|What Editors Mean by "Previously Published"|
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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