Discover the best way to get the attention of editors and showcase your work to a wider audience

Intermediate

1 Know the publication and know its audience


You will have the best chance of pitching success if you can demonstrate that you know the publication extremely well. If it’s a website or a magazine that simply means you need to actually read it, at least a few times to get a feel for the type of stories, and the type of pictures, that they are likely to run. If it’s a book publisher, check the existing catalogue to see if your project is likely to be a good match for the publisher.

"You will have the best chance of pitching success if you can demonstrate that you know the publication extremely well."

The more you read a publication the easier it will be to tailor your content, your pitches, or both, to the type of things that they are likely to accept and run. You’ll also be able to spot any publishing patterns, be they seasonal, news related, or other types of cycle that you can tailor your pitches and content to.

That said, don’t fall into the trap of submitting something extremely similar to something that the publication has run recently - it’s very unlikely that they’ll want to feature a repetition at least in the short term. 

A magazine stall in La Paz, Bolivia
There are thousands of different publications you could pitch to, but it’s best to start with the ones you know well. Photo by Diego Adriázola

2 Check for pitching guidelines and/or the relevant contact


Many websites, magazines and book publishers have pitching or contributor guidelines which you can access to give you helpful pointers to follow for a better chance of success.

A search of a magazine or website’s main page can often offer up the appropriate results, while you can also directly contact publishers and ask if they have an appropriate document.

Whether or not you have found guidelines, try your best to find the relevant contact for whoever you want to pitch to. For websites, try a “contact” or “about” page and see if you can find a direct contact for an editor or section editor.

For magazines, there is usually something called a “flannel panel”, a list of the staff members who work on the magazine. If there’s an appropriate section editor, or perhaps a picture editor, try to contact them directly rather than sending out a mass or generic email.

Mockup of a flannel pannel in a magazine with contact details for Editors
Take a look at the "flannel panel" in magazines or the contact section on websites to find the appropriate person for your pitch
National Geographic magazine on a breakfast table
The more you read a publication the easier it will be to tailor your photography to it. Photo by Leon Pulpett

3 Tailor your pitches


Along similar lines, you should always endeavour to tailor your pitches and emails to the specific person and publication you’re trying to reach.

"Make references to the specific publication and why you think it would be good for it."

It’s very easy to spot a generic email that has been sent around to a large number of different publications. It’s about more than just copying and pasting the email body and changing the name at the top, too. Make references to the specific publication and why you think it would be good for it. That could be as simple as referencing previous features or a specific staff member to show that you’ve taken the time to make a personalised pitch, and you’ll immediately elevate yourself above others.

Also, it sounds simple, but double and triple-check that you’ve got both the name of the person you are emailing completely correct, as well as the exact name of the publication, too. Demonstrating attention to detail is another way to make yourself stand out.

Mockup of a personalised email to a Picture Editor at a magazine
Spend time tailoring your pitch to each outlet you send it to - editors can tell when you’ve sent the same message to multiple places.

4 Be succinct, avoid generalisations


Editors are busy people, and they don’t have time to read lengthy emails that fail to get to the point as quickly as possible.

"Editors want their lives to be made easier with a fantastic idea and the confidence that you can deliver it - not a general link to your overall portfolio that requires sifting through."

They also don’t have the time to figure out why a stranger they’ve never dealt with before deserves to be published. It’s your job to catch their attention and keep it until the end of the email. That means being short and to the point, while also ensuring there’s enough detail to explain your idea in full without requiring further communication.

With that in mind, never email a publication without a specific idea or project to pitch. Editors want their lives to be made easier with a fantastic idea and the confidence that you can deliver it - not a general link to your overall portfolio that requires sifting through.

5 Why should it be you?


Once you’ve included the pitch idea, you should also back it up with some evidence to prove that you’re capable of delivering it.

"Never include pictures as large attachments that need to be downloaded or will clog up an editor’s inbox."

Never include pictures as large attachments that need to be downloaded or will clog up an editor’s inbox. Similarly, avoid using file transfer services that expire after a short time - if whatever you’ve sent has expired, very few editors are going to bother to chase you for it - they simply don’t have time.

