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What is Previously Published Writing?

Literary agents and journals commonly reject previously published writing but what is it exactly? Why won't most agents risk taking on work that has already been published somewhere else? When can you send in previously published writing? These days, with the internet playing such a large role in the world of writing, it’s getting harder to answer these questions but we’ll have a go.

What is Previously Published?

In the old days, when print was the only option for sharing, this was an easy term to understand – if your work appeared elsewhere, it was published; if not, then it wasn’t. Now, it's more complicated. Journals don’t want work that has been published somewhere else because they only want fresh and unique work. Plus, they don’t want to get tangled up in any rights issues.

What If I Post My Work Online?

If your work has appeared on a blog, an online journal, a website or a social media site, it is considered to be previously published. If you post it on a Web board or a writing forum, provided it is a private one and is for feedback/support only, it is considered unpublished. However, you may want to consider removing your work from that forum once you have been given feedback; that way, it isn’t online. If it appears in a public forum, it is published work.

What If I Post it Online and Then Remove It Before I Submit It?

This is tricky. If you intend to submit your work to an agent or journal, try not to publish it anywhere else. You can take it down if you already published it online but most editors will probably still consider it previously published. When you remove your work, run a Google search on random lines to see if it appears anywhere. Be aware, many search engines don’t actually remove deleted work, they simply archive it and you can bet that an editor will do the same search. Your unpublished work may well show up as published and you won’t look very good!

What About Publishing an Excerpt Online?

This is generally considered akay so long as they are only short excerpts.

Previously Published Novels and Books

The rules change when it comes to books. Traditional publishers and agents have different expectations to literary journal editors so things can move around a bit. Literary agents are marketing experts and their business success relies pretty much on finding books that are written well and lucrative. This is why they don’t like previously published work. First, you may already be making money on your book and the agent isn’t. Second, if you post it as a free download, why is anyone going to buy it?

It’s the easiest thing in the world to publish your work online for all to see but it can cause you a whole heap of trouble if you then decide you want to publish it through an agent. If in doubt don’t publish anywhere until you have decided definitively what you intend to do with the work – publish willy-nilly and it will come back to bite you.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Anne-Marie Reynolds