A great part of getting your images published is about pre-planning, preparation and a little bit of luck. Let’s look at a mainly digital submission, however the packaging and general presentation applies to any type of submission.
Firstly, you need to decide what you are going to submit and why. It's easy to think I’ll just send in a few images and hope that they get published. Well you might get lucky, but let’s try taking a more purposeful route.
What you're going to submit is probably an easier question than the why. Quite often the magazine will want some reasoning behind your panel of images, an interest in a local area, nature photography or the like. Sending in images of different styles and random themes will make it harder for them to place the images in a co-ordinated fashion. Despite the fact that Amateur Photographer, for one, say that images do not need to be themed, check out the majority of their portfolios and you will see that they are normally themed. Indeed, those that are themed tend to look better on the printed page, it shows the photographer had a purpose in their image taking.
You can submit to one-off image entries, portfolios, competitions or try and get an article published. Whatever it is you are trying to do, one thing is sure, will the content be of interest to the editor and the readership? If it won’t you are wasting your time. Take a look at recently published images in your chosen category of your selected magazine. Be honest with yourself, are your images as good or better than those published. If you still feel you could work on your basic technique then hold back on sending off your images for a while. Too many rejection letters or postcards and you will become disheartened with the process and possibly your photography. If you know that your images could be better re-shoot them before you submit.
Concentrate on sending a portfolio of 10-14 images. You need to shortlist your pictures and you need to be self-critical at this point. If you think people won’t spot a minor flaw or dust-spot from your sensor, think again, they probably will. If they don’t and the readership does, you won’t have done anything to enhance your reputation as a photographer. You may not think this is important, but having a couple of images published has helped me to gain subsequent work, I doubt this would have happened if the images had been poor. Let’s face it, we have all seen less than great images published and the name of the photographer is instantly forgotten, hopefully not so if the image is good.
Sort your images into three or four categories at the most, for example, landscapes, black & white, nature, macro, etc. Arrange them into an order in which you would prefer them to be viewed. Start with a strong image - one that immediately grabs attention - for me it was the red kite eye in my portfolio.
Check the images again and look for weaknesses. Is your macro work as good as your landscapes? If not, why not? Replace the macro shots with a few more landscapes. One weak image could be the downfall, especially if it is the first one viewed by the prospective publisher.
If you haven’t already done all your post-processing then now is the time. Adjust the exposure, colour balance, sharpness, etc, until the image is as you would want to see it printed. Save the images as 300dpi 8-bit TIFF files unless the magazine you are submitting to specifically requests something different. Most of the magazines request that the file size should be large enough to give an A4 print, which generally means the output from a 6 megapixel camera will be acceptable. Below this size you could refer to the technique on interpolation to resize your files for submission. At this time create a smaller version of your image to enable easier viewing, you need only use a size similar to submitting to ePHOTOzine.
Save the files into a separate directory, with the thumbnails in a sub-directory, just in case you need to recover the files quickly, or you could just make a document with a reference to the images you have sent. This becomes important when you want to submit to the same or a competing magazine in the near future. Most editors will not thank you for submitting the same material that their rival is about to publish, certainly not without informing them. You will need to know what you sent, when and to whom.
Next comes the printing. There is no right or wrong way to do this, my personal feeling is the better the reproduction you provide the more chance there is of someone noticing it. You could print each image on high-quality A4 photo paper, but this will make the package bulky and costly to post if you are sending 10 or more images for consideration.
I usually print two or three images per page at high quality and colour matched with the images grouped so that similar themes are together, that way if the magazine is looking for a nature portfolio they don’t need to view any still-life images I have included. Underneath each image print the file name as it is found on the CD, this helps the editorial team to locate the right image, especially important if there are a few similar ones in your portfolio.
With the prints done, next burn the CD. You can burn the main images and the thumbnails into two directories on the CD, but this is not a necessity, the file size will make obvious the thumbnails. If you do just burn them into the root directory make sure it is clear from your naming convention that one image is only for previewing.
When the CD is finished, check out that all images can be read from the CD, paranoia maybe, but you’d be surprised how many times you might forget to save the file as 8-bit rather than 16-bit. Don’t forget to write your details on the CD, normally your name and address will do, but if you have space you could include some reference to the intended use for the images, e.g. Reader Portfolio. You can use printable CDs, but I would avoid CD labels as they can become detached and no one will thank you if it comes loose inside their CD reader, or worse, no one can find your CD anymore because it has lost its contact details.
With the CD and prints complete, the next task is the covering letter. The exact format of this will vary depending upon the nature of your submission. Make sure that it's polite, well-laid out, spell-checked and correctly addressed. No better way to annoy an editor I would have thought than by referring to their predecessor as still having the job!
If you are submitting to the portfolio for a magazine like Amateur Photographer, provide them with the sort of information that you see published with the portfolios each week. Name, time in photography, ambition, equipment, etc. Include also shooting notes about each image, title, file name, where it was taken, exposure details if recorded and equipment used. If they're going to publish then they will still contact you to check, but you’ve saved them some time in preparation.
Finally you need to package up all the pieces you have collected. I use board-backed envelopes to send anything that includes printed images. I also use a sleeve for the CD to protect it during transit, no point in taking all this time preparing the CD only for it to get scratched in the post.
All done, now for an important final tip. Get the latest pricing booklet from the post office, weigh your package and be sure to attach the correct postage, alternatively make sure that you have the package weighed and costed by the post office before posting. You are certainly not going to impress anyone if they end up with a bill for postage, especially not, if they also get stung for a £1 fixed fee for handling under stamped mail. If this happens the images will almost certainly not get to the editor's desk and your chance of acceptance has been lost.
Remember rejection is not the end of the world. Rationalise any rejection. Some magazines will even send a quick critique in the form of a tick-box on a postcard. This will tell you that the quality was not good enough or simply that the images were not of interest at this time. If it's the former, take another look at your submission, could it have been better? If it could then try again, but take care to correct any noted faults.
Will this guarantee success? Of course not, but it may make you submission more appealing on first look than a lot of others. First impressions count for a lot, make the most of what you are sending and you stand a better chance than most.
About the author
Cheryl Surry is a highly active member of ePHOTOzine and has now had several features published in magazines, such as Amateur Photographer, Which Digital Camera, Digital Photo, ePHOTOzine and Total Digital Photography magazine.