05 May 2014

publication warfare: the previously published puzzle

Publication Warfare: Previously Published
After this weekend’s post on journals accepting submissions made mention of “previously published” work, I knew there would probably be a lot of questions about what exactly that means! So today, let’s take a look at what it means when a piece is previously published … and how to beat that potential publication pitfall!

“previously published”: a definition

First, let’s define what it means when a piece of your work is previously published. This is something we discussed last October, but for a brief definition, let’s go with this:
Previously published work is work that has appeared in print in any medium (online, print, etc.), typically through a third-party publisher, but increasingly including self-published works in print and online media.

The trouble with “previously published” is that while it used to be pretty cut and dry, it’s getting increasingly harder to define. Once upon a time—before the age of online journals and magazines, blogs, e-zines, and writing message boards and forums—“previously published” meant that if you sent your work to a publisher and they published it, it became “previously published work.” Another common term we hear alongside the definition of what counts as published is “first serial rights”: most publishers want to be the first people to publish a piece. The advent of the internet and online publication outlets meant trouble for both those terms. If you publish your poem or story on your blog, the journal you ask to consider it later no longer gets the first shot at it—because you already took it.

the cheats … and why they may not work

The biggest “cheats” to get around the question of whether a piece was previously published or not usually involve deletion. Writers will remove a piece from their blog or message boards, so that it no longer appears online. The problem with this “cheat” is that it never really worked to begin with. The internet has archives, which means once something’s out there, it’s pretty much always out there. Blogs and writing websites basically become “pseudo-publications” once a piece appears on the site. Even if you’re just posting a piece as part of a writing prompt or challenge, it’s out there for the world to see.

there's good news!

The good news is that a lot of traditional and modern journals are starting to change the definition of previously published. Rather than considering “anything that was ever in print anywhere” a previously published piece, a lot of journals are accepting that writers are going to share their work on their websites or in their online writing communities. Here are some workarounds journals are beginning to offer to potential submitters:

  1. Take it down: Some magazines have begun to ask that if you are going to submit a piece that’s on your blog or in the comment of another website, you simply remove that comment or post before submitting it OR after it’s been accepted.
  2. Work it out: The really kind publications have basically determined that a piece on your own blog or website, posted to a message board, and/or that you self-published simply “don’t count” as published works. These journals tend to really lay out the definition of previously published for you, essentially asking to be the first third party literary publication, and/or first media outlet (that is, the first source for media—your writing—presented to readership), to publish your work. Those that aren’t that clear usually ask that you check with them on their definition of previously published work, which is also a kindness. It means they’re willing to make exceptions.
  3. Change it up: This is an “unspoken” workaround that too few writers take advantage of, and it involves one simple word that almost all writers hate … Revision. This means revising and editing your work that appears on a message board, forum, blog, etc. so that when it’s submitted it no longer appears in the same format that it did elsewhere. We’re going to go into more detail on how exactly to do that later, but the thing to keep in mind for now is: If you’re going to submit work that you’ve publically shared elsewhere, change it enough that it becomes “new” before you share it again! 

Your Turn: Have you had trouble figuring out if your work is previously published or not? What have you done to figure it out, or to work around this problem?


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  1. One thing I've found useful is having a community of writers to talk with. A lot of times people with experience with a particular publication can give you a heads' up on what editors will and won't put up with in terms of "previously published." Yay, community!

    1. I thought I'd written this already but it seems to have disappeared, so here it is again.I agree Ina, and am looking for a group that I can do this with right now. In the meantime, I am also developing a file, listing the guidelines from various publications where I submit and/or enter contests. Up until now, the best of these has come from "Rattle" magazine (one of my "bucket list" publications) Their guidelines,which are very specific, follow this comment: RIGHTS & RULES (FROM RATTLE MAGAZINES - GUIDELINES FOR SUBMISSIONS)
      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 online 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.

  2. Thanks for sharing this article. I like your idea for internet marketing definition . very much.


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