What Is Considered Previously Published Writing?

What Is Considered Previously Published Writing?

It is common practice for journals and literary agents to reject previously published writing, but what exactly does previously published mean? Why are most literary agents and editors unwilling to take a chance on work that has already appeared elsewhere? When is it appropriate to submit previously published work?

The answers to these questions have become increasingly hard to pin down as the Internet takes on a huge role in the writing world.

The definition of previously published:
Back when print publishing was the sole option for sharing work, previously published was a black-and-white term. If your poems, stories, or essays appeared in a book, journal, anthology, textbook, newsletter, newspaper, magazine, or any other publication, your work was considered published. If it didn’t, it wasn’t. Simple. But now, more complicated questions arise.

Previously published poems, stories, and essays:
Literary journals don’t want previously published writing because editors want to ensure that their publications are fresh, new, and unique. In other words, editors want to be first to discover your writing. Also, editors would prefer to stay away from any rights entanglements.

Is work considered previously published if I post it on a blog, Web site, large social-networking site, or online literary journal?
If you’ve posted your writing on any of the above sites, it is generally considered previously published.

Is my work considered previously published if I post it in a writing forum or Web board?
If the forum or Web board is private and intended for the purposes of encouraging feedback or community support, then most editors and literary agents will consider the work unpublished. But just in case, you may want to take it down once you’ve received feedback so it doesn’t appear online.

If the forum in question is public (that is, if nonmembers can see what you’ve written), then your work will likely be considered previously published.

What if I published my work on my blog or other Web site, but then I take it down before submitting it—is that considered previously published?
This can be tricky. Try not to publish your work online if you plan to submit it elsewhere (like print journals). If you did post online, no one can stop you from taking your work down and then submitting it, but be warned: Editors may not like this tactic.

Once your work is removed from the Internet, do a search of random lines from the work to make sure it is not appearing anywhere. (Warning: Google and other search engines will often archive old Web pages, so simply deleting something from the Web doesn’t mean it’s gone!) If an editor finds your “unpublished” work online, you might look irresponsible or, worse, devious.

If I publish an excerpt online, does that mean the whole work or part of the work is considered previously published?

Generally speaking, excerpts are okay to publish online, as long as they are on the short side (relative to the work in question).

Previously published novels and books:
The rules for determining what is previously published change when you move into the book-publishing business. Literary agents and publishers at traditional publishing houses have different expectations and goals than editors of literary magazines, so the concept of what it means to be previously published can shift.

It’s no secret that literary agents are keen marketing experts. The success of their business relies almost entirely on their ability to find and represent books that are not only well-written but also potentially lucrative. Because of this, work that is available online can sometimes be unappealing for a number of reasons. First, if the book is already being published and the writer is making money, the agent is cut out of those profits. Second, if a book is posted online as a free download, why would readers pay to read it?

The laws (and the industry jargon) are still trying to catch up to the technology. Keep in mind that the following points are general guidelines: Each literary agent or editor may have his or her own definition of what is considered previously published.

Click here to learn more about How to Get An Agent For Your Self-Published Book.

Is a hard copy self-published book considered previously published for the purpose of finding a literary agent?
The subtext of the question above is: “Can I pitch my self-published book to literary agents?” If you’ve published a book or novel on your own or with a third-party POD publishing house, and you still retain the copyright, you can pitch it to most literary agents. That said, always be forthcoming about your book’s history.

Is a self-published book offered in electronic format considered previously published?
The majority of literary agents are willing to consider a book that has been published electronically (published in a digital, nonprint format) as long as the author holds all rights. However, you may need to remove your book from online bookstores and take your book down from the Internet.

If I publish an excerpt from my book online or in print, does that mean the work is considered previously published?
Generally speaking, it’s okay to publish excerpts online, as long as they are on the short side (relative to the work in question). Be sure you maintain the copyright if you’re going to publish a portion of your book prior to publishing the whole thing! Otherwise you could end up publishing your book, minus your previously published first chapter!

Writer’s Relief does NOT work with previously published poems, stories, or essays; however, we will work with self-published books on certain occasions.

The flip side: Publishing your work online can be beneficial
The Internet can be a wonderful resource, especially for those who don’t have critique groups or workshops available in their area. Unfortunately, very talented writers who just happened to workshop their writing online are getting caught in the cross fire between editors, agents, and the rapidly evolving question of “What is previously published writing?”

There are journal editors and literary agents who don’t really care about work published on small Web sites. Did you put a story up on a message board for critique? Have you posted a chapter of your manuscript on your blog? As long as the work isn’t plagiarized from someone else, some literary agents and editors don’t mind if the writing has appeared online.

But until the industry fully adjusts to the presence of the Internet, many literary agents and editors are going to simply reject work they consider to be previously published. At this point, the best option for writers is to play it safe until the rules become clearer.

