4.23.2006

Novels on the web

I've had several novels published on the Internet and would like to pitch them to agents. Would they be reluctant to take them on because they have been published on the Internet?

Your subject line in this email said "ebook rights". We need to be clear here: publishing on the internet is NOT publishing an e-book. Don't get all hot under the collar till I explain.

E-books are a specific subsidiary right of your "publishing rights bundle". E-books are downloaded to your ebook reader, or some other form of like your blackberry. Putting something up on the internet is NOT the same as having an ebook. You know this cause you know that Miss Snark's blog is not an ebook.

What you're asking is if you "publish" your novel to a website will agents still be interested and have you surrendered any of your rights. Answer: maybe and maybe.

Agents are interested in quality writing. If Stephen King sends 500 words to the Miss Snark Writing Contest, I can guarantee you people will be interested in publishing it despite that first appearance.

On the other hand Random House isn't knocking on Miss Snark's door begging her for world rights for her pearls of wisdom (fools! fools!).

Quality, quality, it's all about quality.

If an agent finds your work on the web and offers you representation, and sells the work, the fact that it's been published on the web does have an affect on which rights can be sold. I always forget which ones (it's in the audio bunch I think) but that's what contract review specialists are for.

Bottom line: when you query an agent, don't say the work has been published because it hasn't in the sense that agents use the word "publish". Do tell her/him it's been made available on the web.

11 comments:

spaulson said...

I was told by a published author that if you put a novel up on the Internet and it's available to the public (i.e., no password required to read it), you have used your first publication rights and editors won't want to buy it. (Yes, I'm aware this doesn't make it an e-book.) Am I a nitwit?

Snarkling In Dixie said...

How about posting a chapter to a critique forum like Absolute Write? Would that have to be disclosed? Should a writer delete the post once he/she has delved into revisions, perhaps prompted by the critique?

I have a new WIP and would like the feedback but wonder if the "cons" outweigh the "pros".

Jerry said...

There is a pretty easy-to-follow (non-lawyerly) explanation of the different rights you can sell and how they overlap here: Rights: What They Mean and Why They're Important

(Please ignore the dozens of obnoxious ads.)

An excerpt:

One word of advice: save First Electronic Rights for last. Because of the universality of the Internet, if your piece appears there first, many publications will not consider purchasing other rights to the piece.

From the people I've talked to, there's no hard-and-fast rule about what constitutes "publishing" on the Internet, but most agree that an excerpt is all right, but putting the whole thing up is potentially damaging to future marketability.

Interestingly, Baen's Universe is instituting a process for their upcoming eZine in which merely submitting your work could be interpreted as electronic publication. It requires John Q. Public to register to access the stories, though, so maybe that makes it OK. Still, it makes me a kite nervous.

Anonymous said...

What if this person misworded him/herself? If you have several books published through an e-book publisher, how do you incorporate that into your query letter?

John Joseph Adams said...

Some publishers might trot out that "you used up first publication rights" line, but many others won't care, especially if you can show some good readership numbers for the website on which your novel appeared (even if it's your own).

I can think of three novels off the top of my head that were published online first (on a personal website or blog), then went on to secure professional publication. (1) Old Man's War by John Scalzi (sold to Tor); (2) Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest (also sold to Tor); and (3) Monster Island by David Wellington (sold to Avalon/Thunder's Mouth Press).

Anonymous said...

might it not also help to take those novels off the internet now? you might even make some revisions, if you think they're merited. you could then honestly tell an editor, "they were (briefly?) available online but in a different form." at that point the online exposure might sound almost irrelevant.

Kendall said...

From what I've read (free advice: worth what ya pay), posting a few chapters to critique fora do not matter. Well-known, well-selling authors have posted a few chapters for free, both before and after a book's been published. If that mattered, then their publishers would get them to pull the chapters.

My impression is that making the work available in toto is something else entirely.

But if you post the entire work, one chapter at a time, to a critique site??? Good question....

Barbjn said...

"On the other hand Random House isn't knocking on Miss Snark's door begging her for world rights for her pearls of wisdom (fools! fools!)."

That is because they eagerly await the novel you should be writing--the one about the gin chugging, poodle packing Mama with the red pen and blue fantasies, who kicks ass in the literary world.

Man, it would be such a great read.

Cheryl Mills said...

Oh, I hope Stephen King plays in the next Miss Snark game. Koontz, too.

December Quinn said...

If you have several books published through an e-book publisher, how do you incorporate that into your query letter?


Same as you would any other publication. "I have X titles with X company."

Dwight The Troubled Teen said...

Repeat after me, folks:

"This electronic work is protected by a Creative Commons non-commercial, full attribution, non-distribution license."

Think provide a hyperlink to www.creativecommons.org

Read it. Learn it. Live it.