Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Query Question: I need a mulligan!

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.


Colin Smith said...

*taps foot waiting for Susan Bonifant*

*checks watch*

This is sound advice from QOTKU (of course). I have nothing to add except that I had no idea what a mulligan was until Janet's writing contests. Up until recently she used to just say "if you need a mulligan..." so I had to look it up. It's a sporting term, and I don't do sports. Especially not golf. Not to be confused with a Milligan, as in the British "Goon" comedian Spike Milligan. If you don't know who he is/was, look him up. A legend in British comedy.

This blog truly is an education! :)

Susan Bonifant said...

*door swings open*
I fell into the rabbit hole that is back episodes of Downton Abbey last night (yawn).

This writer's line was the big takeaway for me: "I am convinced that what I had done to improve it in 2010 will garner even more interest now by literary agents." A wise reflection for those of us deep into the see-saw query process, when alternatives to traditional publishing can take on a new sheen. Just waiting and letting answers come can be the best action to (not)take, I'm learning.

OT. WHY isn't Isobel marrying the doctor instead of that boring guy with the gah-stly sons?

Megan V said...

I don't know what it is, but every time someone talks about querying agents about a published book without telling them its published/publishing books for sale but under a different title I think of Dr. Terminus from the old Disney movie Pete's Dragon(specifically him singing the song Passamashloddy). The doc gets a mulligan thanks to his fake cures, lies, and schmoozing. In the end, however, things don't turn out well for him. And I have a feeling that, likewise, things won't turn out well for a writer who doesn't take the QOTKU's sound advice on this matter.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Colin, I could make a list as long as double hockey rosters, baseball and football lineups with the stuff I have learned on this blog.
Most important; nice is not a four letter word, asshole is, be informed, professional and always remember that as writers, “We are not beggars at the banquet of publishing.”

DLM said...

Colin, Spike Milligan is a comedy legend PERIOD. :) British without a doubt, but y'all aren't the only ones who can/do appreciate him.

I have no wisdom to add to Janet's, and snow to shovel, so carry on.

Anonymous said...

Colin, perhaps Susan's bus is late due to ice. :)

Not sure where she lives. We ALL know where Amy S lives. I'm still green as that palm tree over the sunny warmth.

Ahem, QOTKU? Maybe the blog needs a category for questions like this, sort of like your "Annoy Me, Jesus Wept, or Slithery Barbara Poelle," except this would be "Query Shenanigans, Top Ten Don't Do."

Generally speaking, people like to know what they're getting, or getting involved with. Taking a ms, and believing changes to it will make it appear like a brand new ms smells funny. Like flood cars sold only as previously owned, without any mention of having spent days floating in murky water.

Not to say the first can't be re-published, but like The Shark says, better to go with the actual new ms, and see what might happen with the first.

LynnRodz said...

SharkJammies For Kittens, I think I'm going to have to order that one on Amazon!

Great advice from Janet, query the second....

Anonymous said...

Of course by the time I hit the button to post, my remark about SB is tardy.

How gah-stly.

Colin Smith said...

Diane: If I didn't think you were cultured and had impeccable taste before, you confirmed the fact now. :)

Donna: See how many comments posted in the space of 20 mins? You've got to be quick around here! And how's the snow/ice situation in your neck of NC? Out East here, we've got a sheet of snow and ice on the roads. Schools are closed and work's been delayed (though I can work from home so that means nothing to me, unfortunately).

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Ooh boy, I hope the questioner reads La Sharque's post and heeds her advice. Omitting info like that seems like the beginning of one of those movies supposed to be a comedy, predicating on none of the main characters getting caught until just the right time, until they do and it's a lesson learned and results in laughs and the awkward guy getting the pretty girl and everything. But I don't think that last bit would happen with a previously published book masquerading as new.

I learned the term "Mulligan" in my Magic: the Gathering days. It's when your first hand of the game contained no land, and so you could not in fact play. You (if I remember right) shuffled the deck and redrew.

Anonymous said...

Colin - same here. First it looks to have been snow/sleet that fell, and then a sheet of ice over everything. Little Dog won't go on that. I had to plunk him down on some pine straw and dutiful little guy he is..., he left his "gifts" to nature.

