Why Wait to Publish?

We have a lot of book writers on WordPress–all in various stages of book writin’: thinking about writing a book, actually writing one, talking about writing one, with several finished manuscripts, publishing a first book, many published books on the shelf.

What I hear very little about on WordPress is publishing smaller pieces before the book is finished. Maybe because I started as a poet, this has always been my route.

Poems are arguably the smallest genre of writing, so it made sense to send a few out into the world and see how they fare. Eventually, I had enough poems written and published to pull them together into a manuscript, but it didn’t occur to me that it was time for a book. I had to be reminded about it by a mentor.

When I branched out into writing creative nonfiction, my goal from the beginning was to produce a book. The writers on WordPress and the writers in the memoir-writing classes I’ve taken have been as focused on The Book as I have been.

But my opinion is that it’s just as important to write smaller pieces or to take chapters or smaller portions of the book-in-progress and revise into stand-alones. These pieces can be submitted to magazines and journals. Maybe you are thinking, “Well, I am writing a novel, so there is no way to send out part of this baby!”  I searched Duotrope (search site for writing submissions) for “novel excerpts” and over 100 places are accepting submissions of novel excerpts currently. Once you weed through them, you might find only a dozen are a good fit, but hey, maybe that’s 12 more than you realized were out there!

What I am trying to do is figure out what kind of market is best for each short piece and then revise each one until it sparkles before sending it out to editors of the “right fits.”

I try to think of my short works as canaries in the coal mine of the literary world. Either they make it or they don’t.

Here is some great advice given by the character Christmas Eve in the Tony award-winning musical Avenue Q:

from a wonderful Tumblr site called “Things Musicals Taught Me”


Do you submit your writing in less-than-book-length form?



Filed under Blogging, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, WordPress, Writing

39 responses to “Why Wait to Publish?

  1. The only thing about this that you do have to consider, especially if you are going traditional route, many contracts stipulate that the work cannot have been published anywhere…not even on a blog.

    • Luanne

      I hope more people weigh in on that point re novels because it’s done all the time in memoir–publishing smaller pieces of a book ahead of time. Journals and magazines definitely do not (usually) want work that has been published before.

      • I know many who have self published their blog entries. I think some traditional publishers have it as a contract stipulation.

        • Luanne

          I’m definitely not talking about blog entries. I didn’t have that in mind at all with this post. I hope people don’t think that. I mean legitimate publication credits in reputable journals and magazines. Think of it as “peer reviewed.”

    • Luanne

      I’m also wondering if that’s a problem with novels if a novelist can write a short piece using a character from the book-in-process or something like that.

    • Weighing in several months late on this — it may depend somewhat on the genre, but in fantasy and science fiction it’s very common for a novel to be based on a previously published short story or novella. I’m pretty sure it happens in general fiction too. IOW, do check your contract, but don’t assume you can’t incorporate a previously published story (or poem) into a novel.

  2. One thing about self-publishing a novel is that you don’t run into the problems mentioned by sknicholls. But otherwise, that’s a very good point. Generally though, I think it’s a good idea to have published some small bits in a magazine or newspaper to get your name out there and begin to build a platform (Platform being the new buzzword for “doing all the marketing yourself” because the publishers aren’t going to do it for you).

    • Luanne

      Yes, if you want to publish traditionally OR self-publish, it’s good to have publications as part of your, as you say, “platform.”

  3. I can’t even imagine writing a book! Bravo for you, Luanne. I briefly toyed with submitting a piece for a CNF writing competition and discovered – as mentioned by the first commenter – that the critieria very specifically said MUST NOT BE PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED including on a blog.

    • Luanne

      That’s definitely true with publishing in magazines and journals and in competitions that the work must (almost always) be unpublished.

  4. It certainly used to be common – I remember that Dickens’s novels always came out in magazines, in segments, didn’t they?

  5. As I work on one of my novels, I’ve written several short stories that I’ve submitted to contests. A couple of these stories I’ve entertained the idea of expanding them into a full length book. I’ve never thought about taking a portion of one of my novels and writing a shorter piece…thanks for the idea, Luanne!

    • Luanne

      That would be exciting to get out of the novel framework and have fun with one character or one aspect of it, and it would show a potential agent/publisher that the book itself has what it takes to be a best seller :).

  6. I love the idea of turning an excerpt of the novel-in-progress into something of it’s own – a short story, flash fiction, or even a poem. However, I would change it up enough that it had it’s own identity and I would not reference it as an excerpt for two reasons. First, the pre-published consideration already mentioned. Something to be aware of BEFORE trying to get a contract – because it might be the thing that disqualifies you for some representation or publication. Second, if it’s a work-in-progress, you’re final version might change and the ‘excerpt’ may or may not be in the same form or even included in the final project.

    • Luanne

      Shel, I’d love to hear from more writers who have published books about this issue. This is done all the time with poetry and memoir. In fact, for poetry it’s expected, and in memoir it seems to be encouraged. It is supposed to help “sell” the book to the agent/publisher. And the poems and stories do change when they are put in the book many times.

