This is an especial concern when submitting to zines. The good news is that online publications are no longer automatically considered second class by print editors. With many print publications moving partially or totally online and other new online publications being created that pay well and attract big names, the playing field for online vs print is practically leveled. However, with zines continuing to be relatively easy and inexpensive to produce, writers still need to beware of fly-by-night publications likely to close down after the first few issues or those that simply aren't selective enough to be taken seriously.
Here are some things to look for when deciding whether a zine would make a worthwhile addition to your publishing credits.
- Appearance: Does the website look professional or does it look more like someone's blog? Does each piece have its own page or is work simply posted one after another? Does the site have its own distinctive look or does it appear to be just a standard template? A standard template doesn't, in and of itself, indicate a non-professional publication, but it could imply that editors aren't willing to put much time and effort into it. Even a publication that has not yet produced a first issue should have a good, professional look to the website showing guidelines and some information about the zine's philosophy and staff and not solicit simply through e-mails or forums.
- Editing: Does published work contain a lot of typos, spelling, or grammatical errors? Certainly small mistakes can slip through in the best publications, but if most pieces contain even just a few errors or if one piece contains several, it can mean the editors either aren't serious about what they do or don't themselves know any better. Either way this is likely to make a bad impression on other editors checking your credits.
- Frequency of publication: Does the zine regularly publish on schedule? Zines can be monthly, quarterly, biannual, or even annual. There is often a variation of a few days to a few weeks from issue to issue, but if a zine doesn't specifically note the frequency of publication, i.e. the next issue will come out whenever it's ready, or if they describe themselves as quarterly but often go four or five months between issues, that should definitely raise a red flag. You could end up waiting ages to see an accepted story in print or the publication could be defunct in a very short time.
- Writer bios: Being open to new writers shouldn't mean being open to any writer, and while selective publications that publish only beginners, like the old Beginnings, can be ego boosters for new writers, eventually your work has to appear alongside writers with previous credits if you want to be taken seriously. This does not necessarily mean publications where experienced writers are given a leg up. Of the two publications I have worked with recently The Rose & Thorn essentially has no slush pile and Sotto Voce has an anonymous review process where reviewers see neither the writer's name nor any bio when rating a submission. There was a time––and I know because I was there–-when the zines open to "new and emerging writers" received the majority of their submissions from the "new" while the "emerging" favored print. Those, like R&T, that established themselves over the years, eventually started attracting writers with solid credentials and now even new publications like Sotto Voce can be extremely selective. So these days writers who want valuable credits can and should look for zines that publish a mix of first-timers and those with some good credits in their bios.
- The Company: Finally, the biggest determining factor when considering where to submit your work is a very subjective one. Would you be proud, or at least content, to have your work appear beside the other pieces in that publication? If the work in a certain zine seems amateur to you or you don't care for the style––maybe you find the stories too graphic or gory––then that credit would probably appear the same to an editor of a journal in which you aspire to be published one day. There's never any point in choosing an easy acceptance over good quality.