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These days, most writers know that posting your short prose and poetry online means that editors will consider the work to be previously published and therefore ineligible for publication in most literary journals. (Note: “Previously published” means something different for books. See our post: What is previously published writing?)
Naturally, writers want to share their work online because it’s an easy way to swap support and critique. But who wants to take the chance of having a piece become ineligible for publication?
One writer recently asked us: How can you share your work with a group without publishing it online?
If you’re careful and honest, there may be a few ways you can share your short stories, personal essays, and poems with a small group of people using the Web—without inciting the ire of irascible editors.
The Caveat: Every editor will have a different opinion about what constitutes “previously published” work. To be 100% safe, don’t post your writing online in any way, shape, or form. If you are uncertain whether an editor will consider your piece previously published, write and ask before submitting.
The suggestions we make below are strictly for sharing with small groups of family, friends, and peers. We recommend you limit the availability of your work (to no more than a dozen readers). Otherwise you may begin to get dangerously close to having the work considered “published.”
Five Ways To Share Your Writing Online Without It Being Considered Published
Start a small Yahoo group. Everyone can comment on your work and interact with one another in a close community. But because you can change the settings so that members must be invited to the group, writers can control the number of readers to be sure the work doesn’t make it into “published” range.
Start a personal email list. Sharing a poem with a small group of friends via a private email list isn’t going to get you into too much hot water if your numbers are reasonably small. You may want to ask your friends not to forward your work to others. We’ve all seen myriad email forwards that appear to have no author…and we don’t want that to happen to you!
Start your own password-protected website (or, protect the portion of your site that features your work). By requiring visitors to have a password to see your work, you limit the number of potential readers.
Join an online workshop. A typical writing workshop (such as at a university) will have only a handful of people in it. Editors understand (and sometimes want) poems and stories to be workshopped prior to submission. Big writers groups will often split into smaller groups as needed in order to keep the critique personal and private.
Be warned: If there are hundreds or thousands of people who can read and comment on your piece as they please via an online critique website, that’s getting dangerously close to editors rejecting your work because it’s previously published.
Share via private message. Posting your work to your social network puts that work in a sticky situation. Editors don’t know whether you have five friends or five hundred. Plus, if you post your work on Facebook and your fifty friends “Like” it, the friends of your fifty friends may be able to read the work and “Like” it for their friends…and then you’re well into “previously published” territory.
Rather than deliberating over the details and what-ifs, most editors will simply say “no” to work that has been published on social networks of any kind. Don’t muck up your chances of publication: Play it safe by sharing your writing via your social network’s private messaging feature. That keeps your writing out of the public sphere.
Limit The Number Of Readers
Whatever method you choose to share your writing online, the key is to be sure you’re not oversharing. Limiting your readers to a finite, controlled number is key.
Even if you suspect that only a handful of readers looked at your poem on your public blog, most editors will consider the poem previously published because the number of readers is potentially unlimited.
And remember: When in doubt about what “counts” as previously published writing, play it safe. Share only with your critique group and your closest family and friends.