I was thinking about releasing my first chapter on my blog for critiquing, but then a friend told me I should be careful because it could interfere with getting a publishing contract. Is this true? What are the possible issues with this? If it can interfere with getting a contract then it defeats the purpose in posting it so I would not do it.
I'm going to take a stab at this, but the caveat is that my word should not be taken as final here. If anyone else in the industry or with concrete experience on this matter wants to chime in, please be my very welcomed guest.
So here's the central issue with internet syndication: electronic rights. Basically, when you syndicate your content online, you're "using up" the electronic rights. Sort of, in a small way.
For your book deal, electronic rights will be wrapped up in your contract under either the volume rights or the "other forms, current and future" clause, and are becoming a sticking point for publishers everywhere, who imagine a future in which they are more relevant than they are now (yes, ebooks are great, but don't let publishing people fool you into thinking we have ANY idea what we're doing with ebooks or how the fudge we're going to make money on them in the long term).
But what this means is there is some scaring and misunderstanding everywhere about whether or not it's ok for an author to release their content online before (or after) a book deal. Some publishers are afraid that all-important electronic clause will be forfeit if the book was already released on a blog. Others are worried about first serial (print publication before the book is available), which is silly of them, because first serial is nearly dead, anyway. There's no consensus on this, and reaction will vary from house to house, but there are ways to make the internet work for you, to proceed wisely, and to not upset anyone, even the ninnies who are afraid of free content and how it ruins everything.
My thoughts on this are as follows.
Do you have a huge blog readership? Like, thousands of people? No? Then no worries. Put up what you want for critique--especially if you're planning on taking it down later. If you're not driving tons of traffic to your site, and especially if your site is mainly designed as a writing forum to exchange ideas, I don't see a problem with putting it up.
Do you care if you ever sell this work? Sometimes, people write for the internet and their internet-sepcific crowd. What you do with THIS book can't negatively impact a DIFFERENT book (at least, not in terms of electronic rights). I know some blog authors--lots of you, actually--who do special clever and fun online writing exercises that are never intended for future publication.
Remember online readership is a great fanbase. The internet is the easiest way to build platform while you sit at home. So offering people on the internet SOME window into your soul isn't a bad thing. I don't think it pays to be unnecessarily afraid.
A couple safety measures:
*Don't put the whole thing up at once. That way, it's less likely that a full, unfinished version of your ms is floating around anywhere in cyberspace. Also, that means that you'll almost certainly be able to say only "portions" have been released should the time come that that's relevant.
*Take down what you're done having read. This is to protect your reputation, too. You don't want unpolished versions of what you wrote floating around indefinitely on the internet.
*Use email if you can. If you critique with a very small e-circle--like 3 or 4 people--consider using email instead of your blog as a venue. That way, you'll never have to have this conversation again.
Re: worries about first serial: I had an author recently who had published a portion of her novel in an online journal (a mid-sized one). This ended up having literally zero effect on the book, except maybe extending readership (who knows?). But we sold first serial rights, and a beautiful piece came out of it.
Ultimately, whether or not to syndicate what you've written online is your choice. My personal feelings is that putting up free content creates fans for you. Obviously, it makes sense to exercise judgment--or, heck, you might end up LOSING fans--but I think a lot of the "ack don't put it up!" fear is going to dispel as publishers come to grips with the concept of free content (and how they can't fight it).
Does anyone out there have specific negative experience with publishing online? Any cautionary tales? Any industry professionals with wise words?