self-publishing

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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disappointing sales, they certainly aren’t going to improve if the book is no longer on the market because its author unpublished it in a fit of pique.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 But in the meantime, the author has unpublished the book, so any other potential reader who sees that good review won’t be able to buy the book.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Last year, I unpublished those four ebooks, re-edited the stories, and incorporated them into the collection I’ve since published as Tales from the Annexe.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

Blog header: Twenty Years a Writer

Twenty Years a Writer, Part 4: Reasons to Write and Reasons to Publish

Now that so many writers are also publishers (of their own writings), publishing seems like a natural outcome of writing. First you write, and then (after a few other operations) you publish. A no-brainer, right?

No. Writing and publishing are two completely different actions. While many pieces of text are written in order to be published as soon as possible, many others are not.

Reasons to Write

  • Inspiration: you can’t not write
  • Declaration: a statement you must make
  • Exploration: you want to see if you can write
  • Reminiscing: capturing the past for yourself or others
  • Figuring Out: solving a problem by putting it into words
  • Revelation: truth-telling
  • Explanation: recording knowledge

Reasons to Publish

  • To share ideas
  • To amuse and delight
  • To reveal something to the world
  • To test your ideas
  • To test your writing
  • To make money
  • To become famous

We write for personal reasons. We publish to share our writings with the world.

It stands to reason that we write more than we publish. We scribble down notes and ideas. We write multiple drafts and versions, we have false starts that go nowhere, we abandon pieces half-written when inspiration runs out. We write for practice, or to solidify ideas. We write out of frustration or rage or grief. Many of these writings are never intended to be published.

Writing notebook

Writing does not equal publishing, no matter how easy it is to publish.

Freedom of thought is fundamental. No thought is forbidden, but not all thoughts need to be put into words and published. Any thought may be written, but some are best followed by shredding, burning, or deletion, rather than publication.

Then there are all those “rules” we keep reading about — never do this, always do that, don’t use these words, etc. Rules don’t matter if you’re writing with no intention to publish. Worrying about rules can hobble the mind and fetter the fingers. Beginning writers may think they must master the rules before they write anything, which likely means they won’t write at all. Forming thoughts into words can be freeing, healing, or motivating. No one should stifle the impulse to write because they haven’t learned the rules.

But before a piece of writing is published, it must be readable. That’s the time for attention to rules. If the words are to be out in the world and read by others, the writer must ensure they are effective vehicles for the thoughts they embody.

open book against blue sky with white clouds

Fellow writers, do you always know when you write something that you will publish it? Do you ever write things you will never publish? Or regretted publishing something?

Next time: Editing process.

Words related to writing

Writers Talking About Writing

Ever wonder what indie authors talk about? Now you can listen to a conversation among three of them. (Thanks to Berthold Gambrel for steering the Zoom bus!)

KingMidget's Ramblings

Berthold Gambrel and I can’t be Two Guys Talking About Writing anymore because we’ve been joined by the fabulous Audrey Driscoll from north of the border. In this chat, we discuss how we came to writing and decided to publish our efforts. We try to provide some advice as well. Hope you enjoy it, and yes, we continue to look for more of you to join the conversation.

(A side note about my background. I’m an empty nester now, with both boys off on their own. I’m in the process of transitioning one of their rooms into my “office.” On the list of things to do is to eventually paint the walls — which are covered with various things his friends painted on those walls around seven or eight years ago. The room is still very much a representation of my younger son.)

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Ten Years Ago, I Reanimated Herbert West

I’M reposting my very first blog post from May 2010, originally titled “Herbert West, Reanimated.” Because I started blogging as part of my self-publishing project, it made sense to begin by introducing my book, which at the time was on the brink of being published.

Shown below is the original cover image, created by moi, with my husband and a neighbour as models. Four years later, I replaced it with the professionally designed version in the featured image.

The Friendship of Mortals has received some good reviews (and a few others as well) in the past decade, and the ebook just happens to be available for free (at the Smashwords store only) during their Authors Give Back sale until May 31st, 2020.


