Monday, May 02, 2016

Previously published

*note, contest results will be posted tomorrow.

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.

Don't worry.

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. 


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

20,000 hits, a couple of paragraphs?
That woulda' been like getting asked to dance at the Freshman Hop.
I stood among the other flowers on the wall.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Beta readers selling copies? Have them flogged. Good information. George RR Martin puts chapters of his books out on his website somewhat regularly, and yet, Winds of Winter remains unpublished. Grrrrrr...

I need loads of coffee before anymore gibberish escapes me. Morning, Reef, it's lovely to see you all.

SiSi said...

I've heard before about beta readers selling an unpublished novel, and always wonder why they would do such a thing. Are they selling it as a novel they wrote? If so, then clearly they know this is a bad thing to do and I would think criminal charges can be filed. Or do they just sell it as an advanced copy by the original writer? Do they realize how much this can screw up the author's publishing hopes? Do they really make money by selling an advanced copy of an unpublished/unknown writer? (Assuming a well-known, previously published writer would likely have the book under contract.)

My whole post is one question after another, but this baffles me.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

That last paragraph of Janet's? (shudder)

Just another thing for us wee woodland critters to be quite clear about in our communication. And to have care in our choice of beta readers.

Opie-this is great news for you. Especially with the 20000 hits on those few paragraphs. Good luck in your next step!

Jason Magnason said...

So as long as I don't have an ISBN for my work I am still a debut author?

Brian Schwarz said...


To further confuse the issue, some self pub sites allow you to "publish" without assigning an ISBN to save the cash on getting one. That's right, so your work is available for sale but doesn't contain an ISBN. The trick there is the book is not made available in the Amazon store, but only on that self pub or print on demand site.

This too, by my estimation, is still considered "previously published" despite the lack of barcode.

Brian Schwarz said...

Jason, I believe you wouldn't be considered a debut in the above case I mention, if that's what you're referring to. :)

I am pretty sure that I'm not considered a debut either, after winning a "contest" by a print on demand press who then created my cover, assigned me an ISBN, and made some other unfulfilled promises. At the time, I didn't know the difference between traditional and self pubbing, so I assumed I'd see it in "bookstores" as they said. They didn't mention the bookstores were online and that anyone could do the same thing. I got some free advertising out of it all, but mostly that one is a live, learn, and hope to the Almighty that it doesn't come back to bite me later type situation.

Donnaeve said...

And soooo like many others here, this prompts questions for moi.

About a year or so ago, right after my book sold, I'd previously offered to participate in a "Food In Fiction" event on Goodreads. The idea was to talk about the food you used in your story, grab a paragraph or two where you might have written about it and allow the host/hostess of this event put it out for all to read.

I freaked out and withdrew from this event b/c of my contract talking about The Work not having been previously published.

The hosts were very kind and withdrew all instances of it, but now I'm thinking I over-reacted and it could have been some good early promo.

I can answer yes to Question 1 but no to 2 and 3 - in that DIXIE hadn't made it that far down the publishing pipeline.

So. Yeah. Not sure if I needed to pull out of the event(???) but I suppose in the long run I still felt better for having done so.

Morning ya'll....

Julie Weathers said...

Wow, congratulations on so many hits for the piece. That's great and should be reassuring when those dastardly doubts come creeping in.

"George RR Martin puts chapters of his books out on his website somewhat regularly, and yet, Winds of Winter remains unpublished."

Gabaldon posts excerpts of whatever she's working on also. Some readers love it as it tides them over until these works that take a while to be birthed arrive. Others refuse to read them saying they want every word to be fresh.

Either way, both have devoted fans, so there is no right way or wrong way in that regard.

I posted some excerpts of The Rain Crow along with accompanying history tidbits for the A-Z challenge and am having a bit of remorse about it. I've thought about deleting all the posts since the excerpts are all rough draft and I should have spent more time on the posts also. So, leave them up and take a chance someone realizes this isn't final product, take them down, or spend a lot of time finessing blog posts when I should be writing new material?

For now, I'm going with new material, while I ponder things. Either way, I don't consider it published.

A second point, off topic, if you want someone to beta read for you, don't have the manuscript printed and send them a book. I know there are some thoughts that in printed form you pick up more mistakes, but it's miserable for the beta reader to retype all the things he or she wants to reference with the page number and then type the comments. Been there, done that. Not doing it again.

"Watch this!" usually precedes, "Oh, hell!"

Sometimes it's a good to give those great ideas more than a passing thought before charging right on ahead.

Colin Smith said...

Brian: Available for sale on Amazon, even without an ISBN, is available for sale, which means it fails on Janet's 3rd point.

