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Why Unpublish?

Writers are all about being published, either by traditional means or doing it themselves. But sometimes, authors unpublish a book.

I can think of a few reasons for this decision:

  1. The author has decided the book is unworthy or even embarrassing. Maybe it was rushed into publication and has attracted mainly negative reviews
  2. The book has attracted other forms of unwelcome attention, such as accusations of plagiarism or threats of lawsuit
  3. The book contains obsolete or inaccurate information. (This would apply mainly to nonfiction)
  4. Sales of the book have been disappointing
  5. The author has issues with the sales platform(s)

In my opinion, only numbers 2 and 3 are really good reasons to unpublish. Number 1 may be as well, but it depends. Like the decision to publish, the decision to unpublish should be made after careful consideration and asking for opinions from writing partners or trusted readers (“omega readers?”).

And if the only problem is disappointing sales, they certainly aren’t going to improve if the book is no longer on the market because its author unpublished it in a fit of pique. “No one wants you, stupid book! Take that!” (Presses the “unpublish” button.)

I think it’s best to keep books available, unless there are really good reasons to take them down.

Why? Picture this scenario: a reader acquires a book but doesn’t read it for months, or even years. When they do read it, they post a favourable review in the usual places. Five stars and praise! But in the meantime, the author has unpublished the book, so any other potential reader who sees that good review won’t be able to buy the book. Disappointed, they may not bother to seek out other books by that author.

This happened to me not long ago, which is why I’m writing this post.

Poor sales, problems with the selling venue, or unfavourable comparison with one’s other works aren’t good enough reasons to unpublish.

On the other hand, unpublishing may be part of a plan to turn a book into something else. For example, in 2016 I published four short stories as separate ebooks. I wasn’t surprised they didn’t sell, because really, I myself would hesitate to spend a dollar for a 5,000 word story, when that dollar could easily buy a full-length novel or a short story collection. The stories did get snapped up when I offered them for free (but then, almost anything does).

Last year, I unpublished those four ebooks, re-edited the stories, and incorporated them into the collection I’ve since published as Tales from the Annexe. So they are still available, but in an improved form.

An author who intends to unpublish a book because they think it’s embarrassingly bad, or because it contains factual errors, may wish to consider publishing an improved or corrected edition instead.

Fellow indies, have you ever unpublished a book, and for what reason?

Featured image from Pixabay

55 comments

  1. Rather than unpublish, we changed the title of one of Anita’s books, completely forgetting to mention this at the time. Unfortunately, we upset one of our readers, who mistakenly thought it was a new book!
    Lesson learned, if you change anything about a published book, you must say so…

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I worked in a public library for 20+ years. Being in Canada, we bought books from both the UK and US. Sometimes, the same book would be given a different title for each of those markets. Library patrons would be miffed if the book they requested and waited weeks for turned out to be one they had already read. But the books themselves had absolutely no indication of the other title. We had to adjust our catalogue records to clear this up.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I unpublished the YA stories. The first reason is that they weren’t all that good, the second that they were old-fashioned in the eyes of the readers (the main reason!), the third that I wanted to move into areas considered too dark for YA audiences.
    I’m not sorry I did it, and I know the readers who enjoyed/wanted it/them have their copies.
    I’ve unpublished anthologies. I use the anthologies as free or low-cost introductions, but as my writing improves, I take down the old ones and make up some new ones.
    I’m not sorry I did that, because the people who wanted to read them have their copies.
    What I am sorry about are the ones I made into paperback, because those listings never come down and I’m stuck with the reminder (especially the ones with the bad covers … although I still have at least one of those … which looks bad in places like GoodReads).
    Maybe one day when I think the stories are good enough, I may start with a new name, a new tag, a new vision.
    Maybe.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Hi Audrey,

    Yes, I’ve done this. I pulled all my titles from Free Ebooks after I noticed each one I put up would then be pirated on Amazon for money. I’ve made peace with giving my work away, but draw the line at someone else profiting from it. There’s still a pirated version of my Sea View Cafe on Amazon that I gave up trying to have Amazon take down. So I guess another category for unpublishing would be do you trust the platform? Mine’s not a case of unpublishing exactly then, since all my titles are still available elsewhere, just on a less leaky platform.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Platform problems was one of the reasons I listed, but I didn’t say much about it in the post because I don’t have direct experience. It makes sense that you wouldn’t want pirated copies out there. I’ve heard about this phenomenon and wondered how the pirates manage to make money from books when we authors often don’t manage to do so.

