June 14, 2011

Have You Posted Your Work Online?

Chain and padlock securing double doors

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.”

Nothing changed.

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.

(Heh.  Yes, the woman who doesn’t swear in real life has profanity on page one.  My character made me do it.)  And congratulations to my co-winners, Alison Miller and my friend Suzi McGowen.

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?

Comments — What do you think?

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Irene Vernardis
Irene Vernardis

Hi Jami 🙂

Congrats on the winning :D. I’m very glad for you.

Well, it’s a thin line. There is also the risk of plagiarism for unpublished work. It has its pros and cons, as you mentioned. I’ve seen books published in blogs by chapters, which landed a publisher and a good one.

My thought is that a sample or a chapter, if chosen, should be published on a blog, in the best state possible, reviewed and edited as it would be for publishing. Because yes, whatever goes on the internet, stays like forever. I review and edit even my blog posts, I never put them online if they’re not properly edited. I even re-read them after I posted them online. It takes longer yes, but it’s not good to have blog posts with errors.

I don’t have an answer whether it’s good or bad to post samples or chapters before publishing. It serves purposes, like promotion or branding, but at the same time one should be prepared to deal with consequences, whether positive or negative. It’s a decision everyone should make on their own.

Thank you for the interesting post and for sharing 🙂

Kristen Lamb

I still advise people think long and hard before posting fiction. As I said in my blog, I posted a short work and even though 20 people said it was awesome, one jerk SHREDDED me, and I have never gotten over it. So, writers need to do some real gut checking before posting. Sometimes writing looks solid to us, but we are too close and can’t see the forest for the trees. There might be big problems we just posted to the world.

Also, fiction does terrible on search engines. One of the big reasons I recommend that writers avoid posting fiction is that too many feel it is a suitable substitute for a blog. Not only is fiction unlikely to come up on a search (which means limited traffic), but it defeats the purpose of the blog…creating dialogue. Fiction is more of a store display and can end up a one-way discussion. Blogs founded on subjects of mutual interest are better at generating community. The larger and more vested the community, the better chance our fiction has of succeeding once published.

Also, mystery might do a lot for helping sales, the anticipation of what that author-blogger’s fiction is really like. I know that was one of the big reason’s I purchased Chuck Wendig’s Irrational Creatures. Chuck is such a hysterical blogger, I was DYING to know what his fiction was like.

Thanks for a great post.


I read web fiction and am serializing one novel. From my experience with it, the only way to make fiction a good comment trigger is to end chapters on cliffhangers. Stormy’s Mirrorverse books at are the best example of this, I think. Stormy gets maybe double the views I do, but she gets multiple comments a chapter. I rarely get one. (Not complaining; just pointing that out.)

On the public shredding thing… I’ve always found rude comments from strangers to be more character fodder than anything else—but then, you’d be hard-pressed to find a critic worse than my parents.

Jen Kirchner

Congrats on winning the contest, Jami! Spectacular achievement. I’m too scared to come within 100 yards of a literary agent, much less enter a contest involving one. Kudos to you and I hope this gives your writing career a well-deserved boost. Now for the writing blog… This is a hard comment for me to post, especially since you and I aren’t too familiar with each other. I’m shy. 😛 I post fiction on my website. My website, which has only been up for a month now, features story “shorts” that are a riff on Choose Your Own Adventure stories. They are nothing like a novel. They typically run between 600 – 750 words, are critted by two people, and edited by a third. Two nights of my week are sucked up by this web series, giving me the rest of the week to work on my novels. Based on the feedback I have received, the friends I have made because of my series, and the fact that I am reaching actual *readers* who are interested in my novels, I feel that I am on the right track so far. However, I hold this “success” very loosely — if I release my first novel and no one buys it, then it’s a lesson learned and I’ll need to change my strategy. I understand that my approach is not the popular one among writers. I do lots of things that Kristen Lamb says not to do. I even have a personal website.…  — Read More »

Susan Sipal

Wow, Jami — what a gripping beginning! I see why you won. Major congratulations!

