My client group is discussing the in’s and out’s of putting
the first chapter (or more) of their work in progress online. Work that is put
online for a critique group such as our own ‘crit room’ or any restricted
access forum is not considered published, but any work that is put online and
is accessible by the general public IS considered published. Some of these
sites have a major number of followers, maybe even more than a printed version
would sell to.
Why would an author want to do this with an unpublished work
anyway? The usual justification is hoping an agent or editor would run across
it, like it, and contact them asking for more. This has happened, but it is
very rare. For the most part agents and editors have enough to wade through
without going online searching for more. A majority of agents and editors won’t
even go online searching when someone gives them links to material instead of
providing it in a proposal as requested, but that’s a different topic. I
believe the potential of ruling a work out by publishing it online outweighs
any potential on accidentally interesting an agent or editor in the work.
As to the weight any particular publisher would give to
material that has been published online, that varies from paying no attention
to it to having it rule the project out for them. It would probably depend on
how much of the work had been put up. For some publishers if any at all has
been put up they don’t much like it.
My own opinion is that I don’t like to put any work online
until it is contracted for publishing and even then after consulting the
publisher. Some would not want it to be done at all unless they do it
themselves and others have rules about how it can be done. I believe they feel
there is no point in courting a potential problem when they have plenty of
submissions by people who have not made their work public. Most if not all of
them who wouldn’t mind restrict it to a maximum of one chapter.
It can make a difference if a work is entered in contests. In
contests the judges are sent the contest material without the author’s name
attached. If the work has been published online WITH the author’s name attached
it can contaminate the judges pool for the work. Many contests will not accept
a work if that has happened.
How about blogs or social media? Publishers used to pay
little attention to them, but that isn’t the case any more. Audiences for these
now go up into the thousands and most publishers consider them a significant
marketing tool. The number one sales tool for a book is name identification or “buzz”
and having a strong online presence is a major way of doing that, hopefully beginning
long before there is a book to promote.
Let’s talk about nonfiction. It used to be that non-fiction books were much
easier to sell to a publisher than fiction. Not so much these days, and I
believe the reason for that is just what you are talking about, the amount of
material that is online for free. If someone pitches me a project and I know
all of their research was done online I know all of the material in their book
is available for free. It may still have value to a potential buyer since that
research has been done and all of the material assembled in a logical order . .
. or it may not. There is no telling which way a publisher would come down on
that question.
Is an author who has a regular blog now considered ‘published?’
Actually, yes, and the degree of the publishing credit would depend on the
number of regular followers. We can look at it like this, a blog with a couple
of hundred followers would be like having a writing credit of writing something
like a church newsletter. One of my clients has a twitter account with over
40,000 followers. That is the equivalent of being a regular columnist in a
small magazine.
The bottom line is that online publishing has changed or evolved
in the past few years and many aspects of it are looked upon in quite a
different manner. But then that’s the only constant in the publishing industry
. . . change.