Unpublishing, Republishing, and Updating Your Book

Ideally, you would publish your book perfectly the first time, everything would work out nicely, and you’d live your happily ever after publishing fairy tale.

Ah, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

For whatever reason, suppose you’re considering whether or not to unpublish your book.

Before you decide, you should learn exactly what will happen when you unpublish it. Here are some questions you need to ask:

  • Will the book disappear completely? If not, in what ways will it remain visible?
  • Will the book remain on your author page?
  • If you’re only unpublishing one edition, will the reviews stay linked together?
  • If you republish a revised version later, will old reviews return?
  • How long will it take for the book to be unpublished?

Of course, different publishing services have different policies, as do different online booksellers. So you want to consider all the possibilities.

A book won’t vanish from Amazon. However, an unpublished e-book can be removed so that customers won’t find it when they’re shopping. Print books, on the other hand, are permanently listed for the benefit of anybody who might have a used copy to sell.

At Amazon, once you add a physical book to your author page at AuthorCentral, it will evidently remain there forever. If you publish a paperback, for example, and add it to your author page, even if you unpublish the book, it will remain on your author page. The rationale behind it is that a previous customer could potentially have a used copy to sell, and this allows other customers to purchase such copies.

That’s something to consider when you sign up for an author page and when you add a new book to it. Think it over very carefully to make sure you won’t want to remove it from your author page in the future. (Suppose you have a Kindle edition already on your author page and then publish a paperback edition. If these become linked together, your paperback will appear on your author page even though you didn’t specifically add that edition to your author page.)

However, this isn’t an issue with e-books. If you unpublish a Kindle edition, the e-book can be removed from your author page. If it’s linked to a print edition, the print edition will remain on your author page, but the Kindle edition can be removed.

Suppose you have Kindle and print editions linked together. Some reviews may declare that they are for the Kindle edition or for the print edition. If you unpublish the Kindle edition, all of the reviews for both editions will remain on the print edition’s product page. However, you can politely ask AuthorCentral to unlink the two editions once the Kindle edition is unpublished, if you wish to have the reviews from the Kindle edition removed from the print edition.

A print book can’t truly be unpublished from Amazon. You can disable the Amazon sales channel. If you publish through CreateSpace, you can disable all other sales channels, too. You can even ask CreateSpace to retire the book for you once the sales channels have been disabled. However, the book will still continue to appear on Amazon, even though customers won’t be able to buy new copies directly from Amazon. This allows any customers or vendors who have new or used copies to resell them on Amazon.

If you unpublish an e-book and republish a revised version later, any reviews that you had before could suddenly appear on the republished e-book. It might be a month down the line, if not sooner. (I’ve never tried republishing an e-book, but other authors have discussed their experiences with this.) If it does happen and you’ve made significant revisions, you might contact Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and politely explain this. Nevertheless, nothing prevents a customer who left a review the first time from finding your e-book again and leaving a new review.

You could republish an e-book with a new title or cover. However, this may confuse customers to the point that some of your previous customers buy a second copy of the same book by mistake, which could result in negative reviews. (Perhaps a clear explanation in the blurb could help minimize this.) With a new title, old reviews are unlikely to show up on the republished e-book.

If you just need to revise your book, you may not need to unpublish it. It depends on the circumstances. If it’s desirable to prevent the sale of your book until the corrections are made, then for an e-book you must unpublish it in the meantime, and or a print book you must disable the sales channels until the changes are made.

It’s not necessary to create a new edition (with a new ISBN, for a print book) when revising your book. You can simply update the current edition, perhaps mentioning this briefly in the blurb. Include the edition number (or something that you’ll recognize) in the Look Inside for your own benefit. This way, when you check out the Look Inside at Amazon, you’ll be able to tell precisely which edition is showing; and if a customer shows you your book or inquires about the content, you’ll be able to check which edition the customer is referencing.

With Kindle, it is possible to notify previous customers that a file has been revised, but it depends on the circumstances and what KDP (not you) decides. You can find a place to send a request to KDP from the KDP help pages.

  • If KDP determines that the issue is minor, they will not contact customers. However, if a customer visits the Managing Your Kindle page at Amazon, the customer can receive the update there. The problem is that the customer won’t know to look for the update.
  • If KDP declares that the issue is critical, your e-book will go off sale until you correct the problem. When you fix it, notify KDP of the update. Then there may be a lengthy delay. Once KDP approves the revision and puts the book back on sale, customers will be notified.
  • If the issue is major, but not critical, in KDP’s eyes, then customers will be notified that an update is available.

There may be lengthy delays if you use an e-book aggregator like Smashwords, if the e-book has already been distributed.

The best action is to do everything possible to get the book right the first time. You only get one chance to make a good first impression.

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

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing