Full disclosure: I am an idiot. Hypothetically.
So you’re probably thinking:
“How do you accidentally publish a book?”
Hypothetically, it goes like this:
- You make your eBook available for pre-order and click the Publish button.
- KDP says, “Hey. You just published an eBook. Do you have a paperback to go with that?”
- You say, “Yes—yes, I do.” You fill out the forms it offers you.
- You publish it, thinking the paperback will also be available for pre-order.
- You belatedly wonder, “Wait. Will it?”
- You find out Amazon doesn’t offer pre-orders for paperbacks.
- You think, “I just published my paperback. For real. Three months ahead of schedule. OH CRAP!”
How can you fix that?
Bad news and good news.
The bad news is: You can’t.
Sorry. Just kidding about the good news. You still can’t.
I immediately contacted KDP support and was told that, as soon as The Nothing Within appeared on Amazon, I should unpublish it.
Fortunately, that’s easy. On your KDP Dashboard, look (with chagrin and self-loathing) at the book you just accidentally published. To the right is a button with three dots, like this:
Click it, and you’ll see an option to unpublish the book. I unpublished before anybody bought the book—or probably even saw it was available for purchase.
So that fixes the problem, right?
No. Maybe you weren’t paying attention. I said you can’t fix it.
The problem is that the book’s product page still appears on Amazon. It shows the book as “out of stock we don’t know when we’ll have this again.”
That’s sort of okay, but the real problem is the publication date.
The book’s publication date commemorates the date of your mistake. Maybe you don’t care about that, but I did. I’d already told several editorial reviewers and the Library of Congress that publication was three months away. Some reviewers care about that: they’ll only review books that haven’t been published yet.
I contacted KDP support a few times. One person asked whether I’d like them to escalate the problem to technical support, and I said “Yes, please!” Unfortunately, the support person who received my “Yes, please!” message replied, “Sorry, we can’t do that.”
The problem is the book’s ISBN. Once it’s made available for sale, from Amazon’s point of view that ISBN is irrevocably tainted. The date of your mistake is the date of publication for that ISBN. You’re not allowed to change the date, even if nobody actually bought it.
If I can’t fix it, can I at least fudge my way around this problem?
So glad you asked. Here’s what I did.
Strategy: Hide your mess and cross your fingers
1. Get a new ISBN
Clearly, you need a new ISBN for your not-mistake-paperback.
Amazon offered that I could wait for the real publication date and just use one of the ISBNs that they provide through KDP. Since I’m publishing through my own house, Humble Quill LLC, I used one of the block of ISBNs that I’d set aside.
So we do this:
- Use Bowker (or whatever service you use for ISBNs) to set up a new paperback with the new ISBN.
- Assign the new ISBN to your paperback through Bowker (or wherever you bought it).
- Contact every single blessed organization that has a record of the old ISBN and let them know about the new ISBN. Fortunately, some of them let you make this change yourself online.
- If you’re also using a print service provider like IngramSpark, contact them to change the ISBN.
- If you’ve applied to the Library of Congress for a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN), submit a change form through your PCN account.
- Wait for all these changes to percolate through the system.
2. Make a new paperback
Next, we want to treat the mistake-paperback like the embarrassment that it is. We start by creating a not-mistake-paperback that will be un-embarrasing.
- Change the book’s copyright page to reflect the new ISBN.
- If needed, change the book’s barcode.
- If your eBook and your mistake-paperback are linked, use the KDP dashboard to unlink them. It might take a while for that to take effect. You unlink them through the ellipsis button:
- Make a new paperback on the dashboard with the new ISBN, uploading any necessary files.
- Don’t make the mistake of publishing it this time.
- Through the KDP dashboard, link your new not-mistake-paperback with your old eBook. Again, this might not show up right away.
Even though you can’t fix it, it might possibly fix itself if you’re lucky.
Amazon support told me at least three times that they would never, under any circumstances, remove the erroneous product page, nor would they change the incorrect publication date.
But a week or so after I took the above steps? Miraculously, I could no longer find the mistake-paperback no matter how hard I tried. I tried pretty hard.
I don’t know why. Maybe some automatic cleanup took care of it. Maybe someone in the support chain took pity on me. Either way, I’m not complaining.
Fallback: Make your mistake-paperback unappealing
Note: Because my problem resolved itself, I didn’t need to take this step. But I’m holding it in reserve in case that phantom Amazon page comes back.
Unfortunately, I can’t promise your mistake-paperback will disappear like mine did. If it doesn’t, you’ll probably want to make clear to everybody that it’s not the final version of the book. Two ways to do that:
- mark the cover clearly as an Advance Review Copy
- make it so expensive that nobody will ever want to buy it
But for those changes to take effect, Amazon Support told me I’d have to re-publish my mistake-paperback, if only briefly. Then, once the changes appear on the mistake-paperback’s page, I can unpublish it again.
Fingers crossed, it won’t come to that.
I hope this helps if you’re ever in this unpleasant situation.
This EXACT thing just happened to me. What if I just leave it until closer to my publication date and republish it then? I went back through my book setup and the “publish” button is still active. I’m afraid to touch it again, though
Just to be sure I’m clear about the situation — you accidentally published and then unpublished the book as soon as you were able, right?
