Part of your response to a blog question recently was: “And book publishers don't always see "previously published" as a problem. Lots of books have second, even third, lives in book publishing.”
I am thinking ahead to querying literary agents for my soon-to-be-completed second novel. In 2009 I came close to getting representation for my first novel by the fact that several agents had requested the full. Though I was not offered representation, I learned what I needed to do to improve my work.
Back in 2009 – 2010 the publishing industry seemed to be in upheaval because of the proliferation of digital publishing and the ease with which writers could become self-published. I did my best to avoid self-publishing, but I wanted to get my work out there for the world to see. I found a small publisher that offered what I considered a “hybrid” model—a POD arrangement with Ingram using my company name as an imprint of their publishing company. In essence, I was still self-publishing but under the guise of an actual publisher. For that reason, an earlier thriller author who had done the same thing with the same small publisher, got the ITW to place it on the ITW approved list. I therefore gained status as an ITW author-member. That was in 2011.
So, to my reason for contacting you. I envisioned the possibility of my future agent selling my second novel, and also getting a publisher to publish my first novel as a paperback because it had been published in hardcover. But yesterday, another potential option hit me. Since lack of marketing is what caused low book sales, what about querying agents about that book now, but under a different title? I am convinced that what I had done to improve it in 2010 will garner even more interest now by literary agents.
Do NOT do this under any circumstances. You should NOT query a book that's already been published without telling the agent at the query letter stage.
Oddly, I've had this happen to me more than a couple times recently. Somebody, somewhere must be advising writers to do this. It's BAD advice.
Here's why: If I don't know this book has already been published, and I pitch it to editors as a brand new book, someone is going to find out and then it's going to be a true shitstorm.
And here's how someone is going to find out: they're going to buy the "new" book and remember they read the first book, and they're going to write a one-star review on Amazon saying "this author is trying to sell old hats for new."
If a book is published, and then re-published, you need to say so on the copyright page. "This book was previously published as SharkJammies for Kittens" in 1995."
If you think readers aren't going to make the connection, you're gambling a whole lot on your readers being stupid.
I learned the hard way to check those copyright page notices because a lot of old time authors get re-pubbed under different titles, particularly if they have both UK and US editions.
You also really really really do not want to start what we hope will be a long term, mutually beneficial relationship by lying. Lying by omission is lying. Don't do it.
Here's what you should do: query the second novel. Tell your agent about the first novel. Decide together how to proceed.