Remember to check out our Free List of Writing Contests, Conferences, Calls for Submissions, Services, and More!

As a general rule of thumb: If you plan to submit your work to long-established literary journals and magazines or to literary agents and editors, DON’T post it publicly online first.

Photo by ed_needs_a_bicycle

Ronnie L. Smith, President of Writer’s Relief, Inc., an author’s submission service that helps creative writers get published by targeting their poems, essays, short stories, and books to the best-suited literary agents or editors of literary journals. www.WritersRelief.com

83 Responses to What Is Considered Previously Published Writing?

  1. How can a self-published book, not be considered published? If it’s in print it’s published! The Shack was self-published. How can it not be considered published? That line of reasoning seems silly to me. With the publishing industry being what it is today, self-publishing is becoming more and more popular. I know many authors with award-winning books that were self-published. It seems to me that the publishing industry is going to need to change their stance on self-published books and soon.

  2. If you still hold the orginal copyright, then it’s not considered published. If your self-publisher or POD co. holds the rights for a terms of years, then it IS published. I will be the first one to cheer when big publishers finally take a good, hard look at the quality work being self-published today.

  3. Laura – Thanks for your great comment. A few self-published books do go on to national success–it’s always fantastic when that happens!

    Generally speaking, "previously published" implies a loose definition in the publishing industry: “a work that has been published in some way that could prohibit agents/editors from considering it for publication with their company.”

    Self-published books are certainly published to varying degrees of success, but the good news is that they generally ARE still up for consideration at agencies, etc.

    There’s no standard lingo to describe this unique situation yet, so we had no choice but to look at the issue in terms of the existing industry jargon. Because of your comment, we’ve tweaked the language of the original post slightly to avoid industry lingo in that specific paragraph, since it may be misleading to writers who are not already familiar with the implied meaning of “previously published.”

    C.L. – Interesting points. You’re right that much of the distinction here is about copyright. To some extent, publishers’ definitions of "previously published" may seem artificial and even inappropriate to writers. And, yes, we agree that there is a significant amount of high-quality self-published work being published today!

    Again, thank you both for your great comments! This aspect of publishing is especially sticky, but we hope our article will help make the publishing industry jargon somewhat clearer. It’s likely that standards and jargon will shift dramatically in coming years, and we’ll stay on top of the changes!

  4. I’m confused. You acknowledge "that much of the distinction is about copyright", but does that mean that you agree that if the writer still holds the copyright rights on a previously published piece then it is NOT considered published? I have written humor columns for a local magazine that has a circulation of only 1500-2000 and I did not relinquish my right to copyright my work. What’s the status of my columns?
    Coul I enter some of them in contests requiring only unpublished works?

  5. To be clear, much (but NOT all) of the distinction is about copyright; ultimately, it depends on the situation.

    Many times, magazines that publish short prose and poetry will acquire the right to publish it for the first time only, at which point copyright reverts immediately to the writer. Sometimes there is a contract that states as much, sometimes not. In these situations, the work is (generally) considered previously published.

    If there’s a question about what an editor, agent, or other reader considers previously published, you’ll need to write to the reader in question for his/her specific guidelines.

  6. Chicken Soup for the Soul bought a story of mine that had appeared on Helium.com. Helium kindly deleted it. Does this mean that I can submit poems that are currently viewable at Helium as long as they can then be deleted from Helium?

  7. Kerry: Congratulations on your Chicken Soup for the Soul acceptance! You’re fortunate that Helium removed your story. In terms of literary journals, most editors will be upset if they accept your work and then you ask them to remove it later. This gets into sticky territory, and this is the exact thing that we can help our clients negotiate.

  8. This is troubling. I have a website (or blog), where I intended to post a short story I had written.

    I don’t intend to publish it to a literary magazine, but ultimately I would like to publish a book of short fiction and include it with other stories.

    It sounds to me that posting it online would be a terrible mistake, as it would hinder (if not downright prevent) my work from getting published.

    Am I reading this right?

  9. Daren,

    Great questions! Thanks for bringing this up.

    Pitching a short story collection is a bit different than pitching an individual short story. Because short story collections are so difficult to place (especially with paying publishers), the best way to stir up interest in your collection is to have numerous stories from the collection published in reputable literary journals before you even begin querying literary agents.

    See our post about how to publish a short story collection: http://dev.writersrelief.com/2009/07/how-to-publish-a-short-story-collection-tips-for-getting-agents-and-editors-attention-for-your-short-stories/

    You’ll notice that in the beginning of many short story collections, there is an acknowledgments page, which indicates where each individual story first appeared (usually it’s a list of literary journals). Publishers expect that individual works in a short story collection will have been previously published one at a time.

