Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Putting Your Fiction Online

Someone asked, more or less,

"I'm an unpublished writer -- should I post chapters of my Work in Progress on my website?"

To which I reply:

There is a definite downside to this.  When you post a significant portion of  a work of fiction online, you may imperil your First Publication Rights.  (That's what you're generally selling when you sign a contract -- those First Publication Rights.) Putting your fiction online may also make your work less salable.  Publishers may be reluctant to buy a novel that's available free on the net.

Why would you want to DO this?
Why would someone want to post fiction online, on his website?
Seems to me there are a couple three possible reasons: 

-- Because he wants to fill up his blog with cool content, but doesn't want to write stuff specifically targeted to the blog and he has this piece of fiction handy.

Advice: If you want to keep a blog, write stuff intended for your blog. Don't be lazy.
Cool story example

-- Because he believes his fiction will draw traffic to his blog. He wants to build a following.

Advice: Do you read one chapter of a good book and then return it to the library?
Not so much.
Why would the readers of your blog feel good when you cut off your ongoing story, having just interested them?

Not the way to bring folks back to your blog.

'Teaser excerpts' of your cool story work when they point the reader to a buy button. If you can't include a link to the whole work, you've annoyed the folks you want to attract.

-- Because he wants praise/advice/discussion/feedback on his writing.

Typical Writer's Group
Advice: Join a writer's group.  Join or form a critique circle.  Print up copies for your friends.

Try Absolute Write.  
Try Compuserve Books and Writers Forum.

-- Because an agent or editor might drop by and see the work and be bowled over by it and get in touch with him about publishing it.  He heard this happened to somebody.

Advice: This is not so likely. 

Consider the slushpile an agent or editor has in her office: Here, Here. Here. Here.

With this kind of mail arriving every day, do you think agents and publishers go out trolling the web for more submissions? The odds of finding an agent or editor are astronomically better if you finish the work, send out queries, and submit the manuscript.

-- Because he does not have a completed manuscript and he wants someone to appreciate his writing right NOW.

Advice: I understand this.  Writing is a lonely business.  We don't get much feedback when we're working.
But . . .  posting a rough, flawed, unedited draft of your work is not respectful to the readers of your blog. If you intend to build a blog following, treat these people as you will someday treat your readers. Give them your best work.

-- Because he doesn't think the story will ever be published. He sees this as his only chance to share with a larger audience.

Advice: This is why folks post on fanfic sites -- this desire to share their work.
It's a generous impulse I hate to quell.

But do you intend to be a professional writer and get paid for it? 
Then trust yourself. Trust your work.

Later on, when you're published, you may regret that some of your apprentice work is out there online, haunting you, with all the newby mistakes that you can never, now, correct.


  1. Great advice, and completely true. All of these reasons have stopped me from jumping the gun and posting teasers. It's different when you're a part of a blog contest or a round robin flash fiction deal.

    Otherwise I'm with Jo-- this business is tough. Hard. If you want to get somewhere you've got to log the trip miles.

    Thanks for a great post!

  2. Excellent advice, Jo!

  3. Hi Landra --

    Posting one's fiction on-line, for free, does strike me as jumping the gun.

    Hi Vanessa --

    I am so very glad my trunk novels molder in quiet obscurity.

  4. Thanks for the great advice. Honestly, Sheree Bartlett and I have worked so hard, so diligently on this book, I cannot imagine tossing it online. We did write interactively online, which is how we met and learned to write well together. That was a long and enjoyable road to where we are now.

    Also enjoyed the blog before this regarding Historical Romance and Historical Fiction. It is a weakness of mine; leaning toward too much information. I admit to using great restraint in sticking to the romance.

    Always love reading your blogs!

    Carley Bauer (Carol Butler Crawley)

  5. Hi Carley --

    I try not to give 'one size fits all' advice. But I do like to see writers get rewarded for their work if it is at all possible.

    I love the generous impulse that sends us out to tell our stories for free. I wouldn't speak out against that. In a way, that's the purest and highest form of our craft.

    But getting paid is nice too.