Dear Miss Snark,
The university where I'm working on an MFA in creative writing has just decided that all theses and dissertations must now be electronic. I have dreams (probably delusional ones, I know) of getting my creative thesis published as a book. Several of the stories from the collection have been accepted by various literary magazines, which I suppose must help the book's marketability. Am I screwed, though, if the entire work, in more or less complete form, is available on the Internet as a downloadable PDF through the university's library system?
I do realize that it's easier to pass a poodle through the eye of a needle (sorry KY) than to get a collection of stories accepted for publication, and I know also that I would probably be looking at small or university presses. Still, I don't want to do anything that would make the odds of acceptance even lower.
My university says that it's possible to restrict access to the work so that it's available only to on-site computers and for interlibrary loan. Would that at all help my cause? And if so, for how long should I ask that the work be restricted in this manner?
You'd be surprised how easy it is to shove a poodle into small places when the need arises (sudden visits from the health department; arrival of Mr. Scrooge, the building super; good short story collections arriving in the slush pile).
Don't worry about this. Having your work in a library as an MFA thesis accessible only to library patrons isn't going to cut into the market for your book. In fact, should hordes of devoted fans read your work in pdf form I'm betting they'll want to actually buy a copy to carry around, underline, and read again and again.
Work on getting those stories out into the world. Don't assume you'll be "settling" for University presses or small publishers. There's a lot to be said for those guys and one of them is they'll publish new and interesting stuff. You sure as hell don't see the University of Nebraska publishing Nicole Ritchie.