Your Book Description Doesn’t Just Show up at Amazon



I was creating a Goodreads giveaway yesterday when I noticed that one of my book descriptions didn’t look quite right. Then I realized that a few of my book descriptions had similar issues. (I haven’t yet looked at all of my books there, but did check my recent releases.)

The problem was that I had formatted my descriptions at Amazon KDP using the limited HTML that is available (boldface, italics, line breaks, bullet points, and ordered lists). While that resulted in improved formatting at Amazon, the HTML had a few undesirable effects at Goodreads. In particular, if you use short bullet points with words or phrases in each point, the words and phrases might not appear on separate lines and there won’t be any bullet point symbols.

So if you meant to make a list like this:

  • red riding hood
  • big bad wolf
  • grandma’s house

It could instead look like this at Goodreads:

red riding hood big bad wolf grandma’s house

It actually can look even worse when it blends together with the previous and following sentences.

At Goodreads, there is a simple fix. After you’ve logged in and pulled up your book, there is an option to edit the description. You may need to click a second time to edit the description. Also, beware that there is a required field further down: you need to enter a comment explaining the revision.

If you self-publish with KDP, you should be used to checking how it looks at Amazon shortly after you publish. You might also have the good habit of using Author Central to improve the formatting. (But when you revise your description with Author Central, you want to go to Edit HTML and copy/paste the HTML for your description into KDP and save it at KDP. Why? Because if you later republish your book, even if it’s just to add keywords or change your price, the KDP description will automatically replace the Author Central description.)

But where else does your description go?

For the Kindle edition, it automatically populates into Goodreads, and it does this very quickly after publishing.

The print edition can take longer to populate at Goodreads. I often wind up adding my print book to Goodreads manually, in which case I get to enter the print description at that time.

If you check the box for Expanded Distribution, your description also goes to and dozens of other online booksellers (if they choose to list your book for sale online; usually, there are many that do). If you don’t sell many books through the Expanded Distribution channel, most of these may not matter to you, but you might want to see how they look on a few of the major websites.

If your Kindle edition isn’t enrolled in KDP Select and you use an aggregator like Smashwords, your eBook description also gets used with a variety of eBook retailers. You might want to see how it looks from the customer’s side for a few of the major eReaders. If your book is enrolled in KDP Select, however, then the digital edition must be exclusive to Kindle, so this is a non-issue.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

An Index of Cover Design, Blurb, Editing/Formatting, Marketing, Writing, and Publishing Posts

Having seen a few followers hunting through old posts, I thought it might be handy to make an index for potentially useful posts on my blog.

The index page is divided into 6 parts:

  1. Cover Design
  2. Blurb
  3. Editing/Formatting
  4. Marketing
  5. Writing
  6. Publishing

(I haven’t yet included my poetry and related posts.)

You should be able to find the index page over to the right (on the sidebar). If you have any trouble finding it please let me know. It includes a date so you will know when it was last updated. If you know anyone who you believe would find some of these posts helpful, please feel free to direct them to the index.

If you check it out, please share any comments, feedback, or suggestions. The index is for anyone who might find those posts useful; especially, you. So if you have any requests, please share them. 🙂




Formatting the Book’s Blurb

You can include boldface, italics, and bullets (with dots or numbers) in your book’s description on Amazon.

If you publish a paperback book with CreateSpace, you can include this formatting in your description when you publish. There is an advantage of using CreateSpace for this if you enable the expanded distribution channel: Online booksellers may preserve this formatting. For example, Julie Harper has a CreateSpace published handwriting book at Barnes & Noble with such formatting (click the link below if you want to check it out, then scroll down to the Overview). The caveat is that you must use basic HTML. But don’t worry: Even if you don’t know anything about HTML, the only HTML that is allowed is so simple that you can do it easily. Hold your objection further: There is even an easy way out of the HTML all together, if you really must. You can find this solution at the end of this blog post.

If you have an eBook or didn’t publish your physical book with CreateSpace, you can still format your blurb using AuthorCentral. When you login to AuthorCentral, click the Books tab. Then click on your book to edit the description. You can format the boldface, italics, and bullets yourself, or you can choose to write the description with HTML, if you prefer. Use <b> for bold, as in <b>bold</b>, <i> for italics, as in <i>italics</i>, and <br /> to force a new line (the Enter key won’t have any effect on the output text in HTML mode; the <br/> command basically has the same effect as the Enter usually has). If you want to create a blank line, use the <br /> command twice. Strangely, the <br /> command has a funny space between the ‘br’ and slash in AuthorCentral’s HTML.