I used to work from home too as needed. Therefore, during the last 15 yrs of my corp life, I never took sick days, or weather related absences. Too bad they didn't give out bonuses for 100% attendance over the course of X time. I'd move to where Amy is.

Susan Bonifant said...

Donna, I live in Hopkinton, New Hampshire about an hour north of Boston. In a snowbank.

DLM said...

Colin, just so we temper my pretensions to elegance, I also own a copy of "Highlander: Endgame" and am an unrepentant fan of a certain trash TV program even I can't name because it's that shameful. :)

It does astound me the things people imagine doing in a BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP because they perceive their creativity as being something entirely personal, and not a product. It dis-arranges notions of professionalism.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: We let our two adopted outdoor cats in for a while this morning. I think one of them might still be enjoying the warmth and the food. The other, Pansy, who's the oldest of the cats gets stir crazy. She's survived the worst winter weather and at least a couple of hurricanes. She was shouting to go back outside after an hour or so. :)

Diane: Having guilty pleasures is part of being a well-rounded, cultured person. :)

Susan: Don't laugh at us South-Easterners. Give us a hurricane or a week of 100+ degree weather, and we know what to do. Give us snow and ice, and we're lost. :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Oh listen to you guys. I live on the coast of CT. We get hurricanes and I'm up to ass in flakes, and I'm not talking about my co-workers or family.

You want snow, I got that, you want ice, I got that too. (We had Sandy you know). As I write this I've got two feet of white stuff out front and more out back. The woods look like whiskers growing through a fake Santa's beard.
So go ahead and tell me you're warm and cozy and the sun is shinning on your palm trees. Coconuts aren't what they're cracked up to be anyway.
Ha ha ha, sometimes I just need to rant. It's my self-entertainment while living in a weather-world of fifty shades of dismal.

gael lynch said...

Reminds me of the times (in the old video store days) when I re-rented a video I'd already seen! My husband began to wonder if he should preregister me for the local nursing home!

Shark-jammies for kittens, now there's one I haven't seen!

Whenever I'm 100% convinced about anything, I know I can't ever go it alone in anything in life, let alone my writing!
After all, I'm a fiction writer...and I do write a LOT of fiction in my own head!

Craig F said...

Carolynn with 2 whatevers: I would much prefer sand in the crack of mine. At least it doesn't melt and run down your leg.

Janet, I apologize you sending you a crappy query. You are still welcome here if you ever wish to come. I have to admit that I am currently doing sour-mash and I won't install you by the pool until after our three hour cold front goes by. I don't have a crowbar long enough to pry you out of that crap up there so you have to decide for yourself.

The most important thing about being a writer is when to write something off. Half of what you end up writing will not fly of its own accord. Move on and try again.

Anonymous said...

Stuff like this drives me rabbit run insane.

During one of the many twitter writing contests recently a woman was pitching her very long (even by my standards and I write sweeping epic fantasy) historical romance. I thought it sounded familiar so I private messaged her and asked her if she'd written a sequel.

No, but sales weren't that hot, so she decided to take her self pub to an agent. She had refused agents earlier because they wanted her to cut it to a reasonable length and she refused.

Got it.

So now, you self-pubbed with dismal sales and you still don't want to cut one precious word, but you think it's going to be attractive to an agent.

I'm familiar with the book because it's written about a time period I love and a friend recommended it. Yes, I have a few hundred books about the Civil War, but that doesn't mean I read everything written about it. I couldn't read it. I found myself constantly skimming to get to the story.

I don't know. It's kind of scarey out there in self-pub land. You walk through the parchment portal and immediately get hit by a shoal of starving piranha self-pubbers. In these cases instead of just high-pitched squeals, though, it's high-pitched pitches to buy their books.

I'm all for people who self-publish. You're published and I'm not. However, once you do publish, that book has pretty much sailed.

It's kind of like saying you'll volunteer to be the virgin sacrifice to save the village even though you did it with Eddie Finklebottom once. It wasn't very good, so that really doesn't count, does it?