Yes, I have just in the last few days put something online through my blog and Kindle — my writing workshop on Harry Potter. I don’t post my fiction, though. I used to put up samples years ago, but like you said, discovered it was better to keep it off as I was continually revising it. I only had one experience where I posted something I later regretted, a short piece for a contest. Fortunately, it was anonymous. What was funny was that all the reader feedback was wonderful, but the person running the contest had something snarky to say.

Michelle Mason

Agent Jennifer Laughran did a post on this in January. I remember it because many agents retweeted it with an endorsement. Her take is that you shouldn’t post anything because it could hurt your chances with a publisher if they Google you and see your work already out in the open. I’ve been hesitant to post things out there as well, but I have done a few things – a first paragraph contest and a call for the first line. I haven’t done a full page. I instinctively don’t want to put it out there, kind of like you were saying. However, I think winning a contest is a little different since it’s recognition for the work.

Here’s a link to the post I referenced:


Congrats on your win, and very nice first page! I greatly enjoyed it.


Hi Jami,

First up, congrats!

Until last week I had never posted my stuff online. There are just so many mixed opinions on the subject (not to mention my lack of courage). Then I had an editor tell me directly (via Twitter message) that from her perspective, unpublished writers should post short samples on their websites, because often they (editors) research and recruit writers, and if there’s nothing for them to go on, they move on to the next candidate’s website. Ahem: she had skipped me.

So I bombarded my crit partner with short excerpts until we came up with a couple that *hopefully* give a good impression of my voice & style. And I posted them. Then I got myself a stiff drink to calm my nerves. 🙂

Was it the right thing to do, or a huge mistake? I have absolutely no idea.

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

I’m so happy for you Jami. Congratulations on the win! Loved the except. I can totally see why you snagged first place.
I’ve never posted any excerpts online. Nothing against doing it, but I suppose fear was a big factor in my descision. And that fear stems from exactly what you mentioned in this post. Our work is constantly evolving. The more we write the better we get at it. Novels I banged out years ago are wordy, full of extranious adjectives, there’s head hopping, and tense issues….arg, it’s pretty bad. So what if I post my work now, look at it in a year (because as you said what’s written online stays online) and realize the many mistakes I might have made?
So no, I don’t put unpublished excerpts online.
Thank you for including Kristen Lamb’s post. It’s been a while since I read it and it will be good to go over it again. The link on what the agent said will be helpful too!
Keep writing Jami…your work is worth reading!!!
Have a great afternoon!


I’ve serialized two entire novels and posted them on my blog over the last few years, and have no regrets. People reading and leaving comments like “can’t wait for next week” is what gave me the incentive to finish them — yes, I was posting works in progress! Had I not had people waiting on me, I might have let them drop. My preferred “system” was to have at least ten scenes/episodes lined up, and look them all over before posting the next in line. That gave me several opportunities to correct problems. It was a very linear process that I call “1.5th draft” — more polished than a first draft, but not up to a formal beta. Feedback has been, in my mind, a little too positive. I’d get the occasional, “hey, typo here” comment, for which I was thankful. I expected to get ripped once or twice, but it never happened. The most critical comment I got was about a lot of loose ends in White Pickups, but I knew about them and was already well into the sequel. No agents or publishers have come calling, but I did write an April Fool’s post about getting a book deal one year. 🙂 Blogging my novels has helped me — helped me finish them at least! — but I work from a few simple guidelines. You really need to know where the story is going before you get too far into it, and you need to have the first…  — Read More »

Brooke Johnson

I’ve only posted something from a work in progress once, and I never did it again. Anytime I feel the need to have writing examples on my blog, I just make up stupid little snippets on the spot, that way I don’t feel bad/nervous/excited/fearful of what commenters might say.

As Kristen says in her comment, posting fiction is less likely to lead to dialogue, and that’s what I want on my blog. I want discussion and opinions galore, not awkward silence.

When it comes to publishing my first book, I will probably post the first snippet on the blog, the first page or so, to garner interest, and then I’ll lead them to the sample/book purchase page.

