Understanding the term Published

What literary magazines, agents, and publishers mean when asking for publishing credits vs. when they say no previously published work.

If someone asks if you’re published, your response might be different than if a literary magazine inquires whether a piece you’re submitting has been published, and understanding the difference is important.

Let’s start with publishing credits (publishing history), this is where you’re work has previously been published. This includes things such as novels, literary magazines, and anthologies. When submitting a poem or short story to a literary magazine, they often like you to include a few places your work has been published before. Literary agents also like to know where you’re work has previously appeared. The same goes for a casual conversation where someone asks where you’ve been published, this is the information they are most likely asking about.

In a cover letter or bio, it will look something like this:

My work has recently appeared in Disturbed Digest, Down in the Dirt, and The Flash Fiction Press, among others.

This next part is very important and where a lot of writers get tripped up, and that’s when an agent, literary magazine, publisher, or contest says they do not accept previously published work. This is broader than the publishing credits discussed above.

When an agent, literary magazine, publisher, or contest says they do not accept previously published work or reprints this includes pieces that have appeared in the following places (starting with the obvious and going into the lesser understood areas):

  • Novel
  • Anthology
  • Literary Magazine (both print and online)
  • Websites (including blogs)
  • Online Writing Communities
  • Any place online accessible by the general public (regardless of whether only two people have read it)

Here are a few examples of the language in literary magazines regarding previously published work. Some include extra language to specifically indicate work that’s appeared on websites, but it has become common for “previously published work” to include websites whether it specifies it or not:

AGNI: “We do not consider previously published work, which includes work published on any website.”

Tin House: “Only previously unpublished works will be considered for publication.”

Clarkesworld Magazine: “Reprints — every article we publish must be original to Clarkesworld. There is no point in sending us material that has already been published elsewhere, especially if it is elsewhere online.”

Here’s another example pulled from the FAQs for Spark: A Creative Anthology discussing items considered as “previously published” that echoes the points made above.

This poses the question, where can you share your work without worry that it will be considered as previously published? Here are a few places that are generally safe:

  • Writing Classes (even online classes as long as only the class is allowed to read the shared piece)
  • Workshops
  • Google Docs that are shared with a limited number of people
  • Some online writing communities that are password protected and don’t have a large number of people who can access the piece
  • Local writing groups
  • Writing contests that you did not win and where the piece is not published as a result of entering the contest
  • Poetry Slams (any place where you read the work to an audience, but it is not distributed or recorded)

The lesson here is to protect work that you plan to publish. Getting feedback from online communities, while sometimes essential in growing in the writing craft, can reduce the places that the work can be submitted to later. Follow the guidelines of the literary magazine, agent, or publisher, they will usually explain what they will and won’t accept. Most places will say they only accept “previously unpublished” work or that they “do not consider previously published” work, in which case follow the guidelines above.

Consider the purpose of sharing the piece. If you’re trying to get feedback and grow an audience, the purpose of the piece may be limited to learning and gaining readers. Therefore, sharing it online whether on a blog or in a writing community will help you achieve both of those things. However, if your intent is to publish that piece through traditional publishing, then don’t share it online. Use other pieces to receive feedback and gain readers.

As a general rule, be overprotective of a piece you intend to publish. If you change your mind, you can share it later, but you can never unshare a piece and it may be deemed as previously published when you submit it for publication.


  1. // Reply

    Great article, Mandy, on a topic that doesn’t get as much attention as it should. The gray area for me seems to be the AW water cooler, and excerpts of a work while it is in development. I believe the “Share your work” sub-forums are password protected, but possibly not all of them, and people will upload sometimes whole chapters for peer review. I wouldn’t consider those published, but in general if I’m subbing something to a magazine, I’ll keep it under pretty tight lock and key until it either get’s accepted, or I get board and upload it to my website.

    Many of my clients use web-scanning software to ensure they are not printing duplicated work, especially when hiring new authors. I imagine lit mags do the same. If it doesn’t pass the scanning tool, then it’s “published” and no good. I believe Grammarly has a feature for this as well.

