Ask Daphne! What is “published”?

March 10th, 2008 • Kate

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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5 Responses to “Ask Daphne! What is “published”?”

  1. Caryn Says:

    Hmmm. I think another thing I would be worried about is theft. Yes, most writers have plenty of ideas of their own, but I think that putting up too much of your writing leaves you open to being plagiarized, or at least having your idea stolen, by those who like your ideas better than theirs.
    Which brings me to a question: As you mentioned, Daphne, sometimes blogs can lead to book deals. I know that that's very rare, so I'm not blogging in order to sell my work. However, just in case, how much manuscript info would you recommend an aspiring author put up on his/her blog? A link to a page with a book blurb? An excerpt? Or nothing at all? I, for one, haven't put anything up because I'm worried about plagiarism, but at the same time, I don't want to miss out on any opportunities. Thanks!

  2. Jean Says:

    This is a good topic that sure makes my heart beat a little faster!
    I have a website up with a blog and some samples of my work. I view my website as a professional portfolio. Therefore, I have a couple of excerpts from my manuscripts posted on my site. I feel that the samples serve an important purpose in that they give people a taste of my style, voice, humor and hopefully one day, to help me sell.
    Seeing as my samples are short excerpts from large projects, I don't consider the work to be 'published'. If however, I had them up on a high traffic site that belonged to someone else, I may consider them to be ‘published’—particularly if that site had advertisements, if I was paid for posting my work there or benefitted in some other way.
    And yes, I did worry about plagiarism when I posted my samples. (I still do a bit.) But then I thought, well, what are the chances that someone is going to take this scene and do something with it that is going to be detrimental to me? (Famous last words? I hope not!) With samples that I do post, I put them in PDF and stamp my name on the footer, which although doesn’t fool proof it, it should hopefully slow down the lazier plagiarizers. In the end, I figured the good outweighed the bad and the samples went up.
    I do understand the bits 'floating' out there in cyberworld as last weekend–out of curiosity–I googled myself. What fun! Scary thing was that there was stuff showing up that I had pulled off my website ages ago. (At least a year ago.) You couldn't follow the direct link as the stuff was no longer posted, but through some strange link html stuff that still confuses me, I managed to find something that shouldn't be 'out there' anymore.
    In the end, I am in favor of posting small samples. As a writer trying to become a 'brand', you need to do all you can do to sell yourself and your work is your product.

  3. Joelle Anthony Says:

    I think you need to ask yourself what you hope to gain by posting pieces of your unpublished work. I personally wouldn't worry about the published/not published aspect of it. And while plagiarism per se may not be a real issue, someone stealing your hook, even inadvertently, does seem like a possibility. I don't even blog about topics that I might want to write about or scenes I might want to use in a future book for this reason. I once had a writer tell me, "Oh, my gosh! Your blog today was so funny and I was trying to figure out how to use it in a book I'm writing when I remembered you were a writer and I probably shouldn't do that." And this was my friend. So you see how easy it would be for someone just roaming around on the internet to read a piece of your book, have it stick in their head, and six months down the road think that they thought of it. Is this a risk worth taking? Only you know.
    Also, when I finish a draft of a manuscript, I often think, "This is it. This is the best I can do." Then my critique group or my agent gets back to me and says, "I think this needs fixing." and I get to work and realize I can do better. And then I think the revision is the best I can do. But who knows how many more rounds there will be? My point being that while you have to believe in yourself, and you have to have confidence in your work, if you're still in the process of writing, a time may come when you may look at what you have up today as something you wish no one had ever seen!
    I know from agent blogs, and also personal experience, that if you have a website and you are querying (or your agent is submitting), it is very likely that an agent (or editor) will check out your site. If you are trying to impress them with pieces of your book, you might be going about it the wrong way. Why not have a blog that reflects your writing style – very polished, shows your voice, etc? Or post previously published nonfiction articles or short stories on your site. Your website can show your style, talent, personality, and professionalism without samples of your manuscript. Just my opinion…

  4. Deanna Roy Says:

    This question was posed to the venerable Ms. Snark before she closed up her blog. Here's what she said, and I agree with her:
    If it's on your blog, it's not published.
    If it's in your daily diary, it's not published.
    If it's in an email to the Divine Miss Snark, it's not published.
    If it's pages in a manuscript sent to Killer Yapp for his endorsement, it's not published.
    Is the clue stick looming?
    Just because blogger uses the word "your blog has been published" when you post an entry doesn't mean Random House considers you competition.
    Generally when editors/agents/publishing folks consider something published it has been put in book form, acquired an ISBN number, and is for sale.
    (Literary zines looking for submissions will say work that has appeared on the net doesn't qualify as unpublished but that is a limited use of the word and does NOT apply to the industry as a whole)

  5. Kate Says:

    All kudos to Miss Snark! Thanks for the link, Deanna.