Re-virginization Hurts, or Why the Internet Shouldn’t Host Your First Book

September 10th, 2011 § 0 comments

Rant. Brace yourself. This is me not being very nice, but being very real. (I started ranting on twitlonger, but it twitted VERY long, so now it’s a blog post.) 

First rights are important in publishing. This is why where you publish your book matters. Yes, it’s true that more good publishers are willing to take a risk on something that’s been self-pubbed or badly pubbed (provided the rights have reverted), but it’s also still true that most won’t. Is it shifting? Maaaaybe. But I wouldn’t stake my career on it changing, and I don’t recommend you do it either.

Many, many, MANY authors make the mistake of doing something with their first book they later regret. They self-publish it when they didn’t really have the wherewithal to put in the kind of work that will generate sales. They publish it with a vanity press that they didn’t realize was a vanity press. They pick the wrong small press, and the press doesn’t know what they’re doing so the book doesn’t get sold, or worse, the press goes under. The list goes on and on.

In Twidom, we’ve seen a lot of authors make a different mistake with their first book, which is to post the first draft online as a fic. Unfortunately, because the internet is considered a published medium, this has a lot of the same effect on first rights as doing anything else with your first book does.

I hear a lot of very sympathetic, kindhearted people who say, “Well, but they didn’t *know* they had a book in them when they sat down to write” or “Well, they don’t think they’re ever going to write another book.”  And I get that. I really, really do. I’m good friends with a wonderful writer who had no idea she had the capacity to write a fantastic novel until she started writing fic.

But the sad reality is, the wad is shot once it’s shot. An author is going to have an uphill battle trying to publish something that’s already been published, even if it was only published online, and especially if the work hasn’t been substantially revised. (Where by revised I mean subplots have been added/changed/removed, characters have been shifted, dynamics have been altered.) If the work was posted as a fic on FFnet, the author isn’t that much better off than the guy who was suckered by Tate Publishing or Publish America (except that she doesn’t have to fight anyone for her rights back). The first rights are gone…they were used when the author made the choice to post it.

I’m not saying I don’t feel bad for people in this situation. I do. I may be an NT, but I’m not that cold-hearted, contrary to popular opinion. It’s a really regrettable mistake to have made. But that doesn’t make it not a mistake.

I’ve heard first rights compared to virginity, so I’ll take the analogy a step further. If you want to preserve your first rights, keep your story in your pants. It sucks BIG TIME to write without people cheering you on every chapter. And if you can get a small group of fandom people to cheer you on, by all means do it…but keep the story to yourself.

I’d love to see more women in this fandom publish. But I also want to see them publish well. And for me, this means standing up and speaking out instead of just saying, “I feel bad for you, so I’ll defend what you’re doing.” It’s not fair that there are huge consequences to posting your story as fic. It’d be nice if it didn’t matter and you could republish a fic if you realize it’s gone a lot further, because let’s face it, we all do put a lot of time into our fanwork. But publishing simply doesn’t work that way, and not understanding how publishing works will hurt you.

If pointing this out means that others think I’m an elitist, a bitch, or not supportive of other authors in the fandom, I gladly accept those labels. If you end up hating me, but use this to end up with a good book on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, I’ll promise—I won’t be offended.

And I’ll also gladly buy the book.


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