How to Inspect Publishing Opportunities

YOKOSUKA, Japan (April 10, 2018)—A sailor holds a clipboard containing an inspection sheet during a dress whites inspection on the flight deck of USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19). Dress uniform inspections are held by-annually in preparation for the seasonal U.S. Navy-wide dress uniform shift. Blue Ridge and her crew have now entered a final upkeep and training phase in preparation to become fully mission capable for operations. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Adam K. Thomas
You wouldn't buy real estate without a building inspection and title search. You wouldn't buy a used car without a trusted mechanic giving it a once-over. So why would you blindly submit your hard-earned words to just any fly-by-night literary journal or anthology?

In my occasional "how to get published" workshop presentations for military writers, veterans, and others, I teach people how to perform due diligence on potential markets. Not all publication opportunities are created equal, after all. There are shady deals out there, as well as some Mom & Pop Not-Quite-Ready-for-Primetime Shops. In building up their published clips and credentials, writers have to be careful to protect themselves and their work.

While the following 10-question triage method isn't perfect, it can help writers quickly assess whether a given publishing opportunity is worth pursuing. It also can help indicate whether something might be a scam, and even if it's just better to wait-and-see some real-world published results or products before submitting one's own work:

1. Does the offer include a clearly communicated mission or "about this journal" statement? If editors want to be vague, funny, or cute, ask yourself if you want your work to be taken as seriously. Instead, look for concrete "5W and an H."
  • WHO are they? Editors' names and credentials, please.
  • WHAT do they publish? Fiction? Non-fiction? Poetry? Visual arts? Related to your themes, or not?
  • WHEN do they publish? (Examples; Frequency of publication; dates results will be published.) Also, WHEN are they open for submissions?
  • WHERE do they publish? (On-line? Print?)
  • WHY/HOW do they publish? (Examples: Are they a student-run literary magazine on campus somewhere? Are they part of a non-profit serving military veterans, or focused on promoting discourse between civilians and service members?)
2. Does the publication or contest use a website or application such as Submittable, one that allows writers to track submission status, rather than a single editor's e-mail address?

3. Does the publication or contest list an editorial point-of-contact for questions? Does that person respond to questions?

4. Are submissions free of charge? If "no," are those submitting guaranteed to receive anything in return for their entry fees? (Example: A contest entry of $20 can include one year's subscription to a journal, or a copy of the winning chapbook.)

5. Does the pubisher pay for work?

6. Does the publisher clearly address what type of work is solicited? Examples: New, original, unpublished? Previously published work OK?

7. Does the publisher clearly address whether simultaneous submissions are acceptable?

8. Does the publisher clearly indicate what copyrights are to be acquired, and how those rights will be formally transferred? Personally, this is a potential war-stopper—NEVER sign all copyrights over to a publisher, without regard for how you will be compensated, and how and when those rights will be returned to you. If a journal editor says "Copyrights? What are those?" or "We get all copyrights upon submission" or similar nonsense, I advise you to run away. Screaming.

9. Has the publisher previously generated work (previous issues of the journal; special themed editions; anthologies) that is similar in content and/or form to that being solicited?

10. Would having your work featured in this project fulfill your objective(s) as a writer? If you're writing to make a name for yourself, does it offer sufficient prestige or exposure? If you're writing to make money, does it offer sufficient compensation for your time and creativity? If you're writing to share your work with as large an audience as possible, does it offer a wide circulation or distribution?

Here's how to assess your results:

One or two "no" answers? It's probably OK. There's rarely a "perfect" opportunity. Publishing is a creative business, too, and not everyone works from a checklist. As long as the "no" answers aren't related to copyrights, or are somehow contrary to your personal objectives as a writer, you might as well take a chance.

Three or four "no" answers? You might want to do some further research, or wait to see a first product. You can also send the editorial point-of-contact some specific questions, in order to probe their professionalism and intentions. If they fail to respond with timely and professional answers, wish them a nice day and move on. Screaming.

Five or more "no" answers? Look for other opportunities. Even if they do end up publishing something of quality, it's probably not worth the heartache or the hassle. Your time is worth something, as are your words.


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