Updating an Ebook is Harder than I Thought

One of the good things about self-publishing in ebook form with Amazon KDP is you can correct typos and other errors easily. Make the changes in your base document, upload it to KDP, press Publish and you’re done, right?

Yes and no.

Readers who buy your book after you publish the corrected version will get that version. But what about everyone who pre-ordered it or bought it before you discovered those pesky typos? You’ve assumed the corrected version will be automatically delivered to their reading devices, right?

Probably not.

One of the authors whose blog I follow recently published an updated and corrected version of an ebook. Being aware of this, I was eager to reread the book in its new form. When I checked my Kindle library (note: I don’t own a Kindle reader; I read Kindle books on a tablet using the Kindle app), I found only the original version of the book.

I thought, Okay, I’ll just buy a copy of the improved edition. No luck–Amazon told me I already own the book. So I went to “Manage Your Content and Devices,” where I found all the Kindle books I’ve ever bought. One of them–just one!–had “Update Available” below the title. The others did not, including the title I wanted to update. Yes, I have Automatic Book Update turned On in my Amazon account. And yes, I tried clicking Select next to the title and then clicking on Deliver at the top of the page, then designating the device I wanted the book delivered to. No soap; I’m guessing that because the ASIN is the same, I’m stuck with the original version.

This was confirmed by further digging in KDP’s Help pages, where I found one called Send Updated eBook Content to Customers. This page specifies exactly what an author has to do to enable an automatic update to be sent to people who have purchased the book.

You have to contact Amazon. The errors have to be “serious.” “You need to provide us detailed examples of your improvements regarding the quality errors.” And “You need to send us the ASIN, detailed examples of the corrections you made, and the Kindle location number. Location numbers are the digital equivalent of physical page numbers and provide a way to easily reference a place in your reading material regardless of font size.” I’m quoting from the page I linked to in the preceding paragraph.

There is also a list of changes Amazon will NOT accept. One of them is “significant changes that warrant a new edition.” I’m guessing a new edition would be an entirely new book, with a new ASIN. That’s where I gave up.

My takeaway from these investigations is: Make sure your Kindle ebook is perfect before you publish it for the first time. Or be prepared to make a case to Amazon for pushing out your changes to customers. Almost like in the bad old days of offset printing, where making a correction was difficult and expensive.

I would be delighted if anyone can tell me (on good authority) that the above is all wrong. Has anyone been able to download a corrected copy of a Kindle ebook you’ve purchased? And finally, has anyone gone through the steps described above to correct a book you’ve published?

43 comments

  1. The same thing happened for me, but also in the other direction. My updates didn’t take except for new buyers, and the updates I asked a publisher to make to their book which loaded immediately to the .com site didn’t get loaded to the .au site. I didn’t ever get the updated version of their US book.
    the US readers did, whether they already owned the book or bought it after the changes.
    If you’re not in the US, the rules are different, but I thought Canada might be closely related enough to get it to you. It seems I made an assumption. Maybe it costs money/time to do too many updates (and it’s not like they hold onto the pennies of sales until the money reaches a minimum amt before they pay it to the person who earned it, earning interest, maybe).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm. I buy Kindle ebooks on Amazon.ca, but I thought the updating process would be the same for all who publish on KDP. But you have a point–other processes, like royalty payments for example–are handled differently among the different Amazon arms, so who knows? This was an eye-opener for me, even though I don’t know all about it as yet.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We are not all equal, not in terms of updates, advertising, etc. Somethings are available in US and not other countries.
        The playing field is not only lumpy, there are places where it’s underwater and covered in seaweed.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is an interesting point, Audrey. I’ve only ever done it with Smashwords, sweeping up typos, like you say, and asuumed your readers get the current version, but I need to look into this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Smashwords doesn’t sent updated versions to those who buy an ebook before the author makes changes, as far as I know. But I think they do permit one to purchase a second copy. Given the low price of many ebooks, a reader may wish to spend another dollar or two for a book they enjoyed except for typos.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve always wondered if corrected versions get sent out to existing purchasers. I’ve unfortunately had to correct typos in most of what I’ve published. When I re-read One Night In Bridgeport recently, I saw some typos that I was convinced I had fixed. I guess that answers my question. It’s a shame Amazon wouldn’t update automatically. Theoretically, they have an issue with poorly edited self-published books. Well then, if the author goes through the effort to fix typos and other problems after publishign, seems Amazon would do the updates instead of making the writer have to fight for it. Boooo to Amazon, once again.

    Anyway, I may be nearing the end of a short story I’ve been working on. It’s about Tammy, the public defender in Bridgeport. I plan on sending it to you to see what you think as a recent reader of the book. If it works, I plan on a series of short stories about some of the characters. If I follow through, I plan on calling the collection, “The Next Day…”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That Amazon page I linked to in the post says that if an author has purchased their own ebook, and they go through the updating process, they can download a corrected copy at no extra charge. Generous of them, eh?
      I’ll be delighted to read a story about Tammy. She was one of the more sympathetic characters in Bridgeport.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. I think you would be able to download the corrected version IF you had gone through the song and dance of contacting Amazon and making a case for updating. When we authors just upload a corrected text without going through that process, it’s available only to new purchasers.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. It is annoying, though, and should be easier. My updates were simple (the toc and some backmatter), so wouldn’t have met the criteria, but I did want to check it – the kindle preview and kindle create do not show what the end product looks like to a reader!