To create bullets, use <ul> for dots (unordered list) and <ol> for numbers (ordered list). Place <ul> at the beginning and </ul> at the end. For each bullet, place the text for that bullet between <li> and </li>.


<b>Here</b> is an <i>example</i>. <ul><li>This is the first point.</li><li>This is the second point.</li></ul>

The HTML above produces the following effect at AuthorCentral.

Here is an example.

  • This is the first point.
  • This is the second point.

Unfortunately, (almost all) fancier HTML won’t work in AuthorCentral.

I recommend formatting your blurb in three stages:

  1. First, type the blurb in Microsoft Word as just basic text (no formatting). Use Word’s built-in spellcheck and grammar-check tools to ensure that you didn’t make any obvious booboos. It’s probably easiest to edit your text in Word. Typos in the blurb tend to kill sales.
  2. Copy and paste the blurb from Word to Notepad. This will strip it of unwanted formatting. If you omit this step, you might get a nest of extra stuff that you didn’t even know was there in Step 3 (you might be able to see it by clicking on the HTML option afterward).
  3. Copy and paste the blurb from Notepad to the description at AuthorCentral. Toggle back and forth between the Compose and Edit HTML modes a couple of times to ensure that everything looks okay (if not, you should notice something ‘funny’ when you go back to Compose).

How to format the blurb at CreateSpace without knowing HTML:

Follow the three steps outlined above. Then copy and paste the text from the Edit HTML window at AuthorCentral into your description at CreateSpace. You’ll need to remove the space from every <br /> to make it look like <br/>, otherwise you’ll get an error message. After saving your description at CreateSpace, open your book’s project page and click the Channels link in Distribute, then click the tiny link for eStore Setup. Now click the link for Title URL to view your CreateSpace eStore. This will show you how the formatting looks. Preview this carefully and correct any mistakes.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Common Blurb Mistakes

For online bookstores, the cover, title, blurb, and sample are the book’s only salesmen at the point-of-sale. A great blurb can help motivate purchases, whereas a lousy blurb tends to deter them.

(1) Summarizing the book.

The blurb’s number one priority is to create interest in the book, not to summarize it. Summaries often don’t sound interesting and provide too much information.

(2) Giving too much information away.

An effective blurb arouses the reader’s curiosity. Rather than answering all of the reader’s questions about the book, ask some questions – either explicitly or implicitly. A customer who wants to know something about the story has to read it to find out, unless the blurb answers the question.

However, nonfiction books should make the content clear.

(3) Building suspense.

Customers tend to be impatient. If the blurb (or sample) starts out slow, some customers will walk away without reaching the main part of the blurb. Start out by creating interest to capture the reader’s attention.

(4) Sending mixed messages.

The title, cover, blurb, and sample should send a unified message regarding the genre and content. The message should be clear in each component. Confused buyers look for other products that aren’t confusing. If the cover looks like fantasy, but the blurb sounds like science fiction, for example, then the audience that is drawn to the book won’t buy the book.

(5) Spelling and grammar mistakes.

If the hundred or so words in the blurb have any spelling or grammar mistakes, the tens of thousands of words in the book itself must be plagued with editing problems. At least, this is what potential customers will expect.

(6) Too long.

Buyers tend to have short attention spans. If a buyer becomes bored while reading the blurb, the buyer will check out a different book. The longer the blurb, the more difficult it is to hold the buyer’s attention throughout.

A long blurb also looks intimidating to some readers. There are customers who immediately return to the previous page when a blurb looks too long. This depends in part on the target audience, and is a bigger concern for fiction than for nonfiction.

(7) Overselling.

If the blurb makes the book sound far better than it actually is, the blurb will backfire as soon as customer reviews reflect this disparity. Also, when a book sounds too good, many customers will be skeptical.

(8) Bragging.

Boasting tends to deter sales. Avoid comments like, “This Book is much better than That Book.” However, stating that a book is similar to a well-known book or movie – without making it sound better – can help potential buyers understand what to expect. Compare this comment with the previous one: “This Book is similar to That Book,” or, “This Book is a cross between Book A and Book B.”

(9) Telling readers what to think.

If a book is funny, for example, there is no reason to come right out and say this. Let customers form their own opinions. Most people don’t like to be told what to think. Saying that the book is a comedy may be helpful, whereas saying, “You will laugh your pants off,” tells readers what they will do.

(10) Poor formatting.

Insert a linespace to separate paragraphs. Break large paragraphs into smaller ones. Don’t use returns to force text onto a new line in mid-sentence. Don’t format each sentence on a separate line (unless using bullets). Boldface, italics, linebreaks, and bullets are available through AuthorCentral for Amazon book descriptions.