    That said, if you’re going to market a story individually to reputable literary journals (in hopes of one day publishing a collection of work), we would not recommend publishing it on your website before submitting it to journals.

    Hope this helps!

  10. Aha! Thank you, your reply has been very helpful indeed. This is a much different approach than I was planning on. Now I know. Thanks again!

  11. Will publishing (on my blog) chapters from a book I am writing hinder future attempts to get it published? Should I stick to short pieces and excerpts? My idea was to, over time, publish the whole book on the blog in bits and pieces, and later look for a publisher. Would I be creating future problems for myself?

  12. Dear asfo_del, Generally speaking, we feel it’s best to err on the side of caution. That said, as long as you hold all rights to the book (whether you’ve self-published it or not), you can query most literary agents with it. You’ll have to consider your personal goals and desires to decide the best choice for you. Good luck!

  13. If a book is in book stores as of 2009,is now in stores in 2011 and is said to be previously published but has a different title does that mean that the contents of the book have changed somewhat? In other words has it been revised in any way?

    Thank you

  14. It sounds like what you’re talking about here is when a publisher rereleases a book. Sometimes the writer will have updated the text, sometimes just the title, and sometimes nothing at all. You can visit the author’s webpage to see if anything can give you a sense of what might have changed from one edition to another.

  15. Hope I’m not too late to post, but does getting a short story in my university’s literary magazine count as previously published? Thank you.

  16. Thanks for all of the above questions and answers posted – you’ve allowed me to realize that I probably need to start from scratch, stop posting new on Fan Story (though I can still visit and review there, keeping my hand in,) If I tweak the educational articles significantly, and retitle them, and add new sections with them, which was my original plan, can I still use those previously published on my web site?
    Thank you for all the advice re: previously published … I’ve never received money for any of the works I published, but gained a lot of confidence and affirmation as a writer working with the Phi Kappa Phi Forum editors. Those early columns will be the basis of my book “To Teach” but I will alter them significantly.

  17. Terry,

    Thanks for your question: “If I tweak the educational articles significantly, and retitle them, and add new sections with them, which was my original plan, can I still use those previously published on my web site?”

    If the works are substantially (mostly) changed, they can be considered new works–and you can do anything you want with them. We would suggest that every line should be altered.

    Regarding your fan fiction, here is more info about copyright law: http://dev.writersrelief.com/2011/03/parody-law-for-writers-how-to-protect-your-legal-right-to-spoof/

    Good luck with your book!

  18. I want to publish fiction in an audio format only, on a literary podcast. Can my authors keep their status as unpublished, since the work will not appear in print? There is some advantage to an author to say that their work has been published, and some to say it hasn’t, if they still want to pitch it to another venue. I’m not sure what is best.

  19. Shawn, “Published” is not necessarily restricted to written mediums. A book can be published as an audio book. In our opinion, if a work is published as part of a pod cast, it’s still published. Editors of literary journals generally don’t want works that appear elsewhere, regardless of the medium. However, there are probably some editors out there who wouldn’t care. Each editor is different. It is always best to be honest about a piece’s publication history. The authors who publish their works on your site in audio format should explain that fact when submitting those works to print publications. That way, each editor can make an informed decision and the authors don’t have to worry about future repercussions.

  20. If I publish a story in a Facebook Note but with permissions that will make it available only to my Facebook friends, should this be considered a previously published story?

  21. Irena, This is one of those questions that makes the “previously published” question so sticky. We seriously doubt that an editor would decline this story simply because it’s been seen by a few people on Facebook (assuming you’re not one of those people who has 5,000 Facebook friends). The key, as always, is to be honest.

  22. This was the best information I could find on this subject, thanks! A further question on excerpts: would 350 words (published online as flash fiction) of a 7000 word short story be considered an excerpt and previously unpublished?

    I was hoping winning this flash fiction contest would be a selling point in my cover letters when marketing the full story. But now it sounds like it may actually be a hindrance with some or even most editors, and I’m considering withdrawing it from the contest.

  23. Parker, We can’t imagine most editors of literary journals would refuse to publish your 7,000-word story because you’ve published 350 words of it online. Just be up-front and honest with editors, of course! (That said, we can’t promise that such a thing wouldn’t happen–we just think it’s not especially likely, from what we’ve seen).

  24. Oh right, I guess it’s no different than publishing a chapter of a novel in progress. I just got freaked out yesterday because I hadn’t been aware of all the potential conflicts with first time rights. It’s calming to hear from someone with experience. Thanks again!

  25. There are a lot of writer’s communities out there where people post their work for feedback. In some instances publishers are involved. CARRIER OF THE MARK is an example of this. It was posted on inkpop and it’s now being published by HC. DARK INSIDE by Jeyn Roberts also had an excerpt posted on the site and meant she had connections with her target audience through the site. So not all online “publishing” hurts your chances.

