At Writer’s Digest, we host an event twice a year called the Writer’s Digest Editors’ Intensives . It is completely staff run and presented, hosted at our headquarters in Cincinnati, and offers an opportunity to get the first 50 pages of your manuscript critiqued.
Chuck Sambuchino  and I usually serve as the key presenters. After a recent event, I realized—after talking to one of the attendees—that Chuck and I had delivered some starkly different advice.
Now, this in itself is not unusual. Many times you’ll find varying perspectives among editors and agents. But our disagreement was this:
- Chuck advised writers not to post their work online, as it might adversely affect future potential for the work.
- I advised writers not to worry about it—that writers often benefit from posting their work online.
Talk about a mixed message!
I recently read this blog post that also advises writers not to post their stuff online , and it’s not uncommon advice.
But I find it an utterly archaic sentiment given where the publishing industry is headed.
- Test marketing is one of the best things you can do to improve your work and build an audience. Agent Michael Larsen even recommends it in his classic, How to Write a Book Proposal .
- Getting feedback on your work (whether you’re specifically asking for a critique, or just hoping for reader comments) can be critical to a writer’s development. No writer should ever be discouraged from posting their work online in a critique environment, EVER.
- No sane agent or editor would disagree with points 1 or 2, since doing these things advance the quality and marketability of your work. Hiding your work in a closet until you feel it is “ready” for a “professional” to consider it? Folly. Hasn’t anyone told you that the gatekeeper era is coming to a swift end?
- If we’re talking about novel-length works, then sharing pieces of it, or even serializing it, over a long period is NOT going to affect its market value. (Anyone who says it does has a very antiquated view of online media, as well as where traditional publishing is headed.)
- Offering a work online, whether in serialized format or in an alternate media (e.g., audio), can increase interest and demand for a physical, print product. This is proven out by people like Scott Sigler  and Seth Harwood  who serialized their work as podcasts, made them absolutely free, and secured traditional book publishing deals after developing a significant following.
People who post their work online can do so in a very smart, strategic, and targeted way that feeds into demand for a traditional book that a publisher would love to produce (or that an agent would love to sign).
- How else do you explain the blog-to-book deals  that happen?
- How else do you explain e-books and self-published books that find an audience online, then go on to be picked up by a traditional press? (See editor Alan Rinzler’s wise advice. )
- How else do you explain the success of cell-phone novels in Japan? 
Posting your work online is not to be feared. Wake up.*
* Unless you’re in the MFA community. It’s true that the literary market is stuck in the Dark Ages. All of you poets and short story writers who want to strike it rich in the literary journals or academic presses? Sorry!
** And I do follow my own advice. You can find my essay-ish blog posts and poetry (if you look hard enough) over at JaneFriedman.com .
photo courtesy Flickr’s visualdensity