How much can you publish before you're published

A Snarkling writes:

I've had a large part of a first version of my First Sucky Attempt at Novel Writing online because I didn't know better back in 2002. I've taken it down long ago, and I have to rewrite the sucker, but I still wonder if it counts as prepublished. The novel (Hist Fic saga) will probably clock in at 150K, and I had 95K up.... I still have most of the characters, the major plotline, though with some changes, and an entire subplot intact. I like the story, despite its shortcomings, and I will try to kick it into shape. But I'm also going to be honest about having had most of it online. I'd like to know if I better post it at my blog and have some copies made via Lulu for my friends, or if I still stand a chance to find an agent/publisher for it. BTW, I'm working on other projects besides, and those have never been online except for a few snippets.

prepublished? I'm not sure what that means. Everything including Miss Snark's hand written directions to Mr Clooney's Bel Aire home are "prepublished".

If you mean does it count as published, the answer is no.

Two standards to use:
1. does it have an ISBN number? If the answer is no, it's still just Xerox copies off the machine.

2. Did anyone enter into a contract with you for publication rights for all or pieces of it? If the answer is no, you're good.

Putting it on your blog isn't publication. Putting it on my blog isn't publication. Putting it on the Random House web site is hacking, a felony, and probably going to get you some unwelcome attention from the boys in blue, but it's still not publication.

I'm not sure what Lulu is but those two standards should still be applicable.



Christine said...

www.lulu.com You can upload your work, design a cover, and sell your book for whatever you choose. Your royalties are the difference between your sale price and the price of printing.{shrug) It has it's place, I suppose.Niche books, books published quickly for charity purposes. It's free, but you can purchase an ISBN for $30 if you want.

Anonymous said...

This post raises a concern I have had. 3/4 of my novel is posted on an online archive. I have asked the archivist numerous times to remove it. He claims when I posted I granted him an irrevocable license to show it. The archive guidelines say I can offer him another story in exchange for it, which I have, but so far he has ignored this.

The novel has changed drastically--character names, and in some cases, careers, are different, huge chunks of the narrative are different. But the basic novel is still there. My main concern is that in the archived version one of the minor characters was based on and shares a name with a famous person. If I ever get published and the story is still on the archive (the character is no longer based on this person), and if someone puts two and two together, which is possible, will I be in a heap of trouble? I have read up on the laws about this and learned that a person can portray a celebrity in fiction so long as they say the work is not portraying the celebrity as himself, but as a character. Still, this worries me. Have you ever known this to happen to anyone? Does the archivist have a right to my story even after I have followed his guidelines to have it removed? Would this hurt my chances of publication?

Bernita said...

Related to this, is the question of how an agent would view a writer who mentioned publishing credits that are old.
I suspect an agent would yawn and think "hobby writer," and that it would be better all around to leave them out.
Miss Snark, what is your take on this?

Miss Snark said...

Anon, I wish I could offer you words of wisdom and specific courses of action but I can't. You're going to need legal advice on this. It's a very specific question and a lawyer is going to need to see the contract you signed with this online archivist.

If you can't afford a lawyer, look for the website for Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. Lawyers volunteer to help artists with all sorts of snafus. You might also check with the National Writers Union. They are pitbulls for writers' rights.

I'm sorry I can't help but this is way beyond the scope of this blog.

Miss Snark said...

Bernita, Donna Tartt took ten years to write her second novel. Her publishing credentials were old by that standard, but she is a wonderful writer and thus no one was turning up their nose to buy her work.

If the credential is a small magazine that pays in copies rather than money, it's going to have to be recent. If it's The New Yorker, less recent. If you wrote The Book of Ruth (part of the best selling book of all time) I have a contract for your memoir, right here, call me.

Bernita said...

You are a continuing delight.
No, it was real money - but not the New Yorker, alas.
Thank you.

Gabriele C. said...

Thank you. I had some concerns about this because on a writer's site I was told no publisher would be interested to buy a book that everyone and his uncle could read - or have read at some point - for free on the net, and that I probably had lost First Publication Rights by putting it up (heck, when I did it, I had no intentions to become a professional writer, that idea I got later, lol).

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for your advice on getting a lawyer. No contract was ever signed. I think I was supposed to understand that by posting to this archive I was "signing" a virtual contract. I'm definitely going to seek the help of the groups you suggested.

Margaret said...

Dear Miss Snark,

I really enjoy your blog and find most of what you offer illuminating. However, on this question, I have to disagree. And just so I didn't get lambasted for that, I spent probably too much time researching but here's some results:

1. This is the definition of "published" under the United States copyright law:

"'Publication'" is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display, constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication."

From: http://www.ivanhoffman.com/first.html

Here are some publisher guidelines that specify works previously published in any form are not considered.

The Georgia Review:

The Barcelona Review:

Intelligent Enterprise:

The Poisoned Pen Press:

Here's an article explaining the logic behind it:

This may be more of an issue for non-fiction articles and short stories, but it is an issue. There are many other magazine guidelines that I have seen with similar language, but tracking them down right now is beyond me apparently and I think this is enough of a sample to encourage people to think twice.

Additionally, my friends who have published novels often mention the negotiation over when and how much they can post on their blogs as marketing for books just coming out. If nothing else, that's a sign that publishers, including Signet, Tor and Bantam Spectra, do consider this a real issue.


Miss Snark said...

Well Margaret, this falls into the "learn something new everyday" category. I've not ever had an issue with material being considered published if it was online...but that may be because none of the editors thought about it yet. They will, I'm sure.

Thanks for looking into this. You've provided useful info to me and the Snakrlings!

Margaret said...

Yr welcome. And you just proved yet again why I hang out here when I can. Thanks for being willing to adapt and change when giving cause :).


whoisbenji said...

This information on the published/not debate is really helpful -- I've heard both answers and not yet been able to figure out anything other than "err on the side of caution".