Until a few years ago, the conventional wisdom was that posting your fiction on the web for free was the best way to assure that publishers would never want it, because publishers want something exclusive that nobody else has seen before.
This is why forums like Baen’s Bar, where works can be posted in the “slushpile” for criticism and consideration, require a sign-in, with userID and password. Even though it takes about thirty seconds to set up an account and anyone can do it, it’s a sufficient fig leaf that authors who post there can say their work has not been posted “publicly” to the Internet.
But over the last few years, that conventional wisdom has been eroding. There are a number of authors, most notably John Scalzi, who got their start by posting works online for free. And now io9 reports that Marta Acosta’s young-adult vampire novel, The Shadow Girl of Birch Grove, is set to be published in hardcover by Tor after being posted to Scribd, where it became the number-one downloaded (the article says “#1 selling”, but can you really call it “selling” if it’s available for free?) young-adult novel.
Of course, unlike Scalzi, Acosta is not a newly-discovered writer; she already has a successful adult vampire series, Happy Hour at Casa Dracula. The following she already had for that series may well have led to the success of Shadow Girl—adults do read young-adult novels, and vice versa.And furthermore, this isn’t even a book that publishers were unaware of. Going back to what I said about the conventional wisdom, in this case the book had already been submitted to Tor, but was apparently languishing in the slushpile.