(11) Not giving readers a good idea of what to expect.

While it’s important not to reveal too much information, it’s also necessary to provide a general idea of what type of book to expect. Nonfiction should also make the content clear. The blurb should attract the right target audience for the book. Otherwise, customers are likely to express negative feedback in customer reviews.

(12) Lack of feedback.

Share the blurb with several people from the book’s intended target audience prior to publishing. Discover how they react to the blurb – especially, what they do and don’t like about it.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 now available)

An Effective Blurb: The Challenge of Writing Just a Few Words

Authors love to write. If you love to jog, running a marathon is easy. If you love to sew, knitting a blanket is fun. If you love to write, completing a novel is a breeze.

Typing tens of thousands of words comes very naturally to writers.

Writing very many words is easy. Writing just a few words is the real challenge.

That is, if you want a small number of words to be effective.

The greatest condensation challenge comes when the self-published author completes the book and must prepare the blurb. Most writers incorrectly view this as having to summarize tens of thousands of words with just a hundred words or so.

But the blurb shouldn’t be a synopsis. The function of the blurb is to entice readers to read the book.

The blurb has the best chance of persuading readers to look inside when it accomplishes the following:

  • Immediately captures the interest of the reader; it has to have a great start.
  • Engages the interest of the reader throughout; every sentence – phrase even – must intrigue the reader.
  • Sends the same message about the genre and content as the title and cover. Buyers want to know exactly what they’re getting; when they see mixed messages, they search for a different book. A target audience mismatch is a related problem: If the title and cover sound like adult romance, but the blurb sounds like teen romance, for example, the readers who are attracted to the book probably won’t buy it.
  • Arouses the reader’s curiosity. Don’t give too much information away; leave questions (implied or explicit) that require the reader to buy the book in order to find the answers.
  • Is well-written. If a hundred words or so have spelling, punctuation, grammar, and other writing mistakes, it doesn’t bode well for tens of thousands of words being well-written. Any mistakes in this short writing sample are deal-breakers.
  • Presents the information concisely. Longer blurbs are less likely to hold the reader’s interest. Bored readers don’t buy books. The longer the reader has to decide about the book, the more likely the reader will find a reason not to look inside. This is especially true in fiction. In nonfiction, there may be some books that have valuable content or features where a longer blurb may help sell the book. However, even in nonfiction, the general rule is that a shorter blurb is better.
  • Provides a clear description. Confused shoppers don’t buy books. Too many characters appearing out of the blue, information that seems ambiguous, words or phrases that don’t make sense to the readers, or anything that isn’t crystal clear to the vast majority of the target audience – these things are likely to blow the sale.
  • Creates an accurate expectation. Readers who are successfully enticed to make the purchase will return the book or provide a bad review if the book fails to live up to unrealistic expectations.
  • Looks appealing. Use block style with linespaces between paragraphs. Nonfiction blurbs that have multiple points to make can use bullets. Such formatting can be done through AuthorCentral.

That’s a tall order! A blurb, which must be short to be effective, has so much to accomplish. It’s quite a challenge to make a small number of words achieve so much.

Yet writing an effective blurb is very important. It can make the difference between very few or very many prospective customers looking inside.

There are three more challenges that fiction authors face when writing the blurb:

  • They tend to write summaries instead of blurbs.
  • They know the story, but often have trouble reading their description from the perspective of a reader who hasn’t read the book.
  • They are often partial to some information in the book which really doesn’t belong in the blurb (for a similar reason, there is often an extra out-of-place object on the cover).

Authors should place their focus elsewhere:

  • What are the main aspects of the book that make it very interesting? Stuff that doesn’t make it sound interesting shouldn’t be in the blurb.
  • What do members of the target audience who haven’t read the book think of the blurb? Feedback is very important. The most effective blurbs often undergo several major revisions.

Look back at the top of this blog article and you’ll see that it started with a few short paragraphs with space between them. When you first see the article, you only see the beginning of it, which – like a blurb – must catch and hold your attention. Evidently, it worked for you, since you reached the end. 🙂

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 coming in mid-April)

Eye-popping Blurbs

I discovered an amazing blurb on Amazon. My first thought was, “Wow! How did he do that?” So I asked.

Here is a link to the book that has the incredible blurb:

The formatting pops right out at you. Yeah, it’s the formatting that caught my attention – not necessarily the writing that made this an exceptional blurb. The top of the picture showing there compels the customer to click the “Show more” link – something that most customers seldom do. The headings, the color, the cute second picture – it’s visually quite appealing and provides a professional look.

