This all started when I was 7 years old and wrote my first novel.
Now, I’m 18 and starting a publishing company.
Over the past decade, I’ve written 12 books and self-published 10 of them. They sold hundreds of copies, won awards, and started me on my path toward a career as an author and creator.
And then, last year, I erased all of them from the internet.
Welcome to the first episode of the Publishing Project, a series where I’ll take you behind the scenes of starting my independent publishing company.
Over the past year, I’ve laid the foundation for a new era in my journey as an author. A new beginning, in a sense. But for that new era to arrive, some of the past had to be cleared away. The first step toward starting my publishing company was wiping the slate clean.
This is the story of how I did that—and why.
My path toward starting a publishing company began 11 years ago.
When I was 7, a writer gave me a book that changed my life. It led me to write my first novel, and—
Well, that’s a story for another time.
Long story short, I fell in love with writing, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
I wrote my first novel when I was 7, my second when I was 8, the third at 10, the fourth at 11, the fifth and sixth at 12, and seventh and eighth at 14. And I wrote my first novella when I was 9, then two more when I was 16, and another at 17.
For the past three years, I’ve been working on my ninth novel—but again, story for another time.
1. Four Bad Books
In September 2015, at the ripe old age of 10, I decided to publish four of my books—Betrayal, The Magnet, The Council of Spirits, and Ice Lords, the three novels and one novella I’d written up to that point.
It was easy—way too easy. I used Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, which allows anyone to self-publish books on Amazon for free. Services like KDP are great in that they democratize what was once a highly exclusive industry, allowing anyone with an internet connection to bypass the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. But of course, this accessibility has its downsides. It means anyone, even a 10-year-old kid, can publish anything to the world, no matter how low quality.
Here’s the thing about my books—they weren’t total garbage, at least from a certain perspective. Thanks to spell check, my love of grammar, and editing from my parents, these books weren’t rife with typos like a lot of other self-published books. They were, for the most part, properly formatted. At least one of them followed traditional story structure. But a minimum level of technical competency doesn’t exactly equal artistic merit.
I was never foolish enough to think these books would get published traditionally. I may not have been self-aware enough to see the error of publishing these books entirely by myself as a 10-year-old, but I was self-aware enough to know that no traditional publishing company would take me seriously.
And these books were weird. The first three, especially. Betrayal, The Magnet, and The Council of Spirits were the three books of a sci-fi/fantasy trilogy called the Zaril Wars.
Looking back at those books now, they’re like a fever dream at parts. Especially in the last book, things get sort of surrealist. For instance, almost the entire cast of main characters dies for different reasons, gets resurrected, ages twenty years in a time jump, and no one ever talks about it. Characters are constantly fainting and waking up in new worlds and dimensions. There are unexpected moments of gore, random pop culture references, and completely unnecessary explanations of complicated lore. A character will occasionally break for no apparent reason and do something insane for comedic value or to start an action scene. It’s got ghosts, aliens, giants, shapeshifters, dragons, and a central cast of preteens from present-day Earth with questionably absent parents. If these books were written by an adult, you’d seriously think the author was on drugs. But nope! That was just the unrestrained imagination of a 7-year-old.
Anyway, Ice Lords, which I wrote when I was 10, was more of a straightforward story, though still wacky at times. It was also a blend of sci-fi and fantasy, though this time set entirely on present-day Earth. The story followed a Coast Guard team fighting to stop an ancient power from ruling the planet. All these books were comedies to some extent—except Betrayal, which is actually pretty depressing. Anyway, Ice Lords was a little more intentional with its humor and storyline, and I think it’s clear I’d progressed as a writer. But it still wasn’t publishable quality.
But thanks to the magic of the internet, I could publish them nevertheless!
And so I did. In September 2015, I published ebooks of Betrayal, The Magnet, The Council of Spirits, and Ice Lords. Thankfully, this was a year before Amazon added the ability to publish paperbacks through KDP. I’m quite glad I didn’t publish paperbacks then, not just because of the extra work, but mainly for a reason I’ll get into later.
