Thinking of posting your poem on your Facebook page? Are you serializing your short stories on your blog? Reposting an already published essay on your official author website?
Before you post anything else, you must follow some basic rules (and avoid certain pitfalls) in order to avoid getting yourself into hot water down the line.
Most Common Mistakes
Mistake #1: Posting unpublished work that’s fit for literary journals. We’ve written again and again about the issues surrounding previously published writing—warning authors that most literary magazine editors will automatically reject work that has been published anywhere online. If you plan to submit a short piece to a literary journal, err on the side of caution and don’t publish it online first.
Mistake #2: Poor formatting. These days, people are reading more and more online. We’re getting comfortable spending long hours at the computer. But if you post your story in light gray font on a dark gray background, potential readers will take one glance at your writing and look away.
Mistake #3: Jamming all excerpts and writing samples on one page. If your writing samples page is starting to get too long, break it up and spread it out over multiple pages.
Four Strategies To Make Your Online Writing Shine
If you want to have a reputation for being a professional writer, you must exhibit your writing online. The days of “optional” author websites are over. Here is your to-do list for publishing your writing on the Web:
1. Maintain an author website so that you have a central hub for your writing. Without a centralized, official author site, your writing will have no online storefront, which means potential readers will be scattered and distracted. Learn more about Web Design Relief for author website design.
2. Link to other websites that have published your work. When you link to a reputable website that has published your writing, your authority goes up a notch. So rather than posting your work on your site, consider directing your readers (via the “open in a new window” technique) to the fancy-pants publishers who originally posted a work. When they read your published work in the context of its original publication, the effect can be powerful.
3. Post excerpts or pieces from already published work directly on your own site. If a work appeared in print and you can’t link to a place where readers can view it online, then go ahead and post the work on your own webpage. Want to increase your ROI (return on investment)? Put some social share buttons at the top of the excerpt so that visitors can Like and Share with friends.
4. Post “the right amount” of material. This is going to be different for every author. If you’re a book author who is looking for an agent, there is no reason to post your entire book online (unless you have launched a highly successful and intense social media campaign for a self-published book). In fact, most literary agents don’t want to see you posting your whole book online. You can include an invitation for agents to query you for more information about the project. The amount you post should be in keeping with your goals.
For short stories, poems, and essays, know when to stop. Featuring a handful of your best works (with full-length excerpts) is enough. Overkill can bore readers and can work against you (in terms of supply and demand).
QUESTION: Have you ever posted your writing online?
Psssst! Stay tuned for next week when we’ll teach you how to MAXIMIZE the reach of your online publications!
Oh wow, I didn’t know any of this. I didn’t realize putting my short stories up online would have such big consequences. I’ll have to think more about what I post in the future.
I have post poems online and my readers seem to like it. So even if it means i won’t get them published in a lit mag, it’s worth the trade off to me. but i do sumbit some poems to lit mags in order to have an “official” bio.
I remember doing a few of these mistakes in the past; Shortly after making them, I found it wasn’t the smartest idea. I ended up having one of my short stories stolen, and the guy who stole the story, published it in a book at the very same POD publisher I published with. My story wasn’t copywritten, so I couldn’t take him to court. Live and learn.
I aleady knew most of the tips and warnings in the article, but I try to keep up with publishers and their wants and needs. This is excellent advice to all writer’s and published authors as well. Thank you for this much needed article for all writer’s who blog.
I write on Hub Pages, mostly informative articles and some small amount of poetry.
None of that content is anything I would consider submitting as a book.
If I do decide, later on, to self-publish anything, I do not have a rule against myself about ‘previously published elsewhere,’ so that is within my control as well.
I might look into e-books when and if I decide to write a book, but again, all of that content would be new.
Questions on E.O.’s comment, I thought that once you wrote something, and put it on paper or blog form, your work was/is automatically protected. What if E.O. spoke with the publisher? Shouldn’t they retracted the story, fine the person who stole it, and give E.O. credit/payment?
