I would like to inquire what the conditions for a manuscript being 'previously published' are. Specifically, I wrote a short anecdote about a fictional character as an answer to a question on a popular website regarding her precocious intelligence and an event that occurred in her high school days. I am quite vague in it, not even writing the name of the character, but the event is a significant point in the character's backstory.
Does having written this in any way affect my chances of having the book published? It is extremely short compared to the length of the novel (a few paragraphs) and gives no indication of the rest of the plot, but is probably one of its trademark characteristics, and I am worried that either someone may steal the idea (although it is marked as not for reproduction) or that publishers may reject it as it has garnered a large amount of views (20000 at the time of writing). I have put a tremendous amount of effort into that novel, and my friends, family and people I personally know in the literary business have found it to be a well-written piece.
Previously published specifically means the same work. In other words, a paragraph or two (or even ten) on a website is not a previously published novel.
If anything, the interest readers have shown in your work is a GOOD thing: that many page views would lead me to think your writing does not suck.
This applies to short stories, essays, blog posts and pretty much any other chunk you can dream up.
When I say I don't take on previously published work, or a publisher asks you to sign a publication contract warranting the work has not been previously published, it is understood to mean a book, with an ISBN, made available for sale.
So, if you print out the book (the ENTIRE book) on your trusty home printer, and give it to your beta readers: that is NOT previously published.
If you print up the entire book and give it to your mum for Mother's Day: NOT previously published.
Print it up on CreateSpae or any other self-publishing platform and have a few copies printed for your beta readers and your Mum for Mum's day: that is previously published. CreateSpace assigns an ISBN, and makes the work for sale on Amazon.
Print it up at a regular printer and send a few copies to your beta readers and your Mum: NOT previously published. The difference? No ISBN, no placement on Amazon.
With the explosion of places looking for writing, and the opportunities now available to writers to have their work seen, this kind of question crops up a lot.
What you want to watch for:
1. Does the work in question have an ISBN?
2. Is it registered at the US Copyright office as PUBLISHED?
3. Is it or was it available for sale?
You want all three answers to be NO.
And just one more word of warning: those copies you ran off your own printer, or bought from a webfeed press and gave to Mum and the beta readers: they can put those up for sale on Amazon, and really mess up what you think is NO to question 3. I've seen it happen.