A similarly formatted description can be found here:

So how did these authors do it? Here is the link to the KDP Community Forum thread where I discovered the first author’s book and asked him. Since he revealed his secret, I just had to buy a copy. 🙂

Okay, there is a problem here: The KDP forum responds to HTML, so you can’t type your HTML in the forum without the text of the code converting to formatting.

Find the code for the second description at the link below. Since this link doesn’t go to the KDP Community Forum, you can see the actual code this time. Compare the code to the description.

Also, you have to use the ASCII codes for the less than (<) and greater than (>) signs:

The h1 and h2 tags apparently also affect SEO rankings, as explained here:

I thought this was pretty cool and wanted to share it. But credit the HTML experts who discovered this; all I did was try to organize the information.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Book Fashion – Judging a Book’s Clothing

Would you show up to an interview wearing sandals, a Hawaiian button-down shirt, and sunglasses? Would you go to the beach in a tuxedo?

The answers to these questions might seem pretty obvious, yet several books are actually dressed for the wrong occasion. The cover and title are the book’s packaging.

If you’re shopping for cereal, you’re far more likely to pick up a box that catches your eye if it has a picture of cereal in a bowl and includes the word CEREAL somewhere on the box. If you see a box in the cereal aisle that has a picture of a breakfast bar on it, or if it has the word BAR in large letters, you’re probably not going to pick this up if you really want cereal.

When an action thriller has a cover that looks like a romance or the title sounds like a whodunit, it’s like trying to sell cereal inside a box of oatmeal.

It probably still seems pretty obvious, yet it’s also pretty common for the title or cover not to reflect the true nature of the book. Many indie authors, especially, tend to make this mistake. It’s an easy mistake to make. It’s not as obvious as putting cereal in an oatmeal box, but the effect is roughly the same.

How do you know what the package is supposed to look like? Check out the bestsellers in a given genre. Those are the types of covers that readers are accustomed to seeing. Putting the right outfit on the book doesn’t mean copying the cover concept from another book. It does, however, mean taking the time to do some research to explore what features are indicative of the genre.

A couple on a cover often signifies romance, for example. Yet even here it gets a little tricky. A romance author who wants to use sex appeal on the cover has to be careful not to make the cover look like erotica. On the other side, a young adult romance cover will look somewhat different from an adult romance cover.

The title should also be appropriate for the genre. If the cover says, “I’m a mystery, come solve my puzzle,” while the title says, “I’m a romance, let me add some spice to your life,” this mixed message can greatly deter sales.

Once the packaging makes you pick up a product, you start to explore the details. You might check out the ingredients or read the product description, for example. The table of contents specifies the book’s ingredients, the blurb is the product description, and the Look Inside offers a sample.

The blurb and Look Inside must reinforce what the cover and title suggest the book is about. Otherwise, it’s like wearing flip flops and a suit together.

Don’t confuse your potential readers. Don’t settle for a cover just because it looks nice, or a title just because it sounds good.

Print out your cover, hide the title, and show it to different people who have no idea that you wrote a book. Ask them what type of book they think it is.

Show people your title (nothing else – so these can’t be the same people who saw your cover) and ask them what they expect the book to be about.

Now get new people to read your description all by itself, and see what they say.

If you’re getting mixed messages, this may have a very significant impact on sales.

It’s not the fashion police you should be worried about if your book is caught wearing the wrong outfit, if the colors clash, or if your book doesn’t accessorize properly. It’s the potential sales that you may lose that should get your attention.

I could have titled this blog post, “All about Bikinis.” This blog may have had many more views if I had done that, but then nobody would have ever reached the end of this blog (except those few who may have been so desperate to find the product that had been advertised).

Chris McMullen

— A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Formatting Pages for Publishing on Amazon with CreateSpace

Attention All Book Zombies: Time to Snap out of It!

You could be a book zombie without realizing it.  Maybe you didn’t know there was such a thing.  How do you know if you are one?  Is it bad?  If so, is there a cure for it?

If you find yourself wondering about these questions, then you’ve come to the right place.  This article will help you determine if you’re a book zombie, and, if you are, how to return to the world of the book living.

It’s time to take the book zombie quiz.  (What?  Nobody told me there would be a quiz!)  Relax:  You don’t have to study for it.

(1) When you see a list of search results, do you prefer a book with a title that is short and catchy or long and detailed?

(2) Which color combination do you think would look nicer on a book cover:  navy blue, baby blue, and plain white or dark purple, dark red, and bright orange?

(3) Would you rather have the book description be short and sound very interesting or be long and highly informative?

(4) Do you want the beginning of a story to invoke emotions within you or to let you read passively?

(5) After you finish reading a book that you like, would you like to see recommendations of other books from others who enjoyed that book?

