How to un-self-publish: can you remove a book from self-published channels if you want to do something else with it?

I’ve had this question:

Can I free my book from Amazon CreateSpace? I want to seek a traditional deal. I published my first book a few years ago through CreateSpace. It’s a prelude to the one I’m now writing, and I am trying to find a publisher. Is there any way to free it from Amazon to match it to whoever I finally publish with? Sue

If you’re an experienced self-publisher you’ll know this is easy-peasy – so I’ll just say cheerio and see you next time. If not, read on….

Many writers might have an early book on a self-publishing platform, and now want to remove it. Perhaps to try for a traditional deal. Or to rework the material now they’re in a new phase of their writing life.

Here’s how to un-self-publish.

Do you have to ‘free your book’?

There are several aspects to this.

First: the rights. Big question: Are you allowed to unpublish the book and republish it elsewhere?

Let’s subdivide this further. Did you

  • use the publishing platform directly, setting up your own account?
  • use a middle man?

You published directly

The main direct platforms for print books are CreateSpace (which is now KDP), Lulu and IngramSpark. For ebooks, the main platforms are KDP, IngramSpark, Lulu and Kobo. There are also aggregators who send your books to multiple retailers – examples are Smashwords, PublishDrive, Streetlib, and Bookbaby.

If you have accounts with any of these, then you have complete control. You can remove the book yourself. Each platform has its own instructions.

So…. You don’t have to ‘free your book’. You are not under contract to these platforms. You simply used them as a printer. It’s not like a publishing deal. So you can do whatever you like with the book.

If it’s an ebook it will disappear from the sales channels.

If it’s a print book, the sales page will remain on Amazon but customers won’t be able to order it. There’s no way around this because it was assigned an ISBN so it forever exists in the limitless memory of book databases.

This might be irksome if you wish to bury the whole thing, but actually, it’s as good as buried. Only the cover, reviews and blurb will be visible to shoppers. In theory there might be second-hand copies available, though that’s unlikely. Even then, the system will probably help you as bots will know the book is scarce and will price the book at hundreds of dollars. (Really.)

So… although the book will look like it’s available, you can be pretty sure no one will buy it.  But you can look at the page from time to time and laugh.

You went through a middle man?

If you went through a middle man, such as a publishing services company, they will have handled the uploading process through their account so you’ll have to ask them to remove the book. They probably printed through the exact same channels – CreateSpace, IngramSpark, Lulu or KDP, so the process at their end will be simple.

They might tell you the book can’t be taken out of the catalogues or off Amazon, but they’re referring to the situation I’ve explained in the previous section. The book will be visible but to all intents and purposes, not available (except for a handsome, bot-inflated sum of $700).

Getting trickier…

But… there are cowboy operators in the self-publishing world. Here are two hitches to be aware of.

  • Some try to tie up your rights so that you can’t publish the book elsewhere.
  • Others will make you pay for formatting and then not release the files for you to use yourself unless you pay a further fee. This situation won’t trouble you if you’re going to reuse the work anyway, or bury it for ever. (Here’s a post where I wrote more about this.)

Check the fine print of your agreement with them. With luck, everything will be straightforward. But if there’s a clause you’re unsure of, ask an expert at a professional body such as the Society of Authors or the Authors Guild. You could also try the Alliance of Independent Authors or Victoria Strauss’s blog Writer Beware.


Once you’ve freed the book, and you want to seek a traditional deal, what then?

A publisher probably won’t be interested in a self-published book if it didn’t do very well. Unfortunately! But if you’re substantially changing it, or re-presenting it as part of a bigger project, then it’s not the same work. When you query it, be clear about its history, and stress how your new use of it will be viable and different.

Lock up after you!

And don’t forget to block off the pathways to the book you’ve unpublished. Check through your blog, social media descriptions – anywhere you might, once upon a time, have laid a pathway for readers to find the book. There will be more than you think! Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest… unpick whatever you can.

If you have a blog or website, you might want to write a brief post explaining that you’ve now retired the book. If you have exciting plans for it, write about them. This will help make your site look current – readers are put off if they come to a site that looks unloved and out of date.

Good luck!

Thanks for the keyboard pic Ervins Strauhmanis on Flickr

And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, find my latest newsletter here and subscribe to future updates here.


27 thoughts on “How to un-self-publish: can you remove a book from self-published channels if you want to do something else with it?

  1. Awesome post! I really like how you reference the reluctance of trad publishers picking previously self-pub books if they hadn’t sold amazingly. Given the pathways part of the post, do you think it is more trouble than it is worth?

    1. Thanks, Steven! You raise a good point. It probably wouldn’t be worthwhile if you’re going to try to sell the same work, unchanged, or with light changes. But it might be worthwhile if you’re presenting it alongside a lot of other new material, perhaps with a fresh angle. And of course, it might be worth it if your style, craft, reputation in your subject, grasp of publishing realities have matured.

  2. Nice summary of the practical steps needed to prepare to move a self-published work. I’ve seen many problems with those “cowboy operators,” however. They set up shop, look legit, take authors’ rights, then disappear taking the rights, royalties, and reviews with them. Tracking them down and fighting to get rights back can be expensive. Many are not even legit enough to file for bankruptcy which would allow the author to make a claim. It’s an ongoing problem.

