It can be very tempting for writers to post short works on their author website and other social media platforms. But if you want that poem, essay, or short story to be published in a literary journal or magazine, be warned: Posting it online could kill your shot at publication!
Literary journals and agents generally reject work that has been posted online—they’re looking for fresh, new, unpublished content—and if your work is featured on your author website or blog, it’s considered previously published.
What is considered previously published writing?
In this digital world, “previously published writing” has an entirely new meaning compared to the days of print publishing. Today, if a poem, short story, or essay is posted anywhere online where the public can access it, it’s considered published. Which means it’s highly unlikely the piece will ever be picked up by a magazine or journal editor.
What if I want to publish a short work online anyway?
Again, it’s tempting to showcase your work on your author website, to introduce readers to your work and possibly get the attention of an editor or agent. But proceed with caution.
If you’re a novelist, creating a short excerpt of your book (here’s how) and posting it on your website can actually be a good way to generate interest—as long as you maintain the copyright if you’re going to post before the entire book is published. An even better way to create a buzz is to submit the excerpt for publication in literary mags!
You can also write poetry or short prose specifically tailored for your author website—but keep in mind that these pieces will be considered previously published. And you can post poems that have been already been published (once the rights are yours again). Many poets and short story writers are self-publishing collections of their work—which means it doesn’t matter if a story or poem has been posted online.
I want to feature some of my best work on my author website. What else can I do?
Nothing says “here’s an author worth reading” like having your poems, essays, or stories published in a reputable literary magazine. Highlight your credibility by providing links to websites that have published your work rather than posting the work itself.
Can’t I simply remove my online work and THEN submit it for publication in lit mags and journals?
If you plan to submit your writing elsewhere, don’t publish it online. Sure, you can take posted work down and then submit it for publication. But old Web pages are often archived, your work may have been copied somewhere else, and it may appear on a search engine—even after you’ve deleted it.
The moral: Online content never truly dies. If an editor happens upon your “unpublished” work online, it makes you look unprofessional and shady.
What about posting my work online for other writers to critique?
For authors who don’t have access to local writing groups, the Internet is a great way to share your work with other writers for critique. Just be very careful where you post. If, for instance, you post an essay to a small writing website with limited members for constructive criticism, or use a message board to post a poem for critique—this probably won’t deter some journal editors and literary agents. But there are also some who will consider the work previously published. Read submission guidelines carefully.
The publishing industry is struggling to keep up with the nuances of online publishing and copyright laws, and literary agents and editors are going to differ on what is considered previously published writing. Our advice? Until the rules are a little clearer, your best bet is to avoid posting complete short works on your author website. Why take a chance of killing your shot at publication?
Question: Have you ever posted work on your author website?