Time’s up.  Make sure that your name is at the top of the page and pass it forward.

You’re probably ready to go over the answers now.  But the book zombie quiz isn’t about the answers; it’s about the questions.  (Aren’t you glad that you didn’t study for it?)

Most people don’t like it when a telemarketer calls during dinner, when a salesman interrupts a walk through the park, or when a commercial comes on just before the good part of a movie.  As such, most people would say that they don’t like advertisements.  On the other hand, many people wear t-shirts or hats with their favorite brand names written across them, and when deciding which detergent to buy in the grocery store often select the brand that they have heard before.  There are many subtle forms of marketing employed in the sale of commercial products.  A customer who chooses one product over another ─ or impulsively purchases something that he or she really doesn’t need ─ without realizing that the choice was due to subtle marketing schemes is a shopping zombie.

Similar subtle schemes are applied in book marketing.  A book zombie chooses one book over another ─ or impulsively buys a book that he or she really doesn’t need ─ without being conscious of the marketing that affected the decision.

Have you ever purchased a book that looked nice or seemed interesting, but where you still haven’t gotten around to reading it?  Have you ever bought a book that you were convinced would be very good ─ because you trusted the brand of the publisher, believed the testimonials on the first page, or the blurb sounded great ─ only to be disappointed later?  If you consider your past book-buying decisions carefully, you might find that you have occasionally exhibited some book zombie symptoms.

The big publishing houses take advantage of much marketing and psychological research that has gone into cover design, word selection, and blurb preparation.  Many adept small publishers and indie authors also take time to learn about and apply these marketing secrets.

Traditional publishers often pour a significant amount of money into cover design because it is so important in catching your attention.  Their covers often use just two or three main colors, just one font style, and one to three striking images that relate to the theme of the book.  Color theory tells them which colors work best together.  Color psychology dictates which colors to use to evoke which types of emotions or to suit which audience.  Even the style of font is very important.  Not only must the key words from the title be legible in a thumbnail, research actually shows that people are more likely to feel agreeable when reading some fonts and disagreeable when reading others.  Careful word selection also plays a critical role.

Many marketing strategies are geared around a five-second rule.  First, the cover has to catch your eye.  You probably notice a particular image or contrasting colors initially.  Five seconds later, if you like the cover, you read the title and inspect the cover more closely.  A short, catchy title helps to get you to click on the book to learn more about it.  Five more seconds pass as you begin to read the blurb.  The description has to grab your attention immediately to keep from losing a potential sale.  Every five seconds through the blurb, your attention must be held.  The blurb’s job is to touch you emotionally because emotional buyers are more impulsive.  The description closes by trying to pique your curiosity so that you will want to read the book.  When you look inside the book, you may find testimonials telling you just how awesome the book is.  Like the blurb, the beginning of the book must catch your interest and stir emotions within you.

Research shows that many people are book zombies to some extent.  Publishers’ tactics are geared toward our natural tendencies.

Snapping out of it doesn’t mean to look for ugly covers and horrible blurbs.  Rather, a lousy cover may be an indication that the content of the book didn’t merit much effort.  Similarly, if one or two paragraphs of a book’s description include mistakes, are not clear, or don’t hold your interest, that doesn’t bode well for a few hundred pages of writing.

You can wake up from being a book zombie and return to the world of the book living with less drastic measures.  You can be mindful of the various marketing tactics that may be used to try to influence you to make emotional or impulsive decisions.  When you discover a new book, you can make a conscious effort to wait until you’ve had a good night’s sleep before you buy it.  This provides an opportunity for your emotions to settle down and for logic to kick in.  You can invest a little more time toward learning more about a book in order to help you judge whether or not it will be a good fit for you.  A few more minutes now might prevent you from regretting your decision many hours later.  When available, you can read a longer sample of the book before you commit to purchasing it.  Very often, you might still wind up reading the same book, but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you did so consciously with careful consideration.

Keep in mind that just drawing you into the book isn’t satisfactory from the publisher’s or author’s standpoint.  The book also has to be good enough for you to read it all the way through, and must be very good in order to get you to spread word of it to your friends and acquaintances.  Wise publishers and authors aren’t trying to sucker you into buying lousy books; but they are using marketing techniques to entice you into buying more of their books (which they believe not to be lousy).

Now take the book zombie quiz a second time.  See if you can understand each question and how it relates to the theme of this article.

Why did you read this blog?  Did the title catch your interest?  Did the beginning sound interesting?  I would also ask if the blog was good enough for you to reach the end, but it seems like kind of a moot point now.  But I do hope that you enjoyed it.  🙂

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers