How to Vet a Publishing Opportunity

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Recently, one of my students wrote to me about an opportunity she had received by email from a prospective publishing outlet. Her question was simple: “Is this real?”

I felt the response I sent her could be useful to a wider audience, so I’m republishing parts of our correspondence here. I’m not going to name the outlet, because the specifics aren’t important. But some additional context will help you parse my remarks better. This particular opportunity was presented by an academic journal. 

What I want you to focus on here is the process I recommend for vetting any opportunities that come to you without your having reached out first – whether it comes from an academic journal, a popular website, or some company you’ve never heard of.

My Process for Vetting Opportunities

The first thing I always recommend asking yourself about any publishing opportunity is this: What would my goal be in pursuing this? Is it to get paid? Is it for clips? Is it for high-profile exposure?

In this case, if your goal is clips, then ask yourself if a journal publication would be useful as a clip. Would it help you sell your services to clients? If not, then pass. If so (or if you’re uncertain), then continue to vet the opportunity.

The first thing that stands out to me about this company is that it calls itself “new” and “experimental.” I normally associate those terms with: unproven, doesn’t pay, lack of prestige. In other words, whereas publishing a journal article in the NJEM might be worthwhile from a byline standpoint, publishing in this unknown journal probably would not.

NB*: This advice holds true for any publishing “opportunity” coming from a small or unknown publisher. Never write for free for “exposure” unless we’re talking New York Times-level exposure. Any level of “exposure” less than that will not advance your brand recognition in any way, shape, or form. Nor will “exposure” pay your mortgage. 

Next, visit the company’s website. What is the quality of the articles there? What does the caliber of the sourcing in those articles? Do they look legit, or does it look like any crank with an axe to grind can publish there? Are the articles well-sourced? Do they appear to be well-edited (free from typos and grammatical errors)? Who are the authors? If you Google those writers, do you find they’re experienced professionals?

The reason I would ask myself these questions is purely to preserve my own professional reputation. I would never want my name associated with any potentially shady or shoddy website or publisher.

Next, I would find out if they charge authors for the “privilege” of being published. That’s a very common type of writing scam that preys on novice writers. Never pay to be published (aside from a major journal). Remember: “money always flows toward the author.” (Yog’s Law)

Next, I would review their “about” and “news” sections. Who is behind this venture? Is it anyone I’ve heard of? Is it someone reputable? How long have they been in business?

Lastly, I would do a Google search of the name of the outlet + “reviews” or “complaints.” I might also do that in relation to the site honchos, such as the CEO.

As a professional writer, you always need to protect the best interests of your business. You can do that by vetting all opportunities that come your way to make sure they’re not only legitimate but also help you advance toward your goals – whether that’s getting writing samples, getting paid, getting clips of different types of work, or whatever.

* In case you’ve never encountered the abbreviation “NB,” it stands for “nota bene” (“note well” in Latin) and is used to alert the reader to information of particular importance – information to be well-noted in your mind.

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