Because I advocate writers be very entrepreneurial in their efforts to market and promote their work—and engage in some form of content marketing —eventually I hear or receive something like this:
“You’ve said to post content, or to give content away, which to me means post chapters or sections. How can I do this to good effect?”
Let’s split an answer into three parts.
1. UNpublished Novelists, Memoirists, Essayists, and Poets
First ask: What you want to accomplish by sharing or posting your work online? Posting your work online isn’t going to lead to a traditional book publishing deal—at least not by itself. Here are a few strategies that writers typically have in mind:
- Test marketing and content development. The paint isn’t yet dry; you’re looking for direction on how to further shape the work, or abandon it. You can see this kind of activity on Authonomy. 
- Growing community and readership over the long-term. This requires pounding the pavement—through online networks AND off—to let everyone you know that your work is available to be read. It also requires you to be generous in reading and commenting on others’ work. (Read Hyla Molander’s experience with Scribd. )
- Creative/multimedia experimentation. Posting creative work online, without any modification (just straight, looooong text), can be a weak approach even if you are test marketing or growing a readership. It’s much more interesting to look at creative media spin-offs, find aspects of your personality that can shine in an online format, or adapt your work so it blossoms in an online environment. (I like the story of Andrew Shaffer, who exemplifies many of these qualities. )
While I don’t think you’re killing your chances of traditional publication when posting your work online (no matter what your reasoning), there’s not much point in doing so unless you have a strategy or goal in mind, and a way to measure your success. One writer, Dave Malone , recently used Scribd to post a serialization of his novella . It helped him build readership for a new newsletter, get started on Twitter, and further build an audience for his work—one that will likely stick with him for the next work he produces.
If you have no interest in marketing your work and connecting with readers after posting your stuff online, don’t do it.
2. Published Novelists, Memoirists, Essayists, and Poets
Depending on the level of your fame, it’s a good idea to have a consistent blog or means of interacting with people who are fans of your work—the ones who have already bought your books.
Newly minted authors who are still working to get known with their first book would do well to blog on a very focused topic or area that can gain a following quickly. (Authors with strong name recognition get to abide by more relaxed rules when deciding what to write about—famous people can seemingly write about nothing at all but still have huge followings. Not so for the rest of us.)
It’s also essential for published authors to make some portion of their work available for free as a teaser, to increase fans/followers. (I can’t imagine a publisher objecting to an author using his own work for content marketing.)
3. Experts/Authorities (Nonfiction Authors, Published and Unpublished)
People working in nonfiction categories (who are not memoir driven) are under the greatest pressure to give away some form of their content. That’s because, in today’s world, the problem isn’t insufficient information—it’s TOO MUCH information.
What you’ll often find is that nonfiction authors use their book as something that helps open the doors to other money-making opportunities (coaching, teaching, speaking, consulting, etc). Since content itself is not scarce, the nonfiction author must capitalize on what IS scarce in today’s world, which is time, personalized attention, customization, and immediacy.
Also, it is near-impossible for most nonfiction authors to land a book deal with a Big Six publisher unless they have a strong online presence, especially in popular how-to/information categories (e.g., health, self-help, business …). And an online presence usually involves some form of content marketing, whether an e-newsletter, quality blog posts, digital downloads, and so on.
Whenever I hear an author or writer say, “Why would I ever give my work away for free?” I want to ask: “Do you not want to grow your audience?”
HOWEVER: Making your work widely available for free (in any form) is not a way to succeed as an author. Knowing how and when to make an offer is key, and can be a strategic move during moments of your career.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s Newsbie Pix