Instead, including a link to your online portfolio, such as your Picfair Store, that can be quickly clicked on and shows off your skills and talent in a quick and well-ordered manner makes life as simple as possible for the editor.

Concept screenshot showing a link to a Picfair Store


You should also mention any relevant places you’ve been featured or published before, to give a flavour of yor professionalism, where possible. You should also mention any relevant dates or timescales that the editor can “hook” your story on. Perhaps that’s something relevant to you, such as the dates of your exhibition, or a more general anniversary that perhaps ties in with your project idea.


Double-page nature spread in a magazine
Give editors a specific idea, or a specific project that you’ve already been working on, rather than a general approach that is unlikely to catch their attention

6 Get the timing right


All publications have what are known as “lead times”, that is how long before a finished idea gets published after the initial idea has been presented. This can vary between a few hours to a few months, so it can be tricky to get it right - but it’s important that you at least try to.

"...giving editors plenty of notice also makes their lives easier, since they can plan it in properly and allow for any hiccups along the way."

There will be instances when ideas are sparked by a timely or newsworthy event, which makes for excellent last-minute pitches. Generally, however, giving editors plenty of notice also makes their lives easier, since they can plan it in properly and allow for any hiccups along the way.

You want to avoid pitching too far in advance, though, as ideas and pitches can often get lost if there’s too much time to elapse. Lead times vary from publication to publication, and even from specific section to specific section of a publication, but a good rule of thumb is to give at least two-three weeks notice for websites, two-three months for magazines, and at least six months to a year for book publishers.

7 Good manners go a long way


After you’ve pitched your idea, it can feel like an agonising wait to hear back from an editor.

"Unless your pitch is extremely time-sensitive, you should wait at least two weeks before sending out a gentle reminder."

It’s important to remember however that your idea is far more important to you than it is to the average editor, who is likely dealing with 100 other emails, pitches and problems at any given time. Be as patient as you possibly can be when waiting for a response, and try not to be offended if you don’t get one at all. Unless your pitch is extremely time-sensitive, you should wait at least two weeks before sending out a gentle reminder. There’s a fine line between enthusiastic and annoying; pestering within a day is a sure-fire way to annoy a potential commissioner.

Eager dog looking at a laptop screen
Try to avoid being overly eager when contacting editors - especially those you’ve never worked with before. Give them time to respond to your email before chasing up. Photo by Tam Kee Chuan

8 Develop a thick skin and keep trying


Publishing is a difficult market to crack, and it can take a lot of persistence and perseverance. One of the most important things to learn is how to handle rejection. Just because your pitch didn’t land on one occasion, it doesn’t mean it won’t another time or for another publication.

"Try to learn from each rejection you have, and remember - it’s extremely unlikely to be personal..."

There are hundreds of different reasons why your photography might not be right for a given website or magazine. It could be anything from the wrong timing, the publication having - or about to - run something similar recently, the pictures not quite fitting with the audience or simply the editor having too many other ideas they need to fit in to a limited space.

Try to learn from each rejection you have, and remember - it’s extremely unlikely to be personal, and it doesn’t necessarily equate that it’s because your work isn’t good enough either. Just keep trying.

9 Be upfront about expectations


Eventually, you will have one of your pitches accepted. Before you crack open the bubbly, make sure any expectations - on either side - are laid out before commencing any work.

Check deadlines, who keeps the copyright, how images should be delivered, who you’ll be working with, and of course the fee before proceeding - getting it all ironed out now will make things smoother in the long run, and is more likely to lead to future pitches being accepted too.

Concept of a checklist for pitching a photo story to a magazine
Keep a checklist to make sure you've got the logistics covered for everything relating to your pitch

10 To sum up


If you take just one piece of advice from this guide, it’s that your aim is to make a busy editor’s life as simple as possible. You can distil our tips into the following:

1 Demonstrate that you know your product

2
Be succinct and specific

3
Have an easy to reach and digest portfolio

4 Demonstrate why you, and why now

5 Be polite and keep trying 


Photo editor looking through contact sheets
Half the battle in publishing is to make a busy editor’s life as easy as possible. Photo from Wavebreak Media