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 After almost no sales, it was unpublished 4 years later.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the Work is original, previously unpublished and neither the Work nor any material portion thereof is in the public domain.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.