Monday, March 13, 2023

Reviving previously published books



My question is about submitting a previously self-published novel to agents. It was 8 years ago and had zero promotion. After almost no sales, it was unpublished 4 years later.


Today, it has been thoroughly rewritten and has a new title and might as well be a new novel. You see my question coming—does this history need to be revealed to agents if I submit it?



That it might as well be a new novel doesn't mean it is a new novel.  And this is the worst kind of thing to try to skate around.




Readers are clever beasts and sure as shit isn't shinola, someone will figure it out and write a scathing review on Amazon or Goodreads, or worse, accuse you of plagiarizing yourself. (That this can happen is hilariously true.)


And then there's the matter of a publishing contract that has a little clause in the Warranties section that looks something like this:


the Work is original, previously unpublished and neither the Work nor any material portion thereof is in the public domain.


This is entirely negotiable of course, but your agent has to know to do so.


Just ignoring it is asking for problems and you do NOT want to f/around with the warranties clause in your contract. It will burn bridges you need.


So yes, you have to tell them.

Now, the question of course is when.


I can only speak for myself but even setting aside the fact that I do not take on previously published novels, if you queried me, I requested the full, read it and loved it and then you let me know this was a refurbished novel, I'd be VERY hesitant to sign you up.


If you're concealing this uncomfy fact, what else aren't you telling me?


And honestly in this day and age of morality clauses in publishing contracts, I am VERY hesitant to sign anyone who has skates on. 



So, if you intend to requery this novel here's the ONE thing you can say that will make it more likely an agent will want to read it.


"I published it eight years ago. In the intervening years I have built a robust mailing list of eager subscribers and have a thriving social media presence."



If your novel didn't sell it's probably not because it was terrible. It didn't sell cause no one had heard of it.  So, refurbish the novel all you want, but without a compelling change in your public outreach, it won't mean much.



The other strategy is simply wait until you have a publisher and a track record with them. It's MUCH easier to present something problematic when they know your books can sell.



Any questions?









Steve Forti said...

Not a question, just a welcome back :)

C. Dan Castro said...

Ditto to what Mr. Forti said!

NLiu said...

Well, Forti beat me to it, but I want to say the same thing: hooray, welcome back, and you're aliiiive!

Advice like you've just given is the biggest reason I'm glad I haven't jumped into self-publishing. That and the fact it's so difficult to get readers, even after spending oodles of money up front for the editing, cover image, marketing... Ugggggggh. I read quite a few writing blogs and that mountain looks like it's getting increasingly steep. Not for me. I'd rather hang on and keep writing until I find someone who believes my work is good enough they'll take that financial risk so I don't have to.

Kitty said...

Welcome back. We've missed you. In your absence, I read a great book called Bitter Past, by Bruce Borgos.

Luralee said...

Yay! It’s so good to see a new post here!
I just want to mention that query manager forms have a check box for “has this been previously published?” So chances are you’ll have to mention it in the query.

Kregger said...

I read this:

And honestly in this day and age of MORALITY clauses in publishing contracts,...


I know the Devil is in the details, but surely, not publishing.

My excuse is "Monday" and the font size.

Did anyone see the hampster wheels go off the rails with a Twitter post suggesting/demanding a writer needs 50K+ followers to get a publishing contract?

Not true. but oh, the night sweats.

AJ Blythe said...

Waving to everyone on the Reef. Two nightmares today - being sued for plagiarising yourself (luckily I already know enough to avoid this one), but Kregger's additional twitter storm reference .... that is one to send shivers up the spine of any writer. I mean, we know it isn't so, but yes night sweat inducing indeed!

Good luck with your manuscript, OP.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

It is great to see you back! And to see the others here. ...waves hi...

Kitty said...

I wondered how you can plagiarize yourself, so I googled. Here's what I found, along with a link to self-plagiarism software.

Here's a plagiarize cartoon:

Timothy Lowe said...

Yes, welcome back!

