An Essay by Ally E. Peltier, IWW member
Will blogging or having my novel available to readers on my website disqualify me for consideration by book publishers?
There is no hard and fast rule, as it all depends on how much material you are making available to the public and how different it is from the finished version.
Let’s say that you've written a novel. Generally speaking, publishers do not want to purchase rights to material that has already been made widely available or been overexposed. If you have posted a few chapters of the novel you’ve just finished in hopes of either getting feedback or building a potential following (with further hopes that a book publisher will be attracted to your work and impressed by your marketing efforts), you’re probably safe. If you’ve been blogging about your book topic, or writing about the process of writing your novel, but not actually writing the book “in public,” you’re still okay. In fact, being able to say that you have an audience of several hundred people to whom you would market your book is a plus. It's a very small number, not likely to deter a publisher.
If the entire contents of your book are available online, and if you have thousands of readers on your mailing list, you might have a problem. During contract negotiations you will most certainly be asked (and you should offer) to take down all of your material once a deal is made so that it is 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 on an agreed-upon date before the publisher's copies come out.
Furthermore, when self-published authors try to get bought out by big publishers, there is a general guideline for just how many sales is a plus and how many a detriment. It isn’t a hard and fast number, but more of a marketing issue. For example, if you’ve sold 1,000 copies of a mainstream literary novel by yourself, publishers will likely be impressed. They may feel that they can expand your audience in a way that you are unable to alone. If you’ve sold 1,000 copies of an instructional manual on collecting 19th century dolls, and your book is already available at all the major doll conventions and advertised in all the appropriate publications, publishers will likely be impressed—but feel that you have already done everything that they would do and exhausted the potential market. They will likely pass on your book. If you’ve been blogging about 19th century doll collecting, publishers will ask, "Why would someone buy this book instead of just reading your blog?"
In other words, the material you intend to publish should either be significantly different than what you’ve made available online, or it should only be available to a certain, well-defined audience in terms of number and scope. You need to leave room for your would-be publisher to see growth potential.
Assuming that your first step will be to get an agent, this is a question you should definitely ask him/her--if you are advised to take it all down immediately, the publisher won't even know about it (unless your agent feels it's a plus to your marketing pitch that you already have X subscribers to your blog/website, as I imagine they would).
Ally E. Peltier is a writer, editor, and publishing consultant. She is also a Phi Beta Kappa graduate and Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of places, including Circle magazine, Writers Weekly newsletter, and J3tlag.com. She divides her time between New York City and Maryland. Learn more here.