  26. Sharon, Yes–we absolutely agree with this. In fact, we recommend that our clients have websites if they’re in the market to be “career” writers. Sharing work online is fantastic for getting feedback and attention. Networking matters. A writer’s Web presence is becoming increasingly important to his/her career.

    These days, it’s important for writers to know the “rules” about previously published writing so they don’t shoot themselves in the foot–especially when it comes to editors of literary journals (as opposed to book editors), who tend to be quite rigid about previously published work!

    Here’s an interesting follow-up article on this issue:

    To E-pub or Print Pub; Tis NOT the Question: http://www.writersrelief.com/blog/2011/08/print-online-digital-publishing/

  27. Hmph, I’m a wee bit confused. I have a book manuscript finished and am about to pitch it to agents. Before doing this though, I was going to create a website and post some of my personal essays (un-related to my book) and also start a blog. This was to be all in the name of “building a platform” that we as-of-yet unknown writers keep hearing is ultra important. What to do? Thanks.

  28. Lori, the internet has certainly complicated the publishing industry, so we understand your confusion. That said, there are some “rules” of the internet you should follow. It is a good idea to build an online presence as an author. Agents will want to look you up and learn more about you and your writing. It is a good idea to start a blog. It is fine to post personal essays that are unrelated to your book. It is NOT a good idea to use substantial excerpts of your book in your blog. It is NOT a good idea to post your essays (especially in full) if you have any plan to submit them to literary journals and magazines in the future, because they will be considered previously published. For more on author platforms, see our article on Author Platforms.

  29. Is it considered unpublished if an anthology is made specifically for a writing club though self-publishing site? I was hoping to use a poem from the anthology for a contest looking for unpublished poems. I figured if the book was not up for sale and was just for personal use among the club members, it might be considered unpublished. Even though my poems are printed in this book, could it be considered unpublished because it wasn’t up for sale or generally available to the public? Thanks!

  30. Gabby, It’s a good question. Your situation is so specific that you’ll need to check with the editors of that particular poetry contest. When you query the editor, you may want to state how many people have seen the poem (indicating that it’s a small, specific number might help your cause). Good luck!

  31. This article makes me happy I stopped posting my poems on poetry sites after college. I’m guessing a lot of young, passionate writers make that mistake, not thinking that posting on a poetry forum would stop them from getting their work “legitimately” published afterward. Thank you for clearing up all of these confusing issues! I’ll never post another poem online!

  32. I am one of those writing all the time people. I was published quite a bit in my earlier years, because I didn’t know the rules and cons about submitting. Once I got back into writing (Long stint as a composer/lyricist), I was one of those who found poetry.com, and posted good work there, but not for anyone viewing, or any ok to print (knew better) etc. I used it for the drills! LOL! I just wanted a page to view. Only 3 distant family members knew about it. (Others may have found it, but that is highly doubtful, as it was never made known by me, nor did I participate in any thing)) and to my chagrin, while researching the new complications of submitting, found that it seems like it was a waste of time and material. I have been bogged ever since. The site is long since gone to it’s demise, all of my things I removed, except one helpful editor friend says she found some of it. I could not get into removing those. some glitch. I have no idea what to do, as it was part of a cycle I was working on, and much of the body of it never appeared anywhere. Now it’s been years, but I am still wishing I could query someone on it. Arghhh. I tell everyone aspiring to write DON’T put your stuff online, if you are planning on doing anything with it! Are there search engines that CAN locate archived things? I have straight yahoo/google, and I couldn’t find it, but my friend could – Plus one other Question – dashed off a piece (words and choral music) that was snapped up and performed at a Dorothy Chandler xmas premier. But is that considered published? (handwritten arrg. and ballad) Verse stands on it’s own. Thank you for any advice on these things – It certainly hasn’t blocked me, but it sure took the joy out of creating!

  33. Jen, Sometimes the best thing to do is to just accept life lessons as gifts and look forward to the future. Yes, search engines can often find archived webpages. We’re not sure what you’re asking regarding your friend’s premier. Don’t be discouraged! Creativity is endless–and you’ve learned a lesson every writer must learn. Good luck!

  34. What if I posted a story on a website years ago and someone/people want to publish it is that considered previously published? Also, what if I can’t remember if it was posted and it is found that it was posted and after I signed the contract could I be breaking the contract? If so, what are the consequences?

  35. Dear Abdul-Qaadir Taariq Bakari-Muhammad: We recommend that you play it safe. You don’t want to risk swearing to something that turns out not to be true. Your contract will specify what any repercussions are if you are in breach of the document you signed. Anything on the Web will likely be considered previously published. Some publishers don’t care; others do.

