Let’s Talk About: The Meaning of Previously Unpublished

Since I’ve been immersed in submitting short stories for the past couple of months, and since I’ve seen some writers asking if they can post their short stories on their blog while they’re on submission, I figured it would be a good time to discuss the term “previously unpublished.”

When editors ask for previously unpublished short stories for anthologies and magazines they want something that has never been posted to a blog (or anywhere else for that matter), never been included in a magazine, anthology, or book…ANYWHERE. This means that you can’t submit your short story and then, while still under consideration, post it to your blog. Get those thoughts out of your head. Posting anything to the internet in its entirety is publishing it.

This, of course, differs from a sample of your novel. Most literary agents suggest having samples of your writing for potential readers to look over. It’s a way of showing off your talents, marketing your skills. As long as you don’t go overboard and post half your book, you’ll be fine. Think of it in terms of percentages. You want to keep yours relatively small. A sample chapter is generally considered appropriate. When in doubt always seek clarity.

Why the need for previously unpublished materials?

Most editors are seeking fresh voices. They don’t want to keep recycling the same old stories over and over. Publishing exclusive first rights to new stories gives them an edge from a marketing perspective. Do editors seek previously published materials too? Yes, but only if they specify, and only if the author retains the rights to the piece in question. Most editors will have specific submission guidelines. It would behoove writers to follow all submission guidelines and ask questions if unsure. Plus there’s usually a big difference in the amount of pay you’ll receive for a previously unpublished short story versus a previously published story. Mistakenly posting your short story to your blog could actually cost you. Nobody wants that.

Whenever a writer asks me about what’s considered previously unpublished, I point them to this Writer’s Relief article: http://writersrelief.com/blog/2010/04/what-is-considered-previously-published-writing/ If you haven’t already, you should poke around their site for some useful tips and advice.

Is that article the “be all end all” when it comes to defining what’s considered previously unpublished? No, but it’s a great start and a handy link to keep bookmarked. As always, if you have questions, or are unsure of anything, ask the editor for clarity before doing anything. That way you won’t inadvertently make a mistake and ruin your chances to be included in a magazine or anthology for the optimal amount of pay.

Now get out there and write something. Explore, experiment, and have fun. Just make sure you’re smart about it.



  1. Good idea for a post! I know a lot of people don’t think of things posted on their own blogs as “published,” but they certainly are in the sense of having been made public. And editors certainly consider them to be.

  2. Good post. I knew about ‘previously unpublished’ before, but it does surprise me how many writers think that discounts posting onto the internet, especially whilst on submission.

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