Read this from Sally Stuart’s “Guide to Getting Published,” Published by Waterbrook Press, 2003— “The first thing you need to know is that everything you write has copyright protection from the time it reaches a tangible form (such as being typed or entered in your computer). This protection is automatic—you do not have to register the copyright. Note that registering a copyright is what most people consider the appropriate protection, but the automatic protection is just as viable. This copyright protection gives you control over how and when your material can be used.”
Copyright(not ‘write’) is automatic. If you have any early drafts or can show you posted this story before this jerk ‘published’ it, you can fight back. Don’t let him get away with this.
I use each novel’s cover page to post an excerpt from that novel. For people who access the site from time to time I change the excerpts once in a while. Before you do the same thing, make sure your publisher won’t object.
If I’m living in the world of “indie” authors (self-published independent writers) I’m not worried about anyone else’s rights with my work. And if ever I am able to be recognized by a publisher or literary agent, I would expect to turn out new writing for them.
And I agree, anything posted on your own website is copyrighted immediately. The web host that I use has the printed into the bottom of every page. My name, copyright, year published.
But what about snippets of unpublished work for novels – a chapter or two? I’ve heard a lot of agents mentioning not to do excerpts online at least until the novel’s been sold.
Rin, Our feeling is that excerpts from unpublished novels can be quite helpful. We haven’t heard any agents saying otherwise on our end.
Thanks for this. I have been tormented by this issue. My blogs are now neglected as I regret publishing so much material in them. Even though they were first drafts, but then that’s not your best foot forward is it? I have had lots of stories accepted by zines and anthologies so have outgrown my blogging. I need a whole new website where I can put in buttons for stories and drive traffic to their sites.
For Eo – Just wanted to second was Margaret said. Copyright is automatic and resides with the person who created the work. You don’t have to register it anywhere. You do need to be able to show that you created the work (old drafts? Maybe having it up on your site before this guy stole it).
I hadn’t thought of using online excerpts to attract an agent. Useful hint.
I have a totally different take on this topic — first of all, websites are works in progress, not museums where everything is frozen in cyberspace forever. I have deleted stuff as it became irrelevant; conversely, I have taken the opportunity to update posts or excerpts from my back pages (so to speak).
Websites can be great forums for articles, essays or other writing that didn’t get to see the light of day, or didn’t get a fair shake. I also use my site to give other people an outlet, especially if they can’t get a publisher behind it — that’s always useful, and besides, in the event that you did get a deal, you’d probably end up reworking the material, anyhow.
I can’t see too many writers with integrity wanting to recycle their website between the covers of a book (or ebook), and calling it a day. Who’d want to buy it? If you put a different twist on some old material, that’s an entirely different matter, but one that definitely motivates more people to buy.
Novelty and newness are important weapons to winning over the punter’s attention, which is why websites come in handy for just that purpose — as well as the instant feedback that you can get, which may force you to rethink previous assumptions that went into the original writing…at any rate, I agree, less is definitely more!
I’ve never posted any of my fiction on-line, except for the first chapters of each of my novels (they’re on my website). I do post essays and ruminations, since I have no plans to ‘publish’ them anywhere else.
Thanks for the second, Rhoda! Many new writers are unaware of this. Get the word out!
If you have a website then regular updates are essential otherwise the site remains inactive. The link building options won’t be effective with other networking sites if the website is updated once a year. Some amount of content is needed to keep the website alive and buzzing. It depends on the author to decide what he/she would like presented on the site and which should be sent to online/print magazines for publication.
Nayanna, Great point! Updating your site regularly with new content is important to search engines. We recommend blogging. Not only does it keep the site fresh for Google, but it creates an interactive and lively experience for visitors too.
E.O. So sorry to hear about your experience. Your work is copyrighted the moment you set it down.
Learn more about copyright law here:
Here is an excerpt from that article:
“Anyone who creates an original creative work may claim copyright. However—and this is unclear for many writers—you do not have to do anything to secure a copyright for your work. Once the words you are reading are down on paper or saved to your hard drive (fixed in a tangible form of expression), they are automatically protected by copyright and immediately become the property of the author. What you write today will be protected for the length of your life, plus at least 70 years.