Anonymous said...

Craig, "Carolynn with 2 whatevers."
Nothing as painful as snorting hot chocolate out the ole nostrils. Thanks.

Colin is right, give us a hurricane or stick us in a sweat box known as summer and we're good. NC is ranked 4th in the nation after Florida, Texas and Louisiana for storms with hurricane force winds, so, yeah, whooppee yay, we have experience with that. You have to cut us some slack on this ice thing though. And the cold. Our normal high this time of year is 55. The HIGH predicted most of this week down heah is below freezing, and Thursday? a high of 20! Low? 5!

Mother Nature must be having hot flashes.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

And . . . . Julie Weathers wins today's Internet trophy with that last sentence. *hands over trophy*

Books, music, and movies stick in our heads and we can smell sampling from a mile away. I was in a thrift shop and the Christian rock soundtrack (an occupational hazard of midwestern thrift shopping) played a song that so heavily sampled Poison that I kept singing the correct lyrics in my head (I hear you found somebody new and that I never meant the much to you . . . )

Even if we can't put our finger on it, we know when we've read a book before.

This is very timely advice as people are wresting control of their work from shady and defunct small presses (and scammers like Publish America) and either thinking they can dress is up and query it or self-pub it and then query it.

And, yeah, your series is probably jacked. Unless you can gut the unfortunate abused book 1, fold the most important bits and reboot book 2 as the origin, then you are likely better off self-pubbing that series while you work on something new for query.

Because even if it wasn't very good, it does still count . . .


Terri Lynn Coop said...

And while it is bum-knuckle cold here in the flatlands, the weather has been unseasonably dry.

But, when you're talking Kansas, with global warming, our weather could only improve as the climate line shifts east. Sorry about that. But, you'll enjoy snow rollers. They are essentially frozen curls of snow rolling across the open plains.


Amy Schaefer said...

I'd give the questioner the benefit of the doubt. I mean, he/she did ask, after all, instead of running out and querying an old book. So many of our mistakes come from a place of ignorance rather than greed. We're all here to learn.

Donna, Colin, Susan, Carolynn, and all of the rest the weather-challenged: I'd send you some sunshine if I could. I won't lie to you - the weather is pretty much perfect here. I laughed at Carolynn's comment; there are coconuts falling from the trees on the route to my daughters' school, and you have to be careful not to walk beneath them.

Of course, all of this warm weather hasn't kept me from contracting a rotten respiratory infection. I've spent the last week trying to convince my lungs to stay inside my body, where they belong. Maybe I should take my coffee out on the porch and watch the sun rise over the ocean. Yes, that is bound to be good for my cold. :D

Colin Smith said...

As much as it makes me blush to say so, I have to admit that TLC is correct. Julie's last line was priceless. Trophy deserved.

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and Amy too. Good point. Those asking questions may make us shake our heads and wonder why anyone would think that's a good idea. But at least these people thought twice before acting, and sought the advice of a wiser head. That's commendable and shows their instincts are, perhaps, in the right place.

Anonymous said...

all I want to know at this point is, does Eddie Finklebottom know Felix Buttonweezer?

Christina Seine said...

It stinks to live in Alaska and always be the last comment on any post because you're four hours behind the civilized world. However, I will say this:
* SHARK JAMMIES FOR KITTENS needs to be a coffee table book.
* Carolyn-with-multiple-nnnns, come to Alaska - it's a balmy 40 degrees today, and
* Julie, because of you I literally laughed out loud, and dribbled diet Mountain Dew down my chin. That was priceless!

Colin Smith said...

Christina: WednesdayThursdayFriday??! (That's my version of WTF that I'm shamelessly stealing from Donna.) It's currently a not-at-all balmy 30 degrees in Eastern NC. It's 10 degrees colder here than in Alaska?!

I'm putting the kettle on for another cuppa...

Anonymous said...

Well, I crept back here to delete my comment, thinking the Sharque's shiver had already made their pass and might not have seen it.

