Read the fine print

Dear Miss Snark,

I have a tiny question about what constitutes publication on the web. My university is sponsoring a year-long writing project in which they put a different work on their website each day. They recently featured a short-short of mine. I would now like to submit it to literary journals, but I don't know if that's possible. Will this hinder my getting it published in print, or is it a plus and something I should mention in my cover letter? On the bottom of the site, it states, "all works copyright the individual artist."

Most BOOK publishers fully expect you to have published short stories before you wrangle them into a corral for publication. It's not a problem at all. If you look in the front matter of most collections you'll see something akin to "Miss Snark's Fiery Coiffure" first appeared in Hair Restoration for Dummies (March 2006).

Where you need to read the fine print carefully is literary magazines. Some of those guys don't want anything that's been printed or published online previously. They will tell you that in a pretty straightforward way in the submission guidelines. They aren't trying to confuse you or trip you up so they'll be pretty clear.

And remember, you always own the copyright. Always. When you publish your work you give the publisher a license. The publisher doesn't own it. They control the use of it for a period of time, but it's yours unless you assign it or otherwise sell it. The terms of your contract say "license" even though we use the word "sell". Again, look in the front matter of a book. The copyright is almost always the author, or the author's corporation (Michael Connelly's copyright page is particularly interesting).

This is NOT the same in the music industry so when you start looking around for info on this, make sure you're you're not reading music copyright info.


otto said...

As Miss Snark emphatically states, read the submission guidelines on each individual lit journal website or as otherwise presented. With the new technology of sites and weblogs, most journals have by now made their preferences clear. Some even attach a circulation restriction, i.e., "with no more than 200 (etc.) distribution," etc.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, since your story appeared online for only one day as part of a University writing project, it might be worthwhile to phone up the editorial offices of the lit magazines and just ask them. Or, try a quick explaination in the cover letter: "though your guidelines say no previous online publications (or first rights only), this story appeared online for only one day as part of ... blah blah blah. If that is a problem, please accept my apologies blah blah.

If it can still be accessed online in archives, forget what I said.

Don said...

What's so interesting about Michael Connelly's copyright pages? I looked at a couple at amazon.com and didn't see anything that I've not seen elsewhere (except for the one with the print-on-demand notice).

Miss Snark said...

Try this one

The spacing is weird on this; it's all one line of course

Don said...

I've seen the stripped book notice before on someone else's books. Over 20 years ago in fact, as I remember seeing it in a library book while I was in high school (or was that even junior high?). I've always loved copyright pages for some reason (I think part of it is sometimes there's a little hidden bonus. For example, Penguin Paperbacks usually identify the text typeface on that page (actually, that's true of nearly any Viking imprint, I think). And, for anthologies the copyright page sometimes spills into an appendix at the end of the book.