21 October 2013

submission potty mouth 101: what editors mean by “previously published”

What Editors Mean by "Previously Published"
Many of you have probably noticed during your Submit-O-Rama adventure that most journals and editors make one uniform request across the playing field: “No previously published work.” Unfortunately, the one thing that isn’t uniform is the definition of previously published. What’s worse, the rise in online publishing options has made that definition even more difficult to peg. Here’s a look at some of the “frequently asked questions” when it comes to this sticky topic!

What is “previously published writing”?

Typically, “previously published” refers to any writing that has appeared in print. In the age of primarily print publications, this used to mean publication in physical-print form: books, journals, magazines, newspapers, and other print publications. Unfortunately, these days things are complicated by the digital age: many (though not all) publishers consider work that appears on blogs, social media, personal websites, and even in some cases comments or forums previously published as well.

Why is work on my blog or personal website previously published?!

The short answer is … because you published it. This is, again, thanks to the digital age. Once you publish it to your website, it is published work. Unless your site is completely private, it is available to the public, and already getting the exposure literary journals want first serial rights to.

What if I take a posting of my writing off my site/blog? Can I submit it?

Short answer: Maybe. Little longer answer: probably not. The fact is, while there are some journals that are okay with you taking a piece off your site before submitting it many will still consider it previously published. You definitely need to check with the publisher before trying this.

What if I posted writing in an online forum?

Again, this is tricky. If it’s a private forum, a private group providing feedback, or a community page for “writer support,” it usually isn’t considered previously published (but not always). Basically, it’s private if you need a log-in to access and view any posts. If it’s public, and anyone can see it, it may be (but, again, not always) considered previously published.

Why, when I take my work down from an online site, would it still be considered previously published?

Because taking a site or page or post down doesn’t make it disappear. Usually a cached version of whatever you published is still accessible for years after you take it down. Here’s a trick to try if you opt to take this route: do a Google search for a sentence or phrase from your work, in quotes. This will usually bring up any cached versions that still exist online. (Don’t try just one phrase … try several.)

What if I self-published a chapbook or collection with a piece in it?

This is a lot trickier than most think it should be. If you’ve self-published, it’s generally going to be considered previously published work. Even if you only shared it with a few friends, you’ve put your work out there in printed, published form. Unfortunately, unlike the possibility (albeit slim) of removing a previously published piece completely from the web, this is a more permanent publication. However, in some cases a self-published work through a POD service may not be considered published if you’ve retained the copyright, in part because a publisher can still technically purchase or claim first serial publishing rights.

Can I edit a previously published piece and submit it?

This is a maybe. In some cases, if the edits are significant enough, you can go ahead and submit it. If changes are minor, check with the publisher first. In fact, even if you make significant changes, you may want to check with the potential publisher before submitting it. Do yourself a favor and don’t try a simple title switcheroo with a previously published piece.

In general, a good rule to follow is: If you want to publish it traditionally, don’t print it anywhere else first. If you do, always check with a publisher before submitting the piece/work to a journal, magazine, or publisher. Don’t be afraid to be forthcoming about a piece you’re unsure about; the worst the editor can say is, “No thank you”!

Your Turn: What are your views on “previously published” work? Have you dealt with this debate or topic in your own publishing journey?


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4 comments:

  1. Hi!
    I know I've been off-grid for a bit (maybe more than a bit) but when I saw this topic, I knew I had some info that might be helpful. Rattle magazine (one of those on my "bucket list" of places I intend to get published or die trying) gives excellent submission guidelines, including what they consider "previously published" -- and since it's not what I expected, I thought it might be worth bringing to your attention. I've pasted some of their guideline article here and the pertinent part in LARGE CAPS, under RIGHTS AND RULES a little way down the page.

    Rattle Poetry Magazine Submission Guidelines (regular submissions and contests -as this is outdated by about a year; I suggest checking them out online (rattle.com) if you're considering submitting. However, their definition of PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED doesn't seem to vary from year to year and is the best I've seen anywhere...see below in LARGE TYPE, scroll way down.

    • Rattle publishes poetry, translations, reviews, essays, and interviews.
    • Submissions open year-round.
    • Rattle does not accept work that has been previously published, in print or online.(SEE DEFINITION BELOW IN LARGE PRINT FOR DEFINITION OF PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED)
    • Simultaneous submissions are encouraged. If the work is accepted elsewhere, there’s no need to tell us. We don’t publish anything without your signature, anyway; if another journal beats us to the punch, congratulations!
    • No multiple submissions. We usually reply fairly quickly, so wait until you've heard back from the first batch before sending another. (does not mean what you might think ...)

    POEMS
    We like poems of any length. Try to send several poems as opposed to a single piece, but no more than five or six at a time. We’re looking for poems that move us, pieces that might make us laugh or cry, or teach us something new.
    Each issue of Rattle contains 60 or more poems in our regular section, and nearly all of them come from unsolicited submissions.

    REQUIRED INFORMATION
    If possible place this information on each piece submitted:
    Name, Mailing Address, Phone Number, Email address

    RIGHTS & RULES
    All rights revert to the authors upon publication. TO GET TECHNICAL, WE REQUIRE FIRST SERIAL RIGHTS, MEANING WE WANT TO BE THE FIRST MEDIA OUTLET TO PUBLISH YOUR POEMS. THEY MAY HAVE BEEN POSTED ON-LINE, TO PERSONAL BLOGS OR MESSAGE BOARDS, SELF-PUBLISHED AS CHAPBOOKS ETC., BUT ANY THIRD PARTY VENUE THAT PROVIDES LITERARY CONTENT TO A READERSHIP IS CONSIDERED PUBLICATION, REGARDLESS OF THE FORMAT. IF YOU SUBMITTED SOMEONE WORK, AND THEY CHOSE TO PUBLISH IT, THEN THAT MEANS IT'S BEEN PUBLISHED.
    Though authors do retain all rights to their work, we post everything we publish on the back-issues section of the website six months after print publication, and so require non-exclusive electronic permissions.










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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for sharing this; you're right, Rattle has some of the best spelled-out guidelines out there, and seeing as they're one of the "standards" journals (a hero among the literary publisher and submitter crowds), it's fair to count their guidelines as something of a "standard" for what to expect and go by. I particularly like their distinction between published for/by self (or self-publication) and publication by a "media outlet," which grants submitters a bit of a (pleasant) reprieve from the dreaded previously-published-fears!

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  2. Unfortunately, the "thinking" of traditionals has not yet caught up with reality. Publishing on a blog is, for most people, seen by a highly limited audience. I should think that a publisher would be happy the material is out there, and serve to exploit it even further in print. My children's books are all published with traditionals, but now I won't sign a contract that doesn't include print AND e-book, SIMULTANEOUSLY, or I'll go the self-publishing route.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comments, Monica! By and large, the hesitation to publish pieces already found on a personal blog is that the audience can be drawn away from the new publisher; i.e. if I publish a poem on my blog, and X Journal publishes it on their site, readers looking for it/me/etc. might get "funneled" to my blog rather than their site. The benefit of "first serial rights" is that it grants the first publisher the most exposure, and that's a benefit some journals are stingier about sharing. But you make an excellent point about the digital age's maximization of exposure! Maybe some traditional presses are still a bit behind the time thanks to that older impression of maximized exposure ... but it's changing!

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