With the emphasis placed on building an audience pre-publication, many writers wonder how blogging can help or hurt their careers. What’s okay to publish on a blog, and what will create obstacles to selling your work? There are few clear rules, as it all depends on how much material you are making available to the public and how different it is from the finished version.
For articles and short stories, the issue is one of rights: Top-tier publications want first rights, meaning they are the first to publish that particular piece. Often they consider work appearing on a blog “previously published” and thus not eligible for first rights deals. Sometimes a print magazine won’t care if your article or story appears only on your own blog, but this contingency is quickly disappearing.
Publishing a piece on your blog doesn’t mean you won’t be able to publish it anywhere else—it just means you need to focus on selling reprint rights. This excludes those plumb opportunities, but there are many smaller publications and online venues that are happy to reprint your high-quality articles and stories.
To create a strategy for short works, consider your goals. If you’re accumulating publication credits, share only very short snippets of works-in-progress on your blog if you share any at all, and give yourself time to submit the finished products; you can always publish the piece yourself later if you can’t find a home for it elsewhere. If you’re looking to build an audience for later works (such as a book), go ahead and share your flash fiction, stories, or articles on your blog and look for venues that accept reprints (and make sure you include your blog link in your bio to direct new readers).
For longer, book-length works, it’s a slightly different story. Generally speaking, publishers don’t want to buy rights to material that’s already been made widely available or been overexposed. If you’ve posted a few chapters of the novel you’ve just finished in hopes of getting feedback or building a potential following, you’re safe. If you’ve been blogging about your book topic, or about the process of writing your book, you’re still okay. In fact, being able to say that you established audience to whom you would market your book is a plus.
However, if the entirety of your book is available online, you might have a problem—but not necessarily. Here’s where it gets tricky.
The first question a publisher will ask is, “Why would someone buy this book instead of just reading your blog?” Some good answers include:
- I will create a significant amount of new material for the published book.
- The material available represents a very early draft; the work is better and different now.
- My blog is only reaching a small portion of my target audience.
- I’ve established my platform online, but there’s still opportunity for a print readership.
- I’ve proven there’s strong interest in my work, but I’m limited in distribution and exposure.
- I used my blog to get feedback and test the material only, and now I’m taking it down.
- There’s a wealth of material on the blog, but a book would be a more carefully curated collection, making it easier for readers to use.
Ultimately, your would-be publisher must see growth potential. If you’re exhausting the market with your blog, there’s no need for a book. Concerns over “exhausting the market” apply more to nonfiction, however; with fiction, the more subscribers you have and the more exposure your work gets the better. During contract negotiations you may be asked (and you should offer) to take down your material so it’s no longer available anywhere but in the finished book form. When books have been self-published, for example, authors typically agree to stop selling their copies by an agreed-upon date before the publisher’s version comes out.
Coming from the “better safe than sorry” school of thought, if I had a book manuscript, I would probably post excerpts and talk about the story, the characters, or important themes, etc. but wouldn’t give away the whole shebang. Especially now that it’s so easy and inexpensive to publish an ebook! I would not publish the entirety of a book on my blog unless I planned on marketing only future books—in other words, the one posted online is a giveaway designed to build readership for later books. This can be a good strategy for people writing a series, since you can hook new readers with a free first book and then sell later installments. Using this strategy wouldn’t exclude publishing that first book as a free or inexpensive ebook either, because some people would prefer to have a nice, contiguous file on their e-readers instead of reading lots of blog posts.
How do you decide what work you do or do not publish on your blog?
Founder of The Writer’s Ally, Ally E. Machate is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge and experience with the publishing industry to lead serious authors toward success. She and her team live to help make great books happen, whether that means showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish; or coaching an author on growing her platform to sell more books. Since 1999, she has supported hundreds of authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally.