Sunday, May 6, 2012

Beware posting to a blog or Facebook

This summer my writer buddies Lisa Higgs, Tracy Zeman, Meagan Cass and I will be leading a series of workshops at The Pharmacy in Springfield, Illinois, and in the process of setting up the online components of the workshops it was underscored for me just how careful one must be about where and how one's writing appears online. As a writer, I've just taken for granted that everyone is aware of the need for caution, but it's occurred to me that maybe doing a post on the subject wouldn't be such a bad idea.

Here's the thing: Journal editors almost always want what's termed "First Rights" for your work, meaning that they want to be the ones to publish your story or poem or essay, etc., for the first time; then after it appears in their journal, the rights revert to you, the author, who can then do whatever you want with it -- see if an editor who does "reprints" will take it, or offer it to an anthology, or include it in a collection, or post it to your own blog or website. (Book publishing, by the way, is far more complicated, and contract language varies widely as to what authors can do with their own work after it's been taken by a publisher.)

Just using myself as an example (because it is, after all, all about me), later this year my publisher Punkin House will be releasing my book Weeping with an Ancient God, which is a novella and story collection. The novella will constitute about half the book, and it hasn't been published previously, except for the first chapter, which appeared under the title "Melvill in the Marquesas" in the online journal The Final Draft (now listed by Duotrope's Digest as deceased), in the fall of 2010. In truth, I mainly sought a journal publication for the opening chapter in hopes of sowing some interest in the novella, which was originally slated for publication in 2011.  The Final Draft, however, only left "Melvill in the Marquesas" up for about three weeks before replacing it with another fiction piece (by someone else); and -- now, frankly, this is strange -- its editor didn't archive previous editions. So the stand-alone chapter disappeared off the Internet within a few weeks of its publication; and since The Final Draft was only online, that means my piece was in essence gone for good, leaving next to no opportunity for sowing interest in the forthcoming novella and story collection.

Luckily, since The Final Draft only had First Rights, I could do what I wanted with "Melvill in the Marquesas," so I "reprinted" it at another blog that I write, called 12 Winters Blog, thus archiving the piece online myself. As far as the stories collected in Weeping with an Ancient God, they're a dozen short stories that have appeared in various literary journals, all of which only took First Rights, leaving me free to include them in this book, with the usual understanding of my acknowledging where they appeared originally.

It's typical to try to publish individual chapters of books before the book itself is published (for example, with my novel Men of Winter I'd published three of the chapters as stand-alone pieces before the book found a home at Punkin House).

Before the advent of web publishing, journal editors tended to discount publishing in a really, really small outlet as publishing at all.  In other words, if you had a poem or story that appeared in a newsletter or tiny in-house magazine of some sort (like a college-campus lit journal or student newspaper), then you could still submit it to larger circulation journals as an "unpublished" piece, thus legitimately offering their editors First Rights. I suppose this may still be true, but only if those tiny outlets are traditional paper publications.

However, the web and specifically blogging have cast First Rights into a whole new light. Because even the most obscure of blogs (like mine) could be read by thousands (millions, billions?), journal editors now consider posting to a blog as publishing and thus eliminating the piece from further publication consideration, other than in those rare journals that are willing to do reprints.

Moreover, I've recently seen in submission guidelines the specific reference to blogs and Facebook as examples of publishing that prohibit a piece from being considered by a journal. The mention of Facebook caught my attention in particular because the site and co-sponsor of this summer's workshop series, The Pharmacy (with the Vachel Lindsay Association being the other co-sponsor) has a Facebook group called The Pharmacy Literati whose members routinely share work on Facebook to get feedback from other members of the Literati -- and, really I suppose, anyone who happens upon it.

I've been mindful of all this while setting up the online components for our workshop. We want participants to be able to post their work electronically in order to get feedback from the workshop leaders and from each other, but I didn't want to use the public-access blog that I've set up to broadcast information about the workshop, just for the reasons I've outlined here. I didn't want a workshop participant to share a poem or short story, only to discover later that he or she couldn't then submit that piece for journal publication because it had appeared on the workshop blog.

I considered closing down public access to the blog once the workshop participants were set, but that didn't seem like a good idea for all sorts of reasons. So what I've decided to do is to establish a private chat site via Google Groups which will allow workshop participants to share their work for critique without its being simultaneously published on the blog. Of course, the terrain of online publishing shifts underfoot minute by minute, but I think this Groups site will accomplish what we want for the workshop without risking coincidental publication of participants' work.

Obviously, this post has mainly been focused on our workshop to take place here in Springfield, Illinois, but the issue of posting to a blog or Facebook as a type of publication, and thus eliminating the opportunity for granting First Rights elsewhere, is one that all writers should consider.
Men of Winter

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