Thursday, October 11, 2018


HAVE I MADE A TERRIBLE MISTAKE? I self-published an early draft of the manuscript I'm querying now (about 4 years ago), but I felt that since I changed the setting, plot, voice, and characters significantly it would count as a different book (thus, not self-published). What do I do???

Also should mention that I was a lousy marketer and eventually pulled it from the market (I feel that self-publishing was kind of a mistake, but, y'know, it was encouraging for a kid to see her work WITH AN ACTUAL COVER). If I had done some more marketing work maybe it would have gone better, but I'm pretty glad I didn't! But still. Do I have to do something?

By "do something" do you mean tell potential agents? Yes.
The real question is when.

I'd save it for the conversation you have when the offer is about to be made.

This isn't really a deal breaker, given the amount of time that's passed and that you didn't sell enough to get much traction.

You should also think about a title change; that's the thing that's most easily searchable on a book.

The reason you MUST tell the agent is contained in the warranties clause of the publishing contract she will hopefully obtain for you. That clause says, among other things, "the book has not been previously published."

Now, that is entirely negotiable but like most items in the contract you don't want to be doing it at the last minute.  In fact your agent is going to be rightfully annoyed if you make her look like Bumblestiltskin and she has to go back to the editor and say "oh by the way."

I know how to finess things with a great deal of elan when given enough time to plot and connive. 

This is not a terrible mistake.
It's a common mistake.


Amy Johnson said...

Oooh, a new friend. Hello, elan!

As I was reading the post, I found myself thinking that this kind of thing seems pretty common (confirmed by Janet's last sentence). It's difficult to know what you don't know, to consider what you haven't considered. Live and learn. And a good reason to seek an agent who does know things.

Opie, I hope all goes well with your querying.

Plus, Bumblestiltskin. Ha! Love it.

Dellcartoons said...

1. Since you changed so much, how much more would you have to change to make this an entirely different book, w/ maybe some similarities to the first book but still obviously its own entity? Maybe all you need to do is change the title and character names, and nobody would be able to tell, not even you

2. Query a different book. Something you haven't published. Then let your agent know about this one

Richelle Elberg said...

Question in the same vein--I pulled my website last winter when I was querying my most recent novel, because it was mostly dedicated to marketing my first 2 self-published books. Pulled the books from Amazon. There's one last agent with a full right now from that last round of querying, meanwhile, I'm trying to get my next novel organized to begin writing. But I have no website any longer. Do I care at this point? It occurred to me I should redesign the website but.....time (or lack thereof!).

E.M. Goldsmith said...

OP, I would definitely change the title. Then talk to agent when the time comes and explain that a "similar" book was self-published, etc. It does not sound like it is really the same book anymore that you are querying. Keep at it.

Brenda said...

For me, this is the most compelling reason not to self-publish.

We finish a draft. We are sure it’s the best book ever written. Our first reader is sure it’s the best book ever written. Our beta readers are sure it’s the best book ever written. Aunt Gladys is down to buy copies for all of her children for Christmas (at a discount).

Is it? Damn straight it’s not and until someone with zero interest in promoting mediocre work says otherwise, keep the draft as a draft.

Trad publish or self-publish or do an oral rendition at the family reunion but, in my view, if you want a career, learn your craft first.

Elissa M said...

Honesty is always the best policy. I like Janet's idea of mentioning it only when the agent has called to offer representation. Then, don't try to minimize the situation. Tell the agent exactly what was changed, how many copies were sold, etc.

And of course change the title. Odds are the publisher will change the title again anyway, but you want no connections between this work and the previous one.

Good luck!

Writer of Wrongs said...

Thank you, Janet, for using “elan,” which I think is sadly underused. It’s a word that makes me happy - and hungry, because it somehow makes me think of eclairs. :-)

Joseph S. said...

I thought elan was a restaurant. Oh well, if I learn a new word every day, I'll have a 2000-word vocabulary in no time.

OP, My advice is the same as E.M. Goldsmith's (and Janet Reid's), but honestly, if you changed the setting AND the plot AND the characters AND the voice AND the title AND the cover, it IS a different novel and should be treated as such (though full disclosure as Janet Reid says is imperative since it nags at you).

On a personal note, I submitted my manuscript on the Property treatise to my publisher, and now can make the mental shift from writing a legal treatise to writing a novel. (It's amazing how what you're writing affects what interests you).

Brenda said...

My apology for the rant. The query trenches are making me fractious.

Craig F said...

I had a 68 Lotus Elan Drop Top a while back. It was my third car, bought dead and rebuilt by me. I traded it for a pair of Ariel Square Fours, still in their factory boxes. Figured I find another Elan, still looking because it was a spectacular drivers car.

I think I would finish rewriting it and call it a new book. Say that you had self-pubbed one similar too it.

Off-off-topic: Save the fun topics for a few days, please. I have some friends and relatives to find and there is no electricity there, at the moment. I think I'll need some fun when I get back.