  36. Thank you – being the only holder of the copyright gives a GOOD strong specific! I had mentioned earlier about a chorale piece I wrote, (lyrics and music) that was aired/performed live on KCET LA (PBS) – (their 12 hour Christmas Fest). And as such, was curious how this is treated as re: the publication realm? I have pretty much realized that I may just have to self-publish other things I had been working on, which I erroneously placed on the web, way back when the whole pub area was new. But regarding the lyrics/music to my choral piece, as they stand on their own, and I hold the copyright, I am still curious as to how an aired (TV) performance would be considered in the realm of publishing? (it was done from hand-written choral manuscript and words) – never “officially” typeset or “published”, (as we think of the appearance). I have been sitting on it for years, because I don’t have a clear idea of what rights, aside from the copyright, I have. I have recently been approached to issue this a separate (Not the kcet footage) youtube video,(audio) and as it has been sitting dormant for so long, (about 15 years) I may wish to pursue this, just to get it out and get on with it.
    Thank you so much for all your responses to the above questions – I have learned a lot!. Sorry if this sounds like such a mess – but I have no clue who to ask, and can’t afford a lawyer to find out what I CAN do! Many Thanks, and may you all have a wonderful season! Jen

    Jen

  37. Jen, We really can’t say what the rules are in your industry, which may be different than in ours. We might guess that music rights are divided into subrights…the right to perform, the right to print, the right to record, the right to broadcast, etc. If performed music was considered published music, no young musician with a cyber-following on YouTube would ever get a recording contract. We recommend you pose this question in a forum dedicated to musicians, rather than creative writers; you’ll find more definitive information there. And best of luck to you!

  38. I write poetry and I am interested in posting videotaped readings of some of my poems on yourtube or other websites. Would that constitute “previously published writing” for purposes of submitting to literary magazines? Thanks!

  39. Elya, This is a very good question. “Published” in the larger publishing industry can refer to any medium. For example: A writer can *publish* an audio book. A video is published on YouTube. A piece is published on a blog.

    So if you want to play it safe, best to record your spoken word after your poems already appeared in print in lit mags, if that’s your goal. Best not to give editors any reason to choose a poem that has no strings attached instead of yours.

    That said, some editors won’t care if you posted a clip from open mike night on YouTube. But others will. You’ll have to be upfront about this when you’re submitting. Again, we recommend playing it safe if your goal is ultimately to see the work in print in a reputable magazine.

    Here at Writer’s Relief, where we cannot accept previously published writing from our clients, we wouldn’t be able to work with a poem that was published online, whether on a blog or on YouTube.

  40. Normally I try not to leave a comment on an old post, but I saw you all responded to a question a little more than a week ago so here’s my shot in the dark.

    Before I started wanting to get published I had shared my work with family members, friends and other internet-y folks by putting work up on a blog and on Facebook. Since I read that these avenues are now considered as being published, I’ve stopped.

    People have asked me since then why I don’t show off any of my work, that they miss seeing it. This is mainly family members and close friends.

    Are there any methods you would recommend wherein I can share my work with a close-knit group such as this? I’ve seen a few sites (such as Litreactor, for instance) that state that pieces can be put up on their site because it is password-protected and the story is still being worked on. Are there other sites that I can do that with that are easy to use and wouldn’t be considered under the whole ‘previously published’ clause?

    Thanks!

  41. La Katie,

    Great question. We answer all comments as regularly as possible.

    Here are some ways you can share with a small group:

    Start a Yahoo Group. Everyone can comment on your work in a close community, and interact with each other about it.

    Start a personal email list/group.

    Start your own password protected website (or you can protect only the portion of your site that features your work).

    Whatever method you choose, the key is to be sure you’re not oversharing. For example: If your Yahoo Group has a hundred members in it…well, that sounds like a bit more than sharing with some close friends.

    Same goes for workshopping websites; a typical writing workshop (such as at a university) will have only a handful of people in it. Bigger writers groups will often split into smaller groups as needed. If there are hundreds or thousands of people who can read and comment on your piece as they please via an online workshopping website, that’s getting dangerously close to being considered published (in our opinion).

    This is a great question and it’s likely that we’ll do a full blog post on it in the future. So be sure that you’re subscribed to SWN!

    http://www.writersrelief.com/free-newsletter-for-writers

  42. I have written a poem which I want to share with others at the local senior center where I’m employed. I’m going to post it on the bulletin board so that our hundreds of visitors have a chance to read it. Will this then be considered a previously published piece? Thank you.

  43. Dear Richard,

    Thanks so much for your question! We think this is a nice idea; we don’t think you’ll have any issues with editors if you decide to look into publishing this later on.