Those three questions really help simplify the issue, Janet. This means that I could, at least hypothetically, take one of my flash stories and develop it into a short or a novel, and it would at least be eligible for publication.

Thanks for this, Janet! :)

Jenny C said...

Well, I guess I'll be giving my mom flowers and a card this year!!!

Colin Smith said...

Donna: Based on what Janet said, I'd say, yes, in hindsight you missed an opportunity for some early publicity, but I understand your dilemma. First novel sold, you don't want to do anything to mess things up. I completely get your caution. Did you discuss this with your agent? But it's all moot now. Your novel's getting some very important attention, and there are a bunch of people eagerly awaiting October... :)

Julie: Reading your RAIN CROW excerpts was like scratching the surface of an iceberg. I truly felt there was so much more, and I am genuinely intrigued enough to read more. In other words, as novel publicity, I think your A-to-Z posts were a resounding success. Even if the samples were only early draft form. Don't take them down! Please? :)

Craig said...

CreateSpae, it sounds like the Duchess got the better of you this weekend.

You can give your stuff away for free as much as you want and not be considered published. If you got even a dollar from the deal you are done.

Be wary of some of the places you can post for free. Some of them have rules written in a way that are very close to being published. You are compensated by being allowed to post there.

I hope I am not repeating myself here. I thought I had already posted but don't see it. I admit that I am somewhat brain toasted today. Blueberry season is already kicking me around. Maybe it is because summer got here in April.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Almost any time I've put short stories on the blog (1000 word flash from Chuck Wendig's prompts, as a for instance), I've put a disclaimer prior to the story stating that it was essentially an unedited rough draft, written and slapped up there. One of those prompted stories is one I quite like and regret posting at this point, but many short story magazines I sub to don't want something that's been available for free on the Internet, and specify that in their guidelines. However, I do have a voice actor friend (he was a character voice in the recent Baldur's Gate expansion) who will occasionally record something on a lark and put on like, Sound Cloud, so I think I'll talk to him about using that one.) One of my "high hit" stories is a Shadowrun story, which I flat out state. But, well, they're owned by like, Topps, and not looking for people to submit to them, so really it's essentially a "fan story" based on a character I played.

My novels, I've never felt compelled to post bits of, not even the single line things that people do on Twitter sometimes. I think that at this state, for a lot of them, it would be like asking if people would like a sneak peak of my underwear. I'm not into that.

I have, however, considered writing a novel or novelette, pulp style and serialized, specifically for the blog, and then collecting it to sell at a pittance (since it's already free). If I ever commit to a self publishing project, that would probably be my test run.

Mosaics 2, the anthology I have a story in, is out now in both paperback and Kindle. My aunt emailed me to say she'd bought 2 copies and the family would pass them. Then she emailed me again to say my grandparents had her buy two more ^^

Colin Smith said...

Jennifer: "I have, however, considered writing a novel or novelette, pulp style and serialized, specifically for the blog, and then collecting it to sell at a pittance (since it's already free)." I've thought about this too, but I think I would only do it after I've got a few published novels under my belt and with the blessing of my agent. Maybe it's just my own insecurity, but I would prefer to have a "fan base" for something like this that I know would buy it.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

This is kind of a side point, but I wonder how often people steal ideas from unpublished authors based on short anecdotes available online, such as OP mentions. I just don't understand it. Writing a novel is tremendous work, and I think you have to love the craft to actually get your story into a publishable state. And if you love the craft that much, why would you steal an idea from someone else?

I just don't get it.

Ellipsis Flood said...

Am I right to assume that this will also screw with your debut status?

While I'm not planning to sell my trunk collection of stories, my boyfriend was enthusiastic about having them as printed bed lecture. I told him to triple check and ensure that the print would not get an ISBN, as this would kind of screw me over.

I do wonder, though, if there are print services that sneak ISBNs into the fine print.

PS: I really shouldn't let my comments lie around for hours before posting.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

This may also be my brain imagining things, but wasn't there a post a little while back about being a debut novelist v. debut anything-else? Like if you wrote textbooks or had essays published, it didn't mean you weren't a debut author when your first novel was released?

Janice L. Grinyer said...

Bethany, I remember when that topic was addressed by Janet, and since fiction and non-fiction are two different beasts, you can be a debut fiction writer with published non-fiction.

Please correct if I am wrong, anyone!

And I have four beta readers lined up- Janet's last comment made my stomach feel funny.

John Frain said...

Dear Mom,

Enjoy the read. Re-gifting is okay, but if you sell this to your book club members, we will no longer be having lunch on Fridays.

More sincerely than you know,
Your son

Charlotte Grubbs said...

