What do you do when you publish a bad book? 5 Ideas.

Writing tools_ What can you do when you publish a bad book_

As indies, this is bound to happen. Hell, if you’re traditionally published, this can happen too. See my blog post on The Wedding Date.  (Spoiler Alert, I wasn’t impressed.)

As indies, we rush to put out content. Maybe it wasn’t edited the way it should have been, or maybe you didn’t catch a plot hole before you hit Publish. Maybe there’s more telling in there than you thought, or maybe you had some head hopping and you didn’t know you were doing it.

No matter what the issue is, you’re getting bad reviews. People don’t like your book. If you have more than one book out, maybe you feel like it’s not a big deal. But the problem is, if a reader happens along that book–they may not give you another chance to redeem yourself.

bad star reviews

So, what can you do?

  • First, admit your book still needs work. I see lots of people in denial over this. They don’t want to see the truth that their book was published before it was ready. It’s a scary and sad thing to admit. It’s especially heartbreaking when you thought it WAS ready, like The Corner of 1700 Hamilton. I had beta readers. I had an editor. It was as good as I could do at the time. But, now, after writing so many more words and getting better, it wasn’t that great. This can happen to anyone.
  • You can fix it. 
    This presents its own issues with ISBN numbers, and other little things like feeling like you’re ripping off the people who have already purchased it. Time is also a factor because depending on how big of a mess your book is, it could take a few months to rewrite, get it edited again, reformat it, and maybe redo the paperback cover if the number of pages changed. Fixing your book is almost as time-consuming as the launch.
    There is also the ethical question of is it right? Like I said, will you feel like you’re cheating the readers who have paid for your book? What if those reads resulted in bad reviews? Fixing it won’t make those bad reviews go away, and the only thing you can do is add to your blurb on your selling page that your book has been re-edited. This isn’t such a problem if not many people have bought your book, or you caught your mistakes before you started to promote it. This is the ideal scenario, but then you have to ask yourself if you’re going to pull it while you fix it, or hope that no one buys it while it’s in edits.
  • You can unpublish it.
    If your book really sucks, like, it should be hidden in a box under your bed with the dust bunnies and not the plot bunnies, then you can take it down. If you published a paperback, your book will always be there. Goodreads won’t take your books down. Bad books can linger, and there’s nothing you can do about it. I don’t recommend unpublishing. At some point you believed in your book enough to publish it. So deal with the consequences and learn from your mistakes.
  • You can write more books and hope you bury it. 
    If you don’t promote it at all, and never talk about it, there’s a good chance you can bury it. I’ve heard the stat bandied about that 50,000 books are published every month. That’s a lot of books, and it’s not so hard to think that if you never, ever, talk about your book, people will forget you wrote it. In fact, (and I know this to be true) you can soft launch quite a few books and no one will ever know you’re a writer if you don’t say anything.
  • You can leave it alone and start a pen name. 
    Starting over is hard. It means new social media. It means new business cards, new email. It means starting from ground zero. And maybe that’s your thing. Maybe that’s what it takes to feel better, have a fresh start. Lots of people write under different pen names. They abandon series that aren’t working. They want to write in different genres. They have no problem leaving the past behind. They have the time to make a new pen name work–and actually write under that pen name. I listen to  lot of podcasts, and this seems to be quite common. Letting the chips fall where they may and never looking back.
    This certainly is a viable option. If I ever get around to editing my fantasy books, I’ll release those under a pen name. That doesn’t mean I’ll be letting go of my contemporary romance name (which is my real name) but sometimes taking on a different name is smart. Can you do it every time you make a mistake with a book? Probably not. You won’t get anywhere. It’s hard enough as it is to make it under one name consistently putting out quality content. If you keep changing up your names because you keep making mistakes, that’s just wasting time. Time you may not have. As Mark Lefebvre says in The 7 Ps of Publishing, the golden age of Kindle is over. You can’t make a living publishing a couple of books. Making any kind of profit from your writing takes dedication and commitment. It takes consistency and quality work. You have to ask yourself, is the time it takes to let go of that book and start over worth it? Or is it better to take a month and edit the old book, and make it the book it should have been in the first place?


choice

The great thing about being an indie is choice. You have the freedom to do whatever you think is right for your business. And, if presented these choices you feel your book isn’t that bad after all? That is up to you. Promote it. See where it goes. In the scheme of 50,000 books a month, your book really may not be that bad. That’s your choice an author. Take the risk.

This same advice holds true for the authors who are not just publishing but querying. If you’re getting rejection after rejection, or the feedback indicates that your book just isn’t up to par, you have to decide if you want to keep hammering away, fix it, or if you want to put it aside and write something new.

It never ceases to amaze me how many first time authors think their book is wonderful. I was one of them. I learned better, and you will too. It’s what you do with that knowledge that will shape the rest of your career.


A long time ago I  listened to a podcast where the author talked about revamping his series because it wasn’t selling. I was new the indie scene, and I thought that just sounded so wrong. Unfortunately, redoing and rebranding books is an old practice and not just for indies. Traditionally published books have done that for their authors for years. I wrote a pretty in-depth blog post about it, and you can read it here. 

What are your thoughts on redoing books? Worth the time? Or is it better just to forget? Do you still promote your book even though you know it can be better?

For more opinions on what you can do with a bad book check out these links:

https://chrismcmullen.com/2013/09/25/unpublishing-republishing-and-updating-your-book/

https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2015/04/28/changing-book-titles/

https://selfpublishingadvice.org/why-i-unpublished-my-back-catalog/

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