So why would a writer formally copyright his or her projects if it’s not necessary? By filing for copyright protection, you would be entitled to legal fees in the event that you were sued regarding the work but won the case.”
A few further notes about copyright–it differs from country to country. When you’re looking at links with information, be sure you know which country the information is for. Also, while copyright may exist, proving it legally can be an entirely different matter.
I shudder when I hear authors say they’ve burned their first draft. Anyone can date stamp their notes but track-able revisions of a work while it was in progress might help to back up a claim. And if your books become best sellers your notebook might become a collector’s item.
Another way to protect copyright is to snail mail a copy of the paper draft to yourself; you can even put your address on the reverse side of the envelope with the stamps on the seal (to prove the envelope was never opened after you mailed it). Then keep it in your files as another “proof of copyright.” This was once recommended in a writer’s magazine.
Paula, Thanks for the comment! Although we’re not lawyers, the research that we’ve done indicates that “mailing the manuscript to yourself” is something of an urban legend. Please see the link to the article that we posted earlier for details. Mailing a copy of a manuscript to yourself does not necessarily provide legal protection.
I email to myself and have two files: ongoing edit and finished work so that I have access on any PC anywhere in the world. However, word of advice: a new date is esencial each time you edit. I keep a back-up of my original work is on that’s on the hard drive. Should you need evidence you can make a copy of your backup files on a USB and send it in the post. I have enjoyed reading all the posts with enthusiasm to learn, Thank you.
I post flash fiction on my new blog, but never any excerpts from my WIP / novel. I lost my master’s thesis due to someone plagiarizing my work from articles and presentations on my website and conference presentations. I am now somewhat paranoid and copyright everything.
Okay. I did something extremely stupid. I posted VERY LITTLE of my work online. And I want it published. OH GOOD LORD.
It’s a novel and I posted not even half a chapter online. Any chances that I will be published?
You should be fine, Ranny, don’t fret! Posting an excerpt of a larger work does not make it ineligible for publication. It’s when you post a shorter work—poems, short stories, personal essays—online that you have to worry. Posting an excerpt, however, is good publicity, and generates attention for your work as a whole.
On the other hand, posting that excerpt online means that you cannot submit it to literary journals as a short story, so avoid doing so. Choose another section of your book and send it out to journals as a short story to not only garner attention, but gain publication credits to impress agents as well!
Thank you for this informative post. I have a question about #3. If I can’t easily post direct links to my articles, and, as you suggest,” Post excerpts or pieces from already published work directly on your own site. If a work appeared in print and you can’t link to a place where readers can view it online, then go ahead and post the work on your own webpage.”
Is there a way to post a copy of the articles directly onto my site, rather than posting a link to the publication? I’m not sure of the mechanics of this. Or do you mean just post my writing from my own files? That would seem to defeat the purpose of showing “clips.”
Maria, If you are unable to post direct links to your articles, much like print publications, you can post the article directly on your website. Or you can post an excerpt, if you don’t want to give it all away. It’s up to your discretion. Just be sure to add a note saying where the article originally appeared, and it’s specific volume/edition/etc.
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I get that your writing is protected with a copyright once you post it on your Website (say an essay from a book in progress). But how do you prevent someone from copy/pasting your writing for their own use without your permission? Is there a way to post your writing so the copy/paste function is disabled or will not work?
I have learned some good stuff here. Definitely bookmarking for revisiting.
Very informative site.
I have never posted my work poems (100+ or so ) except a couple on Facebook. A writer asked me if they could use a poem of mine on a CD insert, and I’m not sure if I should. Can I give them the right to post it there and no where else? How and where can I post my work, not on a shared blog like Facebook. I want a place I can point people to where they can read my stuff if it picks their fancy and perhaps a place where they can leave a comment. ?
This article on what is considered previously published writing may be helpful: https://writersrelief.com/blog/2013/11/what-is-considered-previously-published-writing/
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