Publishing a book with KDP is simple. All you need is a manuscript, a cover, and a book description. So, how did I do with all that?
See, I was neither skilled enough to do everything myself, nor smart enough to delegate some of it to people who were. So when it asked for a cover, I designed one for each book using KDP’s built-in Cover Creator.
Word to the wise—never design your cover with KDP’s Cover Creator. Please.
I don’t remember exactly how long the design process for each cover took, but judging by the results, I’d guess no longer than five minutes. Just look at these. Awful.
My book descriptions… wouldn’t exactly be making sales while I slept. And the interior formatting, like I mentioned earlier, was fine, but not great. I just uploaded Word docs. There wasn’t even a Table of Contents.
Anyway, after… very little work, considering I was publishing three entire novels and one novella for anyone in the world to read, these books were out there. I was a published author, sort of.
2. Vicious Cycle of Improvement
Over the next five years, I published every new book I wrote. I eventually unpublished Betrayal, The Magnet, and The Council of Spirits, when I got old and wise enough to realize they were bad books. Entertaining, yes, but more of a liability to my reputation than anything else.
But I wasn’t all that old and wise, because the amount of thought I put into each publication was… minimal. Which never results in a good product. Here’s the original cover for my 2016 novel Future, a sci-fi book with a melodramatic streak of existential dread.
Quite honestly, I like the book itself less than its predecessors, if only because it takes itself too seriously where the others are unabashedly ridiculous.
One notable thing about this book is that it established a loosely interconnected universe that all my other books would take place in. It was later named the Taylorverse. Through one line of dialogue and a last name, Future connected to Ice Lords. The fantasy trilogy I wisely unpublished would not be part of this universe, but everything else I’ve published has been.
In 2017, 2018, and 2019, I published the three books of the Fallen Nation Trilogy, a sci-fi/dystopian series. Especially toward the beginning, it suffered from the same melodramatic tone that plagued Future, but by the time I finished the trilogy, I was a much better writer than I had been when I started.
The thing about writing a series when you’re young is that your rate of improvement as a writer is probably at its fastest, since your growth in skills from writing several books is compounded by the rapid intellectual and personal development of growing up. So in 2019, at the age of 14, I was starting to look back at the books I’d written and published when I was younger with distaste. I didn’t hate them—I think, to this day, they’re still enjoyable reads—but they were far from my best work.
So I did my best to improve them. After I published a book, I would always iteratively improve its cover over the ensuing years. Occasionally, I would update the interior formatting in all my books to match a new, higher standard I set for myself. I would do light revisions to the manuscripts. I even started a major rewrite of Ice Lords to bring the writing up to speed with my current style.
But constantly improving my past works to match the level of my current works got to be quite a frustrating process, like bailing water out of a flooding ship. Every year, I would improve at writing, cover design, interior formatting, and I would have to go back and revise an ever-increasing list of older books to keep up with my rising standards.
That’s a good problem to have—I certainly hope 14-year-old me was better at writing than 7-year-old me—but it became a frustrating cycle.
In 2020, I published my eighth novel, Dark Waters, a murder mystery I co-wrote with my sister. My main issue with this book is something that’s entirely my fault—it’s way too long. I failed to realize that, since I had a co-author, it was my job to write half a book, not a whole book and then some.
And, like all my previous books, its publication was rushed. My publication strategy for everything I wrote was basically to release a book as soon as I had a finished draft with at least one round of editing, which simply isn’t enough. A traditionally published book typically goes through many rounds of revising and editing, even getting feedback from beta readers before publication. While I may not have been able to hire professional editors, I could’ve spent more time polishing each book before releasing it to the world.
Once I published a book, my marketing consisted of announcing the book’s publication to my paltry audience on social media and my mailing list. And then I would sit back and watch as… no sales rolled in. Maybe a couple if I was lucky.
