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 I unpublished before anybody bought the book—or probably even saw it was available for purchase.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.