Are You Needlessly Worrying About Your Work Getting TOO MUCH Exposure?

Publish date:
Image placeholder title

As writers become more and more comfortable with online media, I receive more and more questions like this:

  • If I post my work on my own site, will anyone be willing to consider it for print publication?
  • How much of my novel can I post online before a publisher won't take it any more?
  • Do I lose rights to my work if it's posted on XYZ site?

Here are key points to remember.

1. First things first: You own the copyright and all rights to your work when you post it online, unless you specifically agree otherwise. It may be easier to steal when it's online, but you still own it.

2. Always check the terms of service when regularly posting content to any site. If you're posting your work on major sites like Authonomy, WeBook, etc., you really have nothing to worry about. In such cases,
you're not relinquishing any exclusive or vital rights to your work by
posting it. (If someone knows of exceptions, please note in the

However, there
may be an implicit agreement—by very fact of you using a website—that
the site owner has nonexclusive right to use the content in a limited
(or expansive) way. Such use is usually justified or reasonable, and sometimes it might profit the site owner. You need to decide what
you're comfortable with and if the trade-offs are worth it. I have
yet to see an agreement that is unethical or not upfront.

For example, here is Amazon's language governing book review content, which you agree to when using their site:

If you do post content or submit material, and unless we indicate otherwise, you grant Amazon a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, and fully sublicensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, and display such content throughout the world in any media. You grant Amazon and sublicensees the right to use the name that you submit in connection with such content, if they choose. You represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content that you post; that the content is accurate; that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity; and that you will indemnify Amazon for all claims resulting from content you supply. Amazon has the right but not the obligation to monitor and edit or remove any activity or content. Amazon takes no responsibility and assumes no liability for any content posted by you or any third party.

This basically means that while you retain rights to your work, Amazon has the right do whatever it pleases as well. The key is the word "nonexclusive." If Amazon decided to publish a collection of the most kinky book reviews ever written, and used your material, they would not owe you any money or need to ask your permission, though of course it would be considered good practice and common courtesy to notify you.

3. If your work doesn't have a lot of commercial value, who cares? Here is where I have to be completely insensitive and say bluntly: Writers are overly worried about work that is not commercially valuable. Many things that people post online, whether on their own sites or elsewhere, are online precisely because there isn't a commercial value attached. So, when you post your work without compensation, there is an essential value statement made that, right now, you're valuing exposure (or service or community) more than payment. Or that you're marketing and promoting yourself, your brand, or a work that does have commercial value.

4. That said, the value of your work CAN change or be discovered later—which only opens up the commercial value and potential of your work. Remember that online exposure and online media are not the same as print exposure and print media. They are usually written and edited differently, presented differently, marketed differently, and read differently. The online audience is not 100% the same as the print audience (and sometimes not even 10% the same!).

Think of it this way: If you participated in a poetry slam and became wildly successful as a poet-entertainer, with thousands of followers, would that detract from your ability to publish books of your poetry? No, in fact, it would help make the case for print publication. Would a presentation of your poems online, in a way that gathered 10,000 unique visitors every day, detract from the sales of a beautiful physical chapbook? Of course not. It would help.

For the most part, online and print are complimentary—they are not competitive. Any book publisher who refuses to consider a work that has been successfully published digitally or online or in a multimedia format has not caught up with the times. Magazine and newspapers are a little different, but if they become a fan of your online work, most likely they will ask you to produce an original work for print publication.

5. You're always producing more work, right? Don't hold on so tightly to each piece of work that you're not focusing on new production.

Yes, even I hang onto my creative writing from senior year in high school, and have a catalog of all the places my work has appeared over the years (online and in print, often without pay), but even if a third party is profiting off my work online, that work has no commercial value to me anymore. I'm producing better stuff now. Plus the old work serves to offer additional exposure, little guideposts leading people to the more recent work.

Key takeaway: Just because your work is "published" when it appears online doesn't mean you've destroyed its market value. That's a very old-school way of viewing the value of content—a viewpoint that's based on decades of print publication tradition, when whoever had the "first" rights to print publication had the "best" rights, and paid the most.

If you haven't noticed, things have changed.

P.S. ... and a final word on theft: Stop worrying. When writing becomes a lucrative profession and when demand for writing far outstrips supply, then maybe we can discuss. In the meantime, feel flattered that someone thought your work was good enough they wanted to bother taking the time and effort to market, promote, pitch, and/or publish it themselves.

UPDATE: I recently read this post from Stefanie Peters, which makes 2 more important points about posting your work online, especially in forums like Authonomy.

Photo credit: Wetsun

Nawaaz Ahmed: On Personal Identity in Literary Fiction

Nawaaz Ahmed: On Personal Identity in Literary Fiction

Nawaaz Ahmed discusses how his personal experiences acted as the impetus for his new book, Radiant Fugitives, and how it went from novella to novel.

Comedy vs. Comity (Grammar Rules)

Comedy vs. Comity (Grammar Rules)

There's nothing funny about learning when to use comedy and comity (OK, maybe a little humor) with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Shugri Said Salh: On Writing the Coming-Of-Age Story

Shugri Said Salh: On Writing the Coming-Of-Age Story

Debut author Shugri Said Salh discusses how wanting to know her mother lead her to writing her coming-of-age novel, The Last Nomad.

100 Ways to Buff Your Book

100 Ways to Buff Your Book

Does your manuscript need a little more definition, but you’re not sure where to begin? Try these 100 tips to give your words more power.

Kaia Alderson: On Internal Roadblocks and Not Giving Up

Kaia Alderson: On Internal Roadblocks and Not Giving Up

Kaia Alderson discusses how she never gave up on her story, how she worked through internal doubts, and how research lead her out of romance and into historical fiction.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Seven New Courses, Writing Prompts, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce seven new courses, our Editorial Calendar, and more!

Crystal Wilkinson: On The Vulnerability of Memoir Writing

Crystal Wilkinson: On The Vulnerability of Memoir Writing

Kentucky’s Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson discusses how each project has its own process and the difference between writing fiction and her new memoir, Perfect Black.

From Script

Approaching Comedy from a Personal Perspective and Tapping into Your Unique Writer’s Voice (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by, interviews with masters of comedy, screenwriter Tim Long ('The Simpsons') and writer-director Dan Mazer (Borat Subsequent Movie) about their collaboration on their film 'The Exchange', and filmmaker Trent O’Donnell on his new film 'Ride the Eagle' co-written with actor Jake Johnson ('New Girl'). Plus, tips on how to tap into your unique voice and more!

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Accepting Feedback on Your Writing

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Accepting Feedback on Your Writing

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is not accepting feedback on your writing.