I posted a piece of flash fiction on Reddit a year ago, and it never got much attention. I'm revisiting it now, dropping the final third and expanding it from 450 words to 1000 words. Possibly keeping the same title.

I'm now interested in sending this to a magazine. I'm aware sending previously published stories is a no-no, and I'd like to try and avoid pissing off or misleading editors.

However, I'd also find it pretty sad if the updated (and vastly better) version doesn't get more exposure.

Is there a way to edit the story to the point where it can no longer be called "previously published"?

I know this is getting into some Ship of Theseus-type discussion, so I'd much prefer answers from people that have some practical experience dealing with this, either as writers or editors.


It depends . . . The bottom line is about 'who owns the rights', and 'money'.

One publisher does not want to be sued by another. If Random House gave you a publishing deal on a story about an boy wizard named "Barry Shepherd" - which proved to be a flop, and, ten years later you submitted a similar story to Bloomsbury entitled "Harry Potter", Random House would sue you and Bloomsbury for all your collective worth.

The second issue: money. Reddit is not a publisher - there are very few 'rights' issues that would stand up it court. Having said that, the magazine is a 'for profit' publisher. They provide content to sell copies. If the content 'you' provide is available elsewhere for free - they'll be, rightfully, pissed at you.

Here's the thing . . . nobody's particularly interested in content. Publisher's invest in the writer brand. If an old story boy wizard by JK Rowling was published by another publisher suddenly appeared - all hell would break loose.

Chapter Five of one of my novels won a competition was published and has been published as a short story. The character names were changed (to protect the innocent) and there were a few minor tweaks but more importantly the story was written by my sister (I don't have one).

  • I'm not sure this is useful for me. Plenty of sources I've seen seem to suggest (e.g. neil-clarke.com/first-rights) that posting the work on any publicly accessible website counts as publishing, regardless of whether money is involved, though it seems that money definitely makes things worse. – Andrey Jun 5 '17 at 12:22

First, as Surtsey pointed out--Reddit is not a publisher. Posting something on an online forum does not generally equal publishing.

But there are things you can do to keep it from coming up. Delete the post. That's sure as heck possible on Reddit. Then you might want to do a google search on a different computer to see if the title even comes up in a search, or key phrases in the work. Might be empty, might not show up at all--in which case, it isn't a problem.

You can do that for sure. The fact that you showed an early version of the story online should not be a problem, however, the terms these days for publications vary. If they have anything posted on what they consider "previously published" or any sort of guidelines, that might be helpful.

Now, self-publishing something on a blog is a different matter than a discussion or critiquing post on a forum. That can depend on how well-read the blog is, and I know plenty of authors who put partials up on their blog for critique and feed-back. Different publishers have different standards as far as that's concerned.

Most of what I do isn't fiction, though I have sold the same story in different places. I haven't had experience with this specific thing, but again, posting something on an online forum to get opinions is not the same as publishing, unless they are following specific rules I don't know about.

Edit: For me, a publisher has never cared as long as it wasn't highly visible or searchable, once I informed them.

You're asking about editing to make it different, so I will treat this as though it were published in a print publication and how I would handle that.

Here's what I would look at:

  • Are the plot points the same? Regardless of what you changed, if the plot can be described in short in the same way with the same characters, it might be considered the same story.
  • If a single line, including the title is the same.
  • If anyone reading can tell it's an adaptation, if they've read both.
  • Be a great idea to change all the character names.
  • If you change genre, as well, that will help

The rule is this, if another person had published the second version of this, would you be mad? Would you consider it plagiarism of your first draft?

These are the standards I would use as far as a print publication was concerned. But sometimes, if what you have is good enough, they don't care or consider it previously published.

My advice is to write to them and say something like this, depending on how strict their verbiage is on requirements: "I didn't consider this as previously published because the story has changed so much, but I wanted to make sure to tell you that very, very early draft of my story was up on Reddit for critique (it was taken down [several years ago] and is no longer searchable). All the characters names have even been changed--the only thing that remains recognizable from the original is the title, which we can change if you think it necessary." Then suggest a few alt titles.

  • Yeah, the post is taken down already :) Most things Ive seen posted by editors seem to suggest putting stuff on any publicly accessible site can be considered "publishing" regardless of whether it's for critique, e.g,: neil-clarke.com/first-rights. In any case, this doesn't really answer my question, which was about editing the original story. – Andrey Jun 5 '17 at 11:56
  • @Andrey It varies from publication to publication. If you can say "this story, in a very early draft, was posted on Reddit for critique, has since been taken down, and can no longer be found on google searches." Most of the print publications I've worked for don't care as long as it isn't searchable, but as I say, those vary. – Erin Thursby Jun 5 '17 at 16:43
  • @Andrey For the big time, yes. For stringent publications, sure. But I do this for a living. As long as no one can find it and it isn't in print, as far as most of my publishers are concerned, it doesn't exist. I did edit the answer, as though it were a print publication for my editors, which for many of the newer pubs, any version anywhere is pretty much like print. – Erin Thursby Jun 5 '17 at 17:07

I would honestly say to change the title. If maybe just a little. If the story really is that much better than the original, send it and add a description of all the revisions you made.

  • 2
    No editor wants to read a description of all the revision changes you made since that one time you posted it up on an online forum. That's definitely not professional. You may mention that you put an earlier version of the story on Reddit for critiquing, that you've since taken down, but only after the story's been accepted. – Erin Thursby Jun 4 '17 at 20:48
  • Oh, yeah, that. Sorry, I'm 16 and don't know much about publishing. – Aspen the Artist and Author Jun 4 '17 at 20:50

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