  44. If we don’t self-publish but privately sell proof copies of our book to one or two people, would that still be considered previously published writing?

  45. Cindy, thanks for the great question! Don’t worry, selling a few copies to friends and family won’t label your work as “previously published.” Just be careful to not put it online or let anyone else submit it without your knowledge!

  46. Hi,
    I want to publish a scientific review article, but I published the similar (but shorter) version as a souvenir (hard copy, not online{so not available on net}) of an international conference organized in my institute. it was distributed only to members of the conference. Now I updated the review with all my references (110; before it was just 20), and also the new information I got in the past year.

    I want to know whether this article will be considered as already published.

  47. Rajan, great question! Since most markets that publish articles only take queries, it’s a better idea to query the individual editor first. If it was circulated to less than twenty people, you may be fine. But in a case like this, it’s better to check with the editor. Best of luck!

  48. I’ve been working on a book-length memoir for about a year and a half. During the last quarter of 2011 I attended a writer’s workshop put on by a literary journal. At the end of the workshop they asked for submissions from our work there. I submitted a condensed highlight of a couple of the chapters (2500 words) from my memoir, and it was accepted for publication. They do assure me that all copyright returns to me upon publication, but my concern is if this will have any impact on trying to place my larger work when it is finished?

    Thanks a lot for this very timely article. I was lucky to have stumbled across it today. I was just notified of the acceptance of the article less than a week ago so I think I still have time to change it, if necessary.

  49. Larry, good question! This is actually a very positive situation for you. Excerpting from your memoir—and subsequently having that excerpt published—does wonders for your acceptance rate! When you send your memoir out to literary agents, including that publication on your query letter assures agents that your memoir is written well and is of a high enough quality to garner attention from other publishers. You are, essentially, being “published before you’re published,” and the fact that your accepted work is an excerpt means it will not negatively affect your memoir as a whole.

  50. I was wondering, if I put my own, original story up on ‘FictionPress.com’ would I still be able to publish it in real life? Would I have to take it down? Or would no one publish it for me at all? Please respond, I’m worried because I want to post it and have people criticize it so I’m showing my best work to editors and publishers, but I’m worried that they might not consider it at all if I post it.

  51. Andy, good question. If you’re planning to send your work out to journals/editors, don’t post it online. Whewn a site publically displays your work, there is no way for editors to know how many people have seen it. To them, it would be “previously published.” You can take it down afterward, but that won’t always stop editors from finding out it was once public. It’s best to avoid it alltogether.

    If you still want to share your work with others over the internet, you can check out our blog post, 5 Safe Ways To Share Your Writing Online, for a few tips and suggestions. Otherwise, you can just show it to friends, family, teachers, etc.!

  52. I posted 4 stanzas from one of my English poems on Yahoo Answers more than two years ago for native speakers of English to read. Even now the cached web pages appear in Google results when I search for an exact line from those 4 stanzas. Considering the fact my poem has a total of 14 stanzas, can I still publish it?

  53. Moshen, great question! While you shold be fine, since you did not post the entire piece and merely and “excerpt” from your poem, it would be best if you note this when submitting that particular poem. That way, the editor in question will understand that you did not post the entire poem AND did not simply snag those four lines from the Internet.

  54. Our writers’ group (about 10 people) is sponsored by our public library and some members want to self-publish periodically a collection of the group’s writings, probably short stories, poems and essays. One person asked if publishing in this collection would cause a “real” publisher to refuse to consider the work later. These periodic collections would probably be given out at the library and perhaps mailed to the writers’ families.

  55. I have a question, hopefully someone can answer it! I am currently posting my novel on a wordpress.com account, BUT it’s password protected so only close friends can read it and provide feedback. I know this article said blogs DO count as previously published, but is it okay if my blog is private? Thanks for the help

  56. Hi Glaura, good question! Your novel should be all right as long as your site is password-protected, and as long as too many people don’t know the password! Putting your work out into “public view” is what makes it ineligible for publication, so privately showing it to only a select few while restricting public access should be fine.

  57. Thank you! I doubt I’ll get more than two dozen people reading it, and anyone I trust with my password will buy my book anyways if it ever does become published. The whole “previously published” is so hard to figure out sometimes because for me a website is just the most convenient way to make my work accessible to friends and family for feedback…

  58. Glad we could help. Yes, “previously published” is such a loosely defined term that it can often be difficult to assume how journals/agents will respond. The best advice we can give is to be honest; if you are not sure whether or not a journal will take offense to an individual piece’s placement online, contact the journal and ask them if your situation would cause issues. Better to be safe than sorry!

  59. Okay, so I ended up posting the first fiveish chapters of my story up on Fictionpress. Then I took it down. It’s still there when you google it, but if you click it, it now says ‘story not found’. That would be fine right? I mean I didn’t post the ENTIRE thing and some people add like five chapters of their sequel in their books too, so it shouldn’t matter much. Should it?

