During 2012 I wrote very little new material. I spent most of my 2012 writing time re-working older stories, and researching possible markets. I also spent time looking into publication rights issues. Some of the findings were surprising.
Many bloggers post their short stories on their blog / website, but you’ll notice that I haven’t. The reason being that once posted you’re publishing the story. You’re granting yourself first electronic publishing rights. Therefore, you’re excluding yourself from any publication physical or electronic that states they accept unpublished works only. This will probably be termed as first publication rights.
What’s the harm you say? Well, let’s say you send the work to a publisher and it gets accepted. What happens if they do an internet search and find the same story they’ve just bought available on your blog for free. They’ll drop you like a hot potato.
If you want to display your writing online my advice would be to take it down if you’re actively sending the work out to publishers. If it doesn’t sell put it back on your blog.
There’s a writer on Zoetrope who published part (a sample) of his novel on-line – not on Zoetrope. He was trying to promote the work and get interest from publishers / agents. He was doing all the usual stuff writing to editors etc, etc, etc. He got lucky and had an offer. The publisher was discussing ideas for promoting the book. The author in his enthusiasm told them about the sample chapters he had posted online to help promotion. You guessed it…the publisher immediately withdrew the offer as they only buy first publication rights, not reprints.
It gets even more confusing. If your work is on a peer review site, like Triggerstreetlabs or Zoetrope, then you’re fine because the work is password protected - via the site - so it doesn’t count as being widely available. Many magazines state this in their submission guidelines.
And there’s another twist. The Bridport prize is an extremely prestigious international short story competition. They insist that submissions have been previously unpublished, and Bridport counts posting to a peer review site as publication. Even amended versions of stories are excluded. E.g. Version 1 of your killer short story gets posted to a peer review site. You read all the reviews and use them as a basis to do a re-write and create killer short story version 2. You don’t post v2 to the peer review site because you want to enter the Bridport competition. Too late. Bridport counts v2 as published work due to v1 being posted online.
It’s an interesting situation and one we – as writers – should monitor closely.
I haven’t mentioned exclusive rights. If a publisher wants exclusive rights you need to do one of two things. Agree the period of exclusivity, so the rights refer back to you at a set date. If it’s a permanent exclusive deal make sure they pay through the nose. You’re signing the rights away for good. You can never sell the work again, but the publisher who bought the work can.
Too many writers focus all their attention on the creative aspect of their writing, I understand this, but you need to understand the business aspects too. If you don’t then it will be luck, and luck alone, that prevents you from getting screwed.
N.B - Info re Bridport is correct at the time of writing.
M J Wolfson - That's me.