      • Interesting – it would be nice to hear from someone published on this. I have no experience in either poetry or memoir. My comments are based on what I have heard/been told over and over again by professionals that I have dealt with in regard to my nonfiction projects and generally about fiction projects. I was at a 2-day conference this weekend and heard that message several more times from published authors in their presentations (none of them were referencing poetry or memoir). I’ll look forward to seeing what other feedback and input you get on this.

        • Luanne

          Wow, I feel like all said here today, including my post, is information that we really need to get pinned down. So they were saying if you published a nonfiction article that you could no longer put it into a book? Is that it? And were they talking novels or short stories or what re fiction? And were they talking about literary journal and also magazine publications?

          • No to first and second question. I’m not competent enough to explain, but most of the discussions were about when rights attached and who could do what with the content. Like you, I’d like to see some definitive input on this from an expert.

            • Luanne

              Interesting because I know most literary journals have first time rights and then the rights revert to the writer.

  7. Ellen Morris Prewitt

    Hi, Luanne – I’ve had chapters from my memoir published as excerpts in literary journals for the reasons you’ve mentioned (though I then got sidetracked by my fiction and never got the memoir published). I’ve also read many novels where the front pages identify the literary journals where excerpts first appeared, so I assumed they could be treated the same. Like you said, as long as you’re sure the rights revert to you, and the journals usually do require credit given. But I’m not expert on excerpts 🙂

    • Luanne

      What you are saying is what I think, too. Especially the part about not being an expert on excerpts haha. I really would like to hear from an expert to make sure!

  8. Pam Houston’s A Little More About Me is a great example of a memoir / essay collection / book with pages of “previously published excerpts” credited elsewhere. Again – as one voice /commentator indicated here, it might be that the contract need to accommodate this for the particular writer ahead of time. Working writers I’ve taken classes from have stressed getting excerpts out there. I’ve seen small pub memoirs with chapters first published in journals: like Caroline Creamers first chapter of her memoir about teaching in Alaska. Also, here’s a version of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild that she published (pre-book?) in The Sun: http://thesunmagazine.org/archives/2192. It’s a fragment of the same story, told different. On balance. Perhaps this question is best posed to NNF writers and agents and editors with a lot of experience.

    • Luanne

      Thanks so much for chiming in, Renee. I knew you would have some good points, too. And thank you for the Strayed piece. It’s fascinating for how it varies from the book . . . . I was thinking maybe Joann Beard’s essays were previously published before “The Boys of My Youth.”
      I think this is an important matter that needs a lot more research, yes?

      • Yes, more research! Let’s add it to the agenda! And I almost like this stand alone version of Strayed grieving escapades better than how it’s written in the book. You can see on pg 36 or 37 of Wild how a sentence and paragraph are so similar to where she starts this story in The Sun, but she does it deeper, longer and IMHO better in The Sun.

  9. I share short stories and poems on my blog all the time, but I’ve been hesitant to share any excerpts from my full length novel due to the reasons sited by the commentors above. Plus, I’m liable to change it up a LOT before I get to the final edited manuscript.

    Thanks for getting the wheels turning as far as submitting stories or poems to journals and publications. Like you mentioned, I’m sure that having those publications under my belt can’t hurt if I decide to shop my manuscipt around!

  10. Great discussion, Luanne!

    Excerpts and reworked ideas from any memoir or novel-in-progress are ripe for publishing these days, and can only lead to good things. Like the notice of a literary agent, for instance. I say Go For It! When it comes to publishing rights, always be clear with your agents/editors about what you’re offering. If you have already published portions of your novel or memoir or poetry chapbook in small bits, it is handled easily. Just be up front about it so the right publications get proper credit.

    The general rule about submitting blog posts is that you can’t submit any short work to lit mags if you’ve already had it on your blog, since blogging is considered a form of self-publishing, but some magazines have a looser restriction on this, so always check the submission guidelines. The best thing to do is rewrite a blog post and sell it as something that was inspired by a previous work.

    Wishing you many more bylines this year, Luanne. You’re already on a roll!

    • Luanne

      Windy, thank you so much for your seasoned comments! They are so appreciated! You’ve laid out very specifically what we should watch for, and I love that we can send things out now rather than just having to wait for the “one big thing.”
      Thanks about the bylines :). I hope so re the “roll” hah!

  11. You will decide how to proceed and I will always admire and support you, Luanne! I loved the comment about your short pieces being like canaries in a coal mine, too. I write because I hope to someday discover a different way to go with my stories. Meanwhile, on the way to the future, at least no one can ‘steal’ my thoughts! I love it when I press the “publish” button. It keeps me going through my rather mundane job and my lovely family all support my writing, too! Smiles, Robin

  12. Very timely post, Luanne, as I’m always wondering how best to “publish” my WIPs. I have heard other bloggers/writers encourage the submission of smaller pieces (poems, short stories, excerpts) as one way to build a portfolio, rather than putting all of one’s chips on one book … so to speak 😉

  13. This is a great idea, thank you! I am in the beginning stages of compiling notes, poems essays and journals from the past twenty years into forms that may be published. I am looking for wordpress sites that get/give good, active critiques. Any suggestions?

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