  60. Hi Andy, your work should be fine to submit. Generally speaking, it’s not a deal breaker if you put up an excerpt of a longer work (novel, memoir, etc.) online. Taking the work down was the right thing to do, however, and as long as it is no longer available, there shouldn’t be a problem. If an agent ever asks about previous publications, it’s still best to be honest; let him/her know that a short excerpt had been placed online, but is no longer present or viewable.

  61. Hi, there. Great site. I don;t think this is redundant: I have a manuscript and still looking for an agent. Will having an excerpt–less than a full chapter and modified a bit–published on an online magazine, like Slate.com or similar, be a problem for getting the entire manuscript published? Would I need permission from the web site?

  62. Good question, Timmy! No, you shouldn’t have a problem, even if the excerpt is published online. Agents rarely have an issue with excerpts of longer works being publically visible, as they act like advertisements for your work as a whole. You can even put excerpts of an unpublished work on your author website (if you have one) to garner attention for your work as a whole!

  63. I just came by to view this blog. It seems to be really superb and I
    enjoyed reading it, thanks for the helpful post!

  64. Hi there. I’m skeptical about posting a comment, as this is a rather old post, but I am anyways.

    I was introduced to some sites for writers (Wattpad.com, Quotev.com) a while back (just over a year ago) and posted a story there (along with only ten chapters of the novel’s sequel). As soon as I realized posting online could hinder my chances of being published, I have since decided to take them down. Not only that, but the posted versions I put up are merely drafts (wretchedly unedited, terrible grammar, and so many spelling mishaps that it astounds me), and the edited/final version is going to be a little different. Mainly in tenses — the “original” was written in present-tense, but in my final copy I’ve shifted it to past-tense. Not only that, but a lot of the events will be switched, edited, and changed; along with some of the character’s looks/appearances…

    Considering this, would it still be classified the same story and be considered “previously published” by some agents and/or publishers? I simply want to know so that, when I’m finally finished with my manuscript and begin querying agents, I know what to classify my work. I’d be straight up and honest if it’s still considered previously published. I just want to know if that’s what it’d be classified as seeing as I intend on changing so much of it. It’s pretty much turning into a different story in many aspects; though, at heart, it has the same meaning and plot.

    One last question, though… If it is considered “previously published,” it won’t completely hinder all of my chances of becoming published by an actual publishing company in the future, correct? I just want to be sure so that I don’t put too much effort into a lost cause.

    Thanks for your time,
    Jessica

  65. Hi Jessica, great question! And don’t fret—this is one of our most popular blog posts, so we’re always here to answer your questions.

    Fortunately, this would not be considered “previously published,” since you’ve not only heavily revised the work, but switched the tense entirely. Taking the work down was good choice; one of the main issues editors have with work published online is being able to search for specific sentences on the Internet and finding them popping up on another site. Editors need fresh, original work, so anything they see as “already viewed” would not be deemed publishable. But, since your work has been changed so heavily, you should be in the clear. (If you haven’t already, changing the title as well would be a good idea.)

    Also, keep in mind that publically displaying excerpts of a novel does not make the work as a whole ineligible for publication. In fact, many agents find this to be a good form of advertisement, and it’s a great way to garner attention for your larger work.

    Still, as you mentioned, it’s best to be honest. IF an editor asks if the work has been published elsewhere, let him/her know that drafts of the work were posted online, but the work has since been heavily revised. Most editors won’t have a problem with this, especially considering how long ago the work was displayed and how much the structure has been altered.

    To answer your last question, it depends on the genre. For short prose (stories, poems, essays), if the work is considered previously published, you’re going to have a very difficult time finding anyone who will take it. It’s very important to not display short prose in any public venue, unless it’s an excerpt. Novels, however, can be self-published and sold, and still be picked up by an agent.

    Hope this helped!

  66. When I started writing, I joined every writing and critique groups I could find. I have now cancelled most of my memberships.Why? I now only belong to the local writing group,no more on line critiques.I submitted a short story to one such on line group. This group was powered by a point system. Beware of these…some people just can not be trusted to do the right thing when there is something to be gained. My little story got some excellent reviews and a few good points on spelling and punctuation, Hey… this was helpful…how could I have missed them? Then along came the guy that held the rating of big points…he posted that the story was a copy of another author..that there was no way my main character could have married the girl he did…that I didn’t explain how they met…that there was no way people could love each other that much…etc…

