- Who are they? If the site doesn’t give the names and CVs or resumés for the website’s owners or staff, nor any sort of track-record to check up, then there’s no indication of who you’re dealing with. While they might be real, qualified, experienced writers and/or editors, they could just as easily be people with no experience or ability in the field.
- Once you’ve found out who they are, you need to find out what they’ve done in order to establish exactly how they are qualified to help. They need appropriate experience in the area in which they are offering help. If they’re offering a manuscript critique service, are they qualified to do so? If they’re offering representation, have they ever worked as an agent and do they have the right connections in publishing? If they’re offering editing services, what writing successes have they been involved with?
- If they offer services in more than one area, be very suspicious. There are likely to be serious conflicts of interest if someone is offering, for example, both an agenting service and a publishing service.
- Are there any successes listed for their services? If not, why imagine that they are going to help you? And if there are, don’t take them at face value: check them out. If they list publications that they’ve helped achieve then check that the sales they’ve made are to legitimate, advance-paying, commercial publishers and not to vanity-publishers which accept anything that is put in front of them. If all of that seems in place, then check that they really were involved in the success of the project—I’ve seen many online claims which were later proved to have no substance.
- What real information does the website give? If it’s all vague, sweeping statements and reassurances that they’re useful, be very wary. If it offers hard facts, which you can verify through a couple of other reliable sources, then it’s probably worth considering.
- Finally, if a site for writers is full of errors in punctuation, and the writing is dire, don’t consider them. If they can’t even get the basics right, they’re bound to flounder with the trickier side of things.
This checklist works with just about every writers’ website there is: whether you’re looking for discussion boards, publishing companies, literary agents, display sites or anything else, make sure you check them out properly before you get involved.