While the launch of each of my books was never much of an event, I would sometimes see some mild success. What few reviews I did get were mostly good, and I won a few Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for the Fallen Nation Trilogy and some of my later novellas. Since KDP introduced print-on-demand paperback publishing in 2016, I published print versions of my books, which I sold on the street and at entrepreneurial markets for kids. In total, I sold and gave away around 1,000 copies of my books. Most of that was from occasionally listing a few books for free on Amazon, so I wasn’t making much of a profit. Another word to the wise: if you want to get rich, don’t write fiction.
In 2021 and 2022, I wrote three novellas—A Rogue Game, The Gemina Journals Vol. 1, and Tales from Enigma Island Vol. 1, which I released exclusively on my membership site Taylorverse+. Toward the end of 2022, I decided to publish one of them on Amazon, a mystery novella titled A Rogue Game. It was the first in a series, and I hoped it could build some traction before the release of the first novel in the series.
It was around this time that I began thinking about starting a publishing company.
3. The Last Straw
The name and branding of my publishing company originated on the spine of some of my later paperbacks. Winter Forest Publishing was a name I came up with, mostly to add a shred of traditionally published glamor to my self-published books. They looked a tad more legit on a bookshelf next to traditionally published books with a logo on the spine. It wasn’t anything more than a name and a logo, but that was all I needed.
Until I realized something. Or rather, began to acknowledge something I’d known for a while but ignored.
My publication strategy did not work. Throwing a book out into the world with no fanfare and little polish was essentially throwing the book in the trash. I wasted a year’s worth of effort every time I fumbled a book launch. I couldn’t keep going like this.
Over the course of 2022, I started transforming Winter Forest Publishing from a decorative embellishment on my books into something resembling a company. By which I mean designing a better logo, making a page for it on my website, and creating social media accounts for Winter Forest Publishing.
In September 2022, soon before launching my mystery novella A Rogue Game, I changed the name to Winter Forest Press. It’s shorter, and any good writer knows the value of concision. Along with the name change, I updated the logo again. (Good ol’ iterative improvements.)
That month, I released A Rogue Game as an ebook on Amazon. And guess what?
Nothing happened. I sold exactly zero copies.
Clearly, I hadn’t learned my lesson yet.
It was time to change things up. Completely. I already took writing seriously, spending months and sometimes years working on my books, but I treated publishing as an afterthought. Something to be done over a few days once the real work of writing was finished.
But as anyone with literary success will tell you, publishing and marketing your book is half the battle. Or more. It determines whether anyone else ever reads what you write, and whether you stand a chance of making a living from it.
So the day after A Rogue Game was published to thunderous silence, I developed a plan.
In 2023, I would begin to republish my books. Not just update them like I had in the past, but publish them like new releases.
There were a few reasons for this, several of which were technical, but the primary reason was to have a fresh start. A blank slate. Tabula rasa. Which meant a chance to definitively correct my past publishing mistakes.
In life, we rarely get do-overs. But I had an opportunity here. None of my books had succeeded much, and I had a small audience, so it wouldn’t be much of a loss to start over. The most I stood to lose was a few reviews on Amazon.
The plan evolved after I first made it, but I’ll go into that in future videos. The first step, and perhaps the most decisive, was clear.
I had to erase all 7 of my published books from the internet.
If KDP makes it easy to publish a book, they make it even easier to unpublish it. Maybe because a lot of people find themselves in a similar position to me, attempting to turn back the clock on their ill-fated attempts at publishing.
Watch how easy this is. Just like that, it’s gone.
Sorry if that’s anti-climactic.
While it didn’t take much more than a few clicks to instantly erase my 7 precious books from the internet, I still felt the weight of it. Not that it was all that hard, but I was putting an end, at least for now, to my entire catalog of published books. I was no longer a published author. For the first time since I was 10, no one could buy my books. And I was kind of relieved.