    When I investigated the story he said I plagiarized it was a love story, mine is a horror..the only similarity I could find was my main character had the same first name.So I wrote him off as a troll and ignored the review. I continued to push on trying to establish a career in writing…but things on the web sometime never go away. A couple of months had past and I was now querying for a new horror novel…almost a year and not a single bite. What was I doing wrong…was it really that bad? I was about to give up writing forever…I got up the nerve to do the unthinkable and break the rules. I asked a few of the agents “why”….It was explained to me that public image is one thing they look for before taking on a client and my first hit on a google search brought up a bad review. Well, there it was! That bad review in that little online site. I contacted the site admin.,had it removed and contacted all the search engines and did the same.I had always thought..what was submitted to web group was seen by members only….boy was I wrong…writers beware

  67. Cindy, that’s quite a story! “Beware” indeed; we tell our writers often not to post anything online without knowing the consequences, and this is a great example. Still, we’re glad you were able to remove the negative content. Not all writers are so lucky!

  68. I saw a comment about University literary magazines and the response was that a publication in one is considered previously published, but my quesiton is: Is it considered previously published if that university review does not hold any rights whatsoever or pay for the publication? My universities review is for a very small school (under 1000)

  69. Hi Nikolas, good question! We understand if the publication is small, but published is published. We’re not saying you still can’t submit it, but you would need to inform any journal to which you’re submitting that the work WAS published already. Of course, you can also let them know that no rights were taken, but chances are most journals won’t want something that has already appeared in print. There are some who take previously published work, but they’re few and far between.

  70. I have submitted the first few chapters of my novel on a website (erotic website) and they ensure that I do own the copywrite on everything. I stopped posting my writings on the website and announced I would no longer post due to personal reasons. I also sent a email to the website asking to delete my previous account. I do not have the full story on the website. I roughly only have 10% of it on that website. I am looking forward to hopefully making it into a novel and publishing it. I fear that I may have cheated myself out of the option to publish. I have see others that have posted their full stories on the website, then turned around and made a novel out of it. The website doesn’t seem to care what I do with it, but I am confused.

  71. Hi Mandy, since your novel was only partially posted online, the “published” section of it is only considered an excerpt. Rest assured, you can still submit your novel for publication. Depending on how well the novel was received on the previous site, you may or may not want to mention to the agent in question that the excerpt was published.

  72. Alright, thank you for the feedback that helps a bunch! But if they ask if I had a previous excerpt publication online, (as said earlier in an answer) I should be honest, right? My account is still active -sigh-, buy It will be taken down. I hope it isn’t traceable. The work I wish to publish is a different genre though, along with a new name. As for the reviews I have displeased emails that I have stopped the update hehe.
    Thank you for your answer and have a wonderful day!

  73. Exactly, Mandy. Be honest—if they ask, let them know that an excerpt was online, but it was taken down. Either way, it shouldn’t affect your acceptance chance! Unless there are any scathing reviews, which they may see if they end up searching for your excerpt. Best to have it taken down if there weren’t significantly positive reviews.

  74. I submitted a manuscript to an online contest and became a semi-finalist but did not win. I still hold all rights to my work and received no money for my contest entry. I have since removed the majority of my novel from this site, leaving only the introduction and first chapter. I am now considering querying literary agents but am unsure whether or not they would consider my novel for representation. With all the varied forms of “previously published work”, would this be included? Would I be wasting my time–and theirs–by submitting my novel to reputable agents?

  75. Sheila: No, it’s not a waste of time at all! It’s fine to have excerpts of a novel online if you’re querying literary agents. You just want to be sure that a Google search isn’t still picking up anything in beyond the first chapter or so when you do start the querying process. Good luck!

  76. I have a question. Would it be considered copyright if a previously published thing that was not written by me appeared in my book? For example, if my main character was reading Romeo and Juliet out loud.

  77. Athena:

    If it’s in the public domain, it’s generally OK as long as you give credit to the previously published source. If it’s not, you will most likely need to get permission. However, we’re not lawyers–so when in doubt, check with a lawyer.

    Good luck!
    Writer’s Relief Staff

  78. I apologize if someone has already asked about this, but I couldn’t find it when I skimmed. I have published every semester in my college literary magazine run by students. Now that I just graduated, I’m kinda kicking myself for it because, while trying to get my foot in the door, I realize I can’t submit any of those poems. And yet they “belong” to an amateur publication now. Is there a chance that some organizations will not recognize those literary magazines as previously published? Thanks! :]

  79. Hi Cheri,

    Unfortunately, that is considered previously published, and even if the smaller lit mag has a low circulation, it’s really not ethical to recirculate them. You’ll just have to write some new poems :).

  80. I realize that this is way after the fact, but thank you for a lot of incredibly useful information. I’ve found it best to query the magazine/contest I’m wanting to submit to beforehand about prev. published work. Some will take it and some won’t – but at least I know and can act accordingly.

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