A Word of Warning: What counts as 'Previously Published'?

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
I've been in competition mode for much of this year. After writing four novels in three years, I'm attempting to get some free publicity by getting longlisted or shortlisted for literary prizes. Many winners of writing competitions have gone on to be offered representation by agents.

The most foolish thing I did after returning to creative writing in 2013, was to self-publish most of my poetry, short stories and novellas online, via Smashwords and Amazon. At the time, I was unaware that this immediately ruled them out from being entered into competitions. Of forty competitions I've found that interest me, only two accept previously published work.

For the first time, I've been writing Flash Fiction, with an eye on several contests. I intended to post my stories on the Colony's FF forum, to get some feedback until I read through the fine print of one of the competitions, which includes uploading to forums as 'being published'. It's certainly putting my work into the public eye, though I can't see how it would give me any advantage.

It's something to remember, should you be chasing any contests that insist on your work being 'previously unpublished.'
We went through much discussion on this topic in the flash fiction section 2-3 years ago. I would definitely be wary of posting here -- or anywhere else online -- anything that you think you'd like to formally publish. As KTLN says, you may be able to alter it sufficiently to justifiably claim it is a new story -- but suppose you don't want to alter it?
Maybe not, though I rewrite flash entries later, if I liked them enough to spent more time working on them. They can certainly stand it....or, having been written as flash, now you have an idea for making it a longer story.
I recently ran into this - sigh - and previously published also includes blogs no matter how few people follow you. Its a conundrum because we're supposed to be promoting ourselves and how else but by writing?

I've seen novels with notices up front the portions have previously been published as short storied in a magazine. Of course that tends to be well known writers who've had excerpts of future novels published in The New Yorker.
Yes as @Marc Joan says this was the subject of discussion a while back and although the flash club often gives me ideas for stories that I may go on to sell or enter into competitions I only ever post those that I'm using to try something out or where I know they won't sell. If you want feedback though why not set up a group for your shorts and I'm sure some of us short story writers will be happy to give you some feedback :)
Yep. I know the feeling. Even winning a contest can be a double-edged sword. I have two contest winning stories that were 'published' in a booklet handed out to, maybe, a hundred people at a conference. The contest winnings were great--better than I would have done selling the stories to a magazine. But these are good stories--stories I want to share with a wide audience. Unfortunately, now they've been 'published' I can't place them anywhere with wider distribution. I never thought of stories as single-use items before...

With that said, some day maybe I'll have enough of these winning stories saved up I can publish a collection of short stories. That'd be cool.
Yes, it is unfortunate. You must read the small print when entering competitions as 'previously published' essentially means it has appeared online - whether in a forum or on your own blog or website. I used to belong to a writing collective where we each had to contribute a piece of fiction or non-fiction every two weeks - I chose non-fiction so I could use my short fiction for competitions! The very first competition I entered I won first prize and £150 - the story concerned has gone on to be published several times and I have been paid (admittedly less than if it had not been previously published) - so there is a market out there for previously published stories - if they are good they will be used over and over.
What Island Writer said - previously published stories are republished, but usually for less money. but given how little most short story markets pay, it's rarely worth fretting about the discount.
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