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Somewhere, don't ask me where, I picked up the idea that publishers don't like works that the public has already been able to access. When a family member suggested I post short pieces of fiction to a blog to help myself get motivated, I hesitated because I assumed it would be impossible to publish later; I'd have to write up an entirely new piece if I wanted to publish something in the same genre as the piece I had blogged. (I went ahead with the blog anyway. I wasn't writing anything up to then, so my publishing potential was about equal.)

I thought it might be good to verify my assumption here, and while I was researching in preparation to ask the question, I discovered this blog: How to Blog a Book. It's being published! It mentions several books (one of which I've heard of) that were blogs beforehand and the author says that the techniques she used will work for publishing both non-fiction and fiction.

So now my question is, are there publishers who absolutely won't publish a blog? Do I diminish my chances of publication at all by blogging my work first?

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6 Answers 6

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The rules are changing, which makes it a bit hard to be sure what the hell the rules currently are.

Posting on your blog counts as publication. The traditional rule was definitely that, for fiction at least, most publishers want first publication rights, and you'd be blowing those rights by posting on your blog.

Is that still the rule? I think it is, for most publishers. But there are likely to be exceptions. If your blog draws a huge audience, then it could actually be an asset in trying to sell the book, since you've demonstrated the material's appeal. And even if you don't get a huge audience, you may find a smaller publisher that doesn't care as much about first rights. It's possible.

But I'd be really careful about counting on either approach. I totally sympathize with the motivation issue, and do myself post my WIPs to a blog... but it's a locked blog with a circulation of about ten people. Essentially, it's an on-line crit group, and I've never heard of a publisher having a problem with writers working with crit groups.

Do you have people in mind who'd read your on-line stories? If you do, you could make a locked blog (I use LiveJournal, but I'm sure there are other options) and only give access to those people. It might be a way to give you motivation without closing any doors for publication.

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I like the suggestion of using a locked blog. At this point, I'm not sure how dedicated the people I've told about my blog are to reading it, so it's probably something I'd consider for later if I find they are. I'm curious, though: if I were to blog a few scenes of a larger piece, realize I'd grown attached enough to want to publish it, then finish and revise it offline, would that change how likely a publisher would be to turn it down for being blogged? –  Sheelawolf Feb 12 '12 at 4:39
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I think publishers are generally okay if PORTIONS of the story have been available online. It can be seen as promotion. So if you're just going to put up a scene or two, I think you'd be fine. –  Kate Sherwood Feb 12 '12 at 11:48

Even though Kate mention valid points, I have a different point of view: The rules have not changed and probably will never.

Traditional publishers want to make money. If they think your writing will make money, they publish it, no matter if you have already published on your blog.

Yes, they will tell you, that blog publishing is a problem, and if they have to choose between two similar projects, one already published, one not, then it's likely they pick the unpublished one.

On the other hand you are building an audience with your blog upfront, which means: possible customers. A similar unpublished project with this advantage is hard to find.

Besides that, why shouldn't you publish them yourself, on your blog, as ebook, as POD? If you are successful, traditional publishers will probably approach you instead the other way around.

Last, but not least:

I'd have to write up an entirely new piece

So what? Are you a writer or not?

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My wording may have caused confusion as to what I meant by writing a new piece in the same genre as the piece I had blogged. I meant "genre" to be very narrow, e.g. a story about a pack of wolves dealing with internal conflicts while in a natural disaster. Is there a better word I can edit in for this narrow a category? If I had dedicated time to a story like this but discovered its being blogged prevented its publication, it would be disheartening to consider whether to lose it or write a like story. –  Sheelawolf Feb 12 '12 at 4:19
    
As for the possibility of self-publication, I like the idea of having a publishing house's assistance to prepare and market my book, but I do see the value of keeping my options open. At this point, I'm nowhere near ready to publish anything. I'm just trying to see how my decisions today may help or hinder me down the road. –  Sheelawolf Feb 12 '12 at 4:25
    
You ponder too much, @Sheelawolf, instead act! Planning is a good thing, but you wouldn't be the first one who was afraid taken some risk and wondered why he still is unpublished. –  John Smithers Feb 12 '12 at 15:30

To answer your question, yes, I think blogging your fiction will hurt your attempts to be traditionally published later. I think publishers have been following the same trends the record industry have followed with respect to technology. They fear that it will steal from their profits.

But here's something to consider:

Perhaps traditional publishing isn't something that's as valuable as it once was? Perhaps embracing untraditional ways to publish will be better.

I've been hosting a blog for four years now and my audience has grown beyond what I originally managed. I haven't worked tremendously hard at grow it. It just kinda happened. But it's been a healthy outlet for me, and has turned me into a beter writer. The world is online and your reach could be greater than what any publisher.

