Dear Miss Snark,
Would it be a waste of time to query a novel that hasbeen posted on the Internet in rough draft form? MyMS has been through almost three years of revision since I first posted it on the Web, but I have to admit the main arc of the story and my major characters have remained pretty much the same.
When I first started the thing, I was just writing for fun and didn't give it much thought. I guess I also figured posting a rough draft chapter by chapter was not the same as presenting a complete and polished novel to the world. But I've read a lot lately that makes me think I've used up my "first publication rights" on this dinky website - and I feel like an absolute fool.
Have I doomed my novel for all time? Have I just wasted three years of my life (and several hours of my writing groups' time) on something no respectable publisher is going to want to touch? Please weigh in, Miss Snark. If you saw something in a query letter about a work being posted online, would you immediately pass?
(The rough draft has been taken down, by the way. Even on archive.org I can only find its first chapter. But I realize my work has still been "out there" - and under some people's definitions, been published.)
Well, let's start with the fact that I've sold novels that were first partially published on e-zines, or websites. So, clearly, my first reaction isn't pass.
And you've got some confusion in terms here. There's really no such thing as "first publication rights" at least in books. There are first serial rights which are rights to publish something in abbreviated form before the book is published (think of book excerpts in Vogue for example).
There are editions of books...the same content but in a different form (hardcover, trade paperback, mass market, large print are all edition forms)
What you might be thinking of is when people publish something on their own and then want to sell the rights to a big publisher. That's a second edition of a work. I don't touch those, nor do most publishers unless the first edition sold a lot. (There are quite a few posts and comments about this buried in the Snarkives).
Bottom line: you're ok. Query on.