OP should check the site's TOS to make sure s/he isn't signing away any rights to the material. Many of these sites geared towards posting unpublished works for feedback maintain the right to use some or all of an author's work for promotional purposes, and social media sites (including Facebook) have jumped on the bandwagon as well. Some sites, particularly discussion forums, stipulate in the TOS that they hold the copyright to posts made, not the author of those posts. Other sites claim that posting to them puts the author's work in the public domain, and that so long as third party makes no money off of the work, it can be appropriated and reused with no regard to the author's wishes.

I would not post any piece of my WIP online without triple-checking that I retain all rights to my work.

Brian Schwarz said...

Colin - as always, you've hit the nail on the head. I guess my point was just that at one point in time it may have been as simple as ISBN = no longer a debut and no ISBN = still a debut... But of course the self pub world has thrown a wrench in that simplification too. :)

Bethany - on idea theft, my personal mantra is this - I can write faster than anyone who is better, and better than anyone who is faster. Point being, if someone can take a snippet from one of my books and steal it for their own, I'd be surprised if they could write it faster than I could without writing something completely unworthy of consideration. Perhaps that's naive, but it at least helps me sleep at night. ;)

Colin Smith said...

Brian: Considering I'm better at hitting thumbs on the nail, I'll take that as a high compliment. ;)

Idea-stealing isn't something I've ever worried about. Should I? I have a lot of ideas out there on my blog. Is the fact they exist there on my blog with a timestamp enough to dissuade plagiarizers? You can't copyright ideas, so I would think I should be less concerned with someone stealing a basic "time travel paradox" idea, and more concerned with someone lifting an actual flash story and making it their own. Or should I? How often does this kind of thing really happen?

Charlotte Grubbs said...

Bethany - I think "idea stealing" happens much less often than paranoid authors think. For one thing, most authors I know have far more ideas for stories than they will ever have time to write, and certainly don't need anyone else's. For another, stealing an unpublished author's idea is like forging a painting you found at a garage sale; there's no guarantee it's any good, or worth more than the effort you yourself put into it.

I find that this attitude of "someone will steal my idea!" tends to go hand in hand with the notion held by some amatetur writers that all that matters in publishing is having a really cool concept, i.e. "This idea is a guaranteed bestseller! Why put in the hard work perfecting this MS when agents/editors will fall over themselves to do it for me?" But the truth is that ideas are a dime a dozen - it's the willingness to put in the hard work (and, of course, the writing) that counts.

I don't know of a single unpublished author who had their idea stolen and written in such a way that it was obvious from whence the story came. I DO know of authors who have had their published work ripped off and shamelessly copied. I think that's the real problem, because it dilutes the original author's work.

Lennon Faris said...

Thanks for the clarification and succinct list, Janet. 1-2-3, that's always helpful.

EM - maybe it was the mom and not the beta readers? I could actually imagine some parents thinking they are doing their baby a favor by secretly getting something published.

Brian - that is awesome confidence. My slowness is one of my most self-annoying traits, but so far I haven't found a way to change that. I've been editing a scene in my WIP for 2 weeks and I'm about half done.

OK, back to editing...

Panda in Chief said...

Please forgive any typos as I am on a bumpy shuttle ride home from the airport.

I used to worry about people stealing things from my blog, and maybe I still should. I do know of an instance of a painting by one of my very accomplished painter friends being copied (REALLY badly) and posted on the internet under the copier's name. My point is that no one can do your idea as well as you do, and if they can, well, they are probably doing their own ideas since they are already so accomplished.

Only once did I have a large number of beta readers, and I self published that picture books, so that pony has left the barn anyway. So I guess that the lesson from today's post is be careful, but not paranoid. Know your beta readers and give clear insteuctions about what they can do with it (read it) and what they can't (anything else).

I never post painting or cartoon images on line at high resolutions. We are in more danger from obscurity than we are ftom idea theft.
Have a nice week wveryone. It's good to be (almost) home.

Lydia D said...

Charlotte, I love love love how you put your point about garage sale paintings ("For another, stealing an unpublished author's idea is like forging a painting you found at a garage sale; there's no guarantee it's any good, or worth more than the effort you yourself put into it"). I run into a fair few amateur writers paranoid about their story ideas being stolen; I tend to not take such fretting very seriously.

Colin Smith said...

Charlotte/Lydia: But aren't we all special snowflakes having awesome pubishable ideas all the time? Aren't we?? :D

Point well-taken. There's having confidence in your ability, and then there's thinking higher of oneself than one ought. Just because someone might think an idea of mine is great enough to steal, doesn't mean it is.

BJ Muntain said...

