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Tin House: “Only previously unpublished works will be considered for publication.”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