See, as cool as it was, in theory, to tell someone they could buy my books on Amazon, I increasingly felt an urge to add caveats, like, "Don’t read Future first, or Ice Lords, or Dark Waters if you don’t like long books," or even, "I’d recommend the Fallen Nation Trilogy, but it doesn’t get really good until the last book, so…"
This persistent feeling of not being able to show my best work got to be rather bothersome. It’s not a good situation when you can’t confidently recommend anything you wrote to a potential reader.
So removing the ability for anyone to get their hands on any one of those books brought a sense of freedom. I didn’t have to worry about anyone getting a bad first impression of my writing. Now, that also meant no one was getting any first impression of my writing, but that issue could be addressed later.
Erasing the ebooks on Amazon was the easy part. After that, things got more complicated.
See, an ebook can be deleted from Amazon. No trace of its existence need remain. But paperbacks are different. Since they’re physical products, and third-party sellers could theoretically have copies to sell even after a book is out of print, the pages for physical books stay up forever. Hence, why I’m so glad I wasn’t able to publish paperback versions of my first three books. If I had, they would haunt me forever.
So, while leaving the out-of-print editions of my old books on Amazon like forgotten corpses wasn’t ideal, there was nothing I could do about it. They will stand there indefinitely, unable to be bought, silent markers of a past I’ve moved on from.
But Amazon was just the beginning. While I hadn’t published my books anywhere else, they appeared on book aggregator sites like Goodreads and BookBub, which automatically include books published on Amazon. On BookBub, I requested the removal of all my books. Thankfully, that worked pretty easily.
Old editions can’t be removed from Goodreads, so like the paperback listings on Amazon, those books were there to stay. But since they couldn’t be bought from the site, that wasn’t much of a worry. And if I republished any of those books in the future, I could simply overwrite the old editions with the new.
Google Books… is annoying. I requested multiple times to remove my books, edit details, or at least update the out-of-date covers. But since those entries were automatically generated based on Amazon’s data, it seems I have no way of editing or deleting them. So this is kinda still a problem. Be warned that if you publish anything under your name, there’s a good chance it’ll stay attached to the search results for your name even if you unpublish it.
You can try your best to erase a book, but it’s never really gone. The internet doesn’t forget.
As for print copies, there are dozens upon dozens still at large. I sold a fair number of books at in-person events and lemonade stands, and I have no way of reclaiming them. I’m not sure I’d even want to. Maybe someone could still enjoy them, I don’t know.
I’m stuck with a box worth of old copies, only a few of which are even the latest editions. Some of these date back to the original publication in the mid-2010s. They’re vintage.
I don’t know what to do with them, so if you’ve got any ideas, let me know in the comments.
5. In Hindsight
So. Do I regret publishing all my books at such a young age?
These flawed incarnations of my books were the first steps in my publishing journey. Mistakes were made. But I learned a lot by making those mistakes, and I don’t think I’d be here today with my own publishing company if I hadn’t taken that initial leap, ill-advised as it may have been.
And I had a lot of fun sharing my books with other people. Getting positive reviews, hearing someone’s emotional reactions to what I wrote, even talking to strangers about my writing, was always an experience I treasured.
I don’t think I could’ve guessed, even a year ago, that I would end up erasing all 7 of my published books from the internet in one fell swoop. But here we are.
With no published books, I have a blank slate as an author for the first time in nearly a decade. Which means whatever comes next… well, it’d better be good.
I’ve been working on a book for over three years. It’s a prequel to the Fallen Nation Trilogy, and the first in a trilogy of its own. It’ll be the first novel from Winter Forest Press, and the first novel in this new era of my life as an author.
In future videos, I’ll take you behind the scenes in real time of how I’m making this book, and doing my best to right the mistakes I made in publishing my previous ten.
This publishing company of mine—the reason I took this drastic step in the first place—has a lot riding on it. Like, my entire future as an author and entrepreneur. No pressure.
This journey is far from over. In fact—and this is so cliched, but it’s true—this is just the beginning.
Episode 2 – Genesis
If you want to watch the video versions of these blog posts, head over to my YouTube channel here, and subscribe for more videos on writing and publishing.
– Grayson Taylor