, under the “…” icon, click Edit Rights and Pricing.
    If you’ve done the two refreshes, you should now go to the Pricing tab, and the Contents status will be displayed as “Completed”.

If the process didn’t work, you may be back at the Content page, with status still listed as “In Progress”. In that case, try the process again — slower this time. (As mentioned, an element of time could be involved.)

If still hasn’t worked by third time, then the process may have changed.

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