10 Things I Wish I Knew When I First Started Submitting
Work for Publication
When I first started taking portraits, most of my shoots were spur-of-the-moment collaborations that I didn't have clear intentions for. They were fun and contributed to my portfolio, yes, but they weren't really driving my work forward. That's why I decided to start doing more editorial-style work for magazines; it increases my exposure and is necessary for any aspiring fashion photographer.
However, I will say that I have never gotten a paid client that found me in a magazine (that I know of), and lately I find sharing new content right away to be more valuable than waiting to share it and getting it published. In some ways, online magazines/webitorials that don’t require your work to be unseen/unpublished are the best of both worlds - they get more eyes on your work, but you still get to share right away.
I'm not a total expert on the mysterious world of publications, and I'm sure I'll be updating this post the most I learn about the process, but here's what I've learned so far:
*Note: I'll be using the word magazine for all types of publications, whether they're print, online, or blogs.
1) Plan ahead. Many magazines have monthly or seasonal themes that you will need to fit into to have your work published. For example, if a fall issue comes out in October, the deadline is probably in September. You may still be in "summer mode," but you'll need to have your shoot finished and ready to go before the deadline. This requires thinking far ahead for what work will be compatible with an issue. Most magazines also require submissions to be unseen, meaning that no one from your team has posted to social media or anywhere public. Many webitorials don’t require them to be unseen, so that’s also an option. Sometimes if a magazine really loves your shoot, they’ll be willing to publish it even if it has been seen already! Be very clear with your team members that posting publicly will compromise the ability to get published! I've also posted things to social media before I realized they would be good for a magazine, which is why it's important to plan ahead and have clear intentions for your shoot.
2) Find a good team. High-quality team members = high-quality work. I have a set of people I like working with, who I know will deliver the same results each time, and we tend to call upon each other to collaborate for editorials. Most magazines require a hair & makeup artist, an agency-signed model, and a stylist. (I've had a hair & makeup artist do both styling and beauty, and a lot of magazines don’t care about agency vs. non-agency models).
Sidenote about styling: It's important to find a good stylist who understands the requirements of submitting work for publication. Many magazines ask for 4-6 looks, and that each designer only be used once. "Vintage" or "stylist's own" as wardrobe credits are not acceptable when used more than once or twice for most publications, so it's important that your stylist pulls multiple brands, no matter how well-known. This really depends on the magazine - more conceptual magazines don’t care as much about the brands used and the fashion aspect.
3) Prepare to wait...but not too long. Most magazines/blogs are very communicative and up front about publication dates, but I have encountered one magazine (won't name names) that accepted two of my shoots and never published them. Over a year went by with multiple attempts to contact them, so finally we gave up and submitted to other magazines, which published them within weeks. Waiting that long without a clear explanation is NOT normal or professional, so if you aren't getting an answer, move on. I would never wait that long again. It's typical to have to wait 2-3 months from shoot date to publication, depending on deadlines and the frequency of magazine issues. I wait 10-15 business days to hear back from a magazine, and then submit elsewhere if I don't hear anything.
4) Not all magazines are created equal. This applies to both reach and requirements. Some magazines are stricter than others and have many more specific requirements of the editorials they accept. Each magazine's website tends to have a "submissions" section that details what they're looking for. However, I have occasionally missed some of the requirements and still been accepted, so go for it anyway, as long as you are in the ballpark. You also want to think carefully about how many followers the magazine has on social media, as well as their readership. You're trying to maximize your exposure when you get published, so aim for the stars first, and when you don't hear back, keep climbing down the ladder.
5) Consider composition. Most print magazines only want vertical images, or horizontal images that can be cropped to fit on one page. I think this requirement has influenced my composition, and I notice that I shoot vertically much more than I used to. That doesn't mean don't shoot horizontally, but include mostly vertical shots in your submission.
6) Be sure to get behind-the-scenes content. While you're waiting for your editorials to be published, posting behind-the-scenes content is a great way to generate engagement on social media. Politely ask a team member if they wouldn't mind filming a few clips or getting a few shots with their phone. Some magazines request behind-the-scenes content!
7) Which medium? Print and online both have their value. Print could have higher readership (subscribers), plus it's just cool to see your work on paper and keep it on your coffee table. However, online could have just as high readership; PLUS you have the added benefit of an SEO boost if they link to your website. A link to your page from a credible website tells Google that you're legit and increases your ranking. Online editorials may also be published sooner than print. Overall I’m more in favor of online publications, even though seeing your work in print is satisfying.
8) Be persistent. Don't give up on publication until you've exhausted your list of potential magazines. And even if no one accepts you, it doesn't mean it wasn't a good shoot. I'm not just saying this to be nice; it really might just be the wrong theme for the issue, or it's not really editorial style. I used to submit things that really didn't belong in magazines (and they never made it there!), but I still loved the shots. Examples include shoots that only include one look, feature only one brand, or are mostly horizontal, wide shots featuring landscapes more than the model/wardrobe.