I'm certainly not deriding anyone who self-publishes. I have the utmost respect for anyone who even finishes a book, let alone has the courage to publish. One of my oldest friends and biggest fans has a small publishing company. Yes, I realize we all, self-published and traditional, must do all we can to promote our work and ourselves.

I just get a bit bone weary when I see different venues used by agents and publishers, such as #MSWL, with pitches to buy my book! Then someone asks me to follow them and their entire feed is not stop self-promotion.

My first rule of life is surround yourself with interesting people. That way you merely look like another odd duck instead of an Indian Runner in a flock of Pekin Whites. A continuous looped Sham-Wow commercial is not interesting.

AJ Blythe said...

*snort* Julie's trophy is well deserved.

Changing the title and your pen name isn't enough. As others have pointed out, it will be noticed.

In fact, this is usually how plagiarists are caught out, and they go to a whole lot more effort. They steal someone's work, change title, character names and settings, sometimes change 1st/3rd pov etc but then send it out to be read by the same audience as the original book *head slap*. As Janet said, readers aren't stupid.

All the best to those shivering through the cold (but please don't send it our way, we've had a very mild summer so I am rather nervous about our upcoming winter. We moved to the coldest capital in Oz 2 years ago and after a lifetime of tropical living I don't do cold very well).

Lisa Bodenheim said...

*comes in late to the conversation*

Susan Bonifant: Living in a snowbank? Sounds very hobbit-like! What would a hobbit be called who lives in the north...a nobbit?

Jennifer R. O'Donohue: oh oh, I learned a different mulligan. My adult daughter warned me, when I was into cutting my own hair, to definitely NOT give myself a mulligan.

DLM: agree, "It dis-arranges notions of professionalism." It is easy to enter the steep slope of slippery when creativity becomes the master of ethics.

Great post. Great comments. Sorry today was so busy I didn't get in on it earlier.

Gingermollymarilyn said...

Great advice, Janet, as per usual. I think we've all come to expect nothing less. And the results and comments regarding self-publishing - interesting food for thought. But more importantly, do the shark-jammies for kittens come with fins?

DLM said...

Lisa, thank you - that was CLUNKILY put on my part, but I put it that way because "deranged" has a certain connotation I was blearily trying to avoid. :)

I've been clicking the profiles of all the users I don't know as well, and saving those who have blogs. A lot of us don't have sites - so just a reminder, all, if you have anything you want everyone to see, be sure to link it. We look, around here!

Finally, and ON topic: I do really like what everyone is saying about value judgments on letter-writers, and realize my comment certainly is one. For that, my apologies. But it is true that writers often view their work as something other than "work" in the professional sense, unfortunately.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Craig, the whatevers are N's, two of them, they come between M's and O's. Srabble has 6 of them and if you count the blank tiles you get a couple of extras. I know a Jon with no H and a Lary with one R. For my entire life I have had to spell my first name. No one gets it right.
I'll bet for your entire life you've had to tell folks, your name is Craig not Greg.
Makes you kind of special.

Donna did you know that Betty with 2T's Buttonweazer lost her virginity to Eddie with 2D's Finklebottom? If she had married Eddie she would have been Betty Finklebottom with 4T's, and two O's in her bottom.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Jeez Louise the only thing worse than spelling Scrabble wrong is doing a second comment about spelling Scrabble wrong. I just got home from work, it's late, I'm tired and the last thing I wanted to read was something about Amy's nuts.

Where she lives the men must be very tall or she's very short because to avoid being bonked on the head by them she has to not walk beneath them. Them's some nuts.

Amy Schaefer said...

Good gravy, Carolynn. I'm starting to worry that you are the one with the nut problem.

AJ Blythe said...

Carolynnwith2Ns and Craig, I have only just recently worked out that on TV they are calling each other Craig, not Greg. In Oz we pronounce Craig with a long a (as in cray-g) - maybe a British pronunciation?

Unknown said...

Congrats for almost finishing a second novel and being accepted into ITW.

The soon to be completed 2nd has to find an agent. And you're worrying about the book that already sold. I imagine an agent would be more interested in the 3rd and the 4th.

@Carolyn, Julie, Craig, Colin, Susan, I've read your comments so many times and decided to favorite this post.