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Should I unpublish my book if I want it published ‘traditionally’?

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

If any of you Humans have asked yourself this question, you are far from alone. (Personally, I think there are too many of you, but that’s beside the point)

A wonderful author with whom I recently spoke conveyed similar concerns, which are entirely understandable. Much of the urge to self-publish - aside from the endless joys of self-promotion - comes from the frustration of waiting for a response from publishers, and it has long been the case that many authors never hear anything from agents or publishers to whom they submit their work. They follow the guidelines, they jump through hoops, they might even receive an acknowledgement email; still…nothing.

(Human Publishers are notoriously rude)

So, do you continue to wait? For how long? Do you submit elsewhere? Have they requested exclusivity? Or, do you go for option Number 3? No, not what Beetlejuice did - this one: “I’ve had enough. I’m publishing it myself.”

The attraction of self-publication is clear, as are its pitfalls. In the case of authors aiming to have their work published ‘traditionally’, I would not presume to advise authors either way regarding keeping their work on online distribution sites. The risks are clear: if your book is not received well, a publisher who takes it on – very few are willing to take on previously self-published work – might have difficulty disassociating the new product (proofread, edited, formatted) from its earlier iteration. Of course, amongst other things, the title could be changed as part of this disassociation.

The obvious advantage of leaving the work online is that if it is received well, an author could build significant traction themselves, making the product more attractive to a publisher (if the author even decides to relinquish control at this point). But another problem is this:

The widespread availability of eBooks once they’ve been published is not always through desirable channels. If you have published works out there, do a ‘deep’ Google search for your name and the title of the work. You might be surprised by what you find.

(I’d like to make it clear that those pictures are from my college days, and everyone wore Humanface back then)

PDF conversion sites are all over the internet, pirating digital content. A lot of authors lose control of the dissemination of their work, meaning that if a publisher requests that your content be ‘unpublished’ or removed from distributor sites (either before or after submission), this option may not completely shut down its availability. Publishers are then left with a rival title (if it remains the same), running the risk of devaluing – or even negating – the editing, publishing, and marketing effort. And remember, if you can find the ‘deeper’ hits online for your work, so can a publisher.

At Temple Dark, we want what’s best for both you and us. We want the symbiotic and exponential growth of the work of our authors. We won’t publish everyone who submits to us – of course not! But we will always do our best to encourage your continued creation and improvement, and we aim to reply to every submission within 12 weeks - when submissions are actually open, you understand (yes, I'm talking to you, Queue-Jumper!). Any submission of your work will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, assessing the potential impact of online availability, where relevant.

So, I still hear you ask (in that whiny, incessant tone that demands black and white answers in a world shrouded in grey), 'Should I unpublish my book if I want it published traditionally?' Well, armed with the knowledge of this potential impact, we leave the decisions entirely up to you. However, having learned a thing or two in the 3 years since beginning this journey, we find ourselves leaning towards rejection of works previously published. If you've had any experience relating to the 'unpublishing' of self-published work, let us know in the comments below.

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