There are a few creative writers who genuinely write for themselves alone: they don’t want to be published and they don’t care if no one else reads what they write. When I say a few, if a writer is honest with themselves that is really a very small few. Most people write because they love to write, and because they want others to enjoy and appreciate their words. So however modest they may be, earnestly or otherwise, most writers want to be published in some way.
These days it’s really not that hard. The self-publishing industry is a button-click away from all of us, and anyone can publish anything, with the potential reach of virtually the entire world. Social media sites publish millions of tiny publications per hour. Blogs sites like this one are growing ever-popular and the range of topics cover any subject imaginable. YouTube airs video blogs in the same way. Tweets are mini-blogs that can get thousands of readers boiling with rage, joyful, sad or inspired.
In short, unless you’re deprived of the internet, anything you write or do online is published. Once shared, it can go around the globe in days with potentially millions of viewers/readers checking it out. Not so good if it’s an intimate photo, or something scandalous. Everything said or done online can be criticised, villified or praised in front of the entire world.
So it’s a case of: ‘Let’s be careful out there.’
There is also a downside for us writers. Got a great short story or opening chapter from your latest WIP? Want to share it with others and get some feedback? Put it online. Now that story is published.
Great, you say. I’m published! That’s cool, right?
Absolutely, it’s cool. The whole world can potentially read what you’ve written, and assess your potential and skill as a writer. That’s what we all want.
The downside comes when you submit a novel to a publisher or agent. These essential routes to mainstream publication want to know your published history when you send in your submission. After all, it’s a portfolio of what you do. Will they consider something you’ve uploaded yourself published? If your buddy let you post your story on their My Little Pony fan-boy blog, are you going to give an agent the link?
The best portfolio, provided by you as a submission letter, is one that has industry professionals approving of something you’ve previously written – ideally awards or prizes from writing competitions. Magazine articles and story features are also essential content for the submission letters you write.
So to get these under your belt, you enter your story or the first chapters from your self-published book into a literary competition. Bad luck. The short story on that My Little Pony site is already published, and the rules of the competition state that the entries must be previously unpublished. Similarly for the opening chapters of your book. There are lots of opportunities to submit these to competitions, with the potential of having the full work published if successful. The rules for these often stipulate that the work must be previously unpublished. If you’ve self-published the book they came from, though, erk! It’s published, and therefore ineligible for entry. Even if there have been no sales. Submitting to magazines is the same. They can’t publish something previously published elsewhere. Even if you are the publisher.
The caution of this tale is, consider what you put online. Once it’s up there, it’s published, and that may limit what you can do with it in the future.