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Unpublishing a Book on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Whether or not to unpublish an ebook you published via KDP is an important decision that warrants careful consideration.

Whether or not to unpublish an ebook you published via KDP is an important decision that warrants careful consideration.

I've unpublished a number of my Kindle ebooks, and I plan to unpublish more in the future. Why am I doing this?

I published a book that addressed some older topics better and more succinctly than in an older series of ebooks i had published previously. A couple of the other titles, while still relevant in most respects, were aging. Another title, though it contained good information, was a bit off topic for me. None of them were doing particularly well sales-wise or on Kindle Unlimited. Some had been zeros for most of their book life. So, letting these titles go won’t impact my book income in any significant way.

That being said, unpublishing your books is an important decision. Here’s what you need to consider.

What Is Unpublishing?

In current self-publishing terminology, this means you no longer make your title available for sale to readers. If you are the rights holder to the book, you still own the copyrights. The book is not dead; it’s just no longer offered.

In the traditional publishing world, unpublishing would be similar to the concept of a book that goes out of print. The publisher still has the ability to sell and print a title at any time, but for now, they’ve decided that the cost to continue printing and distributing outweighs the potential sales the title would generate.

What Books Should You Unpublish?

For nonfiction, the decision to unpublish a title should depend on the subject’s relevance over time.

For example, a book on how to use a computer software program might have a shelf life as short as a year for the software’s current version. An updated edition of the book would be necessary for each new version of the software. An argument can be made for keeping all editions of the book available for those who may be working with previous software versions, but there’s always the risk of confusing customers who may accidentally purchase an outdated book. Therefore, keeping only the current edition (and maybe the next to last edition if the previous software version is still widely used) then unpublishing the rest would be logical.

Unpublishing fiction is a much more challenging decision. Based on current trends and public sentiment, fiction authors may be tempted to mess with their art and rewrite a previous book to make it more palatable to readers. This can change the book into a completely new work. Some readers may want the original. On the other hand, authors may be embarrassed to have their previous edition available and make the decision to unpublish the original.

Unpublish to Republish?

An unusual question came in through my blog about unpublishing a book on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) for the purpose of republishing it. Apparently, the author was pleased with early returns on the first publishing of the book but saw the inevitable drop off in sales over time (I’ve called it the waterfall sales cycle for books). So, the thought was to pull it down then put it up for sale again, with the hope of experiencing another spike in sales.

My answer is absolutely not! Your try at gaming the Amazon algorithms might come back to haunt you, and you don’t want to put your KDP account in jeopardy.

KDP Select Issues With Unpublishing

When I unpublished some Kindle ebooks that were in KDP Select, a pop-up warning alerted me that if I unpublished the title, I would not be able to publish elsewhere until the current KDP Select period had ended, even if the title was unpublished on KDP.

If your intent in unpublishing is to switch self-publishing platforms, make sure you are aware of your KDP Select enrollment dates and turn off the auto-renewal of that title’s KDP Select enrollment (enrollment is in 90-day increments).

Since KDP Select is only for ebooks, this restriction does not apply to your print books.

Amazon Author Page Issues With Unpublishing

If you’ve self-published several books on KDP and set up an author page on Amazon through Author Central, you’ll be disappointed to learn that any unpublished books will stay on your author page forever. This is extremely frustrating. Self-published authors basically have no control over what books Amazon displays to customers on their author pages after they've been added. I’ve noticed that some outdated and unpublished books continue to appear in prominent positions on my author page.

Why is this? For print, used copies of your book may be available from third-party sellers through Amazon, so Amazon doesn’t want to lose out on a cut of those sales.

Why Not Just Keep All Books Up for Sale?

As I found in my 2018 Thorne Self-Publishing Survey, having more books doesn't really equate to making more sales. So, from that standpoint, it probably isn't going to do any good.

In my case, where a lot of these titles that I unpublished weren't doing anything anyway in terms of sales, it just kind of clutters up my offerings for readers, so that's why I decided to unpublish them and move on.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Heidi Thorne

Comments

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 19, 2021:

Denise, I do think the fact that the books were self published does present problems for the agent and publisher. Most of them legal.

While self published authors on KDP have a non-exclusive agreement with Amazon/KDP (except if they are in KDP Select which requires exclusivity), there still may be legal complications when going with a traditional publisher afterward. So the agent is probably being cautious, and the publishers she represents may indeed have a no-self published book policy. I would take her at her word. Traditional publishers often want "first rights" to the books they publish. And if the following 2 books are based on previously self published books, that makes it even more difficult from a rights perspective.

The "50 Shades of Grey" scenario where the self published author was picked up by a big traditional publisher is very, very, very rare (yes, that was very three times). But she had such success with the book that a publisher would be willing to do any legal wrangling necessary. If your son's book wasn't making thousands upon thousands of book unit sales, and he doesn't have a big author platform and social media following, the agent and publishers probably aren't willing to make such an investment to transition the rights to his work.