In a Facebook group I belong to, someone asked about registering their copyright for their work before sending it to betas.

One fellow, very sanely, said that it wasn't necessary. The work is already copyrighted, the minute it's in a form that could be sent, and the chances of being plagiarized are slim to nil.

He got blasted by another fellow, who said he shouldn't be taking part in this conversation because he's obviously not taking it seriously.

I'm staying out of that one. When you get two paranoid people talking together, sane common sense has no chance.

Andrea said...

I sent a digital copy of my first manuscript to people who very kindly offered to be betareaders. Some of those were good friends or family, others I knew less well, but all of them I trusted. I think I had about six betas, and only two got back to me with useful comments. One never replied at all (too busy and then she probably forgot about it), another suddenly had to look after a seriously ill sister and obviously had other things on her mind, one moved back to her native Wales, one couldn't open the document on her kindle and then forgot about it... anyway... you get the idea.
I don't think any of them would put my manuscript up for sale on Amazon, but when I think about it, I'm still uncomfortable knowing that there are digital copies of my first novel out there over which I don't have any control. I did ask them not to share it with others, but you never know. It's unlikely, but not impossible.
I've shelved this novel with plans of completely rewriting it, so I wouldn't like the old version to pop up somewhere, if the new version ever finds a home with a publisher.

But I've learned my lesson. For my next novel I'm going to use fewer betas, and only those I'll be able to stay in touch with (like extended family - my sister in law has a teenage niece who'd be the intended audience and who seemed genuinely excited when her mum suggested she betaread my novel).
And I use the valuable insights from my alpha (early drafts) reader, who writes herself and is a good friend. Obviously I return the favour :-)

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I'm glad idea-stealing doesn't seem to be a big issue. Maybe there are some killed premises out there that could absolutely be stolen, but for the most part, premises sound pretty weird. "A vampire gets locked out of his house one night and was forced to stay out into the morning. Turns out, he's not a vampire after all and his family lied to him!" Or, "The mysterious highway robber who only steals crusty bread and horse oats is.... really a woman!"

I do sometimes wonder about those who beta-read runaway hits. If you had a first copy of Twilight or Harry Potter, wouldn't you want to share it? That's why it's good to really trust beta readers to never give out what you send them. For instance, the slightly similar circumstance that surrounded Go Set a Watchman being published.

John Frain said...

I'll never forget a Rolling Stone interview when Tom Petty gave an unforgettable answer during an interview about a new release.

RS: Which of the songs on this new release will be a hit?
TP: They're all hits in the studio.

Yessss! And every idea is a hit in our minds.

Timothy Lowe said...

Used to be a sealed MS in an envelope with a registered post date was sufficient for proof of copyright. I naively mailed a copy of a long-forgotten MS to my parents with earnest instructions not to open before I sent a few queries and ultimately let the thing rot.

I'm imagining that there are all sorts of electronic time/date stamps all over EVERYTHING now which makes it less likely that you can't prove something was originally yours. My last MS I emailed back and forth between CPUs (mainly so I could work in 2 different locales) but this latest I've been really enjoying using a google doc - any edit is made on all copies automatically and everything is time stamped and dated and recorded in the electronic weird-o-sphere.

Ooops - I'm just realizing that Google now owns my book!

Anonymous said...

It's not ideas that are valuable, it's the execution. In fact, following the link the other day to Bringing Up Baby, I read the movie description and thought, "You know, that sounds sort of dumb." But I LOVE that movie.

This 3-point list of what to consider regarding previously published is really interesting. I honestly can't imagine querying an agent with work that has been "shared" (published) in full on my blog (which I've done twice now and have absolutely NO regrets about) and asking whether they're interested in trying to sell it. If there isn't a writer blacklist, I expect they'd make one just for me. :)

Something you all might not know, if you haven't done this, is that if you put work up for sale on Amazon and you also have the entire thing on your blog, they will send you a polite email telling you that your work is available for free on another site. This is against their rules. I emailed back and said I hadn't authorized any such thing and could they tell me which blog. They replied that it was on (I rolled my eyes so hard). Just your little dose of Big Brother awareness for the day.

BJ Muntain said...

KD: Someone on Facebook had a similar problem with Amazon. This person posts chapters on her blog as they're written, and then compiles them all into a book to self-publish through Amazon. She does this regularly. The last time, though, Amazon replied that she was plagiarizing someone's blog, so they wouldn't publish it. Somehow, the matter cleared up - she sent an e-mail, never got an actual response, but was able to publish the book later.

It's nice that they're taking plagiarism seriously (especially because they get so many scammers using them to self-publish) but perhaps more complete communication is necessary.

