Selling to Magazines

Magazine publishing is by far the biggest and most accessible

Posted 21/May/2001 - 12:00AM

Of all the markets available to freelance photographers, magazine publishing is by far the biggest and most accessible - if only due to the sheer volume of different titles in print that cater for every conceivable subject, interest and taste.
In the UK alone there are several thousand different magazines in print, many of which lack the budgets to commission top photographers and rely instead on freelance contributors to satisfy their voracious appetite for images. This means that every month of every year, tens of thousands of photographs are required and millions of pounds are paid out in reproduction fees.
What's more, you needn't be an established freelancer to take a slice of this business - many of the images used by magazines come from enthusiasts who have other careers outside photography and take pictures in their spare time. If that sounds like you, then read on.

Specialist subjects
The easiest way to sell your work to magazines is by targeting specialist titles that deal with a subject you're interested in. Photographic magazines are the most obvious of all, but as well as photography, chances are you have other hobbies, be it gardening, classic cars, backpacking, or fish-keeping.
Whatever the subject, chances are you will buy magazines that deal with them, so you should have a good idea of the type of photographs they require. Not only that, being a photographer it's inevitable that you will involve picture-taking with your other hobbies so you probably have saleable pictures on file already - pictures that could be making money for you.
I began my freelance career in this very way while still a teenager, initially sending off my best pictures to the photographic magazines I used to read at the time - and which I still supplying to this day in some cases - hoping that they would be chosen to illustrate how-to-do-it articles, or published in the 'readers' pictures' pages. Inspired by early sales, I then started to explore other areas of the magazine market such as the walking and outdoor titles and within a couple of years found that my income from picture sales more than paid for my photographic hobby - which seemed amazing then and still does today, even though it is now my career.

Know your market
Before making a submission, spend a little time analysing your chosen magazines. Check the staff list to see if an in-house photographer is used. This is rare on most specialist magazines, but it will considerably reduce the sales opportunities available. 
Next, check the name credits next to each photograph to see who is supplying them - lots of different names is a good sign, whereas one or two suggests the magazine has major contributors. Again, this doesn't mean you shouldn't send your own work in - magazine editors are always on the lookout for good new contributors - but it will slim down the odds of success.
Magazines dealing with subjects that don't have mass appeal, such as arts and crafts, are a good bet, because there will be less photographers sending work in. Titles covering photography, walking, climbing, camping, railways and trains also offer excellent opportunities. However, once you get into homes and gardens, cars, motorbikes and most sports, you will find that a lot of photography is commissioned and the need for speculative submissions is much smaller - though it does still exist.
If the magazines you intend to supply are ones that you already buy and read, you should have a good idea of the style of photography favoured and the sections in the magazine where freelance contributions tend to used. Factors such as whether or not those pictures are black & white or colour should also be noted, and it's worth flicking through the pages to see if there's a text box anywhere saying unsolicited contributions are welcome, along with any general terms and conditions which may steer you in the right direction.
Unless you're told or read otherwise, assume that only transparencies will be accepted if you're submitting colour photographs - photographic magazines and some low-circulation titles will accept colour prints, but they will be rejected by most publishers. Where black & white pictures are used, you can submit prints - ideally 10x8in in size, printed on glossy paper and unmounted. Alternatively, copy black & white prints back onto colour transparency film and submit the copy slides.
More and more magazine publishers are also using digital technology these days, so you may be able to send your work on a CD-rom, or e-mail scanned images direct to a computer in the magazine's office. This level of technology is still quite rare in the UK, but it's worth asking.
In terms of format, the majority of magazines will happily accept 35mm, but for bigger reproductions such as full page or dps (double-page spread) and the main cover image, medium-format is preferred.
In all cases your pictures should be well captioned with all relevant information. This will vary according to the market - for an outdoor magazine specific location information is vital, while for a photographic magazine the camera, lens, film, filters and exposure used will be more valuable. This information can either be entered onto the slide mount or the back of the print, or in the case of technical photographic details, provided on a separate sheet.

First submission
The most common way of supplying magazines is by making a general submission of stock images with a covering letter saying you're happy for them to be held on file for possible future use. Magazines that use freelance contributors on a regular basis tend to have filing cabinets in the office where these submissions are held - either under the name of each photographer or by subject/location. When pictures are required to illustrate a feature or fill a particular slot in the magazine, the editorial team will then refer to these files and make their selection. If you don't mind saying good-bye to your photographs for six months or more, this is a good way to work because there's a greater chance of them being used - some photographers may have hundreds of images lodged with a magazine at any given time and have something published in every issue.
Another option is to send material in for a specific issue, or a particular section - such as the Reader Portfolio in a photographic magazine. By doing this there will be less chance of you making a sale, but your submission will also be turned around fairly quickly if it's rejected.
The main thing to consider when making a submission like this is that magazines tend to work well in advance. With a monthly publication, the August issue will go on sale in July but work will begin on it as early as late April-early May, for instance. So if you intend sending some winter pictures to a walking magazine, say, you need to post them off during September or October otherwise you'll miss the boat. These 'lead-in' times should also be considered for any magazine that has a seasonal bias.
Alternatively, you could send in pictures to support ideas for features. This is the trickiest approach of all, because if the idea is rejected your pictures probably will be too. That said, magazine editors are always on the lookout for new, interesting and different ideas, and if you know a lot about the subject there's no reason why you can't come up with them.
Whichever route you take there are no guarantees off success, and initially you will probably amass enough rejection slips to sink a ship. However, if you analyse why a submission has been rejected, learn from your mistakes and keep on trying, eventually you will see your work in print - even if it's only a tiny photograph tucked away on some obscure page at the back of the magazine.

