Should Writers Post Their Work Online?

We’ve all heard a gazillion times how important it is to have a website if you’re an author or even an aspiring author. More and more publishers and agents want to see how you can promote your brand. Are readers interested in your posts? Do you have many followers? Will people visit your site to check for blurbs or samples of your books?

Many posts have been written about whether or not to share samples of your unpublished work on your site. Here’s my take on it. I believe it’s okay to post something you’re revising if you’re looking for feedback as long as it’s clear that’s what you’re doing. You don’t want anyone to think that jumble of words represents a final product. This includes query letters and a chapter here and there. However, I wouldn’t post a synopsis or a large chunk of one manuscript on your site unless it’s a part of your promotional material from your published novel (and your publisher has given you permission to do so.)

Recently, I read about a woman who’d been given, what I believe to be, bad advice. An editor told her that she shouldn’t post her query letter online because someone could steal her idea, but that posting a chapter or two is fine. While this writer claimed to get advice from an editor, I’m not sure what kind of editor would say such things. First of all, you can’t copyright an idea. There’s no unique plot. For example, we know that a romance novel will consist of a hero and heroine drawn together, but kept apart, only to reunite in the end. The basis behind every story has been done before in some shape or form. Agents and editors will tell you that until your head is ready to explode. What makes your story different is the characters and your voice. That’s something that is very difficult to copy, so I wouldn’t worry about posting your query letter. Besides, a query blurb is only supposed to peak the reader’s curiosity, not spell out the ending. Years ago, I took a writing course where the instructor had the students use a sentence or paragraph and turn it into a story. Everyone started with the same piece, but not a single one produced the same story. So, to say that someone would read the query letter and steal the story idea is not realistic. They might start the story in a similar fashion, but would never be able to come up with the same character issues or plot twists as you because YOU ARE UNIQUE.

This editor believed a published author, who could write up a story in a few months, would grab the idea and have the story published before you had a chance to have yours published. Can you see the flaw in that philosophy? Published authors don’t go around stealing ideas from unpublished authors. They don’t need to do that. They’re published and have their own ideas. Anyway, the writer posting her query shouldn’t be worried about perfecting her query until her novel is polished and ready to go. In which case, this supposed published author and idea stealer wouldn’t have time to produce something else before this first writer had her work in front of agents and editors.

Another problem I had with this advice was that the editor claimed it was okay to post unpublished chapters online. Here’s where this can cause some issues when you’re dealing with an agent or editor. All the material you’ve posted online is now considered published. Some editors won’t touch that same material because of it. In theory, posting a sample on your website may have lost you the opportunity to sign with some publishing houses. Do you want to take that risk? The other dilemma is that once you’ve put something out into cyberland, it’s there forever. Most likely, whatever you wanted to post as a sample of your writing would be edited and polished even more once you have an agent and editor on your side. Do you really want copies of your not-so-shiny manuscript out there for the world to see? This is not to be confused with samples from a published book (as long as you have permission from your publisher to post.) These samples are exact replications of what the public will find in your book and therefore accurately represent your writing.

If you’re unpublished, what do you post on your website? How do you attract readers? I’ll get into that in another post.

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