When is writing classified as published?

The publishing industry has changed in a big way, thanks to the Internet, social media and self-publishing. While some aspects have opened doors to so many writers who would have struggled in a big way to become a published author, there are some aspects that have actually closed the doors to traditional publication paths.

Let me start by saying that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the self-publication path. There are some brilliant novels that have been self-published and some extremely successful writers that have taken that particular road. As long as you’re prepare to put in the hard work, self-publication can be a rewarding experience.

Regardless of whether you are self-published or traditionally published, you will need to get your head around marketing within today’s industry. It really is a self-promotion game, hence, one of the reasons that many have turned to self-publication. You put in all that effort and energy. You should reap the benefits.

However, there might be other reasons that you have your heart set on the traditional publication path. Perhaps there is a particular publishing house that you have dreamed of for as long as you can remember. Maybe your local bookstores refuse to consider stocking books that are self-published. Maybe there’s another reason altogether. Regardless of what your reasons might be, if you are heading down the road toward traditional publication, you need to be strategic in your release of sample writing. If you release the wrong bit in the wrong location, you may have inadvertently published your work without realizing it, killing your chances at traditional publication.

Agents, publishers, and many literary magazines insist that work submitted for consideration is unpublished. While it’s not impossible to get a publishing deal with previously published work, it is rare. For those magazines that take reprints for short stories, the payout is often significantly less, and the criteria for selection is often much tighter. Agents want new works because there are more options available for the unpublished novels. Publishers want to be the ones to discover the new writers — they want to sell books that people can’t get for free. Can you blame them?

Sites like WattPad have become the latest craze among new and self-published writers. These sites allow you to post your writing for the world to see, getting instant feedback from readers. You can post a novel in sections, chapter by chapter, or post an entire novella or short story. You can develop a following, and there will be some readers that hang on your every word. It can be a boost to the ego to see those follower numbers soar. However, for those who are determined to head down the road toward traditional publication, these sites can count against you.

Publishing is a click away

Any action that you take to put a story onto a forum that is public is publishing the story. If you reveal snippets on your personal blog, you are publishing the snippet. If you upload a chapter to WattPad, you are publishing the chapter. It may not seem like it, because many tend to think of publishing as putting into print, but the moment something is in the public domain, it is classified as published.

There are agents out there who say they will still consider a story published on WattPad, but the numbers are not as high as one would like. Many agents have publically said that they have rejected the perfect story simply because it was on WattPad. The real issue stems from the idea of WattPad being public domain — you don’t need a login to see the stories listed. Publishers want to sell books that readers cannot obtain elsewhere, espeically via free sources. They want unpublished works, so they can earn a profit.

I’m not saying that one should never use sites like WattPad, however, before you post that story, think it through. What negative impact could posting that story on a site have on your future prospects?

I know of one writer who did have her stories listed on WattPad, and another site, who successfully went on to obtain a traditional publishing contract. However, the moment things were signed, the publisher insisted that she remove any and all posts of her writing from ALL sites, including the future stories that had yet to be optioned by the publisher. They wanted to secure their revenue from her books. It did put her into a sticky situation with her fans who where hankering out for the next installment of her fantasy series. I do hope that her fans understand and go on to buy the books when they come out later this year.

If you’re posting your stories just to get reader feedback, there are avenues that you can pursue that will have little to no effect on your publication options, simply because the sites are not public domain. Critiquing sites like Scribophile.com require login access to see any of the stories listed. It is a members-only site. Granted the number of members is tens of thousands, however, this simple member-only policy changes the perception of the site in the eyes of agents and publishers, classifying anything listed on the site as unpublished. It’s amazing how a simple “login required” feature can change everything.

I will grant you that you have the ability to lock down visibility on sites such as WattPad, however, the stigma is still there.

For those who are posting their writing in the form of blog posts on their personal sites, this too is publishing. Your site is in the public domain, so your writing is out there for the world to see. There is no fine line about all of this. The moment your writing is listed anywhere where the public can see it, it’s published. It’s that simple.

If you are not sure if posting something somewhere would be publishing the story or not, it is always best to err on the side of caution. You might think it’s innocent, but it could be detrimental to your future career.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2017

Posted in General Advice, Hidden Traps, Warnings and tagged , , , .


  1. Thanks Judy for this insight.
    I find it interesting that a certain publishing house used Wattpad.com for their annual competition that I entered. So essentially forcing me into becoming published. Hope this doesn’t hinder things for me in the future.

    • Not all agents/publishers consider WattPad as published. Obviously, the publishing house that ran the competition is among the obest that don’t.

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