    1. Hi Kathryn! That is frightening and outrageous. And I see from your online address – creativelawcenter – that you have seen a depressing amount of this. Do you have any guidance to offer for authors in addition to my suggestions?

  3. I’m working on the second edition of a book I self-published through Amazon. Do I need to take down the original or will it be listed separately and the old link to the new? I plan on using the same title but will change the cover. Any advice or help will be appreciated.

    1. Hi Chuck! Good question. A second edition is usually a new version of the book. I don’t think Amazon has any rules about whether you should take down old editions, so it’s up to you. Do you still want the old edition to be available? There’s one good reason to keep it there – as I said at the bottom of my post, there will probably be a lot of links out in the internet wilds that point to it. If you delete the book, those links then go nowhere and readers won’t be able to find the new edition. If I were you, I’d publish the new one too, keep the old one (unless it’s embarrassing), and add notes in the book description to let readers know that you’ve now updated it. Then they can choose. They’ll probably choose the new one!

  4. This is great advice for Amazon and other marketplaces for your book. But when it comes to Goodreads, the “librarians” would rather die (jk) than remove your book from their site. As they are apparently a “catalog,” they won’t remove your linked thumbnail of your book from anyone else’s bookshelves, thereby leaving a trail of literary breadcrumbs to the very thing you’re trying to hide/overhaul. I can see some of the reasoning behind this, on the one hand; however, if you’re “reinventing” a novel for a variety of reasons, including conservative day-job conflicts, you’re simply SOL. Your novel, that you own, is stuck in the Goodreads vortex forevermore. No consideration is given for your cranky-pants concerns or lofty plans for that project.

    1. Sigh. Just another way that Goodreads is unkind to writers…. Thanks for pointing that out, Kimberly. I suppose a solution would be to put a note in the book description, as I said in my reply to the previous comment, to let readers know that things have moved on. Thanks for commenting!

  5. Great post Roz. I have a question about what you said, if we’re the publisher, we can just remove ourselves, but you said the print book’s cover will linger because of ISBN. What if we used our own ISBN and not Amazon’s, do you think our book cover would then disappear?

  6. Me again. Wow, FB won’t allow me to share, check out this message it gave “Your post couldn’t be shared, because this link goes against our Community Standards” Lol, sorry Roz, I tried even copy and pasting it, no dice.

  7. 4 things to note about un-publishing a self-published work:

    #1) You can retire a title through KDP, but if your goal is to permanently keep that title out of the hands of readers, Amazon permanently keeps the retired files – Word documents, PDFs, cover images, everything – stored on their servers, as well as metadata records. In theory, when your rights as an author eventually expire, KDP can simply re-release the book under your name as a public domain title. A lot of us who wrote embarrassing books as teenagers through KDP/Createspace are kinda worried about this. The only potential way to avert it is to overwrite KDP’s files with false files, effectively self-censoring your own work, but I expect KDP wouldn’t be too pleased with anyone who did this. I only know of one author who successfully overwrote her manuscript files with false files on retired titles, and she told me it was a lot of work for too much risk, although there’s nothing explicitly against it in KDP’s terms and conditions.

    #2) Goodreads, a very prominent social cataloguing site that often appears first in web browser search results, keeps a record of every book ever published, and getting them to remove a book record requires that the record is for a book that has never been published before. Having a record of a self-published book on your Goodreads author profile can sometimes be a deal-breaker for traditional publishers, who see it as looking amateur, and Goodreads simply doesn’t care (it purports to want a record for every book in existence). Some authors even create a pen name to distance themselves from an old Goodreads record. That Goodreads is owned by Amazon, and gets most of its records via mass ISBN imports from Amazon and Ingram, makes it very likely that if you ever self-published a book before, even as an ARC copy or rough draft, Goodreads has it somewhere.

    #3) Amazon retains EVERY version of your KDP book files that were ever purchased by even just one person, regardless of whether you retire/overwrite them. This is so that a person who purchased an eBook can add it to a new Kindle device/app from their Amazon account. Amazon has never been known to make exceptions to this rule.

    #4) If you were given a free KDP/Createspace ISBN, you will need to obtain a new ISBN if you are going to re-release your book under a different publisher/edition. The free ISBN you were assigned belongs to Amazon. So do ASIN numbers for eBooks.

    1. Holly, or should I say Jeff, I have a few comments about your comments!
      #1) I don’t think you have to worry too much about old files being kept by KDP to be released once they’re out of copyright. That will be decades after your death. It is likely that ereading, KDP and Amazon will be very different by then. You speculate that KDP might not like it if an author overwrites files. But you point out yourself that there’s nothing in the Ts&Cs. What risk did your author friend feel she was running when she did it?
      #2) The audit trail on Goodreads. In my experience, a record of self-published books is not a deal-breaker for traditional publishers. But if you have evidence of this, do share. I have submitted mansucripts to agents and publishers and have been upfront about my selfpublishing history. They have not been put off in the slightest.
      #3) I can’t comment about whether Amazon keeps old versions of books instead of the most recent update, but I’d be interested in your evidence.
      #4) Yes, free ISBNs aren’t free. You’re quite right. They belong to whoever gave them to you. Ditto, I suppose, for ASINs. But that does not mean the ISBN/ASIN owner owns the copyright in the book. It simply makes them the publisher of record.

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