Magazines can seem monolithic and unapproachable but the reality is they need a constant stream of new content to keep publishing. Submissions can be a great way to dip into that stream for two reasons. First, if your submission gets selected, you’ll be in print and once in awhile you’ll even get paid (the rumors are true!). Second, even if your submission doesn’t run, it will still put your work in front of the editorial staff.
There a few different ways to submit work for publication. The simplest and usually least effective is go in cold. Many smaller publications will have a submission email and you can simply fire away at them. But, like any numbers game, sometimes you get lucky. If they’re running light this month they may dip into the file.
One step up from there is if you can find the contact for the magazine, it’s nice to give them a heads up that you are planning to submit. You may be able to get some general information about their submission procedure and the publication calendar. Some magazines will ask for eight final images, others will want to look through 20 selects and make their own decision.
Of course, the best way to get a submission considered is to know someone at the magazine (or at least know someone who knows someone). Dialogue with the editorial staff will give you the clearest idea of what they need and the best chance of being accepted. The best story ever on micro organic vineyards in Vermont won’t run if the next issue is about classic cars in Nevada.
I’ve experienced the personal connection angle in action. Just this past weekend, while assisting a photographer at a workshop, two editors came down to talk to the class. They were from a magazine that is now “below her paygrade,” so there was no concern of poaching. She cheerfully introduced me as a potential fresh talent (it’s a huge faux pas to make the first move as an assistant, but some especially generous photographers will be open in sharing their contacts… and others will not). Anyway, while it’s too soon to draw conclusions, we’ve exchanged emails and I’m beginning to court them for future submissions.
Some magazines will have a specific “submissions” issue. Some magazines will post it on their blog, or occasionally in the magazine itself. A good starting point is googling “(magazine of choice) submissions.”
If you are lucky — and what is luck but triumphing over an endless stream of rejection through sheer force of will — over time you will start to build a relationship with the editorial staff. They may think of you when assignment work comes up. Or, considering the state of most publications, they may keep you in mind at their next post after a major masthead change at their current publication.
Smaller magazines are easier to get into than larger ones. You’ll have a much better chance at The Weekly then you will at Time. However smaller magazines are worth your time. I assure you the editors of Vogue subscribe to Dazed and Confused. There is an awareness among publication players that can help you get your name out there.
There is something refreshingly egalitarian about the whole submission process. Generally, if your work is better than the other submissions they got this month then you have a good chance of being published. If it isn’t, keep working.
In the end, a huge part of getting published is simply putting yourself out there, and this is the rawest form in that effort.