How Different is Different -Enough-?

ColGray

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 9, 2023
Messages
269
Understanding this is a very subjective question with no real hard and fast rule, I wanted to get some opinions.

I wrote a book and when it was complete, I posted it on Royal Road over about 3 months. It hit rising stars and was in the top 20 for Drama, Adventure, Horror and Sci-Fi. I then heard that some agents/publishers treat putting work on Royal Road or Wattpad or other similar sites as "publishing", meaning first rights had functionally already been sold/given away and it was DOA: no agent or publisher would touch it. I pulled it down.

Many on the r/pub forum basically told me, You're screwed: write something new. Some others said, If you make substantial changes you're fine. I went that route but what "substantial changes" means is highly subjective, so, I'm interested in people's feedback on whether my changes are "substantial enough" such that it isn't the same work.

The overall plot arc is identical: (Pre-book history/conceit) Humans figure out how to make wormholes, spread out and find they're alone in the universe. There's a war, some people used wormholes to break a planet, aliens show up and say they'll purge humanity if they do it again, then disappear. The book takes place 250 years later. It's about a group of people aiming to journey into deep space to find the aliens, only to be waylaid by a human faction. They fight and the faction unintentionally summons the aliens.

Changes
AreaRoyal Road VersionCurrent
Word Count198k116k
Structure4 Act with Prologue, Epilogue and 3 Intermezzo Chapters between acts4 Act with Prologue, Epilogue and 3 Intermezzo Chapters between acts
POV6 Main POV's on rotation
E: 15% of text, close-third person​
Ro: 25% of text, close-third
M: 20% of text, close third
Re: 15% of text, close third with embedded code
O: 15% of text, written as research notes with heavy footnotes
Transcripts: 5% of text, written as redacted transcripts​
Intermezzo: 5% and a 7th POV, distant third person, only used in those chapters​

4 Main POV's on rotation
E: 25% of text, close-third person​
Ro: 20% of text, close-third
M: 25% of text, close third
Re: 20% of text, close third with embedded code
Occasional POV's
O: 2% of text, written as letters​
Transcripts: 4% of text, written as redacted transcripts
Intermezzo: 4% and a 7th POV, distant 3rd, only used in those chapters.​
Act 1OriginalArc is the same (Gather the Hero's) but individual steps are different and fewer secondary characters
Action set pieces are largely the same, but tighter
Act 2OriginalArc is the same (New Normal, Stakes Raised, Response) 2 new twists, 1 new reveal
Character development and individual plot steps are very different
Action set piece is very different (change in POV, change in voice, change in structure and wrapper)
Act 3OriginalArc is the same (Raise the Stakes, Upend Expectations)
Character development is very different
Individual plot steps are different
Act 4OriginalArc is the same (Climax, Resolution, Epilogue)
Character development is very different
Individual plot steps are similar
CharactersOriginalCombined or removed 8+ secondary characters
Made substantial changes to one POV character's arc, development and motivation
Made large changes to another 2 POV characters' development and motivation
Added a new secondary character
No name changes
Factions / WorldbuildingOriginalMultiple name changes to central factions
No changes to central conceit of the world
Central ConceitOriginalCore conceit is identical
The way in which 1 character interacts with it is very different.

So, my question is, in your opinion, is this "different enough"?
 

HareBrain

Smeerp of Wonder
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Oct 13, 2008
Messages
13,526
Location
West Sussex, UK
I have no idea what publishers might regard as "substantial" changes, but they seem pretty substantial to me.

But as far as I can tell, you're only going on hearsay. The things you've heard might not be true, and even if they are, it's not inevitable that you would know about them. What kind of due diligence do publishers do with this kind of thing? How easy would it be for their overworked interns to find it on Royal Road, even if they looked?

I'd submit it. If you keep wondering whether the changes you've made are substantial enough and should you make more, you'll be endlessly second-guessing yourself.
 

ColGray

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 9, 2023
Messages
269
I think I'd have to disclose it with any contract (which, while I'm dreaming, I'd also like a pony?) or risk being in breach.