In one of my books of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, (The Tomb and Other Tales, Ballantine edition, 1970) there is a chronological list of HPL’s works, with check marks by the ones I had read.  Notably unmarked is “Herbert West, Reanimator,”  written in 1921-1922.  It was published in a magazine called Home Brew as a series of six horror stories.  In his biography of HPL, L. Sprague De Camp refers to them as “perhaps the most forgettable ” of all Lovecraft’s stories.  Despite this dismissal, I was delighted finally to run across them in 1998.

While it’s true that Herbert West exemplifies some of HPL’s faults as a writer, notably overuse of adjectives such as “hideous” and a coarseness of plotting, I found the story intriguing.  It struck me as an outline for something bigger.  The two main characters, Herbert West and the nameless narrator, begged (in my mind at least) to be fleshed out.

Why would anyone want to reanimate corpses?  Why would anyone remain a close friend of someone who was always looking for really fresh corpses to reanimate, even to the point of creating them by means of murder?

This is the question about any “mad scientist.”  Is he evil or merely mad?  Is his friend stupid and credulous or simply loyal?

In the fall of 2000, two years after I read Lovecraft’s story, I began to answer these questions about Herbert West. I ended up several years later with a hefty trilogy. of which I am about to publish the first book, The Friendship of Mortals, as an ebook.  By the time I post here again, it should be available on Smashwords.com, technology permitting.

open books, grass

Creating and Fulfilling Expectations: Books as Products or Works of Art

The book as product: specific word count, story arc, number and types of characters, type of ending, and a cover suited to the genre. It may help its author make a living. Or it may not.

The book as work of art: whatever gives the writer the feeling of having a hand on the lever of creation. It may or may not become a “classic.” A posthumous one.

This is what happens when I’ve been reading too many “how to do it right” posts for writers. (Snarky aside: Judging by the vast amounts of advice we need, we writers are self-indulgent, impractical airheads, fumbling our way through the real world.)

The author of a recent such post expressed acute distress (“I almost cried!”) when a writer admitted they didn’t know the target audience for their book.

OK, all you writers hiding behind your computer screens, is this you? You don’t write your novels for a defined demographic? Well, I suppose YA authors do, but what about the rest of us? I certainly don’t. I feel a ghostly reader peering over my shoulder as I write, but I don’t know anything about them except they’re reading my book and I owe them a good experience.

I write from a need to embody in written language the stories churning in my brain. That’s what makes me sit down and crank out the words, not a market survey that indicates a taste for a specific type of novel in a particular slice of the population.

“What if they find out that … ?” and “Let me tell you how it happened. There was this thing–” These are the sources of story. Not market studies.

Many indie authors see their writing and publishing as a business. Authors with contracts to traditional publishers are nudged to deliver the correct book-shaped products with cover images accurately labelling their genres. Products must be packaged to match customer needs and expectations. That’s totally fine and logical.

Trouble is, not every writer thinks of the books they write as “products,” even if they publish them using the same platforms as do businesslike, marketing-oriented indies. Today, publishing takes many forms.

As they prepare to publish, writers may find it helpful to examine their intentions and expectations. In private, in secret if necessary. Do you want to sell a million copies? Be #1 on some list? Connect with a few readers, a secret society of people like you? Achieve perfection? Become famous? Just be able to call yourself a “published author”? Produce a printed book you can hold in your hands and post pictures of on social media? Every writer fits into one of these categories, or the infinity of spaces between them.

As in other areas of life, it helps to know what you want and act accordingly, with your expectations set to “realistic.” Then you can read and absorb only the advice that’s relevant to you, and cheerfully ignore the rest.

Despite all the expert advice, there are many indies who don’t conform, whose books straddle genres, or mix them up, or don’t belong to any genre at all. What about all those off-beat or zany cover images? (Airheads, right?) From experience I can say those books aren’t all terrible and worthless. Some are excellent, but prospective readers have to be adventurous and take a chance. Think farmers’ market or craft fair, not big box store. Spend a dollar or three and maybe discover a new and wonderful reading experience.

