People say print is dead, but want to still be printed. I’m a a shameless promoter of print and the importance of print in a digital world. The differences between pitching for digital and print publication are non-existant, so if you want your work published and are not sure how, here’s my tips.
Firstly, a photo essay is more than just a collection of images, or a series of photographs. A photo essay tells a story, or evokes emotion in the audience. If you’re stuck for ideas on what subject you could use for a photo essay, you might find my photography podcast episode helpful.
1. Who to contact
You can email every publication at once, or you can take your time and think it through. There are a few things to consider before you head out and shop your content to publications.
Take your time
Never shop your article to multiple publications at once. Not even if you are sending emails individually. It’s a small world in journalism and a reputation for playing journalists against each other will only hold you back.
Know the publication
By knowing the publication, I’m speaking about knowing what they are interested in and what is appropriate for them to publish. Sending an email to an editor of a publication that focuses on vegan food is not going to be interested in your photos of skateboarding. This sounds ridiculous, but seriously, you’d be surprised how few people understand that you can save days of time by focusing on publications that cater to your genre of photography.
Target your email
Be specific in your email. Make a couple of statements that indicate that you have written that email for them specifically. You can get bonus points by telling the editor that the photo essay is being offered to their publication first because you believe in what they do. I’m not suggesting you lie, I’m just highlighting that you shouldn’t be afraid of singing the publication’s praises.
2. What to say
Once you know who you need to contact, you need to say the right thing. There’s no single thing you can say that will guarantee your photo essay will run (run meaning published), but there are certain things you can say and avoid saying to increase your chances. You need to introduce yourself, remind the publisher who you are and what you’ve supplied them in the past, what you’re offering, how it will benefit them, the news angle (if appropriate) and ask if they are interested.
“I photographed what is involved in factory farming. The recent media interest in meat production processes made me interested in finding out what happens at my local slaughterhouse.”
“I took some shots of some cows being killed in a factory.”
The first line says what you photographed in addition to highlighting that there is already interest in factory farming at present and that you have done the work already. The second line demonstrates little understanding of the issue, and therefore it is most likely assumed that the photographs do not depict factory farming in a way that is of interest to the publication or existing story angle.
“I’m considering shooting a photo essay about drug dependency. I’m aware that this topic is covered often, and my difference is that I am going to be photographing users who have recently relapsed and portraits of their loved ones. The photo essay will primarily be quotes, one quote per portrait.”
“I’m gonna do a photo essay on some drug addicts – probably heroin or something hard. Would you be cool to buy some of these photos when I’m done?”
The first line explains that you understand that the type of photography you’re undertaking is common, but you see a different angle that they may not have been approached with in the past. It also outlines what the publication will be receiving as part of the content package. It also shows a sense of compassion for your subject, which will avoid any criticism of the work once published. The second line is too casual, has no tact and is vague.
3. What to ask
Are you interested in running this story/photo?
This one is pretty straightforward but you would be surprised how many people do not ask. This line should always come last, because most editors will read the first and last paragraphs/lines in an email first. They’re busy people.
Do you have any articles planned that might benefit from these images?
You don’t have to do all the thinking to have your work published. If you take a quick spin around the internet you will find endless amounts of articles that used stock images or reused images for muliple articles. Each of those instances were an opportunity you missed. I write down publications that do this so next time I take a generic photo, I know who I can contact to sell that one image to.
When will the photo essay run?
If the publication wants to run the essay, you should ask when they aim to run it. If they are running it in six months time, they will most likely make payment at the time of publishing. If you’ve sold your story well and there is genuine interest in what you have offered, they will pay on delivery regardless of when they choose to run it. If there is lack of commitment to their intention of publishing, it’s a good indication that they may not publish it at all. Waiting for them to publish it will reduce the relevancy of your content and slow you down in finding a new home for your content.
How much will you pay for the article?
You often will not need to ask this question, but it depends on how effective you were with the steps up until this point. There’s no easy way to ask, but if you download my example email template, it includes the payment line so you don’t have to overthink it.
4. Follow up
Always follow your work up with the editor after it’s been run. A simple thank you can go a long way. They’re busy people, but there is no better way to be kept front-of-mind for the next piece of written work they need photography for.
5. Real examples and templates
If you’re still unsure how to get started, you can download a real life example of one of my pitches, and a template that clearly lists your sections required for an effective pitch.