What Counts as Previously Published?
I got an amazing query in my inbox this week. The premise hit all the right notes, the writing was fantastic, the characters were complex and compelling. I couldn't hit reply fast enough to request the manuscript. But right before I hit send, I noticed that the author mentioned that the book had been posted on Wattpad and won an award there. Cue my heartbreak.
Wattpad is a platform for authors to serially post their work. It's an amazing site, and it's attractive in many ways. Authors can build up an audience there, and interact with their readers in direct ways. It's not, strictly-speaking, the same as self-publishing, but for my purposes it's close enough.
It's up to each individual agent whether or not they are willing to represent previously published work. Some do, and go on to relaunch those books to great success. But many other agents--and I'm one of them--are not interested in representing work that's already been widely available. It can be difficult to secure a deal for a book that's already been out on the market for a while. You have to convince a publisher that there's an even greater audience still out there waiting to be tapped, an audience who is willing to pay for content they may have otherwise been able to access for free. And with the market already so competitive? It's a hard sell.
Of course we have all heard about the huge success stories that come out of Wattpad. It's true. Some books started there and went on to land huge deals. It does happen, and there's no reason why it couldn't happen to you. But I don't advise banking on that as a publishing strategy.
Self-publishing is a legitimate career choice, but if you choose to self-publish a book you need to commit to that route. If you want to attempt to get a particular book traditionally published, I'd encourage you to resist putting it up on a site like Wattpad or self-publishing, because it may hurt your chances of securing representation. Posting your work publicly is tempting because the immediate feedback is so rewarding! People are reading your story! And they like it! They leave comments and they favorite your work and follow your profile. They eagerly ask you when the next chapter will be released. You have real, engaged fans. Believe me, as a hard-core Gryffindor more or less addicted to external validation, I get this temptation on an intimate level. And if you enjoy the platform and want to use it, then by all means go ahead. You can successfully build up an audience and perhaps even encourage readers to follow you to some self-publishing ventures. Or you can just write there for the fun of it!
If you really crave the feedback you get from posting your work online, but don't want to narrow your chances of landing an agent, I highly recommend critique groups, which we champion a lot here on Pub Crawl. Find other writers and exchange work with them. Be serious about it. Learn how to give good feedback and how to absorb criticism. Help each other out and cheer each other on.
But whether or not you choose to use a site like Wattpad, what I selfishly hope you'll do is go out and query new, fresh work. Which is what I asked that writer to do earlier this week. I told her I loved her writing and hoped that she'd consider querying me again in the future with something new. And I meant it.