I am wondering if this is something you could mention when / if the agent asks for the full? A few years ago, I sent a query on an MS I had lightly shopped to a few indies -- even though there are quite a few agents who don't look kindly on the practice (or so I've gathered?). Agent requested, I disclosed the submissions, and she responded "of course you're shopping it to small presses. I would too!" Read the whole MS in a week and gave me some great notes, even though she didn't wind up taking it on.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I wonder if this is the sort of thing that Amazon's auto-detectors would cause a problem with as well, causing a sticky situation with the previously published (though now unpublished) version vis-à-vis the rewritten one? I don't actually know, but it is the first thing I thought of.

and the second thing that I thought of is that marketing is hard, in general I assume but also specifically when self publishing. I've been self publishing a novella series for a few years, and have more-than-zero sales, so in some ways I've done something right, even without a robust mailing list specifically.

I also, uh, just self published my debut novel this month! And used lessons learned while publishing the novellas to make it a pretty successful release, by my metrics. (I didn't come here just to advertise, or I'd be doing a more obvious job about it ;) )

Eric Stallsworth said...

Basically, this amounts to "write something new and let the old die on the vine." While it is possible to edit something to the point of it being worthwhile, if you've written "essentially a completely new story", perhaps you should have just written that story in the first place? That's my (completely unsubstantiated/apprentice-level) opinion.

AJ Blythe said...

Congratulations, Jennifer!! I like your cover, by the way :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Helloooooo everybody!!!

God Janet, do you have any idea how much you and the rest of the reef dwellers are missed.

I have nothing to add to your wise words but today, is a good day because...well just because you're all here.

french sojourn said...

Echo's the audible communal "...sigh..." of relief.

Sorry I'm late, I guess I should have taken a left at Albuquerque.

Cheers! Hank.

Craig F said...

Rats, I was hoping this disease of never thinking my writing is finished would die off when I got published; I guess not.

Nice to have you back My Queen.

Theresa said...

Congratulations, Jennifer!

So glad to see Janet back (and that Ann Garvin didn't best her in an arm wrestle over Idris Elba) and all the other familiar names.

I think I may have nightmares about self-plagiarism--just from worry that such a thing is possible.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Congratulations, Jennifer! Well, done. I love the cover. I am very excited for you.

And I too am relieved to hear the dulcet tunes of the Shark posting a lovely blog entry.

John Davis Frain said...

Slainte! Merry St. Patrick's Day to all whether you're Irish or don't like snakes or just because it's Friday. So good to see the lights on in the neighborhood again.

Now I must get back to drafting Chapter 11. There's an empty spot on the Barnes & Noble bookshelf that's calling my name...

Lennon Faris said...

I too loved seeing this pop up the other day. It's nice to hear from everyone.

To the original poster: you have probably already thought about this but if not, I'd consider why you want to stick with the story from a decade ago (even if it is refurbished). Do you love the characters that much, or is it a really cool premise, or are you worried you don't have another story?

The reason I'm asking is because I worked and worked on one story for nine years (!). My answer to the above questions would have been yes to all. Then I watched a writing seminar of an author who recommended that we as writers should learn to move on from that One Story. She promised that we have more stories to come. It was interesting to me because I didn't realize what a common thing that was.

So I guess, if this doesn't apply to you, you can ignore, but if it does - I'm offering a fist bump of solidarity that you can move on. Don't throw away your beloved older one, and sure, maybe bring it up to a publisher in the future, but...write a new story. You're a writer!

Leslie said...

Great to see everybody again - hope all is well!

A while back, I wrote something (portion of a sample chapter) for a proposal that was rejected. In the years since, I've decided that reworking it a bit (mostly changing the angle) would fit perfectly into my current book. I assume that it would not be self-plagiarizing, since the original was never published?

CynthiaMc said...

Good to see everyone! I've missed you all. ❤️

John Davis Frain said...

I wish there was a LIKE button on blog posts. Just sayin'.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Thanks everybody for the congrats and the cover compliments! What we see here is the height of my graphic design capabilities (helped by Canva); I'll never be able to match it!

Leslie reworking not-published things into new projects is a great idea! It's not self-plagiarizing at all. In my experience, the original doesn't work sometimes for one reason or another, but as time passes and new ideas come, old ones can get remilled.