First things first, I think blogs are awesome (I’m not sure what it would say about me if I didn’t think so with, you know, me writing this in a blog). Sure there are inane blogs out there, and they are the subject of some ridicule, but there are also hundreds of great blogs out there. I fully support anyone interested in keeping up a blog–especially if they have something interesting to say.
But that leads me to today’s post: Novel Blogs.
Writers of all kinds keep blogs. They can be portfolios for ghostwriters, writing tips (like this one), updates on publicity tours, or any number of other things. One popular type of blog for some writers is to set up a blog for their work in progress (WIP) where they post a chapter up at a time.
Now, depending on what your final goals are for your writing, these types of blogs can be a good or a bad thing.
On the positive side, a novel blog can get you some outside critiques, get your name up on the web as a writer, and–if you’re lucky–get you some publicity.
Negatively, however, these novel blogs can also seriously hurt your chances at traditional publishing in the future–at least for that particular WIP.
Having been in the middle of many arguments about this topic, I know there are some varying opinions on this topic (most of which hinge on how self-publishing is changing the publishing industry) but the long and short of it is:
When you sell your manuscript to a publisher (a reputable publisher) you aren’t selling the work or copyright. You are selling them the rights to publish your work. When you sign the contract with your publisher, you aren’t saying they own your novel (at least you shouldn’t be, always read your contract fully) you’re saying they can produce and sell your.
Almost always, the rights you are selling are exclusive (only that publisher may sell the book for however long the contract states), and more often or not, publishers are looking to contract First Publication Rights, that is, the right to be the first people to put your book out there.
As one blogger puts it: “the instant that you first publish your work you’ve used up your first publication rights… This is true no matter how that publication is achieved: whether you publish through one of the big conglomerates like Random House, a tiny independent like Salt or Bluechrome (which are growing in stature and reputation every day), whether you self-publish or get to market through one of the many murky vanity presses which lurk on the periphery of the industry: your book has been published and those first rights are irretrievably gone. ”
That blogger is pointing out how important looking into your publisher is, but what he/she doesn’t say is that self publishing isn’t solely what happens when you go through some company and ready your book for sale online. Most publishers go off the simpler definition of “publish”, that is: “to disseminate to the public.” So, it doesn’t matter if your work is in book form, an e-book, or if you’re even getting paid for it. If your work is available in its entirety to the public, in print or online, many publishers consider your work “published” and your first rights already used. If the publisher you are hoping to work with only considers buying first publication rights, having your book online can make them pass on it–even if you only “published” the book on a blog.
Now, this is where that controversy I was talking about earlier comes in. While I never suggest people post works they want to publish traditionally online, some people like to point out that some authors have been picked up by big publishing houses because of their popularity online.
It’s possible, I won’t say that it isn’t. There are cases where “self-published” works online become such hits that they are picked up by big name companies. Cases like that may even become more common in the future. For now, though, at least in my opinion, chances of getting noticed as an internet sensation fall into the realm of possible, but not probable. And so, for now, it is always my suggestion that authors think before posting WIPs online:
1. Are you planning on trying to traditionally publish this WIP once you are done with it? If so, consider keeping it offline, or only publish an excerpt. Publishing a scene of a chapter of your current WIP on your site or blog won’t use your first publication rights the way posting the entire work will.
And more importantly:
2. Why do you want to post this WIP? Are you just looking for outside critiques? It’s possible to have people read your work without having it considered “published”. After all, the important part of the earlier definition of “publish” is the word “public”. If it isn’t possible for anyone to come across it and read it (such as you have a password to get to your site, are on a members-only site, or are just emailing the manuscript around to a few people) you have not “published” your work as you would have on a blog that is available to the world. Are you hoping to catch someone’s attention with it? Then put up an excerpt that you’re especially proud of. There are plenty of ways to do what you want without throwing an obsticle in your path later on.
Of course, if you just want to get your work out there and don’t especially want to publish traditionally, don’t worry about your novel blog. It’s just important to always think before you act as a writer–especially on the internet.
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