(This post originally appeared on my Patreon page on 17 February 2016. My patrons see blog posts three days before anyone else — and when I publish a new ebook, they get that THIRTY days ahead PLUS they get a FREE .pdf copy EVEN IF I CHARGE FOR IT ELSEWHERE. On top of that, they get my sincere thankyous as a grateful author — priceless, yes? Totally. See you there.)
There are a lot of potential reasons to unpublish an ebook once you’re set it free. Maybe you published in haste and realized you actually still had a TON of editing and proofreading left undone and it will take AGES to slog through it and do it right. Maybe you’ve had second thoughts and you’d rather wait a while before getting your name and work out there for reasons of your own. Maybe you just don’t like the story anymore, or it picked up a 1-star review you HATE (they happen to everyone, go look at some bestsellers’ reviews and you’ll find 1-star reviews) or…
Maybe, like me, after a few years of self-publishing you decided to read one of your earliest stories and after a couple of pages you thought, oh man, there’s a good concept here and maybe a decent story but man, Years-Ago-Me just didn’t understand that this one wasn’t quite ready for the big time.
And maybe, like me, your first impulse – whatever your reasons – is to rush to wherever you’ve self-published your story and YANK THAT SUCKER FAST PLEASE DON’T LOOK EVERYONE STAAAHHHHHP READING!
But hold on.
Take your cursor/pointer/whatever off the UNPUBLISH link.
Push the mouse away. Gently.
Take a deep breath.
One thing I’ve learned in the last few years of self publishing my own work: if you make a decision in a hurry, you’ll probably regret it later.
So let’s talk about why unpublishing MIGHT be the answer, but is PROBABLY NOT.
MOST OF US HATE OUR WORK SOMETIMES
For, at a guess, most of us, we both love and hate our own writing. We write away with great abandon and then come back and realize THIS little bit is a hoary old cliché we picked up from television when we were in grade school and THAT is a plot hole and THIS OTHER is a character acting totally out of character and THIS YET ANOTHER part is just awkward as all get-out. If we proof and edit with a will, and especially if we have a first reader or two experienced in evaluating stories (or an editor to work with, you lucky duck) we catch most of it. But as I pointed out in my post about plot holes, something always slips through. Even if nothing slips through, someone will think your awesome perfect story isn’t awesome or perfect at all, because people have opinions about stuff like fiction and how it should be done – which often translates to their particular preferences (remember the Puppies kerfluffle? Mostly people confusing their preferences with the ‘right’ way to write and sell a SF&F story – even authors). The very concept of perfection is an illusion outside of narrowly-defined specialized circumstances. You can spell a word perfectly – most of the time, unless you’re talking about color/colour or draft/draught in which the difference is merely regional and has nothing to do with ‘perfect’ or ‘correct’ – but you can’t write a perfect story. Can’t be done. You can only write an excellent story.
And yes, you can keep on making changes if you want, but BE CAREFUL WITH THAT. You can find yourself fiddling with one story forever – we’re imaginative types, we writers, and can always think up a different way to tell the same story, write the same scene, word the same sentence. There’s a point in rewriting when you’re only making things different, not better – and you might even be making things worse. There’s a point where you have to decide to either trunk it, or to let the story go out into the world as it is. You’ll get better at knowing when that is the more you write. It’s subjective. Sorry about that, but that’s reality on this one.
OH GOD I JUST FOUND A TYPO ON THE FIRST PAGE WAIT THERES ANOTHER AND ANOTHER NUKE THE STORY FROM ORBIT IT’S THE ONLY WAY TO BE SURE
Whoa, be cool. Yeah, I freak out a little if I realize I have a typo, especially right on the first page. That makes it worse, somehow. And it happens even to those of us who have regular access to pro proofers and editors – at least, it does on rare occasion. For writers in circumstances similar to mine (no money to speak of, remember?), pro proofing and editing isn’t practical. Or even possible. I sweat the economic impact of ordering twenty-five bucks worth of pizza maybe once every other month, so how the hell could I justify the cost of hiring a professional to look over a short story – especially when there are four other people in the house with an equal claim on every penny? If you’re in that boat, typos will happen to you a bit more often – the more work you devote to ferreting them out, the less it will happen but it will always be more than it is in 90% of stuff that passes through a traditional publisher.
What I’m saying is, don’t panic. Read through your story. Open it in your favorite word processing software and blow it way up until it fills the screen side to side and focuses on only a few lines at a time, and proof it with care. That helps in finding typos, way more than I thought was possible when I first gave it a try. Or print a copy and go over it slowly, red pen in hand. Fix all the typos you can find. Then submit your new typo-freeish copy as a new version. Make a little effort to let your readers know you cleaned it up. Tell ’em on Facebook, Twitter, your author site, whichever place(s) folks are paying attention to you. Let them know you’ve fixed your typo-ing ways and mean to do better going forward. If you really mean it and put the work in to publish the cleanest copy you possibly can, they’ll notice the difference. They may not say so, but they will. And new readers will come away with a better impression of you.
BOTTOM LINE: IT IS EASIER AND FASTER TO SUBMIT A NEW VERSION THAN UNPUBLISH ALTOGETHER
If you take your time and think about it, you might still come to the conclusion that you want that story gone. Unpublishing is your call, in the end. But be aware – it’s more likely to be a big fat pain in your butt than submitting a new version. There are a few horror stories [like this one] about the hassles of unpublishing. That’s because the self-publishing system is set up to facilitate the submission of new versions of the text and/or cover art, and it’s NOT set up to facilitate taking a story down. Yes, your dashboard at Smashwords or whatever may have a handy-dandy UNPUBLISH link right there to use. And THEY may take it out of their catalog instantly or reasonably close to instantly. But while a fresh version of the text may be automatically accepted by iTunes and Barnes & Noble and so on and so forth, a takedown may not be. An order to unpublish seems to be much more likely to go ignored, and then you have to email or call that publisher, which will tell you to talk to support wherever you self-published, which will either tell you to go back to that publisher or alternately tell you they’ll try sending the request (REQUEST? IT’S NOT A REQUEST DAMMIT I TOLD YOU TO TAKE THE STORY DOWN) again and please wait at least three weeks to see if it worked… UGH WHAT A PAIN IN THE BUTT NOW I HAVE TO MAKE A NOTE ON MY CALENDAR TO EMAIL YOU BOZOS AGAIN TO SEE IF IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED THIS TIME WHY DIDN’T I JUST SUBMIT A REVISED TEXT MAYBE THAT’S WHAT I’LL DO OH WAIT IT’S UNPUBLISHED AND NOW THEY SAY I CAN’T JUST REPUBLISH IT AGAIN DO I PICK A NEW TITLE FOR IT OR WHAT I LIKED THE OLD TITLE AND WHAT WILL MY READERS THINK IF THEY BUY WHAT THEY THINK IS A NEW STORY BUT IT’S JUST AN OLD ONE GUSSIED UP A BIT HELLO MORE 1-STAR REVIEWS OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE
And that’s why my advice to you, with all respect, is: if you want to unpublish a story for whatever reason, you’re better off fixing what you feel is wrong with it and submitting the corrections as a new version. Even if it’s radically different than the old. There’s precedent in traditional publishing – remember a little story titled Ender’s Game? Before it was a classic novel of the SF genre and a movie, it was a short story and it changed quite a lot between short story and novel. If Mr. Card can do it, so can you.