Monday, January 18, 2010

Monday Writers Craft Online: How To Tell A Writer Is "Legit"

Are you running a blog and looking for some publicity? Over the next 5 weeks I'll be talking about common issues that are worth thinking about. Last week we talked about basic interview tips, this week we move on to the subject of legitimacy.....

As I said last week, about half of the people I interview for magazines and newspaper are bloggers and web site owners whose writing interests me. Business people tend to put up a telephone number, in which case I approach with a call first. But private people tend not to, so I contact them via their email.

I have found that some people are suspicious of strangers writing to them. Some will not accept they are contacted because their writing is interesting; they think there is something odd going on. Or worry it will cost them something. Or they think it's some sort of hoax.

Fair enough. So if you're a blogger, how do you know that the person contacting you is a legitimate writer?

First, there's the approach.

When I approach someone via email, I say who I am, what sort of piece I am writing about, for what publication, and invite the person to contribute one top tip or one comment on a very specific issue. I mention a deadline. If I want to meet up for an extended interview and/or take photos, I put this in the email too. Most times (although I sometimes forget) I include the URL with my writing credits.

In my experience, someone who is very upfront and precise about what they want, is probably OK. Also, a standard quote like, "I love pasta made with fresh cream but I wish restaurants would not add sugar," says Brendan Ho, a 24 year old engineer from Kedah who runs My Food Blog. is unlikely to get you into any sort of trouble.

When doing an email interview, we will ask you a bit about yourself (check last week's post to see what and why). Be sensible about talking about yourself and just don't reveal sensitive information like your address and IC number or where you will be on Friday night between 8 and midnight (just in case your contact is a fake ID creator or Freddy Krueger pretending to be a journo).

If you are approached by someone who wants to meet you for an interview, I would observe the usual precautions when making online contacts. Meeting strangers is dangerous, so don't take risks. If you don't like the idea, or have a gut feeling, say no. If you're talking to a real writer, say you don't meet friends made online and ask if you can contribute via an email interview. Most likely they'll say yes, and then once it's published you'll know what sort of person you are dealing with.

Me, I ignore my own advice and meet people I don't know because I need publicity for my work. However, I'm very careful about this.

If I had an official office, I'd meet them there. As I have a home office, I meet new people in their offices. Or as journos often move about a lot, I arrange to meet them in very public places like a cafe in daylight in a busy shopping centre. And if I were a young blogger, or a sexy looking girl, I'd bring along a pal or relative too just in case.

I also check out unknowns who want to meet me. Here are my top tips and caveats:

1. Check their email address to see if it matches the people they say they work for. If they're working for The Star, they should have an email that says

However, a journo may or may not have a corporate email address, or use it. Some companies are mean with email box space; or there may be problems accessing official boxes from outside the company building. I know many pros who work for big companies yet use Gmail and Yahoo for these reasons.

Also, remember that freelancers may use public email too. I have my own web site and use email addresses but I know lots of fulltime freelancers who rely on Gmail.

2. Ask for their work number and call them. This works if it's a local journo and they give you a direct line, but expensive if they're abroad or not transparent if they give you a cellphone.

If you're stymied by a cell phone number, and it's local, you can call the publication they say they work for. However, if it's a big company, like a newspaper, be sure you ask the right department. A sports writer may not be known at the newsdesk or the weekend section, and visa versa.

3. Check the publication they say they work for for their byline. However, you should realise that not everyone has a piece out every day/week/month so the issue you look at may not have their name in it. Also, some people work under pseudonyms. I have about 5.

You can check online versions of the publication but that only works if the writer has a deal whereby their work is published on the web site. Most of my stuff does not appear online so checking mag and newspaper sites for my byline doesn't work well.

Finally, although I have never heard of this happening in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Hong Kong or Indonesia, don't ever pay to have a quote published. If a writer approaches you for a quote for their piece, then they get their money from the client when they sell it. Anyone who asks you for money is not legit!

NEXT WEEK: Is it OK to ask if you can see the piece you are contributing a quote to?

Also, if you are in Malaysia, don't forget that there is still time to put in your entry for Weekender Star Katz Tales competition.

Remember, participants must live in Malaysia.

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Dennis the Vizsla said...

Good advice -- it's always smart to do some research ahead of time!

photojoy said...

Sounds so exciting to know how you organize lots of information when you meet your candidates.

By the way, my husband came home from Kualalumpur with your book "Logomania"!!! I'm so happy! Of course I've started reading it. You know, even for one like me, whose mothertongue is not English, the book is so informative and it's fun to know the words backgrounds as well as the phrases themselves. I'm especially happy that I can start reading any pages depending on categories. I can pick up any colums from an index as well.
Thank you for giving me such a good chance to study.

Hansel said...

Hello, we are looking for the cats... ? confused!

Thanks so much for coming by and praying for hansel with us. We are going through a lot and have some big decisions to make with him. It means a lot to us.