But Is It Published?

Here at Champlain, our curriculum puts a huge emphasis on developing our professional images while we’re still in school. For us writing majors, that means taking a portfolio class each year during which we begin to build our professional portfolios and develop an online presence.


But what does having an online presence even mean? For me, it meant creating my own website that featured a blog, information about myself as a writer and editor, and a page where I could showcase some of my best work. The idea is that we’ll be able to reach out to other professionals through our websites.


Say, for instance, I was applying for a job. I could provide my potential employer with a link to my website (as well as my traditional resume) and he or she would then have a better way to understand who I am as a writer and a professional. My blog would allow this person to gain more insight into what type of person I am, and my portfolio pieces would show them my writing style and range. From there, they would be able to make a better-informed decision about if I’m a good fit for their company or not, and, hopefully, I’d get the job.


It sounds like a win-win situation, right? Unfortunately, the internet has some gray areas.


Yes, having work up on my website is a great way to showcase my own writing to those who might be interested, but it could also give me a lot of grief if I want to submit that work for publication elsewhere.


A lot of literary magazines and other publications I might want to submit to have this thing against what’s called “previously published work.” And that’s where things get messy. Is my work considered previously published if it appeared on my personal website? I mean, I guess I did hit the “Publish” button on WordPress, but does it count if it’s on the internet?


Way back in the olden days, this wasn’t really an issue. When literary magazines originally started telling people they couldn’t submit previously published work, it simply meant the piece couldn’t have appeared in any other magazine, journal, book, newspaper, or other printed publication. Things were simpler.


Now, not everything is quite so cut and dried. One of my fellow writing students, Heather Green, writes, “In an era of digital media, we are taught to gain notice by publishing our work online. Then, when we want to actually get something published by a company or in a literary magazine, we are unable to because our works have already appeared online. It is a double-edged sword, and it discredits the value of the written word.”


Heather has a point. Ideally, we all want to get published and break into the writing industry, but the two things we need to do reach our goals — submitting work and crafting a professional image — seem to work against one another. So I decided to do a little research. Are the things we post on the internet really considered previously published work?


The answer, like the internet itself, is messy. Not everyone agrees. Even the U.S. government copyright laws don’t explicitly state if a post on the internet constitutes as publicationThis basically means that we, as writers, need to use our best judgement. However, there are some basic rules of thumb we can follow.


If you think you might like to get a piece published, do some research. Look up some of the magazines or journals you might consider submitting to. Often, they’ll give you their own definition of “previously published work,” and if you’re still confused, try writing an email to ask more directly. If they have strict rules, don’t post your piece to your blog or website, at least not yet.


If you’re submitting a piece that has already been published on your blog, there are two things you should do. First, be honest with the editor you’re dealing with. Tell them the piece had been previously posted on your personal site, and stress that you hope this won’t be an issue.


Then, and this is a big one, take it down! Even if you had work published on your blog before, if it’s up for publication or has just recently be published, be sure it no longer appears online. This is largely out of respect for the publication you’re submitting to, and is especially important if the publication does decide to publish your work. They want people to read your piece on their website or in their magazine or journal, and if it’s still floating around on your blog, they could potentially lose readers.


Luckily, WordPress and other blogging sites make this pretty easy to do. If you have your work uploaded to its own page, like I do, simply hit “Unpublish” on the page. Everything will stay the same, but no one else will be able to see that particular piece until you publish it again. And most publications will let you put your work back up after they’ve published it! Just talk to your editor to be sure, and make sure you wait an appropriate amount of time before you post it again. Depending on the publication you submitted to, this might mean waiting anywhere from three months to a year.


Finally, if and when you do finally post your work on your personal site, make sure to give some credit to whoever published it. This could be as simple as writing, “This piece originally published by [Insert Publication Name Here] on [Insert Date]” and providing a link to that publication’s website.


The internet isn’t always straightforward, and there will always be some people who firmly believe that once something has been posted online, it’s been published. But there are also plenty who are much more lenient. So the most important thing is to proceed with caution. Do your research and play it safe, but don’t let nitty-gritty definitions of what published work is prevent you from putting yourself out there, either.


The internet is a tool, and it’s a pretty great one at that. As long as you follow the simple guidelines I talked about above, you’re probably going to be just fine.