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It's going to depend on goals, I guess. If the writer just wants to connect with as many people as possible... a blog might work. What kind of hit numbers are you getting on your blog? Do they compare to the numbers someone would get from mainstream publication? But there's also the difficulty of monetizing blogs. How much are you making from your blog? I'm not saying it's all about money, but... money is handy. I find it VERY convenient to have money. –  Kate Sherwood Feb 12 '12 at 2:32
    
Sure, a person's goals play a part. I prefer being independent and have full control. It has it advantages and drawbacks. I have just under 1000 readers that subscribed to my blog via RSS and email. I find this figure to be more important that "hits". My hits are not impressive, by "bounce rate" (% of people leaving after one page view) is low, and my "time spent on sight" is descent, which means to me that I am engaging/entertaining readers. I make money through my blog through Google Ads, and particular ad placements. It's not enough to pay the rent but it's decent. –  AtlasRider Feb 12 '12 at 17:38

I believe that blogging will turn off some publishers, but it might also attract others. If you develop a strong, consistent following, then publishers are going to pay attention. They will see that you have already established a following and therefore have a built in audience. They might work with you to modify the blog content into a consistent book format (or more likely just suggest you do it). The bottom line is that by developing a strong audience, you have proven that people are interested in what you have to say, and that will make publishers interested in you as well.

Another consideration is to use your blog as a sounding board for what you ultimately write. If you have subscribers or followers who give you feedback on what they like or don't like, then it will help you develop your stories/characters better. Your readers can help guide you towards something that might be more readily accepted by the masses. However, don't try changing with every single comment. Instead, look for trends and let those trends guide you.

You should also keep in mind the possibility of self-publishing. I know a few people who have taken their blog content and repurposed it as books, and they have found considerable succes with both venues. The blog drives people to the book, and the book drives people back to the blog. They have the best of both worlds and have seen their audiences growing continuously.

Something to keep in mind, though, is that in order for your blog to become successful, you need to keep contributing to it. If you only post a random article every few months or so, then nobody is going to keep coming back looking for your new work. Make sure that you have the time and desire to make that kind of commitment, and you may just find yourself rewarded with a strong readership.

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For fiction, I have little proof to show of blogs being published as print and/or ebooks.

For some perspective in genres other than fiction like technical- there are authors like

  • Joel Spolsky, who has been publishing online since 2000 and has built a reputation. And now has about four print books. In his own words,

I’ve been working on this website, here, since 2000, and there’s so much material I’ve published four actual books out of it—yes, made out of paper and ink!—which you can buy, hold in your hand, read in the bus, or throw at your boss.

  • Darren Rowse, author of a blog on tips and suggestions on better blogging has published a print book and ebook.

I started it in September 2004 mainly because I wanted to keep a record of what I was learning about blogging for money. Since then I’ve added well over 3500 articles, tips, tutorials and case studies to my archives here.

For me, the advantages in publishing online before contacting publishers would be:

  1. Testing the waters before investing in publication.
  2. Building a reputation, a brand name. In today's world, I think you need to be available at major social networks like Twitter etc. It's all about that one catchphrase, like codinghorror, stackoverflow etc and making it popular.
  3. You may judge, by the success of your blog, if you are ready to go print.
  4. Like Steven said above, blog and book bring readers to each other.

The disadvantages of publishing online before contacting publishers would be:

  1. If you are not adding new content to the print, then the appeal to buy for casual reader may be less, thus less business.
  2. You may have to add some exclusive content to the print edition. For some writers, who genuinely want to share knowledge and information (programmers for example), this may pose a moral dilemma.

For fiction, you could:

  1. Give a "teaser" in blog, which is sufficient for casual reader, but would excite the more interested ones to go buy and read the print edition. Good for you (it is being read), good for publisher (sales) and good for reader (satisfaction, feeling good).
  2. Run a story for some time on blog, and invite alternate endings etc. Then add some more content and fulfill some of these in print edition only. Make sure the publisher understands that some of the readers will have a buy-in in the book thanks to the blog.
  3. You may, depending upon your priority, decide to monetize the blog also. So, that relieves some of the pressure to strike it soon with a publisher.

Finally, I think in the coming times, both blogs and print books will co-exist- so let's make the most of it.

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It didn't hurt either David Moody or Amanda Hocking, both started by blogging and/or self-publishing their work and both now have deals with major publishers.

They are however both genre authors (horror and urban fantasy respectively) and I think genre work is a little more forgiving of this than mainstream thrillers or crime dramas as the ability to world-build and set tone and give backstory is far greater when you're making it all up as you go along and these days of 'transmedia' projects it's almost expected that you will have stuff online and in print to help sell your work.

Either way, blogging and/or self publishing is a great way to build audience, and if you can show audience you can parley that into a publishing deal.

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