Iratxe Puebla, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community at ASAPbio, shares her tips to help preprint authors scrutinize invitations to submit their next paper to a journal
It is common for researchers to receive invitations to submit their next paper to a journal, and this is a tactic that predatory journals have also used for a while. With the growth of preprints, we are seeing new and welcome initiatives by journals to invite preprint authors to submit their latest work, but predatory journals are also keeping an eye on preprint servers. It is thus important for researchers to be mindful of invitations from potential predatory journals in relation to their preprints – I discuss a few tips to help preprint authors scrutinize invitations they receive and support them in only pursuing invitations from reputable journals.
Some weeks ago, I posted a preprint about journal and preprint review activities. I wanted to share the discussions from a workshop in a conference earlier in the year in an open and citable format, so I posted a preprint, without having any plans for journal publication. Within a couple of weeks, I received an email from a journal inviting me to submit ‘a Research article, Review article, Case report, Short communication, Conference proceeding or a Thesis with the Journal based on your research interests, which would be published in the upcoming issue for our journal.’
This will sound familiar for many researchers, who are used to receiving solicitations to submit to a journal, sometimes even several times per week. Journal invitations come in the form of marketing campaigns targeted at previous or prospective authors, or through personal invitations by the editors of a special issue who approach authors to contribute pieces relevant to the special issue theme. In a more recent development, some established journals have appointed preprint editors who check the latest preprints to invite submission to their journals (for some examples see asapbio.org/journal-policies) so it should become more and more common for preprint authors to be approached by journals about their latest preprint.
This possibility of receiving invitations to submit is one of the potential benefits of posting a preprint (ASAPbio FAQ). Researchers are familiar with a journal publication process where they need to painstakingly prepare their manuscript and make a case for why the editor should consider it for peer review, compared to the manuscript next to them in the journal’s virtual pile of submissions. Researchers are also all too familiar with rejection and with having to complete different submissions until they meet favour with an editor. Against this context, having editors come to you as an author, rather than the other way round, is a refreshing experience.
However, researchers may also receive solicitations to submit from what has been referred to as ‘predatory journals’ – journals with dubious editorial practices that will publish papers for a fee, often without peer review, or with an editorial process that falls short of accepted standards in scholarly publishing (Grudniewicz et al.). Predatory journals are brazen in their solicitation practices and will often approach researchers with invitations to submit their next paper; these contacts usually come on the basis of the previous journal publications, but with preprints now becoming more common in different disciplines, there is no reason why predatory journals cannot scout the latest papers posted on preprint servers to also invite submissions or to collect details of new prospective authors.
Researchers who post preprints must thus be able to separate the wheat from the chaff among the journal invitations they might receive. So how to go about this? There may be some immediate red flags from the solicitation email itself:
– Is the email addressed to you? If the email starts with a generic ‘Respected Author’ chances are this is a template and not a personal invitation.
– Does the email make a reference to the fact that the paper is a preprint? If the email mentions this and the preprint server where they spotted the work, it will provide some reassurance that the editor/journal is familiar with preprints and has a genuine interest in keeping abreast of the latest work appearing in preprint servers.
– Does the email include any comments about the work reported in the preprint? If the email only includes flattery about your reputation and a generic invitation to submit, it is likely the editor/journal did not appraise the content and is just issuing a request after scraping author information from the preprint (I think we’ll agree that my preprint above does not fit as a case report…).
– Does the email include a signature? If an editor has looked at your preprint, they will write personally and sign the letter – no editor information is a red flag.
It is sometimes straightforward to pick that the email comes from a potentially predatory journal, but other invitations may be more subtle. If you are in doubt after reading the email, a good approach is to apply caution and the steps that Think.Check.Submit recommends when considering whether to submit to a journal (the Think.Check.Submit checklist is here, also available in 40 languages). Things to check for include:
– Does the email come from a journal or publisher you are already familiar with? Have you read articles from that journal before?
– If not, you could take a few moments to check the journal credentials: is it listed in the Directory of Open Access journals (DOAJ)? Is the journal a member of COPE? Is it indexed in PubMed?
– If not, check the journal’s website to see if there is transparent and clear information on their review process, publication fees, and genuine contact details. You can also check the editorial board to see if you identify any researchers in your discipline within their board.
Before submitting your manuscript to a journal you should always discuss your preferred journal options with your co-authors, so if you receive an email you have concerns about, it would also be a good step to consult with them. If you or your co-authors are in doubt in relation to any of the items above, err on the side of caution and do not submit to that journal.
I believe there are many benefits to having your research available as a preprint – the possibility to attract interest in your work by the editors of reputable journals is one of them, and I hope to see this approach expand in coming years as preprints continue to grow in adoption. This would build on the potential that preprints bring to researchers to take more control over the publication path for their research. In this context, we should not allow predatory journals to muddy the waters if they expand their solicitation tactics to preprints. Researchers should be aware of this possibility and make informed choices as to when to seriously consider journal invitations to submit their preprint.
We would be interested in learning more about trends in this space – have you received invitations to submit your preprint to a journal? Feel free to share your experience or any additional tips you may have with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.