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  4. I’ve never unpublished anything – I’m in it for the long haul. I did publish the first chapter of The Blessing of Krozem as a free novelette (it’s only some 7,000 words) on Smashwords. Later I published the novel-lenghth version and I didn’t want to take down the novelette, but I wanted to use the same title. I asked Smashwords if I could do that by adding a subtitle and they said yes. So the novel-length book is called The Blessing of Krozem, a Tale of Ziraf’s World. I hope nobody mistakes the short for the long version. The last download of the short version was on Dec. 17. but people are still looking at it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In it for the long haul pretty much describes how I look at my publishing career. Being able to repackage and reconfigure our works is one of the advantages of self-publishing.
      I’ve read the long version of The Blessing of Krozem, and enjoyed it!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought about that too Pat. Would there be a good reason to take down a blog post? Other than embarrassment or spite or some other emotional reason, probably not…? At least te blog as a whole would remain. I’ve taken down Facebook posts which is an even smaller piece of “publishing” and really who cares! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks, JeanMarie. I can see taking down a blog post if it is wrong–no longer reflects what you think, is based upon misinformation, or has hurt somebody innocent. I follow one blogger who is all over the place in her point of view based upon the latest information on the conspiracies she follows. Its been an education to see the ‘evidence’ shift every few days. I learn from the changing truth as it morphs.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I try to keep my advice based on my own experience. I have unpublished a few blog posts that were exclusively about one or more of my books being free or on sale somewhere. Once that sale was over, I deleted the post so no one would get excited and be disappointed (haha). Nowadays I don’t bother unpublishing posts like those, since I always specify the dates of the sales. And I dimly recall deleting a reblog of a post at the request of the blogger, but I’ve forgotten the reason for that request.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, Audrey. Those make excellent reasons to remove a post. It’s interesting how we learn things based upon what we have tried and as we learn more things. One of the few advantages of maturity.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. True enough. One thing I’ve realized, is you don’t necessarily mature as you grow old. Since I’ve been blogging for more than 10 years, maybe I should have a critical look at my early posts and see if any of them need deletion or at least an update!

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  5. And the great think about self-publishing on Amazon is that you can edit your content whenever you want. Sometimes a word or a sentence might be niggling at you and it’s great to be able to fix it.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’m reminded of how little I know. I didn’t know that unpublishing was even a thing. I can understand now why someone would do that, but I don’t think I would. It could be a reflection to see how far one has come in his/her writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I published the first 80K word episode of my way too long planetary romance because I didn’t want to go two years without publishing something. The next year, with the the publication of the full book, I unpublished it. This was easy to do, as both it, and my space opera, have an episodic structure with little story arcs within an over arching one. (I started writing the space opera as a series back in the early days of Kindle Unlimited when authors were paid by the book rather than the page. However, I have a not unwarranted fear of running out of ideas, so I only released them when they were complete.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That approach makes sense to me, Chuck. It’s interesting that you didn’t want to wait too long before publishing, which suggests that almost anything is better than a blank spot on your book page.

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      1. For me a book a year is an easy goal, providing I come up with a story I want to write. I have the time and just enough discipline to spend an hour and a half to two hours every morning, and maybe an hour or more in the evening to get the actual writing done. (Time flies when I’m writing.) Even in 2016 it was hard to stay on any reader’s radar with just a book a year, so yes, I didn’t care to stretch it out to two years between something new. Though it probably won’t have made a difference in the end. But I was still wet behind the ears.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s impressive, Chuck! I need two years from writing the first draft to publishing. At least. It must be tough sometimes for writers who have contracts with publishers. On the other hand, that would definitely provide incentive!

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  8. Firstly. This post must be reblogged, it is brimming with observations and advice.

    Secondly if I am going to spend time writing something I am going to push it out there one way or another, if only to prove I wrote it (Of course for those who take their marketing very seriously a hopeless case this is a statement redolent in tragedy of Ibsenisque proportions….Kafka might have approved though).

    This is why ‘A smidge of arrogance’ is vital to a writer as they consider publication, there are so many pitfalls which can all be grouped together as ‘Discouragement’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You remind me that we all have our own reasons for publishing (and unpublishing).
      I like your literary references. There is something Kafkaesque about the world of publishing, if you look at it from certain angles.
      The smidge of arrogance might also be called resilience.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I haven’t unpublished, except when I shifted my books from traditional publishing to indie. That required an unpublish/republish process, but I timed it to happen the same day. Otherwise, I have published updates that improved the quality of books. I think combining your stories was a good idea. I hope you noticed an improvement in sales!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I morphed my how-to books into blog posts, partly because they didn’t sell very well, but mostly because non-fiction of that kind is useless if it’s out of date, and it’s a lot easier to update a blog post than a book, two if you count the paperback version as well. Which reminds me, I’ll have to update for 2021 soon…-sigh-

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I unpublished one book on Amazon, but mainly by accident. I wanted to change the cover and accidentally unpublished while doing it, and republished. I have one ebook I am now writing a second edition for – my “Planetary Formation and Biogenesis” which has a lot of scientific papers reviewed, but the reviews only go to 2011 because that is when it was published. I think an update is required, but I shall leave the first edition there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Publishing second (and subsequent) updated editions of nonfiction is a good idea. It shows that the author is committed to the work. Not a bad idea for fiction too, although it’s mostly seen in the case of “classics.”

      Like

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