Some people post their work online all the time. Photographers have Shutterstock. Artists have deviantART. Non-fiction authors often base their books on their blog posts.
What about fiction authors? That’s a little trickier. We’re not talking about flash fiction, blog hop entries, and the like here. If we limit the discussion to novels—our babies—it’s harder to say whether we should post our not-yet-published work online.
Some authors post samples of their work to give their readers a feel for their voice, story, and skill. They want to build a following for their writing and figure the best way to do so is to give their readers…well, some of their writing. Others post samples of their work to ask for feedback. Those are both valid reasons.
Posting work online works for some fiction authors, but it’s not for everyone. Some of us are fine having random strangers rip into our work, and some of us wouldn’t enjoy that experience at all. Some of us are confident our writing sample is “done” and therefore a good representation of our ability, and some of us tweak our work until it’s published and therefore wouldn’t want old versions out there.
Last year, Kristen Lamb had a post asking whether it’s a good idea to post chapters of a novel online. She covered some of the pros and cons authors should keep in mind as they decide. Most importantly, she pointed out that we need to identify our goals ahead of time.
Obviously, once we’re published, the game changes. People expect to be able to read the first couple pages, or maybe even the first chapter, before deciding whether to buy the book.
But for not-yet-published material, where the writing hasn’t been edited by a publishing house or freelance editor, there’s a real danger in losing readers. Just like how we sometimes decide against buying a Kindle book after checking out the free sample, some readers might see our not-yet-ready-for-prime-time work and decide our writing is crap.
I’ve struggled with this issue for years. I’ve posted a paragraph or two from my work-in-progress on blogs I trust. Yet even though I’m eager for feedback on my work, there have been only two times I posted a whole page.
A few years back, I posted a page on a critique blog. I handled the feedback just fine and much of it was valuable, but I’m not happy the post is still out there. I cringe reading the over-writing and melodrama because my current version is much better. Too bad. That crap will exist in Google forever.
Ever since then, I haven’t submitted to any online critique blogs. I’ve been tempted to, especially when I trust the opinions of those doing the critiquing. But my personal policy on privacy holds me back, just like how I don’t publicly announce when I’ve gotten a request or anything else along those lines.
Generally, I’ve followed advice like what literary agent Sarah Davies recommended yesterday:
[A]void documenting anything about your querying or subsequent submission processes. Play your cards close to your chest and cultivate your poker face. Your agent, if you have one, will love you for that, because it leaves she/he able to do their job – selling your book – with maximum freedom. It will also lower your stress levels because thousands of people won’t be watching as you ride a potential rollercoaster to deal or no deal.
Sounds reasonable, right? But a few weeks ago, I posted a whole page online for the second time to enter a contest. My work was buried among 86 comments, so it felt safe. Imagine my surprise when both of my privacy policies were blown away this past weekend because of that decision.
My manuscript’s first page was posted front and center on a blog. And everyone knows I received a full request.
So the good news is I won an agent-judged contest. Yay! Hopefully that means my first page isn’t total crap anymore. The bad news is I’m freaking out a little bit. Yes, I knew I was entering a contest, but I didn’t expect to actually win. *pshaw* That would be crazy talk.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled I won and I wouldn’t take back the experience. It’s just that this is the first time my fiction writing is out there being promoted for the whole world to see. And I know people have seen it because they’ve sent congratulations despite the fact that I didn’t announce my win until the above paragraph. Ack!
Yes, it took me a few days to get up the courage to announce I won a contest. *sigh* But I’m getting with the program now. So for those who didn’t see the contest post, here is the winning first page of The Resurrected:
Daniel’s switchblade clattered to the floor from his slackened fingers, the knife the least of his worries. He fell to his knees and ripped open the shirt of the man sprawled on the linoleum. The slash across Demetri’s skin ended at a bloody hole over his heart. Not good.
“I’m sorry, Demetri. I swear I didn’t mean to. But it’ll be okay, you can heal this.” Daniel fumbled to block the wound in Demetri’s chest. “You’ll be fine. Just fix it.”
The truth sank into his brain around the same time the pooling blood soaked through his pants. His hand clenched with the temptation to punch the body. This accident would ruin everything. Before his fears gelled, Daniel forced his mind to send a coherent thought to Renaldo, “There’s been a complication.”
A complication? The understatement prompted a panicky snort. Welcome to the freak show his life had become in the past year. He waited, unmoving, unthinking. Running away and regret would both be pointless.
Renaldo entered the apartment, his usual poker face in place as he took in Demetri’s form. “This was not part of the plan.”
No kidding. But Renaldo would hear the truth in any excuses.
At Daniel’s silence, Renaldo’s gaze moved past him. “And the experiment?”
Right. Clusterf*** number two. Daniel looked behind him, where the apartment’s resident lay on a futon, the lone piece of furniture in the studio unit. Unlike Demetri, the stranger’s body appeared okay. Appearances were deceiving.
Have you posted your work online? Why did you make that decision? If you have, has it been a good or bad experience for you? Do you ever wish that you hadn’t done so? How much do you discuss your journey to publication online?