But, yes, I tend to think these are very substantial changes. It's roughly half the book that was up on RR.
 

HareBrain

Smeerp of Wonder
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Oct 13, 2008
Messages
13,526
Location
West Sussex, UK
I think I'd have to disclose it with any contract (which, while I'm dreaming, I'd also like a pony?) or risk being in breach.
If the contract specified that, then yes. Do they usually contain such a term? (I honestly don't know. I don't think mine did, but that was a small press.)
 

ColGray

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 9, 2023
Messages
269
I believe they typically specify that this is first rights/first printing and that they have exclusive rights in Region/Regions/World.

So, if I know, or they define, first rights as the initial publishing and publishing as a public release, I'd need to share that. Specifying that as I read a boilerplate publishing contract that specified those terms (but with +50% legalese).

Total aside, but it is also crazy to me that publishers treat sites like Royal Road or Wattpad as competitors and not a farm league: here is a community of alpha consumers for a very specific product. They liked this product on it's merit alone: no ads, no booktok, no linkages. If a product works in that community, it'll likely work in the broader community of readers--though, yes, there are exceptions and the Progression/LitRPG genres, in general, seem very polarizing and made for web serials. Just seems like a wasted opportunity.
 

HareBrain

Smeerp of Wonder
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Oct 13, 2008
Messages
13,526
Location
West Sussex, UK
Total aside, but it is also crazy to me that publishers treat sites like Royal Road or Wattpad as competitors and not a farm league: here is a community of alpha consumers for a very specific product. They liked this product on it's merit alone: no ads, no booktok, no linkages. If a product works in that community, it'll likely work in the broader community of readers--though, yes, there are exceptions and the Progression/LitRPG genres, in general, seem very polarizing and made for web serials. Just seems like a wasted opportunity.
I agree, and almost said something similar. I guess publishers are afraid that the original "publication" would have exhausted its potential market, but this clearly isn't always the case, and some publishers do make exceptions. Many bestsellers such as 50 Shades and the After series were taken down from their originating sites and then published, and the publishers must have known their origins. If yours got a high ranking on Royal Road, you might find the same.
 

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
Supporter
Joined
Oct 5, 2011
Messages
19,371
Location
blah - flags. So many flags.
I agree, and almost said something similar. I guess publishers are afraid that the original "publication" would have exhausted its potential market, but this clearly isn't always the case, and some publishers do make exceptions. Many bestsellers such as 50 Shades and the After series were taken down from their originating sites and then published, and the publishers must have known their origins. If yours got a high ranking on Royal Road, you might find the same.
Yeah but when was the last one that did it? Apart from Legends and Lattes I can’t think of any recently
 

ColGray

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 9, 2023
Messages
269
Yeah but when was the last one that did it? Apart from Legends and Lattes I can’t think of any recently
I wonder if some of that is on the author-side, though. There's much broader awareness of launching on a central platform, then breaking into Patreons or other subscription services in 2023 than in 2015 or 2010. From publishing to youtube to tiktok, there's SO much more good information on how to monetize a following--and if you hit that following, good resources to weigh whether pivoting to a traditional media career path makes financial sense.

Hugh Howey put something out (probably years ago at this point) about how when Wool exploded, he signed 3yr deal with (I think) Random House to republish Wool because of the cache--and then hated it. He gave specifics but it was basically that RH was condescending: We're the Big5 Trad Publisher and know what we're doing, shut up and get in line. When the term was up and he regained the rights to Wool, he refused to re-sign with them (even though the two sequels had been very successful) and they were shocked and his message back to them was: I was successful without you. I made more money without you. I don't need you: you need me, so if you want me, the power and compensation dynamics are shifting to reflect that reality.

I'll be the first to say, he's an aberration and that he self-publishing a well written, well edited book at the dawn of self-pub (IMO, similar to Michael J Sullivan) meant he stood out in an uncrowded field --but he's also spent the last decade or so evangelizing how to monetize a following.
 

Top