I have a nearly-completed novel that I'd like to distribute to beta readers. They've all asked for a Kindle version, which I can do by generating a .mobi file which they can manually upload onto their Kindles.
I've heard horror stories about publishers declining a work because in their eyes it was published electronically. Can you explain what a publisher's definition of 'electronically published' is?
Though I'd be interested in that fuller explanation, alternatively, I would be happy for you to tell me I'm being way too paranoid and that something innocent like manually distributing Kindle-formatted files isn't going to be treated as a form of publishing.
Either answer would be greatly appreciated.
Generally "published" in book form means it has an ISBN number and was available for sale. Thus, sending a .mobi file to your beta readers is not published. You'd be smart to mark the file "draft version-not for sale, or distribution" just to be clear to the people getting the file.
My ONLY hesitation here is that Kindle is an Amazon device. You might want to read the terms of service for Kindle to make sure they don't claim you've licensed us of anything uploaded on the device. I'm not saying they do, I haven't read the TOS with this kind of question in mind, but you'd be smart to do so. My limited experience with contracts offered by companies owned by Amazon is you DO want to read the fine print.
And book publishers don't always see "previously published" as a problem. Lots of books have second, even third, lives in book publishing. Where you run in to the most problems with "previously published" are contests and submissions to anthologies.