Say I have a couple of short stories ready. Is it best not to share it on a personal writing blog until it’s published, if ever, or does it not matter?
It actually matters a lot.
There are basically two categories of submissions for magazines: originals and reprints.
An original is a story that has never been published anywhere ever. Even the tiniest of audiences count for this. If you published it in your school newspaper/literary magazine, it is considered to be published and thus selling it as an original is no longer an option. If you put your story up on a blog or forum where it can potentially be viewed by the general public (as opposed to a forum where it’s viewable only to members, and membership is controlled and regulated) then for all intents and purposes you have self-published the story and you can likewise not sell it as an original. Rule of thumb is, if the story is available in a way that could be conceivably considered public, it’s been published. (Some markets may make exceptions to this, but if so it will be in their guidelines. Remember how I said to always read the guidelines? Read the guidelines.)
A reprint is a story that has been previously published elsewhere. Some markets may take reprints. Many do not. Reprints always pay significantly less than originals. (eg: if you get $0.07/word on an original, you will probably just get $0.01 or $0.02 for a reprint if you’re lucky.)
So basically, if you share your story on your personal writing blog, unless that blog is only accessible to a very restricted set of your friends, you have self-published it. Which means you can only submit your story as a reprint to whatever markets will consider reprints. (Don’t even think about trying to lie to editors and pretend you never published the story. Editors are very good at the Google, and most have earned the Way Back Machine merit badge as well.)
Generally, even if your blog is friends-only, I tend to recommend to not publish it there because mistakes can happen, security settings can be randomly changed (hi, Facebook) and you could end up shooting yourself in the foot by accident. I’d say if you want to share a piece with your beta readers, use a private forum, or e-mail, or maybe an invite only file sharing service like Google Docs.
What about after your story has been bought and published?
Most contracts will contain some sort of exclusivity clause. For example, this is from the guidelines for Strange Horizons.
We buy first-printing world exclusive English-language rights (including audio rights) for two months. After that period, you are free to republish the story elsewhere. We hope that you’ll allow us to leave the story in our archives indefinitely after it’s rotated off the main table of contents, but you have the right to remove your story from the archives at any time after those first two months.
First printing world English-language rights basically means the story needs to have not been published anywhere in print in English, because otherwise you no longer have those rights to offer. Strange Horizons also asks for audio rights because they do story podcasts, so your story needs to have not been published in an audio format before either. “World” means anywhere in the world; they want the story to have not been published in English anywhere in the world, and your story published by them will be available world-wide. This is standard for internet-based magazines, since… you know, world-wide web. For print publications, you’re more likely to see a more specific ask, such as “North American English-language rights.”
The exclusive… for two months means that the story is theirs and theirs alone for that time period. After two months elapse you can try to sell reprint rights to other markets or publish it in some other fashion (eg: putting it up as a self-published ebook). So you also cannot put your story on your personal blog until after their period of exclusivity has elapsed or you will be in breach of the contract. While I doubt anyone is going to sue you over a story that earned at most $720, the damage that could do to your reputation would be far, far worse. Also, please note that the period of requested exclusivity will vary from market to market. Always read your contracts and keep a copy on hand.
Now, Strange Horizons also does a cool thing you’ll note in their guidelines where at the author’s request, they will take the story out of their archive after two months. This is actually very unusual; most online publications reserve the right to keep an archived copy for as long as they please. What this means is that, say, if there’s a market that will take reprints but not if they’re freely available online, you can ask Strange Horizons to get rid of the archived copy. But the thing to consider here is that your story on your personal blog, post-publication, is also a readily available online copy. The more widely available a story is to anyone with a search engine, the less attractive it might seem to certain reprint markets. It’s just another thing to consider.
Other questions? Anything I missed?