If your son is intent on selling this KDP self-published series to the traditional publishing world, he should probably consult an attorney who handles intellectual property (IP). The IP attorney may also have some references to agents who can help him navigate these issues.

Transitioning from one publishing world to the other can be difficult. He may even have to start from scratch with a completely different work that's prepared specifically to be sold through an agent to a traditional publisher.

I know this isn't the news you wanted to hear. But it's a difficult scenario that will require professional legal advice.

Thanks for asking a great question!

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on September 18, 2021:

This is very informative. I have a question for you. My son published 4 YA fantasy books on KDP and later got an agent who wanted to sell the books to a "legit" publisher but after a while, she told him that the publishers didn't want to touch those books because they had already been published. He thought about unpublishing on KDP but his agent said it wouldn't make a difference. So he wrote 2 more for a series based on the first characters. These have not been published anywhere and still he hasn't seen any sales to the legit publishers. Do you think the agent isn't really working for him or is it the fact that he has already self-published the first 4? Should he consider unpublishing. His sales have gone down but he still is selling books.

Blessings,

Denise

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 17, 2021:

Audrey, we all hope our books on KDP and Amazon would do better sales-wise! :) I have used Amazon ads for about 5 years. The early years were good, lately it's been either okay or a loss. It's getting extremely competitive for ads, not just books and products, on Amazon. They are an advertising and tech platform first, retailer second. So they're selling ad space to Amazon sellers AND non-Amazon sellers (insurance, loans, cars...). So I guess I would summarize it as experiment with Amazon ads in a small way, monitor results, and make some decisions from there. Good luck with your book. Thanks for chiming in and have a great weekend!

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on September 14, 2021:

Thanks, Heidi, for this informative article. My first book was published using KDP. I had hoped it would do better sales-wise. I'm fairly new at all of this and trying to learn how I can increase my sales. What are your thoughts about advertising with Amazon.

Thanks.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 14, 2021:

Bill, I've been having problems seeing my HP friends' posts in the feed, too. Bummer! But thanks for the effort. Maybe it's pop up one day. And it's unlikely I'll do a box set again anytime soon. So there, too!

It is so dry in Chicago. I guess you sent some of your drought our way. But at least the Seahawks won their first game of the season. Of course, the hapless Bears did not. *sigh* Anyway, have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 14, 2021:

Chitrangada, lots of authors don't know about it either until they're facing the decision about unpublishing one of their books. At least they'll now know what it's all about. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! Have a lovely day!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 12, 2021:

I don't see your latest in my feed, about the box set. Sigh! Well, I did read it, it was outstanding information, and I'm not doing it. So there!!!!! lol

Happy Sunday my friend! I hope your Fall weather is as perfect as ours is at this moment. Go Seahawks!!! :)

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on September 11, 2021:

This is an excellent and such an informative article. I didn't know anything about unpublishing on KDP.

Thank you for sharing!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 11, 2021:

Peggy, it's just part of being on Amazon I guess. Maybe one day things will be different, but we'll see. Thanks for reading and commenting! Hope you're staying safe where you are!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 11, 2021:

Flourish, gaming is never, ever the way to be long-term successful on Amazon or anywhere online. Agreed, it's time for them to move on and do some new stuff. Thanks for reading and commenting! Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 11, 2021:

Hi John! Sorry to hear that you were having issues with unpublishing on Lulu. That's frustrating. Hope your other books are doing better. Thanks for sharing your experience. Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 11, 2021:

Hi Doug! I'm keeping my work on KDP, too, except for those I've unpublished. Thanks for reading and commenting! Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 11, 2021:

Bill, you get a gold star for being 1st commenter! Thanks for reading and stopping by. Now go walk those dogs!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 11, 2021:

Hi MG! Glad you found it helpful. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 08, 2021:

It is too bad that everything you have written and deleted still remains on your profile, particularly e-books that are no longer available for sale. I can see why Amazon wants printed ones that are still circulating in a secondary market to still be available, as they make money from it.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 08, 2021:

In the case that you highlighted, it seems that some people seem to be tripped up by trying to game the system. Instead, they need to market their offering(s) and move on to writing additional new content so they have something new to offer in the future. You present some good reasons for when you would want to unpublish though.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on September 07, 2021:

Good things to consider, Heidi. I recently unpublished an ebook on Lulu as well, because I wasn’t happy with the formatting and wanted to change that and some of the contents.

I tried to just update and make it a new edition but it wasn’t able to delete the old files and replace them, instead it just added extra pages making a duplication of most of the contents.

I decided to just unpublish it. I doubt I will use Lulu again.

Doug West from Missouri on September 07, 2021:

Good article. For now I am going to keep my books on KDP, but that might change. Something to think about.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 07, 2021:

Hooray, I'm first to comment. That gives me an odd amount of satisfaction. lol

Great information, as always! I'm just about to go walk the dogs, but wanted to poke my head into your virtual office and say a job well-done. Have a great Tuesday, my friend, and Happy September to you!

MG Singh emge from Singapore on September 07, 2021:

Very informative article. great share

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