If so, if you republish it later, you’ll probably still have the side-effects I mentioned in the post: your book’s publication date will still be listed as the “mistake date”, and the book might appear in Amazon’s listings as out-of-stock until your real publication.
Other than that, I’m pretty sure it’ll work to republish it at the real publication date. Since I didn’t take that route, I can’t say for sure from personal experience. But that’s the idea of the whole “unpublish” thing — that you can temporarily make a book unavailable and then make it available again later.
If you want to be completely sure, you could send a message to KDP Support through your KDP dashboard asking them to confirm that will work.
Best of luck!
Hi Amanda, did it work? I really don’t want to go through the process of creating a new ISBN just because of the hassle of it all.
What scares me (and it might sound silly, but to me it’s quite upsetting) is that I published some fiction books as a minor child without permission from my parents using what was then Createspace back from 2012 to 2015. I use the term “books” lightly there; they were badly formatted, had a weird font, they weren’t very good at all, and they were full of spelling errors. The plots were all bizarre and, in hindsight, stupid. I retired them, because while most people find that sort of thing cute when you’re twelve, if you want to be taken seriously as you get older, having something like that around pretty much guarantees it not to happen. I noticed, however, that both Createspace and KDP still retain both the submitted manuscript documents, the cover images, everything they’d need to re-publish these titles if they wanted to… and when your work either enters the public domain or gets acquired by your estate, who’s to stop that, even if the books are either terrible or simply aren’t something which you desire to be published anymore? Chances are nobody will ever buy them if they’re re-released, but they’ll be linked to your name, either way.
The trouble all seems to come down to the ISBN number. I don’t really know why this means that KDP needs to retain all your files, seeing as you own the copyright to your own work and KDP refuses to call itself a publisher, instead going with the term “print-on-demand”, in effect making them just a distributor… I’ve learned my lesson. Nowadays until I have a book typed up, edited, designed and completely finished for publication, I never hit “publish”, and I never assign an ISBN. KDP and Createspace both allowed for the complete deletion of book files so long as they had not yet been published and no ISBN was assigned. It doesn’t help that Amazon seems intent on holding onto all this content and on making pages for it as quickly as possible; it almost seems like it just allows for a lack of quality control and for author irresponsibility. After all, we all make mistakes on the internet and click buttons we shouldn’t have clicked, added things we shouldn’t have added, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable for there to be a greater requirement beyond just a check-marked box of approval when it comes to self-publishing. Most authors who are serious about self-publishing probably wouldn’t have a problem signing a written contract releasing their work for publication, even if it’s a hassle. This would also fix the problem of people with no legal capacity to sign a contract uploading work for publication; one of my friends was mentally ill when she wrote a racy, offensive book with her first and last name printed on the cover and connected with the ISBN, and all she could do was retire the title when she later regretted it; KDP has kept all the files and won’t let her get rid of them. Signing a written contract would also ensure that the author themselves has left it in writing legally and securely that they only want their book officially published at a certain date in time, thus allowing for the book not to be mistakenly released to the public before it is ready. With these companies having been around for about twenty years now, it seems odd that they so easily allow for official books to be released without some sort of better safeguards in place.
Yep, it’s a puzzler. In my case, I didn’t even use a Creatspace/KDP-provided ISBN. I’d gone to the trouble of creating my own account with Bowker and buying a block of my own ISBNs. So I own the ISBN as well as the copyright to the material…and yet still, they seem to retain the right to distribute it even if I very much don’t want them to.
i have a question, My book is ready to be published and is live now. But i am getting feedback about making it a preorder to build momentum. If i delete/unpublish the book, can i resumbit it again and this time choose pre order to build momemtum?
I’m no publication marketing expert, but I’d be surprised if you got much benefit from “building momentum” through a pre-order.
Personally, I saw very little sales activity before the actual publication date, even though my book was available as a pre-order for a few weeks. I’ve seen well-informed people disagree about whether a pre-order is even a good idea.
Bear in mind that it’s a real pain to unpublish and then republish a book (as I discovered in this post). Among other things, you need to throw out the old ISBN and get a new one, which means forever there will be a record of two “editions” of your book…even though they’re really both exactly the same.
I’d be very surprised if the benefit you got from switching to a pre-order was remotely worth the pain.
I have a situation where I need to get author copies prior to my release date. I thought about making the product live to order and then unpublish. I’m not as concerned about the publication date as much as I am with Amazon’s algorithm being negatively affected. Do you have any thoughts as to if this would adversely affect my actual release/launch of the book?
I’m definitely not an expert on this, but publishing early might have an impact on rankings.
Some time ago I read that the 30 days after you first publish is a magical time when your book gets a ranking boost. Because of that, I assumed accidentally publishing early and then un-publishing cost me that boost. I can’t say for sure this is still true (or that it ever was), but just in case, if it were me I’d avoid publishing and then un-publishing if possible.
Assuming we’re talking about paperbacks, I know you can get author copies before publication because I did it. I did this through the KDP dashboard at an author discount, not through the Amazon store at full retail price. However, the copies I ordered from Amazon this way had an “advance copy” banner slapped on.
If that banner’s not acceptable, you can decide whether the benefit of early “clean” copies without the banner is worth it for the potential loss of an initial boost.