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Should You Post Your Novel Online for Free?

Categories: Questions & Quandaries Blog Tags: Brian Klems.

Q: Is it a good idea to serialize an unpublished novel in a weekly blog? I have a completed sci-fi novel and was thinking about releasing it online, but I wasn’t sure if I should do this. Would it be good publicity for my novel, or would it make it harder to get my book published in the future? —Tiffany A.

Publishing your material online for free has pros and cons. Let’s start with the cons, because no one ever worries about the potential pros (sky-high blog hits, making too much money, landing on the cover of WD, etc.).

The biggest con you face by giving away your writing online is that you could potentially hurt future book sales. Those who take a stance against free online content are fond of asking: Why would people pay for the content if they could pop onto your website and read it for free (after all, isn’t that one of the major reasons newspapers are struggling)? Many agents and editors are also leery of attaching themselves to writing that’s already been published online—because once you post it online, it is considered published, albeit digitally.

You can set yourself up for personal discouragement, too—in an Internet world of anonymity, negative, tasteless comments are commonly posted on even the best writing. It can also be awfully disheartening if you post your work to your blog, check Google Analytics to see how many people are visiting, and find out that your readership consists of only four people—your two closest friends, your mom and someone named Spambot1.

On the flip side, there are significant pros to posting your work on the Web. For starters, some commenters could give useful feedback that gives you a glimpse of what’s working and what’s not in your novel. And it can be a boost to have that unpublished novel somewhere other than in your underwear drawer collecting dust while you shop it around to agents.

Of course, the No. 1 reason to post your work online is to build a following of loyal readers who enjoy your writing. In the publishing industry, that’s called “platform” and is highly attractive to agents, editors and publishers. If you’re able to create a built-in audience, you’ve already proven that there’s a market for your writing, and that can go a long way when it comes time to submit.

Writers like Cory Doctorow, Scott Sigler and Seth Harwood (to name a few) give their writing away online for free (the latter two do it by podcast) and have found great success. All have also enjoyed more traditional publishing success through book deals, speaking engagements and more. And all are adamant supporters of posting your work online for free for everyone to read.

So what does it all mean? Let me sum it up this way: Giving your work away online in the hopes of roping a traditional deal is a lot like online dating—you put all of your best assets on display for your potential suitors to see, and hope someone bites. It’s useful and practical and may provide long-term benefits, but there’s always the possibility you’ll be sleeping by yourself for the rest of your life.

It’s your call.

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12 Responses to Should You Post Your Novel Online for Free?

  1. Wael says:

    I’ve been publishing my novel weekly on a popular multi-author blog called MM. I’m about 3/4 of the way through. Now MM has informed me that they want to publish my novel as an e-book, and that they will give me a percentage of the proceeds. They might also give it away free as an incentive to subscribe to their newsletter. Can they do this? There has been no discussion of copyright of e-book rights between us. Who holds the e-book rights? Me or them?

  2. mande78 says:

    I know this is an older post, but I still wanted to add a comment for others looking for this information.

    Posting online is a great idea, especially for a first time author, because of all the pros stated in the post. However, I don’t agree with the cons. As long as you don’t “digitally publish” your novel on amazon kindle, nook, and so forth, you will be fine. The point is to be able to remove the content if you should get an agent or book deal. NEVER publish to a site where you can’t delete the content later. I only publish sample chapters on my personal author website http://www.mandedavis.net and FanFiction https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9840262/1/Deadly-Magic because I am certain I can remove all content if and when I choose. I also plan to delete beginning chapters after they have been up for a few weeks. Still debating on the last part.

    You may want to change the names of your character or title of the novel, if you’re still concerned.

  3. Mykall says:

    I realize this post is old, but I found it just now on a search. I’m doing exactly that right now, and putting my content for free out there. Not everything, but just enough to whet the appetites. I don’t really see any cons to doing it. It’s like the first rock, sample, taste. And I’m not afraid of criticism either. I’d rather have people ruthlessly tear my novel apart so I can fix what’s wrong with it. It can only make me a better writer!

  4. johnrushing says:

    I was just told by an agent that she would read my manuscript if I took down my website containing my serialized novel. I believe this agent and I are a poor fit.

  5. supernova says:

    I have a question too. What about the intellectual rights to your piece? If you put a part of what you are working on, and somebody gets ideas similar to yours, and goes on to publish his/her novel before you do yours, can you claim the right to the story? Can he/she not claim that he published the story first and you copied it? Even if he/she doesn’t, will it not affect your sales? Does anybody know what’s done in such cases?

    • Sgt. Peppers64 says:

      I would supposed that if that person stole it from you and published it, you’d still have proof of when you published your story, so it’s a little tricky. I think the best thing is to publish one chapter of your story and see what people comment but leave the rest to yourself, I’m very wary about this subject to… By the way I started blogging this year and I would love to hear any comments

  6. cstewart says:

    I’m still on the fence.

  7. Sandra Beckwith says:

    Great question, great answer — thanks for sharing. It looks like the answer is “it depends,” which is the answer for so many of life’s questions. I’ll share this w/my networks — it’s a question I hear asked all the time.

    Sandra Beckwith
    http://www.buildbookbuzz.com

  8. David Abrams says:

    Good advice on all accounts. I’ve been sporadically posting excerpts from my work-in-progress (“Fobbit,” a comic novel about the Iraq War) on my blog. But most of them have been pieces of the novel which have been cut during the revision process. So, when my novel is published (knock on wood) readers can go to the blog and get the “Director’s Cut” version of “Fobbit.”

  9. I have been posting my stories on line to my own readfree site for about 2 years. I have come from an unknown to having a fan base. I believe in posting my stories free for three main reasons. 1. To get my name out there so it is recognized. 2. To get free critiqes 3. To provide a service to my readers. I think the trick is not to depend on one story. I have over 30 and I am always writing more. And I strongly disagree that people won’t read the story free and then buy it. Actually, this is your chance to link it to your bookstore! I do sell books, though not in great quantity yet. But then, I’m self-published, too. I’m not ashamed of that fact.

  10. Jessica M says:

    I’ve looked into this issue often but yet I haven’t seen anyone comment or address this: what if I published my WIPs online for review and critique, but then took it off the internet once I begun querying agents and am ready to publish? Hopefully, all trace of my story will be gone by then (but my fans would be retained, hopefully!) because I’ve heard here and there that agents and publishers don’t like it when the work you’re trying to query is available elsewhere.

    • supernova says:

      I read somewhere that, once you put something on the internet for public viewing, you can be rest assured, it will remain there in one form or another for all eternity, because of the kind of web that it actually has become. I keep that in mind whether I am posting a piece or even a picture on facebook. In most cases, your WIP would be gone when you take it down (wink wink), but I wouldn’t count on it… :)

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