Also, congrats on winning the contest. (I would have had no idea if you hadn’t mentioned it) 😉

Brooke Johnson

I completely forgot to mention posting to critique forums… /facepalm

I participated in WriteOnCon last year, posting up to the first five pages of my work in progress, and I learned a lot. I think I enjoyed helping others more, but I did get a bit of good feedback on my work as well.

I think that sometimes, it’s a good idea to post your work, if you can handle the responses. WriteOnCon opened my eyes to what people expected of first pages, and also to what everyone else (the competition) was working on.

Julie Musil

Wow, what a first page! No wonder you won 😀 (and I don’t swear either, but have some bad words in my ms. Ack!)

I’ve always been nervous about posting my work on line. The most I’ve done is my pitch in contests. Even that made me nervous. Thanks for the quote by Sarah Davies. That’s good advice to follow.

Patrick Thunstrom

I’ve recently posted a flash fiction for a couple of contests, and am thinking it was a bad idea. I always end up regretting posting it online.

Congrats on your achievement!

Deri Ross
Deri Ross

Hi Jami,

Congratulations! How exciting!

Your blog touched on something I struggle with too. I am very shy with my writing and panic at the thought of posting samples online (of fiction, that is…I seem to have no problem posting nonfiction writings). It’s probably also why I’m finding all kinds of reasons to delay starting my blog and putting out there that I want to write fiction. I hate for anyone to see something I think is not quite perfect, which I realize is counterproductive since I will never get helpful feedback that way. I’ve entered several writing contests at my college, and won awards in three of them, but every single time I was terrified to the point that I regretted entering. My instructor and mentor finally told me “You can’t win anything without risking the chance you may lose.” I’ve been trying to keep that in mind, but it’s hard to change an ingrained fear. Thanks for the inspiring post!


Jamie DeBree

I serialize novels, short stories, novellas – whatever I happen to be writing on several blogs, and have done so for several years now. I don’t do it for feedback (although I do get some very helpful questions from my readers that occasionally steer the story in a direction I hadn’t considered before. I post my drafts, as I write them (normally the scene is written either the night before, or the day of if I’m running late), and I mark them clearly as drafts. Readers are well aware that they aren’t getting my best work, but this is a way for them to read me for free, and try out the story, watching my process (much like watching any artist work, IMO). When the story is done, I leave it up until I get the edits back from my editor and then take it down. The people who didn’t read the rough – or who read a piece, and want the whole thing can buy the polished version when I publish it. Many, many people say not to do this. But I have sold quite a few books (and pre-sold books) by serializing my work, and now I tend to see sales after a new chapter goes up too (I promote my published work at the bottom of each serial chapter). I haven’t gotten much in the way of negative comments, and the few times I have, I’ve reminded the person that it’s just a draft, and frankly, it…  — Read More »

Suzi McGowen

I’m not surprised you won at all 🙂 But I totally understand your feeling of “I didn’t expect to actually win. *pshaw* That would be crazy talk.” 🙂

No, I don’t publish my stuff on-line. I may talk about it (and talk and talk and talk), but I (generally) don’t post excerpts on-line. I did post my first page for critique feedback, and I think it’s stronger for that.

I’ve heard that as long as it’s less than X amount (10% is the amount I heard) that you haven’t hurt your “first rights” when you try to get the book published, but who knows if that’s true or not?

Anyway, congratulations! I’m so happy for you 🙂


Oh-great post! Someone asked me about this on Twitter last week and I think she unfollowed me when I adamantly said unpublished fiction don’t belong on your blog. (Yeah, I’m opinionated.) If you’re a published novelist–sure, throw some scenes on there that got cut from the book. Fans love that. But unpublished novelists don’t have fans. Someone like me might have blog fans, but that’s different than fans of my writing (i.e. people are clamoring for more of my characters.) I know you excluded short stories/flash, etc. from this post, but I think those are precisely the kinds of unpublished works that don’t belong on a blog. If a piece is good enough for an audience, then the writer should submit to any number of the online or print journals out there who publish stories.

