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There is nothing quite like when you sell a travel story to a magazine. Seeing all your hard work in print gives you a great sense of satisfaction. Editorial work has changed a lot over the past few years, and you must prepare yourself for some rejection. However, if you follow this simple process of selling a story, and don’t give up, you will reap the rewards.
Also note, once you have built up a few relationships with editors, things get simpler. Once editors know and trust you, they will be far more receptive to your pitch for a story.
Once you have an article idea, it’s always a good idea to research the type of magazines that may be interested in printing your story. Magazines differ significantly from one another. To give your story the best possible chance of publication, aim to pitch it to the right place.
For example, if your story is about walking, then pitch it to magazines that specialize in hiking or outdoor activities. Go to your local shop and flick through the magazine you intend to pitch to and see if it would be the right fit.
Also, research their submission process. Many publications have clear guidelines on how to submit work.
When you have your list of possible publications, ensure your story is fresh and unique. You don’t want to pitch ideas that are the same or similar to articles already recently published.
Most publications publish their articles on their website too, so check that what you are pitching is different. Also, remember to check upcoming articles as well. It may be that your article idea is set to feature in the next few issues.
The publication’s media pack is usually a good place to search for this sort of thing.
Now that you have your angle and a list of preferred publications, it is time to research your topic. Researching your topic is one of the most important aspects of any shoot, and one rarely mentioned when discussing selling a story to a magazine. Many photographers will have you believe everything just comes together out in the field. But the reality is very different.
If your story is on the best museums in a certain city, then make sure you have a list of the museums you plan to visit. Write down everything from the best times to be there to the most important exhibits. If your angle is about hiking, then plan your walk to factor in the best times at viewpoints for photography.
The more you research, the better your shoot will be.
If you want to be successful in any industry, you have to accept rejection along the way. Even as a pro with years of experience behind you, not every pitch will be successful. If only it was…
The key is not to take rejection personally. Don’t let it discourage you from pitching a different story to the same publication. If you are lucky and the editor gives you some feedback, take note of their suggestions, and work on these areas. Never get angry or burn your bridges with anyone as you will have an impossible task to win them round again.
Once you’ve got your angle and completed your research, its time to start putting a shoot plan together. Your shoot plan should be more than just a list of locations – think of your shoot plan like an encyclopedia of your shoot. Include anything relevant like opening times, best times to shoot (sunset/sunrise), and logistics of getting to your required shoot locations.
Make a note of other potential locations you can visit. It’s also worth putting together some contingency ideas in the case of bad weather or unforeseen closures. The key to a good shoot plan is to make it as easy as possible to capture the shots you want to take.
The last thing that you want to be doing is rushing around, wasting valuable shooting time.
The reason that a shot list is so important is it ensures you cover the shots that you need to capture, and will also give you variety. Your images should include a range of details, people, buildings, landscapes, cityscapes, food, and anything else that would be relevant to your story.
The more variation and options you can provide an editor, the more chance you will have of selling your story.
The big difference between a story and just documenting a place is the story you are trying to tell. You want to try to make sure your piece isn’t just a photographic list of places. The key is to take the viewer on a journey with you. It is also important to take notes of all the necessary information that accompanies your story. People’s names, places, names of food dishes – you never know what might be needed.
The final piece should be a coherent story that has a variety in the shots.
Some people prefer to pitch their idea before embarking on their journey. While this is a safe option in regards to knowing you wouldn’t be wasting money unnecessarily unless you already have a relationship with an editor, it can be difficult. Even if an editor does like your idea, it is very unlikely they will offer you a commission straightaway. Any agreement will usually be on a speculative basis so they will not be under any obligation to buy your article afterward.
I personally believe you are best to pitch a finished piece that’s ready to go to press. Whatever approach you decide to take, the pitch is the most crucial part of the process. You’ve put in all that hard work and investment, so it’s important to get your pitch just right so you make a great first impression.
Your email should be direct and well thought out, showing off your knowledge of your subject. It should be backed up with the credibility required to give the editor confidence in you and your work. Take your time composing your pitch email and run it by friends and family for feedback. It’s okay to send a follow-up email a couple of weeks later but don’t keep pestering the editor. If you haven’t heard back after a couple of emails, assume it hasn’t been successful.
If you do get that great bit of news that your story has been accepted, make sure to follow all submission guidelines. Otherwise, your piece will more than likely be rejected. Your text should be proofread to avoid any spelling or grammatical mistakes. Even if you are just providing images, typos make you look unprofessional.
The majority of publications will also have strict guidelines for images, so be sure to follow these. It’s a good idea to read these before you start your edit as there will usually be guidelines on color space, sharpening and even cropping. Many publications prefer to do this in-house.
So you’ve sent your pitch and nothing even after the follow-up. You can either try another publication or go back to the drawing board with a different story. However, even if your story has been successful, be sure to go back with other ideas. Even if it takes time, going back to the same editor might be a little easier now that they have seen your work.
Publications have limited space for freelance photographers to pitch stories. Inevitably there is also a huge amount of competition for any available space. The best way to give yourself a chance is to really research the publication and pitch something that would be too good for them to turn down.
Do you have any other tips about how to sell a travel story to a magazine? If so, share with us in the comments below!