Continued success
Once you have achieved your first sales, it's surprising how easily this initial success can be followed-up. It's almost as if everything clicks and suddenly makes sense. Instead of making silly submissions that don't stand a chance of being used, you become more choosy about which pictures to send and when to send them.
It's also a fact of life that once the editorial team of a magazine become familiar with your name and your work, they will make more of an effort to use you. Writers, editors and designers are busy people, so if they know that by going to a certain file they will find what they're looking for, then that's exactly what they will do instead of looking under names they're never heard of before. That's why you often see the same names cropping up month after month in magazines. It's not just because they take good photographs, but also because the magazine's staff know that too - hence the importance of perseverance.
Once this stage is reached, and your reputation as a capable, reliable contributor is established, you can start phoning the magazine every month or so to see if they have any specific requirements - thus putting the odds of success more firmly in your favour. It may also become common for the magazine to start contacting you with specific requests for pictures, or even phoning you a few weeks in advance so you have the chance to shoot something specifically for them. There are still no guarantees that your work will be used, but it would be highly unlikely for you not to make a sale.
The key to success not only lies in taking the right pictures, but getting them in on time, not making excuses if you miss a deadline and not being a nuisance. A magazine editor or writer will quickly tire of people who phone-up every couple of days for leads, or to see if something has been used, but if you do as you're asked, promptly, and leave everyone to get on with their job you will win a lot of friends.
This fact in particular is worth bearing in mind because journalists tend to move around a lot. So if you've struck-up a good working relationship with certain individuals, there's no reason why they won't continue to use you when they go to work on a different magazine, even if it's in a completely different market.

Branching out
Speaking of which, once you have found your feet in a familiar market you should seriously consider looking for other magazines to supply. If you enjoy photographic landscapes and interesting locations there are various countryside and heritage titles worth checking out. Similarly, if you have young children or a baby, you could photograph them and send the results off to a parenting magazine - even if you don't normally read such publications.
Again, the key to success lies in analysing the market then supplying what it needs - and once you've achieved a few sales it's surprising how much easier this becomes.
A good habit to get into is making a weekly or monthly visit to a large newsagents and spending a little while checking the magazines on sale. This will ensure you don't miss any new magazines, but also give you the chance to flick through titles or sections you would normally ignore. In fact, it's worth making an effort to examine a different section of the magazine on sale on each visit, because you never know where opportunities might exist. You may not be interested in canals and riverboats, for example, but that's not to say you couldn't sell pictures to that market if you have some on file - or there's a picturesque waterway near your home that you could easily photograph. The same applies with county and regional magazines - every month a cover picture has to be found, along with several illustrations inside. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Money matters
In terms of the financial rewards for supplying magazines with your work, this varies enormously depending on the circulation of the magazine - how many copies it sells - and the market it caters for.
Rates tend to be pro-rata, based on the size they're used.
The average fee in the UK is rather low at around £80 per page for magazines that freelances can usually sell pictures to - photographic, outdoors and other specialist-interest titles - though some magazines pay less and others considerably more.
Cover pictures generate higher fees. Again, the average if around £150 for hobbyist-type magazines, but the editor of a small circulation title may only offer £50, while a market-leader may pay £250+.
If you feel the fee being offered is too low, haggle politely - you may be offered a little more if your work's worth paying for.

Initially, your chance of making sales will be increased if you target magazines you are familiar with and that cover subjects you have good quality photographs of. I, like many photographers, started out by selling pictures to photographic magazines - including this characterful portrait of a Scottish fisherman - and over the years have sold literally hundreds of shots to the same magazines.

 

Pictures that show good use of photographic technique are always in great demand among photographic magazines - like this dusk scene over Derwentwater, which Practical Photography used as the main opening shot for a feature on shooting into-the-light.

 

If you think you have suitable pictures available, it's always worth making on-spec submissions to magazines that deal with subjects other than those you have a personal interest in. I sent this shot of anglers at sunset to a trout angling magazine, for example, and after languishing on the files for some months it was eventually used full page - for which I received a welcome repro fee.

 

Many magazines need pictures to liven-up sections such as the readers' letters pages, so don't ignore these when studying magazines for their requirements - I have made many sales over the years to a yachting magazines by submitting pictures indirectly related to the subject, such as this harbour scene on the French Riviera.

 


Never be afraid to exploit your family - especially your children - photographically! I have been a father for less than four years, but I have already sold numerous pictures, first of my young son, and more recently my baby daughter, to magazines. This tender portrait of my son was used on the cover of a freelancing magazine soon after I took it - along with several others inside.

 


Once you've made a few speculative sales to a magazine and the editorial team get to know the quality and style of your work, it becomes much easier to secure further sales. You may also start to receive specific requests from the magazine, as I do on a regular basis from Country Walking magazine whenever a location is being covered that the team feel I may have pictures of. Over the years this has resulted in numerous shots being used inside the magazine, plus a couple of covers.

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