            Liked by 1 person

  4. The only way I found to get the new and improved version is to delete the book in your “manage your accounts & devices” at Amazon. Once it is deleted they will let you purchase the current version, though you need to make sure that the old one is deleted, which might take a few days. I did it for one of my books, but of course it was a free book. Otherwise you have to pay for it again.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for this suggestion, Chuck. I did see something like that in the page I linked to. I wonder if it applies to books by other authors one has purchased. I would be happy to buy the revised version of the book I mentioned. You would think Amazon would make it easier for authors to improve their books and even re-sell them, but it appears not.
      I might try your suggestion!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh man…Oh groan.
    Perhaps I should put the entire book up on WordPress in a series of Chapters. It would be like Kindle and folk can call up the WP app on their phones, tablets etc.
    I mean that’s how Dickens, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky started out…well in monthly or weekly publications, and of course they got paid.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t think you need to do that. I’m going to try what Chuck Litka suggested in a comment–delete the original version from my Kindle library and then buy the improved version. It’s worth doing, and I don’t understand why Amazon doesn’t allow customers to purchase an ebook again if it’s been corrected.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Exactly! I’ve seen so many blog posts enthusing over how easy it is for authors to correct errors in their ebooks. Amazon should make it clear in their publishing guidelines that there’s an extra process to go through if we correct errors post-publication and want people who bought our books to benefit.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve received notifications from Amazon on a number of occasions about updates. I’ve never accepted any, mostly because the books I actually care about, the ones I remember, are 99% perfect on first reading. The ones that aren’t I don’t want to re-read anyway.

    That said, having Amazon decide what can be updated and what can’t is unfortunate, especially if you buy your own ISBNs instead of using the free one provided by Amazon. ISBN’s aren’t cheap and the only time I’ve ever created a new edition is for a non-fiction how-to book that was out-of-date.

    Thinking back, I suspect cost was part of the reason I decided to unpublish the how-to and post it on my blog instead. Much easier to update, and a whole lot cheaper too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. KDP ebooks don’t even need ISBNs, (but Smashwords ones do). I guess the authors of the books you saw update notices on did go through the process described on the page I referenced in my post. I imagine it’s more important in nonfiction to correct errors. I do wish they allowed one to buy a book twice, though. The reason given is that the new version might replace highlights and annotations made by the reader in the original version. Again, more likely in nonfiction.
      Making the how-to book available on your blog does seem like the better option.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I never really gave the update notifications much thought, but I think you’re right about how and why they appeared.
        I know you can ‘share’ an ebook with family members, but I agree, not being able to buy your own book twice is annoying. I wonder if the real reason is that they fear some authors would try to game the book’s ranking? Mind you, how many copies would you have to buy to do that???
        Yes, I wrote two how-to books for Createspace. Then I had to update both to KDP, which meant two new ISBNs because I like to /own/ my stuff. Then when KDP changed enough of the interface to make another update necessary I thought…’am I really going to do this every year??’ The answer was no. lol

        Liked by 1 person

          1. lmao – given how much you’d have to spend, it hardly seems worth it, but I’m sure people have tried it. I’ve also read about click farms to scam Kindle Unlimited. Strange new world.

            Liked by 1 person

  7. First, I want to thank you for this warning. I am in the process of thinking about using Amazon self-publishing, the freebooks version as I don’t care if I make any money, it would just be nice to have someone read my works.
    Second, can you advise me of the negatives of using Amazon self-publishing. For one it sounds like I have to have perfect proofreading before I start publishing anything. I cannot stand errors of spelling and grammar in the books I read, to publish books with errors would devastate me.
    Any other problems you have encountered would be helpful to know about. Maybe you have already done a post about that. Do you have a link to it?
    Anyways, thank you. And thanks to determineddespitewp for directing me your way.
    rawgod

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi rawgod,
      Amazon KDP is an easy way to publish your own books, both ebooks and print. There are some benefits to going exclusively with Amazon, but many authors use other publishing options such as Smashwords and Draft2Digital, which distribute to a number of ebook stores.
      It’s always a good idea to get your book close to perfect before publishing. If you don’t trust your own proofreading you can hire someone to do it, or work something out with a friend or colleague who you think has the right skills.
      The main point of my post is that if you correct errors after publishing an ebook through Amazon KDP, those changes will not automatically be delivered to people who have already bought the book, unless you follow the procedures I linked to in Amazon’s guidelines.
      There is a lot of information on the internet about self-publishing in a variety of ways. I’m pleased that you found something worthwhile in my post.

      Like

      1. Everything is good when one is a rank amateur, even if one is a senior citizen. Even moreso when one is barely computer literate.
        However, being an English major from when English was a real written language, I am the best proofreader I know. Now, if I could only get rid of Spelchek, I might be able to prove it.

        Liked by 1 person

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