Ask Daphne! What is “published”?

Putting one out there to the general readership here. R.E. asks

I have a group of friends that are reading the second draft of my book and helping me with problems by discussing ideas with me and editing chapters. Because I’ve heard that once you put something up online it is considered “published” I have locked all the entries for these chapters and scenes on the blog I use to show it to my friends. I finally have chapter one to a place where I am happy with it, and I wanted to put it up online without locking it so only my friends could see it, but I’m afraid that if I do the book would already be considered “published”. Is there any rule about this? Would agents and publishers be less likely to sign me because there is a one chapter “excerpt” somewhere on the web? I have a much shorter excerpt on my website – would it also be wise to remove this? I want to get my work out there and get people interested, but I don’t want to ruin my chances.

Now, I think there’s a huge gap between putting something up on a website for purposes of critique and actually being “published” online, but then again, I haven’t really come up against this particular problem. And I’m not quite sure what you mean by “locked” — is it locked for comments or edited, or can only certain people with passwords see it? If you need a password to access it, I don’t think you have any problem.
Actually, I’m not sure you have a problem at all — it’s not like your blog is McSweeney’s, which draws a readership expecting unique published content. It’s a blog. And there have been loads of blog-to-book deals in the past.
As an agent, I wouldn’t consider a short excerpt or a chapter of your book online to be considered published. At some point in the future, if you get an agent interested in your work and they want to sent it out to publishers, I would likely recommend that you remove the excerpt from your website, and take down the blog — or rather, use it for some other purpose. Basically, when you’re submitting, you want to make the best possible impression. If you query me about your novel, and I can do a basic Google search and find sample chapters strewn about the web in various stages of revision — well, that’s not the impression you want to make. If your writers group is so far flung to make hard copies difficult and emailing is, for some reason, tricky, then consider a private blog, group, or message board.
Readers, what do you think? What’s the general consensus on what is “published” online?

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