    1. // Reply

      Thank you! It’s an area that can cause writers problems if they aren’t aware of what counts as previously published to places where they submit their work. And I’ve heard many stories of writers having issues because they don’t know this information. I even warn people who allow me to share their work on my site that it will count as being previously published if they decide they want to submit it somewhere later. I’m sharing several poems by other authors next month, and they’re probably tired of hearing the warning.
      I’ve had an issue getting involved with online writing communities because of these very issues. While I think they’re great for feedback, I don’t think they are a good choice for work a writer wants traditionally published. This may be why I enjoy and prefer a local writing group.
      I think you’re right about Grammarly, they have a plagiarism check that searches the internet, and there are other programs that do the same thing.
      Thank you for contributing to the conversation! It’s great to hear what other authors are doing and what they’re concerned about.

  2. // Reply

    What if a writer shuts down her blog or switches it to private after posting most of the story? Could they still get it published?

    1. // Reply

      I have seen writers temporarily removes stories from their site with a note that they have taken it down while they submit the piece. There’s also a chance that what an author posted was a first draft and the final submission is significantly different from the first that it’s not deemed as the same. Although for both of those cases, I’m not sure if this is good enough for certain magazines, agents, or publishers.
      Once something is on the internet, a person can still find a copy even once it’s been deleted. That’s why I strongly caution against posting it anywhere public.
      This isn’t to say that there are no options. There are places that don’t have as strict of rules about a piece being previously published, and self-publishing is also a viable option. It does limit the places you can submit your manuscript to though, and I always feel that as a writer you want as many options available to you as possible.
      So, if you’ve found you’ve already posted it in a public space and you still want to publish it traditionally, don’t give up hope. You may have to dig a little deeper and spend a little more time finding places to submit it, but there are places.
      Sometimes this need to search harder comes about anyway. I had a hard time finding a place to publish “Alger’s Dimension” because it was a sci-fi/horror story that was a lot longer than what most literary magazines publish. I eventually found it a home though.

      1. // Reply

        That’s good to know. I’ve had a couple of people say that I should publish my Ambrose and Elsie story, which got me wondering if I even could.

        1. // Reply

          One of the main reasons this is how agents, magazines, and publishers view previously published work is because they’re trying to protect their business, which is to make money. If a reader has the option to buy the magazine or book, or they can read it for free on the internet, readers are more likely to read the free version. This reduces the sales of magazines and books.
          This is something to consider even if you decide to go with self-publishing. You’ll want to take the story off your site so people will have to buy the book if they want to read the story. Sharing excerpts is still good though, as it may entice readers to want to get the book so they can read more. Another idea for you would be to leave the story you have on the site, continue the next stage of the story in a book and publish that. You’ll already have a fan base. I’d recommend that the story be a stand alone, so if new readers start with that, they won’t feel left out or confused, and then they can always go back and read your earlier work on your site if they enjoy the story and world of Ambrose and Elsie.

  3. // Reply

    My publisher doesn’t much care whether my writing has been previously published… mostly because I have my own publishing company. 😛

    Great article, though. It’s very helpful and easy to understand, like always. Thank you. 🙂

    1. // Reply

      Haha That’s another way around it. I’m starting to see more authors who have started their own publishing companies. It allows for a lot more freedom and control over your books, and gives authors turned publishers an opportunity to publish other writers without being restricted by some of these rules.
      And I’m relieved to hear this was easy to understand. I always worry about that.

  4. // Reply

    Great post, Mandie. This topic was covered during my Freelance Writing class, but it was nice to get a reminder. You’re always helpful to the writing community and I appreciate it.

  5. // Reply

    Good idea to share these distinctions, Mandie. Especially the part about previously published material. Not every writer realizes that by posting something on their blog, they’ve technically published the work. So if we’re serious about submitting our work to other publications, we should leave no trace of it whatsoever on the Internet. “Better safe than sorry” – or, rather, “better unposted than posted,” right?

    It’s funny I read this today, because I’m considering submitting some poems to Mass Poetry for their annual contest to read your work during this spring’s Mass Poetry Festival. The guidelines didn’t specify whether previously published work was or wasn’t acceptable, so I sent them an email for clarification. Though if it’s for a reading during the festival, and not for publication of any kind, it’s possible that they’d accept one or two previously published pieces along with some unpublished pieces… but I didn’t want to assume anything. What do you think?

    1. // Reply

      Thanks, Sara.
      Straight to your question. I think it’s good you emailed them, so hopefully they’ll respond. My initial thoughts are that if they didn’t want previously published work, they would make that clear. So, I think there’s a good chance that they don’t mind. Also, since it’s for a reading instead of for publication, there’s an even greater chance that previously published work is acceptable. I think they’re looking for great work to open up the festival, so you’re probably okay submitting both previously published and unpublished work.

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