Carolyn M. Walker

Old Blog of Carolyn M. Walker

Friday, May 15, 2015

Previously Published Work: What’s the Deal?

If you are like me, you see publications of your work in the near future. But publishing work that has been worked on for some time (enough that you might have shared it online as you've written it) might cause issues for you down the road when you're finally ready to publish. Often times, literary agents and journals will reject a piece of writing if it has been previously published. With the internet taking over in the writing world, this topic has suddenly become more relevant than we may realize. So naturally, you may have questions that deserve answers, like:

  • What is considered previously published work?
  • Why won't literary agents consider previously published work?
  • When CAN you successfully submit previously published work?

Defining Previously Published Work

Previously published work used to be a cut and dry term that simply referenced any type of written work that you may have innocently shared for that purpose alone. In the past if your work, i.e. poetry, short stories, long stories or even essays appeared in a journal, anthology, newsletter, newspaper, magazine, book, textbook, or any other publication---it was considered published. Period. Nowadays, it's a little more complicated.

Today, if your work appeared just about anywhere, including online in a blog, digital lit journal, social media or otherwise, literary journals and editors don't want it. Why? Because they want to make sure that their work is new, engaging, fresh and unique. If it's been out there already (no matter how innocent the sharing was) it's out of the question. They also want to steer clear of any rights violations or issues as well that can now arise with previously published work. So if I post on a blog, share a snippet on an online journal, or even cough up a brilliant comment on social media, THAT'S considered previously published material?

You bet. 

To many that is considered previously published work.

But what about private forums that required a secured login? Surely those can't be pinned as previously published work, right? Here, you've got some leg room. If you unveil an amazing piece of work on a forum or web board, most editors and literary agents will consider it for publication because those areas of the internet are private and intended for community use and feedback. Still, web-crawlers and caches can still have it pop up online and you may want to remove so that it doesn't cause conflict later on.

Quite a hairy dilemma right? I will admit I have done my fair share of online posting and work sharing. I've signed up for forums and support boards such as "Writer's Cafe" and "We-Book" and I never thought twice about it, until I tried to publish a short piece and was told it was previously online, thus it's "integrity" had been compromised!

Larger Writing Projects

Now, if you are working on a much larger scale future publication such as an anthology, memoir or full length novel (like me), then perhaps you can get away with posting just an excerpt. In most cases, that is considered acceptable but within reason. Publishing full chapters or serializing your story in continued posts is a big no-no. You may as well upload the entire book and label it:"free e-book for all and no I don't plan on publishing this same thing later on down the road for actual money, by the way."

A word to the wise. Know your limitations. Literary agents seek out potential talent for a living. They have a keen eye for the business and they are virtually marketing experts when ti comes to representation and lucrative investment in a new author. If they comb the net and find you (and 9 out of 10 times they will), they will see it as unappealing and even irresponsible. Let's not forget previously published work that is completely intentional such as self-publishing may put off an agent because you have been receiving income on the work already, without their help.

Technology is still light years ahead of the publishing industry in the way of trends, laws and rights. There is no doubt that these things are rapidly changing as we speak. As a general rule, it is best to remain on the side of caution and refrain from blasting the internet with your prized literary works of art. Take the proper steps and go the safe route. Seek an agent BEFORE you post work and save yourself the headache of previously published work issues.


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