And that’s my 2 cents. 😉 Congrats on the contest! I think doing that is completely different from posting random samples on your blog. There was a win to be a had there–an agent’s critique or reading of your manuscript. That’s COMPLETELY different than twelve people writing “great work” after a post on your own blog.

Elisa Jeglin

Wow, how exciting! Congratulations! I’m torn about the whole posting not posting. Sometimes I post poems I’ve written because I have no interest in pursuing anything with them, but I still like to share and hear feed back. I don’t know, everybody has different reasons for posting their work. It’s a very tough decision.

Leona Bushman

OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG I’m so excited! I’m trying really hard not to scream or squeal since I’m at Borders but the shit eating grin may garner me a phone number from the guy who walked by when I got it LOL

Hate to hurt his feelings and tell him it’s for my online friend and staunch supporter and not his rugged good looks. *sigh. I’m married so not really interested, but I have eyes…*

Then again, this bouncy feeling might be the extra caffeine I’ve consumed LOL CONGRATULATIONS

as for the rest of y’all, I happen to know I’m one of the few who’ve seen this privately and got to read her genius and watch it grow… *yes that was bragging!*

Good job!

Roxanne Skelly
Roxanne Skelly

I’ve posted my work online once. Before learning about and addressing my bad habits. Bad embarrassing idea.

Fortunately, as we say in the tech world, my brand is in stealth-mode…er…I’m an unpublished nobody and was able to purge the bad work from everywhere but the wayback machine and other internet archive sites.

I’ll never again publish my work online until a good editor has given it the green light. Well, maybe at some point, but it’ll be a very careful decision.

I will gladly seek beta readers and submit to contests and the like. That resulted in some very constructive and positive feedback from some great authors.

Blog posts and responses? Well, I tend to shoot from the hip, but fortunately I’m a nice person and tend to behave.

Todd Moody

I posted a little thing on my blog back in February on this issue. One of my writer friends is giving away a large piece of her novel for free on her website, and I asked how much was too much. I am still thinking about pulling some of my experts down at some point as they are raw, perhaps when I finish the novel I will.

Great post as always Jami!


Hmm . . as you know, I usually post flash fiction on my blog (with an occasional “writing information” or “fun” post here and there). I’m not afraid of constructive criticism, I crave it! 😉 My flash fiction posts usually get a fair amount of comments. I always at least acknowledge the commenter with a “thank you,” and as warranted, respond to comments with in-depth explanations. That is how I encourage conversation on my blog. So feel free to visit my blog and rip my writing to pieces. I welcome it. lol 🙂


Wow! Congrats on that win!

I started sharing my stories within 2 weeks of when I first started writing my first story ever, and by the next year was an active member of and the story boards of That lasted a few years.

I’ve also experienced incredibly harsh critique to my face.

Those factors combined probably contribute to my attitude of: “Ooo! Story fodder!” when I receive a flame. My old fanfics even contained public alerts of that mindset and requested flames.

So I have no problems with getting harsh critique.

I also know that no writing will be perfect, so I’ve taught myself to take a breath and let it go. That’s helped me finish projects.

Gene Lempp

Congratulations on the win Jami! Well-deserved, the submission is excellent and I’ll be buying the book once its out.

Other than a few short flash fiction items I’ve never submitted any of my fiction online and have to intention of doing so. I also do not discuss my projects beyond the raw basics, such as the logline or general themes, not just online but anywhere. These policies are based on advice from other published authors: “learn to keep your hand close to your chest”, being the gist of the advice. Since I do this naturally, it has been easy to follow.

So when does the book come out? 🙂

Alison Miller

Great post! I hardly ever post my work. I want it completely edited first. But I’m glad I did for Shelley’s contest. Hoo boy.

Congrats!!! I loved your excerpt!

Lisa Gail Green

It’s a REALLY tricky subject! I don’t. But I might if I were in a different position. I certainly wouldn’t do it just for the heck of it, and I’d make sure it was polished (just like you) 😀 Congrats!! I don’t think what you did there was a mistake. Hopefully it will lead to wonderful things for you.

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