In a recent article entitled "Why You Shouldn't Submit Your Photographs to Magazines," I discussed Vanity Magazines and how, in my opinion, they often fail to deliver enough value to justify the photographer's effort. As a result of that article, I've had the opportunity to talk with the editors of two of the more well-known and better-curated vanity, or submission, magazines, Lucy's and Jute, to find out how their work benefits photographers.
Ramona Atkin, the editor of Lucy's Magazine, and Lynzi Judish, fashion photographer and the editor of Jute Magazine, were kind enough to talk to me about their own magazines, and what photographers should consider before submitting images for publication. When contemplating this interview, I tried to approach the process as fairly as possible since I was walking into the experience with a bias toward foregoing submissions. I'm not quite prideful enough to think that my own opinion is a panacea, however, having written an article so preferential in one direction, I thought that interviewing these two ladies would help give photographers the fullest picture so they could make informed decisions before deciding whether or not submission should be a part of their career path.
To that effect, my first and most important question was this: how do submission magazines benefit photographers? Both Judish and Atkin see their magazines as platforms that help widen a photographer's viewership, with the audience breakdown for Lucy's and Jute being very similar; 60-70 percent being women and the majority between their early twenties and mid-thirties. At the time of this article, Jute boasts 78,100 followers on Instagram, and Lucy's 104,000. With that many viewers, there is certainly a good chance that potential clients are somewhere in the pool, though it is in no way guaranteed. This social media influence is something Judish pointed out as a particular benefit to photographers accepted for publication because mentions and backlinks that get a lot of traction can improve a photographers SEO, giving them a better chance of being found by potential clients.
Beyond a wider audience, Judish uses her own experience as a fashion photographer to observe that the process of shooting to submit is a great way for photographers to hone their visual storytelling skills. "Editorial work and visual storytelling are so vital for a fashion photographer’s portfolio, and having a goal or something to strive to is really important," said Judish. "I mean, we’re shooting it anyway, why not make a goal and reap the benefits of publication?"
Assuming that these benefits prove worth the effort and a photographer has decided to submit, I asked if they had any advice for photographers on how to know whether they were at a place in their career that made it viable to submit work. While she considers it a difficult question to answer, Atkin told me that a photographer should submit when they think they're ready, because they have nothing to lose. Clarifying the answer with her experience as a photographer, Lyzni pointed out that being ready for submission is a natural part of the process of shooting editorial work. As a photographer grows from shooting a model on location on their own, to shooting several different looks with a full team helping to bring a story to life, then it's likely they've advanced enough to give submission a try.
Once a photographer possesses the skill set and experience to begin submitting, I wanted to know what photographers should consider when deciding which magazines to shoot for. It turns out that aesthetic is a big deal. Judish said that she wouldn't encourage photographers to simply shoot what they like and then send out bulk submissions to multiple magazines hoping one will get accepted, but instead to look for a magazine that shares their aesthetic and shoot specifically for that magazine because they will be much more likely to make a good impression on a magazine editor. This is a sound tactic, assuming the photographer continues to submit, because it makes future publications with that magazine much more likely.
The next step in the process after selecting magazines that match the photographer's visual style, according to Atkin, is to see what the quality of their following is like. "If the magazine has a lot of followers and also a big engagement it is best," said Atkin. "Some magazines out there have a lot of followers and barely any likes/engagement which makes it seem like the followers could be fake."
As a wide audience is one of the benefits both editors consider their magazines to provide, checking out the viability of that audience seems like a wise step. Judish also suggests that photographers take a close look at the quality of the imagery the magazine is publishing, as well as the quality of the magazine's graphic design since the tear sheets photographers get from their publication are part of the exchange, and a poorly designed tear sheet may drag down the quality of their entire portfolio.
If the aesthetic is a good match and the audience is a quality one, then the next step, according to Judish, is to put together a solid team who will elevate your work and then spend some time carefully planning the shoot itself. "Before you go pouring money into an editorial that may or may not get picked up by a magazine you even like (or maybe even at all), spend some time planning," said Judish. "Then send a mood board to some magazines and see if someone is interested right off the bat and may want to commission the work, or at least see if someone is interested enough to provide a pull letter. Don’t be that lonesome cowboy going at the Wild West alone."
Being a photographer herself, this is something Judish has personal experience with. She told me that the process is a great way for photographers to learn when to invest their money in an editorial that has created interest or may become a key portfolio piece, and when to consider cutting costs due to a lack of interest. Knowing when to invest is part of the learning process.
Assuming the editorial moves forward, Atkin and Judish shared what they look for in the submissions they choose to publish, and what mistakes would keep a set from being accepted. Atkin looks at the quality of the images, the look of the model, and how well the full set of images is put together. Key pieces for her are quality clothing, makeup, and editing, with all the elements needing to stay in balance and work together. For Judish, there are two things she considers key to a good editorial: story and clothing. If the editorial tells a great story and has strong, interesting outfits, she's more likely to be forgiving in other areas, such as editing or brand names. Both editors agree on the aspects that hinder a submission getting approved, however: too few looks, too few or too many images, and sub-par editing. Judish also explained that she will pass on a submission if the clothing is out of season, which is an important consideration for photographers because it requires having a stylist who can pull pieces that are in season, or for the photographer have top-notch styling skills and to stay current with what is trending for the season they're submitting for.
Having an editorial published is always a good feeling that leaves one with a sense of accomplishment, but the most important question remains: do these published editorials really help photographers advance in their careers? Hard evidence is obviously difficult to come by, as any information that could be gathered would be purely anecdotal, but Judish's personal experience is that they do: "I’ve actually seen many photographers who have shot editorials for Jute slowly climb the ranks until Jute is no longer on their radar. Ha ha! So many now shoot for Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, etc. There are also many shooting for big brands. It makes me really happy to see that Jute was a part of it in some way. I’ve met many creatives who have shot for Jute and said that the work and publication has been a big help in booking work. It just makes me happy!"
While both editors consider magazine submissions an important part of the process, one that gives photographers a goal, becomes an important learning tool, and gives them a benchmark to measure their progress, Judish mentions that it should only be one piece of their overall plan. Photographers should remember to focus on marketing, networking, and advancing their careers in other ways as well.
These ladies have a passion for the industry and their goal to facilitate the growth and advancement of the artists who contribute to their magazines is admirable. They're both working hard to provide a platform for photographers, and that is an effort that deserves praise. I will admit that I was hoping to learn something that would convince me to change my mind about submissions in my own career, but I will say that getting to talk to these ladies served as a good reminder to me that each photographer forges their own path toward their future, and while submissions might not be part of my path, they still provide valuable assistance to photographers who do find the process worthwhile.