Until the end of July you can do just that at the Smashwords Store. The Summer/Winter Sale continues until July 31st. My books may be found here.

gargoyle grumpy

Retread #2: Editors and Credibility

Several years ago I read a lot of spirited discussions on a LinkedIn writers’ group which no longer exists. I suspect it self-immolated. Here’s a post from early 2013. Grumpiness warning!

Since joining LinkedIn’s Fiction Writers’ Guild last year, I’ve wasted — er, spent a lot of hours reading and occasionally commenting on several discussions. They are all about fiction writing and increasingly about self-published fiction. Inevitably, the topic of editing comes up. Someone opines that of course a self-published work must be substandard if the author has skipped the all-important step of having their work “professionally edited.” In the throes of one of these debates, someone said, “A writer who edits him- or herself has a fool for a client,” echoing a similar opinion about people who represent themselves in a court of law.

I found this statement quite provocative and felt a Rant coming on. Several weeks have passed and now I can offer a few temperate observations.

First of all, I will say that a writer who has contracted with a “traditional” publisher to publish their work has no choice in the matter of being edited. Since the publisher is investing their time and treasure in the work, it is entirely logical that they should shape the product in whatever way they believe is necessary. I’ll say no more about this. This screed is entirely about self-published works.

“Editing” is not a monolithic process. There is structural or developmental editing, in which the editor suggests getting rid of characters or giving specific characters more important roles. Entire scenes or chapters may be cut, or new ones written. The entire novel may be rewritten. This is huge and fundamental stuff. To me it makes sense that structural editing happen[s] early in the writing process. A writer who is having trouble making their story come to life as envisioned may well need a structural edit.

Line and copy editing happen in the final stage of a manuscript’s life, to deal with things such as typos, grammatical problems and continuity.

Freelance editors with connections in the traditional publishing industry may be worth paying for, but I suspect they are in a position to command high prices and be selective as to which writers they take on — just like agents.

So who is a “professional editor?” Anybody. There is no accrediting body or degree-granting authority for editors. Like writers, they create their reputations by pursuing their craft. Success comes in the form of recognition by readers, writers and peers. And as with writers, just because someone calls themselves an editor doesn’t mean they are any good at it. Writers who want to hire an editor to help them structure their work or provide the professional polish are advised to use a process similar to that of hiring a contractor to do renovations on their house — request references and ask to see samples of their work. Someone suggested getting test pieces edited and going with the one you like best, but given some of the opinions expressed on LinkedIn, my suspicious self wondered if the opposite approach wouldn’t be better. We writers are a self-castigating bunch.

Here I’m getting into Rant territory again. Perhaps because the current abundance of self-published fiction includes quite a lot of naive, or unpolished, or — to be quite frank — “bad” writing, some people have decided that all self-published writers are childish, self-indulgent seekers of adulation, brainlessly inflicting half-baked textual travesties on the overburdened reading public. They need to be whipped into shape by Editors.

Like all sweeping condemnations, this bugs me. Which is why I’m writing this.

Back to that “fool for a client” remark. I disagree with that 100%. I think anyone who wants to call themselves a writer should also know how to edit. It’s part of the package.

Another thing to keep in mind is that independent, self-published authors are just that — independent. Unlike editors who work for publishing houses, they are not obliged to create a marketable “product” that will show a return on investment in a limited time. The self-published writer decides how much of their time and treasure they are going to invest in their work, and what constitutes success. Options for editing include critique groups, beta readers and endless rewriting.

In the end, what is the worst consequence of publishing a flawed, unpopular or obscure piece of writing? If it’s an e-book, it will cost the reader no more than a few dollars (less than $5 in many cases) and however much time they are prepared to spend reading until they decide a book isn’t for them. That happens all the time with traditionally published books — even so-called “best-sellers” — bought for considerably more money. And at least an unwanted ebook can be disposed of with the push of a button. It won’t be cluttering up anyone’s shelf or taking up space in the landfill.