Anonymous said...

BJ, it was sort of mind boggling that they have the technology to do that, considering how many blogs exist and that mine is a very tiny fish in that ocean. And yes, the entire exchange did seem very automated. Makes you wonder how people ever manage to pirate someone else's work and sell it on AMZ (which happens quite often, I guess). I suspect, as with all things business, their crawlers are more focused on competition and not so much on finding duplicates on their own site (ie, I'm dubious about any altruistic concern re plagiarism). I imagine that will change if it gets to be a big enough problem for their image and affects their bottom line.

BJ Muntain said...

KD: There are a number of 'plagiarism checkers' online now - basically search engines. I wouldn't doubt Amazon is using one of these or has one of their own.

Donnaeve said...

In Raleigh today - I've been killing two birds with one stone. Visit Mom, and get her to go with me to visit independent book stores. Her house is the half way point to a lot of them. So far, I've been to Quail Ridge, Flyleaf, The Regulator, and McIntyre's - which likely means zero to ya'll, but anywho, it's been fun.

Thanks Colin for that - you're exactly right - in that I freaked, but would rather err on the side of FREAK than SORRY. :)

***Did you ever think you could be right twice in one day?!?!? (i.e. Captain BS said you were right Be sure to tell your wife)

Julie Weathers said...

You know if something is good it's good it's good, even if you find it in a garage sale. Four Martin Johnson Heade paintings have been found in garage sales. One in Wisconsin sold for $29 and resold for $882,000.

There are lots of lines I read on Books and Writers and here that I would happily steal if I weren't born with a Catholic sense of guilt. Apparently between my fear of water and pronounced sense of guilt, I was a Catholic witch in a previous life.

Lawsy, no wonder I'm confused.

I know for a fact people will steal ideas, but only you can write your story. If you're worried about your ideas, don't share them and keep your peace of mind.

I beta for some very amazing writers and I'm eternally grateful they allow me to hang with them. Trust me, I read some of that stuff and want to swoon smooth away in sheer delight. It's a good thing I don't have room for a fainting couch.

I was visiting with one of the celestials earlier and he remarked about a letter Hemingway wrote after Fitzgerald died. In it he said, something to the effect of, "I wish we had worried less about whether what we wrote was good and whether we could write. It's just writing. It's just f***ing writing."

Stop worrying if someone will steal your ideas, or if what you write is good, or if you'll ever be published. Just sit your butt in the chair and write for pity sakes.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: What's more, I'm quite aware of Quail Ridge, though I'm not as familiar with the other indie bookstores. Nothing against them, I never have been one to get out much--even when we lived in Raleigh. :)

I'll cherish this moment until the WiR. I'm sure I'm wrong about something. This can't be for real. I should probably pack for Carkoon... ;)

Lennon Faris said...

"Just sit your butt in the chair and write for pity sakes."

Wise, wise words Julie. I might add, pee first and turn off the internet.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I wrote 9 words today. 9! If anyone wants to steal them, have at it. I will probably kill them tomorrow anyway. I think the A to Z thing drained me of creativity much like a vampire sucks blood from the vein. Now I am all grouchy.

BJ Muntain said...

EM: Chocolate can help that.

John Frain said...


Go back and read your final entry in the A to Z. That was you who wrote it. If you've got that inside you, there's plenty more. You just have to sit down and coax it out.

Tomorrow, write when inspiration strikes you, but make sure it strikes you by 9 a.m. (I'm combining plagiarizing with wisdom there, credit to Mr. Faulkner, I believe.)

Julie Weathers said...


Look at what you accomplished in April. What does that make you?

You have always written and you will write again.

Sit down in the morning before life attacks you and write. Set your timer and wrestle some words onto the page.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

If you wish two or three hard copies of something without worrying about losing your potential debut author status, how about a little perfect binding DIY? Just need to get the right cover.

If you don't have a book press (although they are easy enough to make; I made my own) a couple of strong rulers and bull clips can do in a pinch.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

E.M. take a break and sing, dance, paint, cook, love your family, pet your pet, feed your pet...sleep.
Then, you know what to do...yup. You're write.
Carry on.

N'wah W Attitude said...

I used createspace to print some hard copies of a much earlier draft of my current novel. It was never made public, and only three copies exist, all in the hands of family and friends.
As it stands, the novel is damn near unrecognisable and only getting more so.

Am I screwed in getting this thing published? Should I ignore it entirely and call it unpublished, or acknowledge it and stress the vast differences in the two?

Janet Reid said...

N'wah, you're probably ok.

N'wah W Attitude said...

A reply from the QOTKU herself! I'm positively starstruck.