Thursday, November 3, 2011

Previously Published? by Terry Burns

I was just talking with a client that casually mentioned that a book I've been pitching for some time has been in print before. WHAT?

I need to talk about this just in case there might be another instance of that hanging around. He didn't think it mattered because he discovered it wasn't as good as he wanted so he pulled it.

It does matter. If I represent a book as a new project and a publisher finds out after they buy it that it has been in print before they are not going to be happy. More so, the contract is going to have a clause in it that will cover this and if I don't know the prior history that isn't going to jump out at me, and the author probably doesn't know to look for it, so then we have erroneous information in a legal contract and could get the author, me, the agency all sued for misrepresentation. And I probably get thrown out of the Association of Authors Representatives which has a very strict code of ethics.

Why would they care? What publishers want to buy is first rights. Once a book is in print no matter how it was printed it is published and once a book has been published the first rights are gone. A book can only be printed for the first time once. That includes e-publishing. If a book is put on Kindle before it goes to print the first rights have been used. A lot of publishers won't buy reprint rights so that reduces the market too.

Everyone immediately says "but I retain the rights." It doesn't matter who owns the rights, the first rights are gone. You can't own something that has already been consumed.

There are a lot of ways to deal with a book that has already been in print, but hiding the fact that it has been published is not one of them. I know in each case it is being done innocently, but that is no defense before the law. The best way to handle it is a major rewriting so that it is a completely different book with a new title so it can be offered as a new project. Even then I prefer to say that it is "based upon" an earlier book that was a very minor project just to cover us all.

I just needed to toss this out for everybody to be aware of. That's why I ask for prior history of a manuscript to bring this to light if that is the case. So if you are going to be submitting to us, a major part of the prior history of the manuscript is whether it has already been published or not, no matter how it was published.


Timothy Fish said...

I have a book (It is already published as Mother Not Wanted but that isn't the issue.) that I wrote and put aside for a few months, then I decided I wanted to modify it. In the original story, it began in much the same way as it does now, with Amber and Lizi traveling down to Fort Worth, intent on conning their way into a well todo family and with Fox having lost all of his grandchildren, but the story headed of in the direction of a riff coming between Fox and his son Grayson because of how Grayson was running the family business. I decided I would like the story better the way it is now, with Amber giving the appearance that she intends to force Grayson to marry her and Fox becoming upset because Grayson appears to be falling for it, so Fox fears it will harm Grayson's relationship Celia and Fox's plans to merge his company with that of her father.

In my mind they are the same story, but they are very different. If I had previously published the first story and then decided I wanted to see if publishers were interested in the second, how much change between the two would be required for it to be considered a new story?

Sharon A. Lavy said...

How humiliating that must have been, Terry.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the important info, Terry. That is good advice to remember.

Terry Burns said...

Sorry I'm slow responding, Tim, but I am at a 'retreat' conference with very limited online access. I don't think I can give you a criteria as to how much rewriting would be necessary. You just have to be able to defend that it is a 'new' book and will get a new copyright and isbn number. That may differ from publisher to publiser but as part of the process they should know there was a previous version ev en at that.

Michael K. Reynolds said...

This is an important article Terry! I posted it on the Writing Platform facebook page.